Chicago International Film Festival 2011: A day-by-day guide to week one
We review 70 titles in a definitive guide to the festival's first week.
All screenings take place at the AMC River East 21 (322 E Illinois St) unless otherwise noted.
For advance tickets, call 312-332-FILM, go to ticketmaster.com/chicagofilmfestival or stop by the festival office (30 E Adams St, Suite 800). For passes, go to chicagofilmfestival.com.
11:30am Salaam Dunk Dir. David Fine. 2011. 83mins. USA/Iraq. Looking beyond the images of war-torn Iraq, this documentary offers an uplifting account of a women’s basketball team from the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. The dedication of the young players is inspiring; their personal stories bring meaning to an otherwise by-the-numbers sports film.—Jessica Johnson
Noon Kshay (Corrode) Dir. Karan Gour. 2011. 92mins. India. This moody black-and-white tale of obsession struggles under the weight of overbearing symbolism, as a housewife pours out her lingering grief over a recent miscarriage into an infatuation with obtaining a statue of the goddess Lakshmi that she and her husband cannot afford.—Jessica Johnson
12:30pm On the Edge Dir. Leila Kilani. 2011. 106mins. Morocco/Germany. Women at a shrimp-processing plant in Tangier plot a path to greater prosperity. Not available for review.
12:40pm Land of Oblivion Dir. Michale Boganim. 2011. 115mins. France/Germany/Poland/Ukraine. A Deer Hunter–esque wedding sequence is disrupted when the groom is called away; there’s trouble at the plant over in Chernobyl. Flash forward to a decade later: His bride (Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) works as a tour guide in Pripyat, willfully oblivious to radiation. Fragmented, surreal and intermittently Tarkovskyian in its stillness, the film offers a haunting if elusive portrait of a city where time stopped.—Ben Kenigsberg
1pm Corpo Celeste Dir. Alice Rohrwacher. 2011. 90mins. Italy. A 13-year-old girl grapples with her ambiguous relationship to Catholicism on the eve of her confirmation. Solidly made, Rohrwacher’s coming-of-age drama nevertheless feels alternately familiar and unnecessarily oblique.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 1:15pm Without Dir. Mark Jackson. 2011. 87mins. USA. After accepting an elder-caregiving job in the boonies, a teenage girl (Joslyn Jensen) comes down with a bad case of cabin fever. Painful memories of an old lover and the advances of a local jock further frazzle her already shaky mental state. The film’s escalating tension never quite pays off, but as Repulsion knockoffs go, it beats the hell out of Black Swan.—A.A. Dowd
1:50pm Loverboy Dir. Catalin Mitulescu. 2011. 94mins. Romania. So Romania does make bad films. A lothario in trouble with the cops for various and sundry seduces a virginal lass, then falls for her—but of course, he’s bad news. This unfocused drama barely establishes what’s at stake until the last scene.—Ben Kenigsberg
2:30pm The Forgiveness of Blood Dir. Joshua Marston. 2011. 109mins. Albania/USA/Denmark/Italy. The American director of Maria Full of Grace relocates to Albania for this surprisingly dull take on the phenomenon of local blood feuds. Even the inciting incident, a stabbing, is discussed rather than dramatized.—Ben Kenigsberg
3pm Flying Fish Dir. Sanjeewa Pushpakumara. 2011. 125mins. Sri Lanka. Following three stories set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, this debut feature is too languorous to sustain any sense of oppression or struggle. A shocking denouement is affecting, but the overriding, melodramatic tone stifles the proceedings throughout. New 400 Theaters (6746 N Sheridan Rd).—Daniel Green
3pm Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) Dir. Nanni Moretti. 2011. 102mins. Italy. Better known by its Latin title, Moretti’s wistful meditation on mortality and faith concerns a kind, decent man (the great Michel Piccoli) entrusted with a new job, the papacy, for which he is woefully inadequate. Moretti sabotages his own movie by inserting himself as a psychologist—a blunt role that undermines the film’s otherwise trenchant social analysis.—Patrick Z. McGavin
3pm His Mother’s Eyes Dir. Thierry Klifa. 2011. 105mins. France. A scribe goes to extraordinary lengths to write newscaster Catherine Deneuve’s biography. Not available for review.
3:15pm The Woman in the Fifth Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski. 2011. 83mins. France/Poland/U.K. Ethan Hawke plays an American professor who travels to Paris to win back his estranged wife and daughter; he quickly becomes involved in assorted intrigues that seem derived from a failed study of vintage Polanski. Hoping for a good ending? You lose.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 3:30pm Cairo 678 Dir. Mohamed Diab. 2010. 100mins. Egypt. This bracing look at three Cairo women’s experiences with sexual harassment grows into a sprawling examination of the negative effects structures supposedly in place to protect females actually have on them. Diab’s film tackles pressing issues without losing its sense of crowd-pleasing drama.—Alison Willmore
3:30pm Le Havre Dir. Aki Kaurismäki. 2011. 93mins. Finland/France. A shoe-shiner in the eponymous Norman port city helps shield a refugee boy from deportation at the hands of a comically stern detective. Finnish deadpan-meister Kaurismäki’s first French-language production charms up to a point, though the raves from Cannes are baffling—for the man who made Hamlet Goes Business and The Man Without a Past, this is minor.—Ben Kenigsberg
3:40pm American Translation Dirs. Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr. 2011. 90mins. France. A young woman falls for a French lothario who’s keeping a couple of movie-ready secrets. Not available for review.
