VENUES Chase Auditorium, 10 S. Dearborn (Black Perspectives Tribute); Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph (opening night); River East 21, 322 E. Illinois; 600 N. Michigan.
ADMISSION $12 ($9 for Cinema/Chicago members), $10 students or seniors, $7 matinees; $110 for a 10-admission pass, $210 for a 20-admission pass, and $385 for a 40-admission pass. Weekday matinee screenings (before 5 PM) free to the first 100 students or seniors. Special prices and party packages for opening- and closing-night galas—see Web site.
ADVANCE SALES In person: River East 21 or 600 N. Michigan, box offices open on 10/15 from noon to 8 PM; on 10/16 from noon to 5 PM, and from 10/16 onward, from one hour before the venue's first screening until the venue's last screening has been seated. By phone: Ticketmaster, 312-902-1500 or ticketmaster.com (48 hours in advance).
INFO 312-332-3456 or chicagofilmfestival.com.
The funniest movie to play Chicago last year wasn't Knocked Up or Superbad—it was Roy Andersson's You, the Living, a desperately dark Swedish comedy that screened twice as part of the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival. I wanted to recommend it to all my friends but didn't get around to it, figuring it would open shortly at Landmark or the Music Box anyway. But one year later You, the Living still hasn't won a U.S. release, and I realize my friends may never get a chance to enjoy it as I did—in a theater, with eddies of startled, awkward laughter traveling up and down the rows. Even in our digital age of seemingly limitless choices, great films can still come and go without cracking the U.S. market.
So if you see something in these pages that looks good, clear your schedule, buy a ticket, and go for it. The festival's primary innovation this year is its "festival village," a fancy way of saying that almost all the screenings have been concentrated at two neighboring multiplexes in River North (600 N. Michigan and River East 21), with social events at nearby hotels and restaurants. The festival organizers also hope the proximity will "promote interaction among filmgoers and provide a fully encompassing festival experience, similar to that of major European film festivals." Nothing will kill your fantasy of being in Europe faster than taking the CTA.
We're pleased to increase our critical coverage of the festival this year, but the reviews that follow still represent only a third of the features screening, not to mention the shorts. To see the entire lineup, which runs Thursday, October 16, through Wednesday, October 29, see the official festival schedule at chicagofilmfestival.com. —J.R. Jones
RBallast After a rural gas station owner commits suicide with pills, his devoted twin brother (Michael J. Smith) tries to follow suit with a pistol but survives. Seeking an avenue out of his grief, he decides to lend a hand to the dead man's estranged wife (Tarra Riggs) and angry teenage son (JimMyron Ross), who's started messing around with crack. Lance Hammer shot this debut feature in natural light, using nonprofessional actors, and with its jump cuts, music-free soundtrack, and plaintive Mississippi Delta landscapes it seems as raw as the characters' emotions. Hammer overplays his indie hand with an abrupt and unsatisfactory ending, but his three leads are so credible that their aching, tongue-tied characters linger in the memory. 96 min. (JJ) Hammer will attend both screenings.aSun 10/19, 5:15 PM, and Mon 10/20, 8:20 PM, River East 21
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas As the Holocaust recedes into history, nudged back by more recent tolerated genocides, pat Holocaust dramas like this one begin to seem more like exercises in complacency than condemnations of it. The baldly manipulative story involves a Nazi SS officer (David Thewlis) who becomes commandant of a death camp and moves his wife (Vera Farmiga), daughter (Cara Horgan), and young son (Asa Butterfield) into a country house not far away. Roaming around, the little boy quickly finds the camp and befriends a mournful Jewish kid (Jack Scanlon) on the other side of wire. This might have had some potential as a German exercise in self-examination, but as a tony BBC Films production, with the actors all speaking British-accented English (including Jersey girl Farmiga), it reeks of self-righteousness. Mark Herman (Little Voice) directed his own script, adapting a children's novel by John Boyne. PG-13, 93 min. (JJ) Herman and Boyne will attend the screening. aWed 10/22, 6:30 PM, River East 21
The Brothers Bloom Rian Johnson made his feature debut with the art-house sleeper Brick (2005), which transposed the hard-boiled dialogue and tangled mystery of a Dashiell Hammett novel to a suburban SoCal high school. This follow-up is another puckish reworking of a familiar genre—the con-man story, in which a professional trickster falls in love and has to choose candor over deception. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are the title brothers, whose scheme to swindle eccentric heiress Rachel Weisz is complicated by Brody's unexpected feelings for her. With its references to Joyce and Melville and its metafictional musings, The Brothers Bloom is every bit as quirky and literate as its predecessor, but it lacks the conceptual edge of Brick, which used noir mythology to comment on the social ruthlessness of high school. As a result, it often seems precious and overconceived, its accumulating crosses and double-crosses as devoid of consequence as a child's backyard game. PG-13, 113 min. (JJ) Johnson and Weisz will attend the screening, part of the festival's opening-night program. Tickets are $35-40. aThu 10/16, 7 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance
