04 September 2012

Chicago International Film Festival: Thoughts on the films that have already been announced.

Benji (USA)
Directors: Coodie & Chike
In 1984, all eyes were on Ben Wilson, one of Chicago's top high school basketball prospects. But in his senior year, Benji's story was suddenly cut short. Interviews with family and friends give fresh insight into Benji's life and untimely end, illuminating one of sport's most tragic "what ifs."
 Yet another documentary about the redemptive power of sports on the mean streets of urban America, except this one is more like the "another dream deferred" side of that coin, I gather.

Marie Krøyer (Denmark)
Director: Bille August
Married to one of Denmark's most celebrated 19th century painters, Marie Krøyer's life is both privileged and fraught. Struggling to discover her own identity while managing her husband's increasingly erratic behavior, Marie begins to look outside of her marriage for affirmation and autonomy. But at what cost?
 I like movies about ladies, but usually don't like movies about painters. We'll see. The trailer looks like a kind of nutty melodrama, and I like nutty, so I may see it if I happen to see some good reviews or something.

Beyond The Hills (Romania)
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) returns to feature filmmaking with this gripping existential drama. Inspired by the real-life horror of a modern-day exorcism-gone-wrong, the film follows two women, close friends whose lives have taken them down drastically different paths: one into a convent, the other much further astray.
 Wow, a gripping existentialist drama about a botched exorcism from one of the leaders of the Romanian New Wave? This movie may have it all.

Like Someone In Love (France, Japan)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Iran's greatest living filmmaker travels to Tokyo for this understated, enigmatic romantic drama. Unbeknownst to her boyfriend, the enchanting university student Akiko secretly moonlights as an escort. An encounter with a client – a shy, elderly academic – leads to an unconventional, unexpectedly intimate relationship in which nothing is quite as it seems.
This looks enchanting and the unsatisfying ending I just read about indicates that it might be a perfect film to take in at a film festival.

In Their Skin (Canada)
Director: Jeremy Power Regimbal
A relaxing trip to the country takes a dark and disturbing turn when a seemingly friendly visit from the neighbors turns into a terrifying and potentially deadly situation. Skillfully building the claustrophobic atmosphere with masterful control over mood and pacing, In Their Skin is a chilling, sophisticated slice of terror.
The trailer looks a little too intense for me, but I'm kind of weirdly drawn to Selma Blair so I'm not sure if I'll make myself sit through this. I'm not sure how original or revelatory it looks, and I like film festival films to feel revelatory, btw fyi

A Modest Reception (Iran)
Director: Mani Haghighi
Tasked with giving away huge sums of money by whatever means possible, Kaveh and Layla drive through the remote, war-torn mountains of Iran with a trunkful of cash. What begins as a seemingly harmless game soon reveals itself to be a twisted bout of charity as the power, humiliation, and shame inherent in their act plays out between the privileged couple and the impoverished villagers.
 This one could go either way, I think. The reviews seem to indicate that it's compelling, engaging, sometimes hard to watch, and not altogether satisfying. It seems like the keywords are moral ambiguity, which in general is something I like in films. We shall see.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (USA)
Director: Chris James Thompson
By the time he was arrested, Jeffrey Dahmer had killed and dismembered 17 victims, mostly in his nondescript Milwaukee apartment. Using a mixture of archival footage, new interviews and recreations, this documentary paints a complex, intimate portrait of one of America's most notorious serial killers.
 After all the movies and TV specials I've seen about Jeffrey Dahmer, I'm really not sure I need to see a documentary about the subject. I might watch this some day if I could stream it online for free. The only way I could see myself paying to see this movie is if the reviews were ecstatic or something.

Don't Click (South Korea)
Director: Kim Tae-Kyeong
When cyber junkie Jung-mi learns of a sinister new "forbidden" internet video, she'll stop at nothing to find it. However, the morbid video has strange effects on its viewers, and soon Jung-mi and her sister seem to be under a bizarre and terrifying curse in this disturbing take on 21st-century technology, surveillance, and internet fame.
 The description makes it sounds like a remake of The Ring or something, but it looks different enough. It sort of looks like a grab bag of a whole bunch of teen horror movies that already exist. Not really my genre, but it might be right for a Saturday night or something.

Coming Of Age (Austria)
Directors: Sabine Hiebler & Gerhart Ertl
In their 80s, Rosa and Bruno meet and are suddenly reminded what it means to love and live fully. The two – knowing that their time is limited – run off together, leaving much and many in their wake. This unconventional romantic drama paints a powerful portrait of love by turns stark, passion-filled, and heartbreaking.
 It looks totally schmaltzy, but it's good to have something easy and goofy in the middle of all the artsy angsty ambiguities you tend to encounter in film festival films. I wouldn't rule it out.

The Sessions (USA)
Director: Ben Lewin
Based on the poignantly optimistic autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, The Sessions tells the story of a man confined to an iron lung who is determined - at age 38 – to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapists and the guidance of his priest, he sets out to make his dream a reality.
 When I first read the description, I thought it sounded grotesque and oppressive. The trailer makes it look like a silly crowd-pleaser I'd probably be annoyed by.

The Cleaner (Peru)
Director: Adrian Saba
In the midst of a mysterious, devastating epidemic, Eusebio – a forensic cleaner who sterilizes the apartments of the dead – discovers an eight-year-old boy hiding in an uninhabited house. A grizzled loner all his life, Eusebio suddenly finds that he must care for this young boy as civilization crumbles around them in this quietly compelling dystopian drama.
 The concept seems like a cliche. It could be a good movie, though, it's hard to tell. These things can come of so schmaltzy but sometimes they're actually pretty good.

