VENUE All films reviewed here, except for Miss Julie, 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 $240 ($190 for members). Weekday matinees through 5 PM are $7; late 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 (daily noon-8 PM; beginning September 19, one hour before the first show until the last film has begun). Online: ticketmaster.com/chicagofilmfestival (individual tickets only) or chicagofilmfestival.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 chicagofilmfestival.com.
Film festivals are usually front-loaded, with all the best stuff at the beginning. But the "best stuff" isn't always the best stuff—it's just the stuff with the biggest names and the loudest buzz. In fact you stand just as good a chance of seeing something that will rock your world in the second week of the Chicago International Film Festival as in the first. It just won't have Bill Murray in it. Following are selected films screening Friday through Thursday, October 17 through 23. –J.R. Jones
- The Babadook screens Tue 10/21, 8:30 PM.
The Babadook Filled with references to early cinema and classic fairy tales, this Australian horror film offers a grim, bone-chilling atmosphere but suffers from a schematic narrative. A beaten-down nurse (Essie Davis) grapples with her volatile seven-year-old son (Noah Wiseman), who was born the same day her husband died a violent death. The mother is prone to emotional outbursts and the son to violent and psychotic behavior, so when they're plagued by a mystical ghoul, one can't be sure whether it's real or a by-product of their shared psychodrama. Jennifer Kent directed her own script. —Drew Hunt 93 min. Tue 10/21, 8:30 PM.
Black Panther—The Story of Emilie and Jacob A married woman, trying to save her troubled business, wants to sell the Alpine vacation home her late parents left behind, but first she needs the signature of her younger brother, who's been keeping his distance since they broke off an incestuous relationship several years earlier. When the brother shows up at the old homestead for a visit, the woman's husband leaves them alone for a few days, and you can take it from there. Samuel Perriard, making his feature debut as writer and director, creates a somber, introspective mood and a few nicely steamy encounters between brother and sister, showing how the teasing horseplay of young siblings might lurch unexpectedly into sexual heat. In French and German with subtitles. –J.R. Jones 79 min. Perriard, screenwriter Markus Ziegler, and producer Luis Singer attend the screening. Sun 10/19, 5:15 PM, and Mon 10/20, 9 PM.
- Clouds of Sils Maria screens Sat 10/18, 4:30 PM.
Clouds of Sils Maria As with Irma Vep and Clean, French writer-director Olivier Assayas transforms a backstage drama into a meditation on the state of cinema, capitalism, and popular culture. Juliette Binoche plays a movie star who reluctantly agrees to perform in a new production of the play that launched her career three decades earlier; most of the story transpires at the isolated Alpine home of the recently deceased playwright, where the actress goes to prepare for her role, and centers on her relationship with her young personal assistant (Kristen Stewart, who more than holds her own against the star). This recalls Ingmar Bergman's chamber dramas in the intensity and psychological complexity of the central relationship, yet the filmmaking is breathtakingly fluid, evoking a sense of romantic abandon no matter how pessimistic the cultural critique becomes. With Chloe Grace Moretz. In English and subtitled French and German. —Ben Sachs 124 min. Sat 10/18, 4:30 PM.
- Concrete Night screens Fri 10/17, 6 PM.
Concrete Night In a dire Helsinki slum, a 14-year-old boy from a dysfunctional family spends a night cavorting with his hotheaded older brother, who's headed off to jail the next day. Shooting in black and white, cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg conjures up a stark chiaroscuro that amplifies the sense of desolation, but the images are poetic and stirring rather than debilitating; the dramatic lighting gives the rundown buildings and abandoned construction sites an otherworldly look. Director Pirjo Honkasalo uses reflective surfaces—mirrors, windows, water—to suggest alternate realities where her characters might lead less corrupted lives. In Finnish with subtitles. —Drew Hunt 88 min. Fri 10/17, 6 PM.
- A Girl at My Door screens Fri 10/17, 5:30 PM, and Mon 10/20, noon.