RCherry Blossoms Veteran German director Doris Dorrie pays homage to Ozu's Tokyo Story with this drama about an elderly German couple (Elmar Wepper and Hannelore Elsner) who travel to Berlin to visit a son and daughter after the wife is told her husband has a terminal illness. As in Ozu's drama, their indifferent children make them feel like nuisances, so they decide to travel to the Baltic Sea; after the wife suddenly dies, the husband's grief compels him to visit their youngest son in Tokyo, a place she'd always longed to see. This may lack the understated pathos of Ozu's somber masterpiece, but it's still a moving meditation on aging and loss, and Wepper and Elsner are unforgettable. In English and subtitled German and Japanese. 127 min. (JK) aSat 10/18, 5:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan, and Mon 10/20, 8:30 PM, River East 21
Delta Sliding forward with the grim finality of Greek tragedy, this largely wordless Hungarian drama is powered by the tension between its idyllic setting and its disturbing subject matter. Following a long absence, a disaffected young man (Felix Lajko) returns to his mother's home in the verdant Danube Delta and bonds incestuously with his half-sister (Orsi Toth). Before long the young lovers have set up house at some remove from the village, but not far enough. Director Kornel Mundruczo (Pleasant Days) uses long shots to subvert expectations: what appears to be a playful stroll by the couple turns into a rape, an omen of worse to come. Think Deliverance on the Danube, and without the catharsis. In Hungarian with subtitles. 92 min. (AG) aSun 10/19, 6:00 PM, and Mon 10/20, 8:40 PM, 600 N. Michigan
REverlasting Moments In the films of Swedish director Jan Troell (The Emigrants, The New Land), ordinary lives assume epic dimensions, and this drama, based on the experiences of his wife's protofeminist grandmother, doesn't sugarcoat the hardships of the early 1900s. A beleaguered mother (Maria Heiskanen) despairs of feeding her large family, while her drunken husband (Mikael Persbrandt) loses jobs and chases skirts. Ironically, a camera she won in a lottery during their courtship leads to new opportunities, thanks to the kindness of a gentleman photographer (Jesper Christensen). Mischa Gavrjusjov keys the camerawork to the characters' moods, inky blacks portending a thunderous alcoholic outburst, golden washes signaling the heroine's late blooming. In Swedish with subtitles. 125 min. (AG) Troell will attend all three screenings. aSun 10/19, 5 PM, Mon 10/20, 6 PM, and Tue 10/21, 4 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RFear(s) of the Dark Sinister and beautiful, this mostly black-and-white animation from France culls the talents of six artists and designers—Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard McGuire—who were asked to explore their most primal fears. Their styles run the gamut from comic-book pen-and-ink (Burns) to expressionistic pencil work (Blutch) to geometric abstraction (di Sciullo), but their sequences all reach past the stock materials of the horror genre into the obscure shadow land of the human psyche. Artistic director Etienne Robial has integrated the artists' work so smoothly that one hesitates to single out any particular segment, though the one that really made my bowels clutch was Burns's tale of a virginal college student who's seduced by a pretty classmate, implanted with larvae, and harvested for a race of giant humanoid insects. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (JJ) aSun 10/19, 7:50 PM, 600 N. Michigan
The Girl by the Lake When a beautiful young woman is found murdered in a provincial town in northern Italy, a surly police veteran (Toni Servillo in a nicely understated performance) is called in from a nearby city to investigate. He quickly assembles a list of suspects, including the dim-witted villager who discovered the body, a neighbor who's disarmingly cooperative, a hockey coach with a prison record, and the girl's layabout boyfriend. First-time director Andrea Molaioli shows great skill in moving the mystery along without planting too many red herrings; when the investigator mistakenly decides one suspect is the culprit, his error registers more as a character flaw than a plot device. With Fabrizio Gifuni and Valeria Golino. In Italian with subtitles. 95 min. (JK) aThu 10/23, 4:15 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RGo With Peace Jamil Set in Copenhagen's Arab immigrant community, this Dogma 95 drama recounts an endless cycle of brutal revenge between two families, one Sunni and the other Shiite. Members of each family disparage the other's religious origins, yet first-time director Omar Shargawi never aims for a political tract. As the acts of violence escalate with numbing frequency, the overwhelmed protagonist tries to balance his desire to tolerate his enemies against his duty to avenge his family members, a seemingly unresolvable dilemma that lends the film much of its raw power. In Arabic and Danish with subtitles. 90 min. (JK) aTue 10/21, 4:10 PM, 600 N. Michigan, and Thu 10/23, 6 PM, River East 21