The Scapegoat (UK)
Director: Charles Sturridge
The Scapegoat tells the story of two very different men who have one thing in common: a face. Near exact replicas, these doppelgangers meet by chance, each at a major crossroads in his life in this adaption of Daphne Du Maurier's novel, which recalls the productions of Merchant-Ivory at their finest.
  Well, this version doesn't have Bette Davis or Alec Guinness, but it seems sort of intriguing with its reported re-imagined final twist. It looks like this is airing on TV in England and is also the only English film on the CIFF's slate this year, according to the production company's website.

Consuming Spirits (USA)
Director: Chris Sullivan
A melancholic, mesmerizing vision of backwoods gothic Americana that was 15 years in the making, Consuming Spirits weaves together a spell-binding blend of animation techniques. Folksy storytelling tinged with the dark surrealism of David Lynch, this atmospheric, multi-layered tale of outcasts and misfits is haunting, funny and occasionally heart-breaking.
  This could either be splendid and mesmerizing, or it could put me to sleep.

Holy Motors (France, Germany)
Director: Leos Carax
Several lifetimes pass in the span of a few hours for Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who effortlessly transitions from one realm to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man. This mysterious, hallucinatory epic has ignited passions around the world for its bold, euphoric virtuosity
 This is supposed to be really good, but I'm probably just going to see it when it plays at the Music Box starting on September 9.

Out In The Dark (Israel, USA)
Director: Michael Mayer
Nimer, a Palestinian student, dreams of a better life abroad. One fateful night he meets Roy, an Israeli lawyer. As their relationship deepens, Nimer is confronted with the harsh realities of a Palestinian society that refuses to accept his sexual identity, and an Israeli society that rejects his nationality.
 Once again, Israel's domestic troubles are illustrated in the context of a forbidden gay love story. This one looks good. I might see it, just because there aren't usually that many good gay movies at the festival or anywhere else.

Caesar Must Die (Italy)
Directors: Paolo & Vittorio Taviani
The top prizewinner in Berlin, this docudrama from the legendary Taviani brothers depicts the preparations for a staging of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by inmates in Rome's Rebibbia Prison. The performers, many of whom are in jail for violent crimes, bring powerful new layers of meaning and emotion to the canonical play.
 Shakespeare in prison seems to be an emerging subgenre. I fell asleep during that other Shakespeare in prison documentary I saw, but perhaps all the Italian sturm und drang will keep me awake here...

Shameless (Poland)
Director: Filip Marczewski
In an incendiary story of love, desire, and betrayal between siblings, the rebellious young Tadek returns to sister Anka's home in search of solace and affection. Bound together by a painful shared family history, brother and sister must find a way to break free in order to survive.
 Based on the two trailers I've seen of this movie (the subtitled one doesn't look very representative of the film) and what I've read of it, this description is also not very representative of the film. It sounds scandalous and explosive, so I guess I'll have to see it. Bring on the gypsies, incest, and neo-nazis, I guess.

Tey (Senegal)
Director: Alain Gomis
What would you do if you knew today was your last? A joyous, impressionistic celebration of life and death, Tey follows Satché from the moment he wakes, with full knowledge of his imminent passing. Wandering through the streets of his hometown, Satché reflects on the choices he has made and their consequences.
 This seems to be a slow moving, story-less movie about life. I seems like something I'd have to be in a particular mood to watch. I can't find a trailer for it, but it seems like it might be interesting, particularly as Reuters refers to it as a modern day fairytale.

Keep The Lights On (USA)
Director: Ira Sachs
A one-night stand between Erik and Paul quickly grows into something more, but their differences – along with Paul's struggles with addiction – soon chip away at their relationship. This sensitive, subtle account of an intense, nine-year on-off relationship tenderly reminds us that love is not always enough.
 Like Holy Motors, this movie has gotten a lot of buzz. Also like Holy Motors,  this film will be playing at the Music Box Theatre this fall (10/26). It could be super good, yo. It's also distributed by Music Box films, which is pretty cool.

Valley Of Saints (India, USA)
Director: Musa Syeed
Gulzar, a boatman on Kashmir's gorgeous, peaceful Dal Lake, plans to leave for the city when a military curfew forces him to remain in his hometown. When Gulzar meets Asifa, a pretty young scientist studying the lake, a romance develops against a backdrop of jealousy, competition, and ongoing political turmoil.
 I've often found Indian films to be heavy handed and bluntly warped along political lines, but this one has good reviews and the trailer looks somewhat promising so I'm hoping for the best...

As Goes Janesville (USA)
Director: Brad Lichtenstein
The recession hits home in Janesville, WI, where the shutdown of a GM plant has devastated the town. Following laid-off employees struggling to make ends meet and local business owners trying to lure back investors, this intimate verité-style documentary supplies refreshingly human insight into America's economic crisis.
 I don't know how much Janesville I can take. I guess it's playing on PBS on October 8, so maybe I'll try to watch it then.

Short Films
Highlights of this year's programs include: Paraíso, in which three Chicago window cleaners wax philosophical as they work on a high-rise; the animated Oh Willy..., in which the hero returns to the naturist community where he spent his youth; and Yardbird, in which a young girl uses special powers against bullies.
 I've honestly never been to a shorts program other than a couple of those Oscar nominated shorts things they have every year right before the Oscars. I like short films, but they never seem as compelling to me as the giant catalog of feature films.

I can't wait for the full catalog to come out! 

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