Movies » Movie Feature

What to see at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival

Reviews of two dozen new features premiering locally

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Following, in alphabetical order, are reviews of selected films screening at this year's festival. Scroll to the bottom of the page for information about venue, admission, and advance sales.

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[Recommended] The Assassin In the ninth century, near the end of the Tang Dynasty, the governor of a state pulling away from the empire (Chang Chen) is stalked by a beautiful assassin (Shu Qi) who's been trained since childhood by the cunning princess of a rival family (Sheu Fang-yi). The story promises action, but this brooding martial-arts adventure from Hou Hsiao-hsien is largely a pictorial experience: in the glistening black-and-white preface, the killer slashes an opponent's throat and Hou cuts abruptly to a spray of wildflowers. Extreme wide shots place the characters against stunning mountain terrains and inside wild forests, recalling the crystalline detail of classical Chinese paintings; interior scenes unfold in a golden glow, gauzy curtains drifting back and forth over the action, while crickets chirp and tribal drums sound periodically, the hushed tone making the eruptions of swordplay seem even more clangorous. The dazzling 35-millimeter photography is by Mark Lee Ping Bing. In Mandarin with subtitles. 107 min. J.R. Jones 107 min. Wed 10/21, 6 PM, and Fri 10/23, 8:15 PM.

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Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice This Dutch-produced documentary looks at a village in northern Laos as residents transform their rustic community into a destination for Western tourists. Early on, director Daan Veldhuizen attends a village meeting at which one resident endorses the documentary filming, saying that people who see the movie might be inspired to visit; not surprisingly, this sometimes feels like a tourism ad. Veldhuizen presents Europeans interacting cheerily with Laotians and reflecting on how much they enjoy the simple life of the village. This happy tone is offset with scenes of villagers expressing reservations about the growing industry; one man admits that he doesn't like competing with his neighbors for tourism money, and another ponders whether the modernization efforts will corrupt the traditional culture. In English and subtitled Dutch, French, German, and Lao. Ben Sachs 94 min. Veldhuizen attends the screenings. Sat 10/17, 6:30 PM, and Mon 10/19, 3:30 PM.

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A Childhood Familiar but affecting, this naturalistic French drama by writer-director Philippe Claudel (I've Loved You So Long) follows a 13-year-old boy living in a small town with his drug-addicted mother and her boyfriend, a petty criminal. It sticks mainly to the boy's point of view, presenting both major and minor events in the same curious yet detached style. One empathizes quickly with the young hero, who's clearly intelligent and creative but lacks the proper guidance to make the most of his better qualities. There are some positive role models on display—an enthusiastic schoolteacher and a children's tennis instructor played by Claudel—yet sadly they hover at the periphery of the film, unable to make a real impact on the protagonist. The radiant cinematography is by Denis Lenoir, a longtime collaborator of Olivier Assayas. In French with subtitles. Ben Sachs 100 min. Claudel attends the Wednesday and Thursday screenings. Wed 10/21, 6 PM; Thu 10/22, 8:15 PM; and Mon 10/26, 3:30 PM.

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[Recommended] Chronic Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco is attracted to perverse relationships: his haunting Daniel & Ana, which screened at the 2009 festival, concerned a brother and sister in Mexico City who are kidnapped and forced to mate for a sex video, and this eerie drama stars Tim Roth as a private nurse in LA who's incapable of setting boundaries with his patients. Moving from one charge to the next—a woman wasting away from AIDS, a family patriarch felled by a stroke, a woman suffering through chemo—he is, in some scenes, a study in devotion, tenderhearted and attentive, and in others, a seriously creepy individual, digging around in his patients' private lives. (Naturally, his own private life is a mess.) Franco has created a memorable character, one whose extremes of behavior begin to merge in a gray area between selfless giving and selfish need. J.R. Jones 92 min. Wed 10/21, 8:15 PM; Thu 10/22, 8:30 PM; and Mon 10/26, 12:30 PM.