RGomorrah This Italian crime saga opens with a Godfather-style set piece in which three hoods are assassinated in the gleaming blue light of a tanning salon, which culminates in serial close-ups of their purple-spattered corpses. But the balance of the movie—scripted by director Matteo Garrone (The Embalmer), journalist Roberto Saviano, and four others—takes a less sensational, more investigative approach to its subject, interweaving four diverse story lines to show how the Neapolitan crime organization known as the Camorra has reached its tentacles into construction, garbage removal, the garment industry, and the ghetto drug trade. Given the breadth of the story, the characters never achieve much depth, but they're part of a larger pattern: the younger ones are eager to find their way into the organization while the older ones are desperate to find their way out. In the most shocking scene, a little boy sets up his own mother for a hit, having discovered a bigger, infinitely more powerful family. In Italian with subtitles. 135 min. (JJ) aSat 10/18 and Sun 10/19, 8 PM, River East 21
RThe Good, the Bad, and the Weird With a nod and a wink to Sergio Leone, South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters) delivers a slam-bang western set in Manchuria after the Japanese invasion in 1931. Dynamic wide-screen camerawork propels the action, beginning with an over-the-shoulder shot as a doofus train robber (Song Kang-ho of The Host) hurtles through connecting railway cars to pilfer a treasure map. The theft sets him in conflict against a hired gun (Lee Byung-hun), a bounty hunter (Jung Woo-sung), assorted bandits, and, in a bravura desert-chase sequence, the Japanese army. Lee's charismatic villainy and Song's raffish glee bolster the slim plot, though the revelation here is the tall, lithe Jung, an actor of few words but striking physicality. In Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese with subtitles. 130 min. (AG) aSat 10/18, 8:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RHappy-Go-Lucky A new drama by British director Mike Leigh is always cause for celebration, though if you saw his last two—All or Nothing (2002), about a modern working-class family coming apart at the seams, and Vera Drake (2004), about a good-hearted 1950s matriarch who performs back-alley abortions—you may not have been in a mood to celebrate afterward. Conscious perhaps of his reputation as a miserymonger, Leigh takes a step back from the abyss with this story about an irrepressibly cheerful primary school teacher (Sally Hawkins) who loves her work, loves her friends, and loves a night out at the pub. Intent on learning to drive, she meets her opposite number in a furiously pissed-off instructor with horrendous teeth (Eddie Marsan). When the teacher started feeling pain in her spine, I immediately diagnosed meningitis and predicted an agonizing death as punishment for her giddiness. But Leigh pushes the story in a more interesting direction, asking whether people find happiness or simply will it on themselves. R, 118 min. (JJ) Leigh will attend the screening to accept the festival's Career Achievement Award. aFri 10/17, 7 PM, River East 21
RHunger British visual artist Steve McQueen has earned acclaim for work that's topical, challenging, and political without being polemical, traits it shares with his stark but moving drama about the Irish Republican Army's 1981 hunger strike inside Northern Ireland's notorious Maze Prison. Avoiding conventional exposition, McQueen and his cowriter, Enda Walsh, draw the viewer in through shifting points of view, as the convicts endure increasingly brutal tortures in their struggle to be recognized as political detainees. The fulcrum of this deeply humanist work is an extended two-shot of the strike's leader, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), as he converses with a priest (Liam Cunningham); the virtuosic sequence encapsulates the whole sorry history of a horrific civil war. 96 min. (AG) aSun 10/19, 3 PM, River East 21, and Tue 10/21, 8:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
Idiots and Angels Working with a soft pencil line, muted colors, and no dialogue, cult animator Bill Plympton (Hair High) tells the story of a selfish jerk who inexplicably sprouts wings and learns to fly. (Apparently he's one of God's chosen, though his first act upon taking flight is to moon people on a passing airliner.) Plympton's grotesque characters and surreal metamorphoses are always entertaining, but this feature is so casually plotted that all the imagination in the world can't keep it afloat; in the end it seems less a story than a loose collection of slapstick reveries. 78 min. (JJ) Plympton will attend the Tuesday and Wednesday screenings. aSat 10/18, 10:30 PM, Tue 10/21, 6:30 PM, and Wed 10/22, 7 PM, River East 21
I'm Gonna Explode Transferred to a new high school, a conservative politician's rebellious son (Juan Pablo de Santiago) introduces himself to the student body with a talent-show sketch, titled "See You in Hell," in which he simulates hanging himself. But Mexican writer-director Gerardo Naranjo fails to sustain the wild humor of that early scene, and his feature settles into a decidedly more winsome account of the hero's friendship-cum-romance with a like-minded classmate (the engrossing Maria Deschamps). After the kids disappear, their respective parents fear the worst and alert the police, yet the whole time the young pals are camped out on the rooftop of the politician's home in Guanajuato, surveying the skyline like James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo hiding out at the hilltop mansion in Rebel Without a Cause. In Spanish with subtitles. 103 min. (JJ) Naranjo will attend the screening. aThu 10/23, 7 PM, River East 21