A Girl at My Door A young but resolute policewoman (Doona Bae of Cloud Atlas), reassigned from Seoul to a remote fishing village, becomes the reluctant protector of a motherless schoolgirl picked on by the community, cursed by her drunken grandmother, and periodically beaten by her loutish father. There's something a little spooky about the girl—"She doesn't seem like a child; sometimes she seems like a little monster," another cop observes—which complicates the continually shifting power struggle between the policewoman and the father. As a mystery, this debut feature by writer-director July Jung makes a mockery of such huffing-and-puffing Hollywood exercises as Gone Girl; the tone is quiet and the pace steady, yet the story arcs so perfectly, tracing the heroine's growing commitment to the child even as their secrets emerge, that I was engrossed for every minute of its two-hour running time. In Korean with subtitles. –J.R. Jones 119 min. Jung attends the Wednesday and Friday screenings. Fri 10/17, 5:30 PM, and Mon 10/20, noon.
- El Gort screens Sat 10/18, 6 PM, and Sun 10/19, 1:30 PM
El Gort This Tunisian documentary follows two young truck drivers over a few years, both before and after the Arab Spring of 2011. There are no images of the social upheaval that led to the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali; the working-poor subjects are indifferent to politics, more concerned with hip-hop, getting stoned, and scraping by. They're skeptical about the revolution, convinced that no change in government will make their lives any easier, and unfortunately their suspicions prove correct. This is a valuable firsthand account of a critical chapter in modern history, though its sheer amateurishness can be distracting. Hamza Ouni directed. In Arabic with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 88 min. Ouni and documentary subect Khaireddine Hajri attend the screenings. Sat 10/18, 6 PM, and Sun 10/19, 1:30 PM.
- Joy of Man's Desiring screens Sat 10/18, 7:15 PM, and Sun 10/19, 3:15 PM
Joy of Man's Desiring Following his remarkably offbeat drama Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013), the prolific Quebecois director Denis Côté returns to the documentary-essay style of his Carcasses (2009) and Bestiare (2012) with this meticulous and poetic study of industrial labor. Côté explores various factories, framing the workers and heavy machinery in fussily composed static shots that have a subtly menacing quality. He circles around a variety of ideas—man's alienation from machines, the demoralizing nature of manual labor, how francophone immigrants and Quebecois natives acculturate in the workplace—but doesn't offer any direct conclusions. Like Bestiare, whose imagery associates humans with animals, this is chiefly an experiential exercise; the amazing sound design, courtesy of Frédéric Cloutier and Clovis Gouaillier, turns the mechanical clang into arrhythmic music, making the toil seem like dancing. In French with subtitles. —Drew Hunt 70 min. Côté attends the screenings. Sat 10/18, 7:15 PM, and Sun 10/19, 3:15 PM.
- The Kindergarten Teacher screens Mon 10/20, 9 PM, and Wed 10/22, 8 PM.
The Kindergarten Teacher Nadav Lapid's second feature is smarter and more unsettling than his first, Policeman (2011), but as in the earlier film, Lapid tends to dilute his provocative ideas with art-movie cliches. The title character is a middle-aged woman suffering from a familiar case of urban malaise; shaken out of her torpor by a student who composes beautiful poetry with the ease of a master, she becomes obsessed with the boy, eventually going mad in her quest to convince the world of his genius. The film oscillates between a lament for the devaluation of poetry in contemporary life and a muted psychological horror movie (the boy's talent is so uncanny that at times he seems demonically possessed). As a dramatist Lapid can be too oblique for his own good, and his story runs off the rails in the last half hour, yet he generates plenty of food for thought. In Hebrew with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 115 min. Mon 10/20, 9 PM, and Wed 10/22, 8 PM.
- La Tirisia screens Fri 10/17, 1:30 PM.
