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.
12:30pm Art as Activism Filmmakers and local experts will discuss the impact of art on social change.
2pm Spotlight South Asia: Beyond Bollywood Directors featured in this year’s program of South Asian cinema discuss how they got their films made, and what it’s like to work in their respective film industries.
3pm Ticket to Paradise Dir. Gerardo Chijona. 2010. 88mins. Cuba. A young Cuban woman leaves home and her abusive father and ends up getting in too deep with fellow kids on the street. Not available for review.
* 3:30pm 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
3:40pm Day Is Done Dir. Thomas Imbach. 2011. 111mins. Switzerland. Surely one of the most experimental titles playing in the fest, this doc-like thing pairs footage shot (mostly) from the roof of a Zurich apartment complex with 15 years’ worth of answering-machine messages. Sporadically striking, the film is too loosely organized to work as a pure formal exercise and too oblique to register as autobiography.—A.A. Dowd
3:50pm Love Actually…Sucks! Dir. Scud. 2011. 82mins. Hong Kong. Six racy, supposedly scandalous tales illustrate the title principle. The festival has this labeled as being for “mature audiences only.” Not available for review.
* 4pm 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
* 4:15pm 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
5:20pm 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
5:30pm 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.
5:45pm 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
* 6pm 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
* 6pm Goodbye First Love Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve. 2011. 110mins. France/Germany. The third feature from Hansen-Løve (Father of My Children) is sure to win her many more fans. The film follows Camille (Lola Créton) over an emotionally tumultuous decade after the breakup of an impassioned teen relationship. This is how you portray adolescence onscreen.—Keith Uhlich
The Return of Joe Rich Dir. Sam Auster. 2011. 95mins. USA. Not to be confused with opening night’s The Last Rites of Joe May, this hapless Chicago gangster flick plunders Scorsese’s greatest hits before making clear that it considers itself some sort of parody, in which a ne’er-do-well (Sam Witwer), hamstrung in this economy, attempts to make it in the mob. The tone is unstable and the editing (meatball wipes?) is amateur hour.—Ben Kenigsberg
6:30pm Shorts 1: City & State Various dirs. and years. 80mins. The fest’s first program of shorts focuses on local filmmakers. Not reviewed.
* 7pm A Dangerous Method Dir. David Cronenberg. 2011. 99mins. Canada/Germany/Switzerland/U.K. Cronenberg has been criticized for the perceived conventionality of this stealth comedy on the origins of modern psychology, but period stiffness is part of the subject, as a relentlessly proper Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) struggles to rationalize his lust for Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley, in a performance as deliberately alienating as Ed Harris’s in A History of Violence). If the film’s nominal subject is sexual repression, the ending suggests the subtext is latent anti-Semitism.—Ben Kenigsberg
7:45pm Bunny Drop Dir. Sabu. 2011. 115mins. Japan. When salaryman Daikichi takes in his late grandfather’s six-year-old illegitimate daughter, Rin, moderately wacky high jinks and a sappy piano score ensue. While the sweet, convincing rapport between Daikichi and Rin yields some heartwarming moments, we wish this gentle call for work-life balance spent more time on single parents’ everyday challenges than tacked-on melodrama.—Lauren Weinberg
8pm Bol Dir. Shoaib Mansoor. 2011. 2hrs 45mins. Pakistan. In a Lahore family, a daughter chafes against her father’s traditionalism and constraints. Not available for review.
8:15pm Wetlands Dir. Guy Édoin. 2011. 111mins. Canada. After a family tragedy, a mother and son on a Quebec farm grapple with the fallout. The film is nicely shot—the Quebecois countryside gives it some novelty—but the attempts at dramatic restraint seem largely like affectation.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 8:35pm Miss Bala Dir. Gerardo Naranjo. 2011. 113mins. Mexico. Naranjo’s relentless procedural follows a Baja beauty queen (Stephanie Sigman) as she becomes an unwilling pawn for various parties in the Mexican drug trade. The film’s rigor and use of real time suggest an action film done in the style of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 8:40pm 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
8:45pm Circus Columbia Dir. Danis Tanovic. 2010. 113mins. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Divko (Miki Manojlovic) returns to his village in the former Yugoslavia to flaunt his wealth, beautiful girlfriend and fancy car to the wife (Lost’s Mira Furlan) who refused to leave with him 20 years ago. Tanovic’s juxtaposition of petty dramas with a looming war is one-note, but the ironies are potent.—Alison Willmore
9pm 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
10:15pm Rabies Dir. Aharon Keshales. 2010. 90mins. Israel. Billed as Israel’s first slasher horror-comedy, Rabies overturns genre conventions to entertaining effect, setting a group of unconnected cops, a park ranger, tennis players and runaway siblings loose in a forest preserve with a psycho. The film’s unusual rhythms should be enough to keep audiences on their toes.—Alison Willmore