I've Loved You So Long Philippe Claudel is a successful French novelist, so it's odd that his filmmaking debut suffers more from narrative than cinematic flaws. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a husk of a woman who's just been paroled after serving 15 years for killing her six-year-old son; with nowhere else to go, she moves in with the younger sister she barely knows (the luminous Elsa Zylberstein), the sister's brusque, alarmed husband (Serge Hazanavicius), and their two adorable moppets. Claudel excels at quiet character development and creates a convincing milieu of minor personalities as he explores whether the ex-convict can ever be truly accepted again by her family or the larger community. But he also commits the cardinal sin of withholding the full story until the very end, when it spills out in a histrionic scene between the two sisters and largely exonerates the older one. The movie takes on a challenging premise, does enough spadework to address it meaningfully, then inexplicably backs away in the last reel. In French with subtitles. PG-13, 115 min. (JJ) Claudel will attend the screening. aTue 10/21, 7 PM, 600 N. Michigan
In the Shadow of Hollywood This succinct video documentary by Brad Osborne casts a much-needed spotlight on one of America's first truly independent cinemas: the "race movies" produced specially for the African-American market from the silent era through the late 1940s. This active alternative culture provided a greater range of story, character, and perspective than the Hollywood studios, with their insulting images of maids, buffoons, and savages. Osborne doesn't dig very deep, but he does a nice job of profiling the genre's important directors (Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams) and actors (Evelyn Preer, Herb Jeffries, Paul Robeson) and surveying its major subgenres. 58 min. (PM) Osborne will take part in a panel discussion after the screening. aSun 10/19, 7 PM, River East 21
RJerusalema Ralph Ziman's crackling South African crime drama gives the genre a fresh political spin by showing how easily the high ideals of antiapartheid protesters might curdle into the debased populism thugs use to justify their power grabs. ("I had two heroes, Karl Marx and Al Capone," the protagonist announces in voice-over at the outset. "I think they'd both be proud of me.") The early scenes seem like a Soweto remake of The Public Enemy, with two kids trying to make their bones as carjackers despite the inconvenient fact that they can't drive (their first victim has to give them lessons before they can make off with his vehicle). Ten years later, they've been radicalized by the 1994 elections and moved on to Johannesburg, where the smarter and more forceful one (the charismatic Rapulana Seiphemo) launches a nonprofit housing trust that drifts into criminal activities. In English and subtitled Zulu, Khosa, and Afrikaans. 118 min. (JJ) Ziman will attend the screenings. aSun 10/19, 7:30 PM, and Mon 10/20, 8:45 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RKatyn Andrzej Wajda has spent much of his long career dramatizing major events in Polish history, and this poignant feature depicts the circumstances surrounding the Soviet Union's massacre of thousands of Polish officers in the spring of 1940. The film opens with a striking scene that underlines the plight of Wajda's people in World War II: as hundreds of Poles cross a bridge to flee invading German troops, others run toward them to escape the advancing Russian army. The rest of this feature follows a handful of families over five years as they suffer through the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation that succeeded it. In Polish, Russian, and German with subtitles. 118 min. (JK) aSun 10/19, 12:45 PM, 600 N. Michigan
King of Ping Pong At first glance this Swedish tale of a nerdy, overweight Ping-Pong enthusiast looks like a standard exercise in Nordic deadpan comedy, with long, static takes and sporadic bursts of droll humor. Set in the frigid north country, it follows its sad-sack teen (Jerry Johansson) as he tries to cope with merciless bullies, less-than-enthusiastic Ping-Pong students, and life in the shadow of his girl-magnet younger brother. There's nothing especially original here, but director-cowriter Jens Jonsson digs below the quirky surface, his deliberative style transforming this into an unexpectedly affecting coming-of-age drama. In Swedish with subtitles. 107 min. (RP) aSun 10/19, 1 PM, and Thu 10/23, 6 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RLaila's Birthday The absurdities of contemporary Palestinian life animate this small but accomplished film by Rashid Mashawari (Ticket to Jerusalem). An out-of-work judge (Mohamed Bakri) provides for his family by driving a cab, and on the day he's due home for his daughter's birthday celebration, his patience and ingenuity are tested by a series of eccentric riders. From the man who doesn't understand why rifles aren't allowed in the taxi to the lady who jumps out to stand in a line simply because it's there, the various customers illustrate how public civility frays under the stress of occupation. Saleh Bakri (The Band's Visit), the star's son, has a cameo as one of the riders. In Arabic with subtitles. 72 min. (AG) aFri 10/17, 4 PM, River East 21