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[Recommended] Cronies During the opening credits of Michael Larnell's surprisingly fresh feature (which he also wrote, produced, and edited), a line of text explains the film's title: "A close friend or companion." Sure enough, this film, shot mostly in black and white, is primarily about friendship, though in subtle and mostly unspoken ways Larnell has plenty to say about sociology and racial segregation. In Saint Louis, Andrew (Brian Kowalski), a white, upper-middle-class twentysomething, drives over to the house of his soft-spoken, bespectacled coworker Louis (George Sample III) in a lower-class black neighborhood so that they can meet up and go fishing. Louis's garrulous, streetwise childhood friend Jack (Zurich Buckner in a standout performance) rudely barges in on their plans, and the movie documents their day together—they smoke weed, shoot dice at an illegal small-stakes gambling operation, and do ecstasy at Andrew's rich friend's house—as the trio form an unlikely bond. Spike Lee is the executive producer of this film, and it boasts both a sophisticated understanding of racial politics (as in Do the Right Thing) and a finely attuned ear to the language and behavior of male camaraderie (as in 25th Hour), but it never succumbs to sensationalism and overt moralizing. The soundtrack consists entirely of Saint Louis artists, and documentary-style interviews with the main characters shine light on their motives while slyly commenting on the media's coverage of race. Tal Rosenberg 84 min. Larnell attends the October 23 and 24 screenings. Fri 10/16, 3 PM; Fri 10/23, 7:45 PM; and Sat 10/24, 12:45 PM.

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[Recommended] Dheepan Writer-director Jacques Audiard ingeniously advocates for France's most marginalized citizens by obliquely addressing their struggles in his suspenseful films. In this immigration drama the focus is on Sri Lankans affected by the fallout of the civil war between the country's government and the independent faction known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or the Tamil Tigers). Dheepan (Sri Lankan author and actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan); his wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan); and their daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), are the false identities of three Sri Lankan refugees. They immigrate to France, where Dheepan finds work as caretaker of a squalid rural housing project that's mostly become an open-air drug market, a setting that gradually unearths his concealed past as a Tamil soldier. Though it takes a jarring left turn at the end, this bears the same immaculate plot construction and tonal consistency of Audiard's previous films, augmented by sensitive, superlative performances from Jesuthasan and Srinivasan. With Vincent Rottiers, riveting as a quietly seething kingpin, and a hypnotic score by electronic-music whiz kid Nicolas Jaar. In Tamil and French with subtitles. Tal Rosenberg 109 min. Fri 10/16, 8:30 PM, and Sat 10/24, 5:30 PM.

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Embers This low-budget sci-fi feature takes place in a postapocalyptic future in which no one has any short-term memory, and long-term memory is also declining. Claire Carré, a music-video director making her feature debut, shifts between several sets of characters struggling to hold on to whatever knowledge they still have. The most poignant subplot follows a man and woman who think they're husband and wife but don't know for certain; every several hours they must get to know each other all over again. Shot in postindustrial areas of Poland, Indiana, and New York state, this contains some striking imagery, and Carré succeeds in creating a haunted mood. The mood is so strong, in fact, that it overwhelms any sense of narrative development—the movie feels a bit like a video-art installation expanded to feature length. In English and subtitled Spanish. Ben Sachs 86 min. Carré attends the Friday and Saturday screenings. Fri 10/16, 8 PM; Sat 10/17, 1 PM; and Sun 10/25, 11 AM.

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[Recommended] 45 Years An elderly retiree (Tom Courtenay) learns that the body of his onetime lover, who died more than 50 years earlier in a hiking accident, has been recovered, perfectly preserved in an ice pack. The news sends shock waves through his long marriage to another woman (Charlotte Rampling), and in the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, she begins to wonder who he really is. Directed by Andrew Haigh (Weekend), this sober British drama showcases Rampling in a superb performance. Fearful, confused, and ultimately devastated, her character comes to learn that while a marriage can be strengthened by the years, so can the secret that finally takes it down. J.R. Jones 95 min. Sat 10/17, 3:30 PM, and Tue 10/20, 6:15 PM.

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Funny Girl Barbra Streisand in her 1968 film debut; she plays the Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny Brice, who also happened to be the mother-in-law of producer Ray Stark. Streisand is stunning, but the film is a trial, particularly when the music disappears somewhere around the 90-minute mark and all that's left is leaden melodrama. William Wyler directed (it was his next-to-last film); the musical numbers were staged by Herbert Ross. With Omar Sharif, Walter Pidgeon, Kay Medford, and Anne Francis. —Dave Kehr 155 min. Sat 10/17, 11:15 AM.