La Tirisia This derivative Mexican art film reduces the recent breakthroughs of Carlos Reygadas (Battle in Heaven, Silent Light) and Gerardo Naranjo (Miss Bala) to a series of stylistic tics. Set in an isolated, impoverished desert community, the story centers on a lonely young mother whose husband has been working abroad for some time; she ventures into an affair with a salt harvester, then has trouble giving him up when her husband returns unexpectedly. Like Reygadas and Naranjo, writer-director Jorge Pérez Solano employs lots of impressive Steadicam shots and other unexpected formal devices (like switching from wide-screen to a boxier aspect ratio for some of the transition shots), though these strategies tend to distract from the simple story rather than elaborate on it. Solano also works in a few explicit, dispassionately shot sex scenes to make us think about alienation or something like that. In Spanish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 110 min. Fri 10/17, 1:30 PM.
- Maestro screens Fri 10/17, 2:30 PM; Sun 10/19, 2:30 PM, and Tue 10/21, 5:45 PM.
Maestro Like Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock, this French romantic comedy pays tribute to a great director by making him a character in a movie that mimics one of his own. The young actor Jocelyn Quivrin appeared in Eric Rohmer's last film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, before dying in a car accident in 2009, and Rohmer passed away a few months later at age 89. Drawing on Quivrin's recollections of the shoot, which included his amorous pursuit of a fetching costar, writer-director Léa Fazer reimagines the movie's production and premiere as a celebration of young love and its vicissitudes, with an affectionate portrait of Rohmer in all his literary acumen and emotional wisdom. The comedy is broader than Rohmer would have permitted, but this is a modest success nonetheless—and when you're dealing with a master like Rohmer, you'd damn well better be modest. With Pio Marmaï and Michael Lonsdale. In French with subtitles. –J.R. Jones 81 min. Fri 10/17, 2:30 PM; Sun 10/19, 2:30 PM, and Tue 10/21, 5:45 PM.
- Next to Her screens Tue 10/21, 2 PM.
Next to Her A twentysomething Israeli woman in contemporary Haifa spends her days working at an elementary school and all her free time caring for her mentally ill sister; when she meets and falls for a substitute teacher, the new relationship disrupts this delicate balance. Having seen quite a few Israeli movies with similar plots, I expected this to be rigid and sentimental, but it's fluid, concise, and compelling. Liron Ben-Shlush, who wrote the script, gives a sharp performance as the protagonist, a woman so afraid of her future that she's unwilling to change her current situation even when it's obviously destroying her. Asaf Korman directed. In Hebrew with subtitles. —Tal Rosenberg 90 min. Tue 10/21, 2 PM.
- 1001 Grams screens Thu 10/16, 6:15 PM, and Wed 10/22, 2:30 PM.
1001 Grams Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories, Factotum) practices a humor so deadpan that it merges easily with philosophy, which might explain how he manages to charm his way through stories as heavily thematic as this one. The reserved, dignified heroine (Ane Dahl Torp) works for the Norwegian Metrology Service, part of whose function is to dictate international units of measurement, and Hamer has great fun with the hushed, self-impressed world of these white-coated scientists. The movie transpires in an almost absurdly metrical world—the woman's electric car looks like a sugar cube, and overhead shots of her subdivision reveal giant patterns of rectangular roofs—but after she loses her father, another metrologist, she begins to yearn for something in life that isn't all 90-degree angles. In French and Norwegian with subtitles. –J.R. Jones 97 min. Hamer attends the Thursday screening. Thu 10/16, 6:15 PM, and Wed 10/22, 2:30 PM.
- Seven Little Killers screens Fri 10/17, 8:15 PM.
Seven Little Killers Teenagers in an Italian village are questioned by police about the death of a local vagrant, last seen in a field where the kids like to hang out; thirty years later a new police chief, reviewing the old case file, makes a discovery that prompts him to reopen the case and subpoena the now-grown witnesses. Screenwriters Lucio Gaudino and Giovanna Guidoni alternate between the present, as the middle-aged suspects wrestle with each other, and the past, as the truth is gradually revealed, though the story lacks any suspense or even tension. By the time the writers got around to revealing how the vagrant died, I was too bored to care. Matteo Andreolli directed. In Italian with subtitles. —Tal Rosenberg 86 min. Andreolli attends the screenings. Fri 10/17, 8:15 PM.
- Speed Walking screens Wed 10/22, 3:30 PM.