RLet the Right One In Like George A. Romero's horror classic Martin (1977), this Swedish shocker mixes vampire mythology with adolescent melancholy, and just as the earlier film was rooted in reality by its run-down Pittsburgh locations, this one draws heavily on its working-class setting, a drab suburb of Stockholm. Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is bullied mercilessly at school and longs for a friend; one finally arrives in the person of Eli (Lina Leandersson), a pallid girl with a rumbling stomach who moves in next door. The boy begins to realize something is up when he slashes his palm to seal their friendship with a blood oath and she dives onto the floor to slurp up his drippings. The Scandinavian moodiness of the first half gives way to a series of jolting set pieces in the second, and as you might expect, the bullies get theirs in spectacular fashion. Tomas Alfredson directed a script by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who adapted his own successful novel. In Swedish with subtitles. R, 115 min. (JJ) aFri 10/17, 10 PM, River East 21
Medicine for Melancholy Wyatt Cenac, the latest addition to The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, is the best reason to see this easygoing romantic comedy about two young African-Americans (Cenac and Tracey Heggins) negotiating a new relationship. The opening scenes are hilariously awkward: the two wake up together after anonymous sex at a party, and Cenac tries to parlay the encounter into a date as Heggins struggles to blow him off. He eventually wins her over with his offbeat humor, despite the fact that she has a rich white boyfriend, and they spend the rest of the day together, enjoying San Francisco as they debate gentrification, rent control, and black identity. The movie's ideas float atop it like whipped cream on coffee, but the actors' chemistry makes for a pleasant, unassuming walk-and-talk. Barry Jenkins wrote and directed. 88 min. (JJ) aSun 10/19, 2:30 PM, and Tue 10/21, 6:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
R Native Dancer In this magic realist take on post-Soviet Kazakhstan, capitalist hoods want to open a combination gas station and casino on the dusty roadside where a revered old shaman performs her healing rituals. With their cell phones, swagger, Thai boxing, and shoot-outs, the men act as if they've seen one pulp thriller too many, but the ancient woman, summoning visions and mountain spirits, reconnects them all to their place in the universe. Guka Omarova directed a script she wrote with Sergei Bodrov (Mongol), which weaves nonfiction elements into an eerily affecting story. In Kazakh and Russian with subtitles. 87 min. (AG) aSat 10/18, 2:15 PM, Tue 10/21, 8:40 PM, and Wed 10/22, 4:10 PM, River East 21
Nights and Weekends A young couple (writer-directors Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig) enjoy sex on the kitchen floor, but soon afterward, problems emerge: the needy woman, visiting from New York, worries over the future of their long-distance romance, while the man, who lives in Chicago, has obligations that mean even more time apart. The first part of this love story is a slog, but the second is interesting: one year later, they've split up and the guy is involved with someone else, but sparks fly when he looks up his old flame during a business trip to Manhattan. What isn't said is more important than what is, as the camera returns again and again to the woman quietly watching her ex and trying to conceal her longing. 80 min. (AG) aMon 10/20, 8:30 PM, River East 21
Of Boys and Men In this over-the-top melodrama, a family man on Chicago's south side (Robert Townsend) struggles to hold his family together after his wife (Angela Bassett) is killed in a car accident. The father is so distraught that he can't reach out to his two sons—an upstanding college grad who suddenly turns alcoholic and a high schooler who falls under the sway of a neighborhood thug. Luckily the dad's sister (Victoria Rowell) steps up just in time to dispense some motherly affection and wisdom. Director Carl Seaton and writer Michelle Amor just can't take their feet off the gas; the mawkishness is enough to make Tyler Perry blush. 90 min. (RP) aTue 10/21, 8:30 PM, River East 21
ROf Time and the City Terence Davies, England's greatest living filmmaker, has released only six features, and this one is his first documentary, a mesmerizing and eloquent essay about his native Liverpool. As autobiographical and intensely personal as Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992), it encompasses his working-class background, his loss of faith in Catholicism (and, more generally, religion), and his evolution as a homosexual, as well as his taste in music and cinema. The film is made up chiefly of found footage and therefore lacks the mise en scene of its predecessors, but it has the added benefit of Davies's voice-over narration, which, thanks to his training and experience as an actor, is enormously powerful. (Check out the witty way he conveys his disdain for the Beatles through his delivery of one of their best-known refrains.) 72 min. (JR) aFri 10/18, 7:45 PM, and Thu 10/23, 6:15 PM, River East 21