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[Recommended] Henry Gamble's Birthday Party In a 2011 interview with Reader writer Ben Sachs, writer-director Stephen Cone said, "I think those French filmmakers who took off in the 1980s—André Téchiné, Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas, and Patrice Chéreau . . . I always want my movies to be as alive as theirs are." Cone's sixth feature-length film is the closest he's come to channeling those directors' graceful, expressive approach to filmmaking. The title character is the repressed homosexual teenage son of a fundamentalist Christian minister, and the whole film takes place during the title event at the family's suburban McMansion. As J.R. Jones wrote about Cone's 2011 film The Wise Kids, the dominant motif here is the ways in which the characters "try to reconcile their spiritual ideals with their physical longing." Yet the acting is so naturalistic and the various subplots are so well balanced that the confused piety of the characters gradually begins to feel like anyone else's everyday problems. Such nuanced filmmaking demonstrates a lack of condescension or sanctimony that's rare in contemporary cinema's treatment of Christianity. Plus, Duran Duran is prominently featured in the film, which is always a good sign. Tal Rosenberg 87 min. Cone attends the screenings. Thu 10/22, 3 PM; Fri 10/23, 8 PM; and Sat 10/24, 11:30 AM.

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Hitchcock/Truffaut Critic Kent Jones directed this documentary about the title book, which derived from a weeklong interview that Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock in 1962. The film provides a useful summary of the cultural impact made by Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, explaining how the "politique des auteurs" (a theory that argued the director was the primary author of a film) changed the way people looked at movies; it also argues that Truffaut almost single-handedly changed the way people looked at Hitchcock, presenting him as an artist rather than a light entertainer. The lesson in critical history soon gives way to a succession of filmmakers discussing Hitchcock's genius; the impressive lineup of talking heads includes Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, David Fincher (who's particularly eloquent), Olivier Assayas, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. In English and subtitled French and Japanese. Ben Sachs 80 min. Jones attends the screenings. Sat 10/24, 5 PM, and Mon 10/26, 6 PM.

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The Homecoming A smug self-help author gets the surprise of his life when his grown son brings home his fiancee—who happens to be the illegitimate daughter the author abandoned at her birth. Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, who wrote and directed this Icelandic feature, moves unpredictably between dark comedy and straight-faced melodrama, though the comic passages aren't all that funny and the dramatic parts aren't very compelling. Still, this is commendable for refusing to simplify any of the major characters, who seem more believable as the film goes on. The characterization of the author's wife (who'd likely be a cipher in a lesser film) is particularly strong. In Icelandic with subtitles. Ben Sachs 105 min. Tue 10/20, 8:30 PM; Wed 10/21, 5:30 PM; and Fri 10/23, 1:45 PM.

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Homesick A high-strung cellist and her husband move into a new apartment building, where the musician, increasingly agitated over an upcoming international competition, begins to suspect that the old woman living one floor up wants to drive her mad. Austrian writer-director Jakob M. Erwa makes eerie use of the building's high ceilings and wide-open stairwells as the tension between the two women escalates. Eventually the musician begins to seem more paranoid than preyed upon, and the movie turns into a room full of mirrors. Erwa gets most of the credit for this with his cagey plotting, but he couldn't have pulled it off without veteran actress Tatja Seibt as the woman upstairs; her blunt features suggest a harsh intent but can also soften in vulnerability. In German with subtitles. J.R. Jones 98 min. Erwa attends the screenings. Fri 10/23, 6 PM; Sun 10/25, 12:30 PM; and Mon 10/26, 1 PM.

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[Recommended] Hugo "The movies are our special place," remarks the title character, and his words go a long way toward explaining how Martin Scorsese came to make a 3-D children's fantasy. Adapted from a Caldecott Medal-winning book by Brian Selznick, Hugo tells the story of an orphan (Asa Butterfield) who lives inside the walls of a Parisian train station in the early 1930s, tending to its giant clock and scheming to rehabilitate an antiquated automaton his father left him. The boy's quest leads him to the angry old proprietor of a little toy shop, who turns out to be none other than the pioneering fantasy filmmaker Georges Melies (A Trip to the Moon). Scorsese transforms this innocent tale into an ardent love letter to the cinema and a moving plea for film preservation, and it's no accident that a clock figures so prominently in the action: movies may have the power to stop time, but time has the power to erode and destroy celluloid. With Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, and Christopher Lee. J.R. Jones PG, 126 min. Sun 10/18, 2:15 PM.