Speed Walking A small-town boy approaching his religious confirmation discovers the weird, wild world of sex, experimenting with girls and boys, spying on his widower father as the old man screws his hairdresser, and even paying a visit to the local child molester. This icky comedy takes place in 1976, and director Niels Arden Oplev (who did the Danish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) never lets you forget it: the movie is so laden with period kitsch that it feels like a spoof. (I was a little surprised that none of the characters owned a pet rock.) As in Tattoo, the storytelling is almost slick and engaging enough to distract from the rampant misanthropy. If you have any moral compunctions about explicit sex scenes involving underage actors, stay far away. In Danish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 108 min. Wed 10/22, 3:30 PM.
- Two Days, One Night screens Sun 10/19, 6:15 PM.
Two Days, One Night An assembly-line worker at a solar panel factory (Marion Cotillard), recently returned to work after an emotional breakdown, discovers that her coworkers, coerced by management, have voted to terminate her employment rather than forfeit their annual bonus; over a long and desperate weekend, she visits them at their homes and begs them to change their votes. The premise for this Belgian drama couldn't be simpler or more compelling, yet writer-directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (The Kid With a Bike) tease out any number of moral complexities as the heroine learns of her coworkers' various circumstances (many of them have children, and almost all of them are living hand to mouth). In film after film the Dardennes have proven themselves the cinema's most acute humanist critics of predatory capitalism; this masterful drama finds them at the top of their game, laying bare the endless uphill battle of getting workers to look out for each other. In French with subtitles. –J.R. Jones 95 min. Sun 10/19, 6:15 PM.
- The Well screens Fri 10/17, 10:15 PM, and Sun 10/19, 2:30 PM.
The Well On the arid outskirts of a postapocalyptic society, a resilient teenager (Hayley Lu Richardson) leads a group of orphans to protect their precious water source from an evil baron (Jon Gries). Director Tom Hammock was the production designer on Adam Wingard's horror gems You're Next (2011) and The Guest (2014), whose structure he borrows: the self-serious story develops slowly, bogged down by halfhearted social commentary and poorly executed character digressions, but gradually builds to a brazen, blood-soaked climax. —Drew Hunt 89 min. Hammock attends the screenings, joined by Richardson on Friday. Fri 10/17, 10:15 PM, and Sun 10/19, 2:30 PM.
- Xenia screens Sat 10/18, noon, and Tue 10/21, 7:45 PM.
Xenia Drawing on Gregg Araki and Pedro Almodóvar, Panos H. Koutras puts a gay twist on the road movie in this Greek comedy, which is heavy on the director's gaudy color palette and goofy fantasy sequences. An eccentric twink (Kostas Nikouli), prone to daydreams and emotional outbursts, visits his older hetero brother (Nikos Gelia) in Athens after their Albanian mother dies. Together they head toward the last known whereabouts of their wealthy but estranged father, hoping his citizenship and his money will protect them from being deported. Koutras has a significantly sunnier outlook than his compatriots in the recent Greek new wave, but his films (Real Life, The Attack of the Giant Moussaka) aren't without their sour notes—particularly in their depiction of Greece's ongoing economic struggle and ultraconservative society—and these enliven the mostly flat narrative here. In Albanian and Greek with subtitles. —Drew Hunt 128 min. Sat 10/18, noon, and Tue 10/21, 7:45 PM.
- The Young Kieslowski screens Fri 10/17, 5 PM.
The Young Kieslowski The title character arrives for his freshman year at Caltech, anxiety over his virginity overwhelming everything else in his life including his mother's potentially terminal lung cancer; after losing his cherry with a fellow first-timer, she winds up pregnant—with twins! This indie drama is like Knocked Up without the jokes, social insight, or storytelling skill; writer-director Kerem Sanga has a tin ear for dialogue, poor instincts behind a camera, and no originality. I spent most of the running time wondering how capable indie vets like James Le Gros, Melora Walters, and Joshua Malina ended up in this. —Tal Rosenberg 94 min. Sanga, producer Seth Caplan, and actress Haley Lu Richardson attend the screening. Fri 10/17, 5 PM.