Pride and Glory Like so many movies about police, this chest-thumping cop opera seems less concerned with their actual lives than with how we want to feel about them: for law-and-order conservatives, there's the usual huffing about the thin blue line, topped off by the obligatory funeral with bagpipes; for bleeding-heart liberals, there's a righteous cop (Edward Norton) making a lonely and principled stand against corruption in the department. Director Gavin O'Connor (Miracle) intended this as an homage to his father, a New York City police detective, and collaborated on the story with his brother, Gregory, and NYPD officer Robert Hopes. But the finished product, amped up by macho screenwriter Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin' Aces), is the sort of brutal, lumbering, and cliched thriller that only widens the divide between police and those they protect. With Jon Voight, Colin Farrell, and Noah Emmerich. R, 125 min. (JJ) O'Connor will attend the screening. aWed 10/22, 7:30 PM, River East 21
La Rabia With its opening disclaimer—"The animals in this film lived and died as they normally would"—this Argentinean drama about the brutality of life on the pampas signals that it's not for the squeamish. Director Albertina Carri opens with a boy bashing a sackful of baby weasels against a tree before tossing them into a pond, and assorted other animals are done in as well. An extended scene of a squealing sow being slaughtered is distressing but also fascinating for the methodical precision of those readying the animal for consumption. Numerous scenes of cruel, raw, adulterous sex and of children being beaten reinforce Carri's grim view of farm life. In Spanish with subtitles. 83 min. (JK) aSun 10/19, 4:30 PM, and Thu 10/23, 8:10 PM, River East 21
RRevanche An ex-con (Johannes Krisch) runs errands for a Viennese brothel while carrying on a furtive love affair with one of the star attractions (Irina Potapenko); hoping to spring her from the place, he pulls a bank job, but it ends tragically when an unsuspecting policeman (Andreas Lust) intrudes. The action then segues from the city to the Austrian countryside, where the thief is calmed by the gentler rhythms of life and his scheme for vengeance against the traumatized cop takes an unforeseen turn. Writer-director Gotz Spielmann (Antares) avoids the clutter and manipulation of most thrillers, escalating tension almost solely through the characters' turbulent emotions. In German with subtitles. 121 min. (AG) aWed 10/22, 9:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RThe Secret of the Grain Abdel Kechine is an actor (Sorry, Haters) as well as a writer-director (Blame It on Voltaire, Games of Love and Chance), so one naturally focuses on his movies' fluid ensemble work. But this 151-minute French drama, his third and most accomplished feature, is even more impressive for its subtle, dexterous storytelling. The first half uses casual conversation to build a rich family portrait, as an aging Arab fisherman (Habib Boufares) loses his full-time gig at a shipyard and commiserates with his grown children and his girlfriend over what to do next. He decides to open a Middle Eastern restaurant and organizes a gala dinner to attract investors, yet these developments arrive not as italicized plot points but as casual remarks in loosely improvised dialogue scenes. Given the languid pace, I was hardly prepared for the cold-sweat suspense of the last act, as latent family conflicts erupt into complications that threaten to sink the high-stakes dinner party. In French with subtitles. (JJ) aFri 10/17, 8 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RSlumdog Millionaire Could there be a bigger crowd-pleaser than a movie that combines rags-to-riches Bollywood melodrama with the TV phenomenon Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Scripted by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty), this effervescent love story centers on a poor young man (Dev Patel) who's competing on the Hindu version of the much-franchised quiz show. Each question triggers a flashback to his grim past on the streets of Mumbai, where he was torn between his survival-oriented brother and a defenseless girl, and these recollections lead to epiphanies that bring the young contestant ever closer to a multimillion-dollar jackpot—to the chagrin of the show's silky host (Anil Kapoor). The movie brushes against some of India's worst social ills, but it's essentially a fairy tale. Danny Boyle (Millions) and Loveleen Tandan directed; with Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, and Irfan Khan. 120 min. Boyle will attend the screening. (JJ) aSun 10/19, 5:30 PM, River East 21
Sparrow Hong Kong master Johnny To shuns violence for visual ballet in this light but enjoyable underworld drama. Four brothers, led by the charismatic Simon Yam, work the streets as pickpockets, and individually each becomes smitten with the same beautiful and mysterious young woman. Every direct encounter with her provokes an attack by brutal thugs, so the brothers unite to liberate the young woman from the old-school pickpocket behind the attacks. To concludes with a meticulously choreographed duel that features twirling umbrellas in a nocturnal downpour; shot largely in slow motion, it rivals any guns-a-blazing climax in its poetry and drama. In Cantonese with subtitles. 87 min. (PM) aFri 10/17 and Sat 10/18, 6 PM, 600 N. Michigan