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[Recommended] I Smile Back A scorching performance from Sarah Silverman anchors this painful drama of addiction and defeat. Her character, a middle-class wife and mother, is off her meds, off the wagon, and beyond the help of her caring husband (Josh Charles, also great). She humorously dotes on her daughter and two sons, but when they're tucked away in school she sleeps with one of the neighbors and vacuums up cocaine (not since Debra Granik's Down to the Bone has an indie drama dealt as wrenchingly with parenthood and drug abuse). Silverman completely drops her sweet/snarky comic persona, tapping into the character's tenderness, simmering rage, and bleak despair. The movie's abrupt ending will strike some as daring and others as disappointing; count me among the latter, though Silverman is so good I wish it weren't so. Adam Salky directed a screenplay by first-timers Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman. J.R. Jones R, 85 min. Silverman attends the screening. Fri 10/16, 6 PM.

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In the Underground Documentary maker Song Zhantao takes viewers into the coal mines of Handan City in northern China and profiles some of the miners who work there, using a variety of approaches (fast editing and direct-cinema-style camerawork for the mine scenes and detached, static long takes to record the workers at home). The mix of industrial portraiture and human-interest segments recalls Jia Zhang-ke's fiction-documentary hybrid 24 City (2008), and as in that film, the central concern here is the effect of China's rapid modernization on everyday people. Song observes the miners talking about living hand to mouth, which comes to seem as perilous as their work in the mines; he does finds room for optimism in his portraits of the community at play. In Mandarin with subtitles. Ben Sachs 92 min. Song attends the screenings. Sun 10/18, 3:30 PM, and Mon 10/19, noon.

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The Infinite Happiness Documentary makers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine explore the 8 House in suburban Copenhagen, a large mixed-use development built in the shape of a figure eight. The building contains residences, storefronts, a kindergarten, and public gardens, all connected by bike lanes and mazelike stairwells; the film's structure consists of short segments that jump from one spot to another and evoke the feeling of getting blissfully lost. The filmmakers address some of the fundamental questions of social architecture—How do architects achieve a balance between form and function? How do they work with the landscapes surrounding their creations?—while offering pleasant thumbnail portraits of many residents. In English and subtitled Danish. Ben Sachs 84 min. Bêka and Lemoine attend the Saturday screening. Sat 10/17, 2:15 PM, and Mon 10/19, 3 PM.

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A Light Beneath Their Feet Beth (Madison Davenport) is a senior at Evanston Township High whose mentally ill mother, Gloria (Taryn Manning), begins working at the school cafeteria at the very moment she stops taking her meds; the mother's gradual psychiatric decline forces Beth to evaluate whether she wants to attend nearby Northwestern or to leave her mother and attend UCLA. There's also a subplot about Beth's quasi-romance with brooding Jeremy (Carter Jenkins), but the pacing is so tepid and the script so trite that I barely cared. Director Valerie Weiss seems to think that bland indie-pop music on the soundtrack will do the trick, but I beg to differ. With Nora Dunn, who deserves better. Tal Rosenberg 90 min. Weiss and Davenport attend the Tuesday and Wednesday screenings. Tue 10/20, 8:45 PM; Wed 10/21, 5:30 PM; and Fri 10/23, 12:30 PM.

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Mia Madre Writer-director Nanni Moretti (The Son's Room) drew on his own life experience for this study of an Italian filmmaker (Margherita Buy) trying to shoot a movie while, at home, her mother is slowly dying. The domestic scenes, which include Moretti himself as the filmmaker's brother, are well played but familiar, giving way to ham-handed dream and reverie sequences that illustrate the heroine's growing anxiety at her approaching loss. Fortunately the movie-production scenes deliver plenty of laughs, courtesy of John Turturro as a vain, temperamental American movie star who blows take after take and dines out on his stories of an imagined creative partnership with Stanley Kubrick. The movie within the movie, starring Turturro as a haughty factory owner clashing with his workers over layoffs, is Moretti's little inside joke about his own left-leaning early features. In Italian with subtitles. J.R. Jones 106 min. Screens as part of the opening-night program. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, $23, VIP ticket $150.