* 5pm The Kid with a Bike Dirs. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. 2011. 87mins. Belgium. The Dardennes stand accused of repeating themselves (again) with this story of an abandoned child and the woman who cares for him, but cross-film references are the movie’s most interesting element: The boy, shunned by a father who refuses to accept responsibility, is essentially an older version of L’Enfant’s newborn. Fans shouldn’t miss this, although it’s more sentimental and—with regard to Cécile de France’s surrogate parent—less convincing than the directors’ other movies.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 5:15pm Cooley High Dir. Michael Schultz. 1975. 107mins. USA. Commonly regarded as the African-American American Graffiti, Cooley High is being presented as a memorial for Cabrini-Green, where a significant portion of it was shot. It’s fascinating just to see how the neighborhood has changed, but the movie itself remains a crowd-pleaser, with an endearingly loose structure and a toe-tapping Motown soundtrack.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 5:15pm Oslo, August 31st Dir. Joachim Trier. 2011. 96mins. Norway. An ex-junkie attempts to restart his life but receives only ineffectual help from the friends who’ve long since passed him by. A major step forward from Trier (Reprise), this is such a first-rate pushing-30 movie that the drug material is almost incidental.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 5:30pm Top Floor, Left Wing Dir. Angelo Cianci. 2010. 93mins. France. A tense ride, Top Floor is also unusually funny for a hostage thriller. When an eviction attempt in run-down tenement housing outside Paris turns into a full-blown standoff, both father-son conflicts and the untenable circumstances of France’s Arab-immigrant population become impossible to ignore.—Ruth Welte
5:35pm The Student Dir. Santiago Mitre. 2011. 110mins. Argentina. Those steeped in the minutiae of Argentine politics may get the most out of Mitre’s well-regarded but somewhat dry discourse on electoral pragmatism. The film uses a campaign for university dean (seen through the eyes of a playboy staffer) as a metaphor for various alliances and betrayals.—Ben Kenigsberg
6pm Azhagarsamy’s Horse Dir. Suseendran. 2011. 122mins. India. A significant tolerance for Bollywood bombast is required for this bloated, high-decibel parable, in which a Tamil village contends with the disappearance of a statue needed for a drought-preventing festival. New 400 Theaters (6746 N Sheridan Rd).—Ben Kenigsberg
6pm Like Crazy Dir. Drake Doremus. 2011. 88mins. USA. A poignant situation—two lovebirds (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin) at a California college are separated after she, a Brit, violates her visa—is seen through the Sundance school of screenwriting, which requires every character to behave in a way most convenient to furthering the plot. Naturally, it won in Park City.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 6:15pm A Little Closer Dir. Matt Petock. 2011. 73mins. USA. Quietly observed and deliberately paced, Petock’s Virginia-shot slice of life follows small-town single mom Sheryl and her sons Marc and Stephen as they separately and tentatively reach out in search of intimacy. The slight but sincere story benefits from assured handheld camerawork and exceedingly honest performances by Sayra Player as Sheryl and Eric Baskerville as Stephen.—Kris Vire
* 7:30pm The Jewel Dir. Andrea Molaioli. 2011. 110mins. Italy. Molaioli’s loose take on the machinations leading up to the controversial collapse of one of Italy’s most profitable companies is both a gripping corporate thriller and a timely encapsulation of the current climate of economic strife. Toni Servillo is extraordinary as the beleaguered CFO fending off inevitable destruction.—Derek Adams
* 7:45pm Michael Dir. Markus Schleinzer. 2011. 96mins. Austria. Borrowing heavily from the Michael Haneke School of Audience Harassment, Schleinzer’s profoundly uncomfortable procedural concerns a mild-mannered office functionary who keeps an imprisoned boy at home as a sex slave. Finding exceedingly dark comedy in the escalating difficulties the man encounters covering his tracks, Michael will—to put it mildly—not be to every taste, but it approaches its subject with queasy conviction.—Ben Kenigsberg
8pm Sacrifice Dir. Chen Kaige. 2010. 132mins. China. Adapted from a Chinese opera, Chen’s epic begins with a general framing a clan for regicide, then wiping it out. Not available for review.
8pm Tyrannosaur Dir. Paddy Considine. 2011. 91mins. U.K. Gruff Peter Mullan bonds with kind, religious Olivia Colman, whose husband (Eddie Marsan) turns out to be far more of a brute. Spare to the point of feeling insubstantial (despite the dark subject matter), Considine’s directorial debut is a kitchen-sink drama that never turns the water on.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 8:15pm Bullhead Dir. Michael Roskam. 2011. 129mins. Belgium. ’Roid rage takes on a whole new meaning in this gripping feature debut, a Flemish mob saga dominated by Matthias Schoenaerts’s sensitive, slow-burn performance as a muscle-bound cattle rancher overcompensating for a tragic childhood incident. Belgium’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film packs a surprising psychological wallop.—Steve Dollar
* 8:30pm Cinema Komunisto Dir. Mila Turajlic. 2010. 101mins. Serbia. While movies made by dissident filmmakers in the former Yugoslavia are well-known to film buffs, Turajlic’s lively documentary acquaints viewers with the official film industry that flourished under Tito’s long regime. Excerpts from some Yugoslavian blockbusters are special treats—especially clips from The Battle of Sutjeska (1973), which starred Richard Burton as the young Tito.—Richard Porton
8:30pm Kaidan—Horror Classics Dirs. Masayuki Ochiai, Shinya Tsukamoto, Lee Sang-il, Hirokazu Kore-eda. 2010. 2hrs 40mins. Japan. Anthology films tend to be uneven; this collection of moody, not particularly hair-raising ghost stories repurposed from a TV series is no exception. The keepers are Lee’s “The Nose,” about a disfigured priest who can apparently raise the dead, and “The Day After,” from Kore-eda (Still Walking), about a couple’s visit from the specter of their deceased son.—A.A. Dowd