Synecdoche, New York Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) makes his directorial debut with this feature, but it seems more like an illustration of his script than a full-fledged movie, proving how much he needs a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to realize his surrealistic conceits. Tortured and torturous, it centers on a theater director from Schenectady (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who wins a MacArthur Fellowship but whose wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him; in response he tries to create a play that will represent his entire life experience, building a replica of New York City inside a warehouse. The usually resourceful Hoffman can't sustain interest even after developing a receding hairline to make him resemble Jack Nicholson, and the other able players—Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Tom Noonan, Hope Davis, and Jennifer Jason Leigh—mainly tread water. R, 124 min. (JR) Kaufman will attend the screening. aSun 10/19, 7:30 PM, River East 21
RTimecrimes Through an unlikely chain of events, a middle-aged home owner is lured into a time machine that sends him several hours into the past; once he emerges from it, he discovers he must engineer the same chain of events and lure his earlier self along the same path or he'll cease to exist. The idea of time travel creating multiple selves dates as far back as David Gerrold's 1973 novel The Man Who Folded Himself, if not further, but in practical terms it's so confusing one can imagine why moviemakers have shied away from it. Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo explores it just enough to keep this 2007 thriller moving, and Karra Elejalde is entirely convincing as the unwilling time traveler, who finds himself threatened by not only his past self but his future one as well. In Spanish with subtitles. 88 min. (JJ) Vigalondo will attend the screening. aSat 10/18, 10:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RTokyo Sonata Japanese director Kiyosha Kurosawa switches gears from supernatural horror to poignant social satire, adapting a script by Australian writer Max Mannix about a middle-aged father (Teruyuki Kagawa) whose life spirals into chaos after he gets downsized. The former salaryman tries to keep his predicament a secret from his wife and two sons, filling his days in line at the unemployment office and local soup kitchen. But his deception strains the family, especially when the younger boy pursues forbidden piano lessons on the sly. The film veers into surreality when an inept home invader (Koji Yakusho) kidnaps the businessman's wife and she discovers an emotional connection that's been missing from her marriage. In Japanese with subtitles. 119 min. (AG) aSun 10/19, 2:30 PM, Mon 10/20, 8:40 PM, and Tue 10/21, 8:30 PM, River East 21
R24 City As evidenced by everything from Trouble the Water to WALL-E to Wendy and Lucy, the disastrous effects of unchecked capitalism may be the most urgent contemporary theme in movies. The brilliantly innovative Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke (Platform, The World, Still Life) has been able to create works of historical relevance partly because he considers this theme from the vantage point of a socialism that, far from being theoretical, is part of a complex lived experience. This beautiful and challenging documentary looks at a military factory in Chengdu that's shutting down to make way for a luxury apartment complex, and in interviewing five former workers and three fictional characters (played by Joan Chen, Lu Liping, and his frequent collaborator Zhao Tao), Ji manages to convey how three generations are affected by this change. In Mandarin with subtitles. 112 min. (JR) aSat 10/18, 6 PM, Sun 10/19, 2:30 PM, and Thu 10/23, 8:50 PM, River East 21
RWendy and Lucy Easily one of the year's best films, this minimalist low-budget drama tells a story a child could understand even as it indicts, with stinging anger, the economic cruelty of George Bush's America. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) is impressively restrained as Wendy, a homeless young woman who's living in her car with her beloved mutt, Lucy. After the car breaks down in a hick Oregon town, she makes the mistake of tying Lucy up outside a grocery store before going in to shoplift, and when she gets busted and taken to the local police station, the dog disappears. Director Kelly Reichardt and coscreenwriter Jonathan Raymond began working on the story after hearing conservative commentators bash the poor in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and their movie is a stark reminder of how easy it is for anyone to fall through our frayed safety net. The climax is a heartbreaker, and in its haunting finale, the movie recalls no less than Mervyn LeRoy's Depression-era classic I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. 80 min. (JJ) aFri 10/17, 8:30 PM, and Sat 10/18, 6:10 PM, 600 N. Michigan