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Modern Metropolis: Mid-Century Chicago on Film Architecture critic Lee Bey introduces this quartet of lively shorts, drawn from the Chicago Film Archives, that showcase the city's architecture in the 1960s and '70s. Noted amateur filmmaker Margaret Conneely directed Chicago: City to See in '63 (1962), a kaleidoscopic tour of the city with an Algrenesque voice-over narration; some of the sights are familiar (the lions at the Art Institute, Illinois Centennial Column in Logan Square), and some are long gone (the famous nightspots Mr. Kelly's and the Gate of Horn). The New World of Stainless Steel (1960), an industrial film, includes views of local skyscrapers, and the trippy Chicago Breakdown (1976) alternates between scenes of day traders, a Playboy photographer shooting a nude pictorial, and DJ Larry Lujack spinning disks on WCFL. The most striking entry is The Building: Chicago Stock Exchange (1975), which documents the tragic demolition of the old stock exchange building in 1972. "They should be playing Mozart's Requiem," says the storied photographer and preservationist Richard Nickel as he surveys the wreckage; he would be killed during the demolition when part of the building collapsed. J.R. Jones 56 min. Sat 10/24, 2 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, free.

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Obra In this debut feature by Brazilian writer-director Gregorio Graziosi, a stylish architect (Júlio Andrade) in São Paolo is alerted by his crew to the skeletal remains of human beings that have been unearthed on the grounds of a construction site for a building he has designed. The appearance of these skeletons causes a chain of events that lead to the architect reflecting on his own mortality and his impending fatherhood. Shot entirely in crisp black and white, the film is a visual marvel, with Graziosi and cinematographer André Brandão somehow making the claustrophobia of São Paolo feel open and expansive—a hospital waiting room feels as large as a warehouse, or an apartment hallway looks as if it stretches for miles. Scenes transpire slowly and with minimal dialogue, but more often than not such pacing is dry and nearly interminable. This is the kind of film whose "meditative" qualities seem to be a smoke screen for a lack of story or ideas. In Portuguese with subtitles. Tal Rosenberg 84 min. Graziosi attends the screenings. Fri 10/16, 5 PM, and Sun 10/18, 12:15 PM.

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Orphans of Eldorado In this modern-day Brazilian retelling of the Oedipus myth, an itinerant musician returns to his family's estate after being away for an unspecified period of time, resumes a sexual relationship with his mother, and precipitates the premature death of his industrialist father. After the father dies, the son is thrust into running the family's shipbuilding business (something he has no idea how to do), and his passionate incestuous affair turns sour. Leaving again, he goes into the rain forest in search of a beautiful woman who's appeared to him in dreams. This is visually interesting but ponderous as storytelling, and the overbearing soundtrack (densely packed with field recordings of the rainforest) is often distracting. Guilherme Coelho directed his own script. In Portuguese with subtitles. Ben Sachs 97 min. Coelho attends the screenings. Tue 10/20, 6 PM; Thu 10/22, 8:45 PM; and Fri 10/23, 11:30 AM.

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A Perfect Day In the waning days of the Balkan conflict, five international aid workers are pulled into an increasingly absurd and complicated mission to hoist a dead body from a village well so the water can be purified. I was nearly halfway through this Spanish drama and wondering when the story was going to begin before I realized that it already had. The low-stakes shaggy-dog plot allows for a variety of vignettes that reveal how the civil conflict eroded people's humanity, but the movie's orthodox antiwar sentiment carries the story only so far; dragging it over the finish line, in the absence of any compelling objective, are Benicio Del Toro as the group's humane, grimly humorous leader and Tim Robbins as a veteran aid worker whose hot-dog behavior terrifies some of the others. Fernando León de Aranoa directed; with Olga Kurylenko, Mélanie Thierry, and Fedja Stukan. J.R. Jones 106 min. Sun 10/25, 8 PM, and Tue 10/27, 7:45 PM.

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[Recommended] Road to La Paz An unemployed man in Buenos Aries, trying his luck as a private driver, befriends one of his passengers, an old Muslim man with a variety of health problems, and agrees to take him on a trip to Bolivia so he can reunite with his brother. As with many road movies, this warm comedy is more about the journey than the destination, emphasizing the growing intimacy between the principal characters and treating viewers to some lovely images of the Argentinian countryside. Writer-director Francisco Varone sets an agreeably relaxed pace, and the characterizations resonate; by the end of the film, you might feel as though you've made a couple of new friends. In Spanish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 89 min. Varone attends the Wednesday and Thursday screenings. Wed 10/21, 8 PM; Thu 10/22, 8 PM; and Tue 10/27, 12:30 PM.