RWesley Willis's Joyrides Many Chicagoans remember the schizophrenic musician and outsider artist Wesley Willis, who died of leukemia in 2003, but it took two documentary makers from Cheyenne, Wyoming—Chris Bagley and Kim Shively—to get his real story. Though they began shooting video of Willis several years before his death, much of their work came later, as extensive interviews with his family and friends filled in the gaping holes in his biography. Willis finally emerges as a three-dimensional personality; his use of drawing and music as psychological escape valves is hardly news, but this touching, carefully pitched documentary reveals what he was trying to escape. 77 min. (PM) Bagley will attend the screening. aFri 10/17, 8:40 PM, River East 21
RThe Wrestler Who'd have thought that Mickey Rourke, a Hollywood punch line with a list of turkeys as long as your arm, would come riding to the rescue of Darren Aronofsky, the formidably arty director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream? Following the flop of his sci-fi fantasy The Fountain, Aronofsky returns with this straightforward drama about a washed-up wrestling star (Rourke) who's still riding on the fumes of his 80s glory when a coronary forces him into retirement. The famously downbeat Aronofsky captures the grimy texture of life at the bummed-out bottom of the wrestling circuit, but the center of the movie is Rourke's unimpeachable performance as a man who exults in self-punishment. He looks like a truck ran over him, but at 52 he's still ripped enough to get away with the role; in the end, the movie is about Rourke's indomitability more than the character's. With Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei. R, 105 min. Aronofsky will attend the screening. (JJ) aFri 10/17, 8 PM, River East 21
Zack and Miri Make a Porno "Porn has gone mainstream," declares a character in this Kevin Smith comedy. "It's like Coca-Cola or Pepsi, with dicks in it." The same might be said of Smith's moviemaking. In Zack and Miri Make a Porno, as in his daddy-daughter weepie Jersey Girl (2004), scenes worthy of Larry Flynt decorate a story line worthy of Dr. James Dobson. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are the title characters, platonic apartment mates who decide to retire their mountain of bills by making a cheapo porn video but are unprepared for the emotions unleashed in their own on-screen encounter. The mainstream acceptance of porn has also disarmed Smith's formerly outrageousness humor, though there's a warm Boogie Nights-style vibe to the little family of oddballs Zack and Miri recruit to help them (including Smith regular Jason Mewes and genuine porn stars Katie Morgan and Traci Lords). R, 102 min. (JJ) aTue 10/21, 8:15 PM, River East 21
Roger Bobb, a supervising producer at Tyler Perry Studios (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea's Family Reunion, et al), discusses the company's phenomenal success with the African-American market at a Black Perspectives Master Class. RSVP required to email@example.com. a1 PM, Columbia College Ludington Bldg., 1104 S. Wabash. F
SIDNEY POITIER accepts the festival's Lifetime Achievement Award and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) accepts an Artistic Achievement Award at the Black Perspectives Tribute. A reception with live entertainment and dancing follows. a6 PM, Chase Auditorium, 10 S. Dearborn, $150.
Filmmaker CHARLES ANNENBERG WEINGARTEN takes part in a panel discussion with local environmentalists and activists following a screening of his documentary The Arctic: Change at the Top of the World. Free tickets at the festival hotline, 312-332-3456. a4 PM, River East 21, 322 E. Illinois.
The SPOTLIGHT: ILLINOIS series presents Matthew Stanton's drama North Starr (3:45 PM), about a Houston rapper hiding out in a small Texas town; continues with the shorts program Illinoisemakers (6:20 PM), hosted by me; and concludes with Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig's Nights and Weekends (8:30 PM, see review), hosted by Hank Sartin of Time Out Chicago. A ticket stub from any of the programs admits you to a 9:30 PM after-party at Pops for Champagne, 601 N. State. aRiver East 21, 322 E. Illinois, $12.
OLYMPIC DREAMS includes scenes from classic films that reference the Olympics, official promotional shorts used in the city's campaign to win the 2016 games, and a panel discussion with the filmmakers and aspiring Olympic athletes. Free tickets at the festival hotline, 312-322-3456. a6:30 PM, River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. F —J.R. Jones
CINEYOUTH FESTIVAL, Cinema/Chicago's program for young filmmakers, presents outstanding works created in the past year. Free tickets at the festival hotline, 312-332-3456. a Noon, River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. F
Indie film distributors discuss the changing state of the business at the panel discussion COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU. Free tickets at the festival hotline, 312-332-3456. aNoon, River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. F
Local industry professionals and filmmakers from the Spotlight: Illinois series discuss the pros and cons of staying put in the panel discussion MAKING IT IN THE MIDWEST. Free tickets at the festival hotline, 312-332-3456. a2:30 PM, Flashpoint Academy, 28 N. Clark. F
Outstanding interactive, educational, industrial, and corporate-sponsored work screens as part of the annual INTERCOM COMPETITION. Free tickets at the festival hotline, 312-332-3456. a Noon, River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. F —J.R. Jones
The Reader's guide to the 44th