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[Recommended] Spotlight A quantum leap for the talented writer-director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent), this outstanding drama recounts the yearlong crusade of the Boston Globe’s special investigative unit to expose the Catholic Church’s shielding of pedophile priests. McCarthy and cowriter Josh Singer include agonizing moments with the grown, traumatized victims, but the movie is more notable for its textured portrayal of newspaper work and its complex and shocking sense of how the Boston archdiocese pressured the courts, the media, and its own worshipers to look the other way. Set in 2001 (the investigation is briefly shelved during the 9/11 attacks), this offers a potent reminder that investigative journalism is critical to a just society, and that we need it now more than ever. As one might expect with an actor turned director like McCarthy, the performances are uniformly excellent; among the cast are Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, Stanley Tucci, and John Slattery. J.R. Jones R, 128 min. Screens as part of the closing-night program; tickets are $25. The film opens for a commercial run on November 6. Thu 10/29, 7 PM.

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[Recommended] To Sleep With Anger It seems scandalous that Charles Burnett, the most gifted black American director offering purely realistic depictions of black urban life, was able to make this 1990 feature only because Danny Glover agreed to play a leading role. Harry Mention (Glover), an old friend from the rural south, arrives on the doorstep of a Los Angeles family, wreaking subtle and not-so-subtle havoc on their lives. The family is headed by a retired farmer (Paul Butler) and his midwife spouse (Mary Alice), whose two married sons (Carl Lumbly and Richard Brooks) are in constant conflict. Burnett's acute and sensitive direction is free of hackneyed movie conventions; even something as simple as a hello is said differently from the way you've heard it in any other movie. All of Burnett's features have the density of novels, rich with characters and their interplay, and this one is no exception. —Jonathan Rosenbaum 102 min. Burnett attends the screening to accept the festival's career achievement award. Sun 10/25, 5 PM.

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Under Electric Clouds This episodic Russian art film was written and directed by Aleksey German Jr. and shows the marked influence of his father's work (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, Hard to Be a God) in its intricate tracking shots, immersive sound design, and opaque storytelling, dense with allusions to Russian art and history. The year is 2017—the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, a grave-sounding narrator intones—and the world is on the brink of war; much of the action takes place in and around an unfinished skyscraper in the middle of a barren field. The various Beckett-like characters include an honored scholar reduced to working as a tour guide, a real estate lawyer who has an elaborate dream placing him back in the late 1980s, and a Kyrgyz immigrant who witnesses a series of senseless crimes. In Russian with subtitles. Ben Sachs 132 min. Sun 10/25, 7:45 PM, and Tue 10/27, 8:15 PM.

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[Recommended] A Very Ordinary Citizen The title character of this dark Iranian comedy is a solitary and taciturn old man in Tehran whose days revolve around napping and buying bread. His son, exiled to Canada, wants his father to visit, so he hires a young female travel agent to help the old man make arrangements; the father takes a shine to her, though his means of showing affection make her increasingly uncomfortable. Souren Mnatsakanian gives a wonderful, poker-faced lead performance—it's never clear whether the old man is senile or just extremely aloof—and director Majid Barzegar (Parviz) fashions a deadpan visual style to match. The character humor is ingratiating, and the unexpected plot twists provide some genuine shocks. Jafar Panahi collaborated with Barzegar on the script. In Farsi with subtitles. Ben Sachs 103 min. Sat 10/17, 8:30 PM; Sun 10/18, 11:45 AM: and Thu 10/22, 4 PM.

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Very Semi-Serious The gold standard for single-panel cartoons, the New Yorker considers about 1,000 submissions a week but publishes only 15, which should give an idea of the cutthroat competition. In this documentary by Leah Wolchok, such longtime contributors as Mort Gerberg, Farley Katz, George Booth, and Roz Chast share their experiences placing work with the celebrated magazine, though the primary focus is Bob Mankoff, the highly discriminating cartoon editor since 1997. Making him the central figure yields good results when Mankoff is at work, reviewing submissions and explaining what makes a good cartoon, but backfires at home when Wolchok, in search of a "laugh to keep from crying" angle, gets him and his wife to open up about the recent death of their son. This is most interesting for its office politics: as editor in chief David Remnick explains, he has to "prod" Mankoff to diversify his long-standing club of Jewish men, and there's some provocative commentary from women cartoonists such as Emily Flake and Victoria Roberts, whose comic sensibilities don't always gibe with Mankoff's punch-line mentality. J.R. Jones 83 min. Sun 10/18, 5:45 PM, and Sun 10/25, 11:45 AM.

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Where to Invade Next Michael Moore persists in his lifelong mission to provoke liberals to paroxysms of rage, at least until the end credits roll and they start looking for a good restaurant. Armed with an American flag, he heads across the Atlantic to document how much better European governments treat their citizens, with episodes in Italy (where workers get months of vacation and paid leave every year), France (where school lunches rival the food at fine restaurants), Finland (which now ranks number one in education globally), Germany (where workers have a strong presence on corporate boards), Norway (whose legalization of drugs has caused a drop in addiction), etc. The hit-and-run strategy precludes any meaningful consideration of how such successes might be transplanted from these smaller economies to the U.S., so as a rhetorical argument, or even a political blueprint, this falls apart almost as quickly as Moore can present it. But the movie definitely has merit as a consciousness-raising exercise, alerting blinkered Americans to the fact that we deserve better. J.R. Jones 110 min. Moore attends the screening. Fri 10/23, 7 PM.


SPECIAL EVENTS

BEST OF THE FEST features short works by local students ages 21 and under, prizewinners at this year's CineYouth Film Festival. Sat 10/17, 11 AM, free.

For the panel discussion SCIENCE + CINEMA: REFRESH MY MEMORY, neuroscientists and filmmakers Claire Carré (Embers), Jack C. Newell (Open Tables), and Jeremy Carr (Other Madnesses) consider amnesia as a plot device. Sat 10/17, noon, free.

For the panel discussion FILMED SPACES, Mark Lewis (Invention), Gregorio Grazio (Obra), Chuck Przybyl (INsite: A Document), and Louise Lemoine (The Infinite Happiness) discuss their methods of rendering architecture on film. Sun 10/18, 11 AM, free.

TASTE OF CINEMA pairs movies with fine dining. Included are Breakfast at Ina's (Sun 10/18, 3:30 PM), The Birth of Sake (Mon 10/19, 5:45 PM), and Open Tables (Tue 10/20 6:15 PM). Tickets for each program are $50.

MICHAEL BARKER, cofounder of Sony Pictures Classics, considers the "State of the Art-House." Fri 10/23, 1 PM, $5.

Producer GIGI PRITZKER (Rabbit Hole, Rosewater, Drive) introduces clips from her films. Thu 10/22, 7 PM.

STEVE PINK (Hot Tub Time Machine) and JEFF GARLIN (I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With) discuss their careers as independent writer-producer-directors. Sat 10/24, 11:15 AM.

The panel discussion THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM CRISIS asks, "Are subtitled movies fading on U.S. screens?" Sat 10/24, 2 PM.

The panel discussion POWER PLAYERS gauges the effects of women producers and financiers on the film business. Sat 10/24, 4 PM.

Writer-director CHARLES BURNETT (Killer of Sheep, My Brother's Wedding, The Glass Shield) accepts the festival's career achievement award and discusses his 1990 feature To Sleep With Anger (see listings for review). Sun 10/25, 5 PM.

THE BEST OF INTERCOM collects the best corporate, educational, and industrial shorts from Cinema/Chicago's annual competition. Wed 10/28, 3 PM, free.


VENUE Unless otherwise noted, all films screen at River East 21, 322 E. Illinois.

ADMISSION Unless otherwise noted, all tickets are $14 ($11 for students, seniors, and Cinema/Chicago members). A ten-admission pass is $130 ($100 for members), and a 20-admission pass is $250 ($195 for members). Weekday matinees through 5 PM are $8; shows after 10 PM are $10. Special packages for opening- and closing-night galas.

ADVANCE SALES In person: Cinema/Chicago, 30 E. Adams, suite 800 (weekdays 10 AM-6 PM) or River East 21 (Thu 10/15, noon-8 PM; Fri 10/16-Thu 10/29, beginning one hour before the first show and ending after the last show has begun). Online: ticket​master​.com/​chicagofilmfestival (individual tickets only) or chicago​film​festival​.com. By phone: 24 hours in advance at 312-332-3456; weekdays 10 AM-6 PM.

FOR MORE Call 312-332-3456 or go to chicago​film​festival​.com.  v

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