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.
11am A Conversation with John C. Reilly The Chicago-raised star of this year’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (and also, of course, Magnolia, Step Brothers, etc.) will chat with viewers.
1:45pm Madame X Dir. Lucky Kuswandi. 2010. 100mins. Indonesia. A campy origin story about a transsexual superhero, this overlong movie suffers from a bloated setup. But when the awkward protagonist dons a Catwoman-like costume and becomes Madame X, the film’s B-movie sense of humor takes over and delivers frothy fun.—Jessica Johnson
2:30pm From One Film to Another Dir. Claude Lelouch. 2011. 104mins. France. Crowd-pleasing French director Lelouch recaps his career in an essay film. He’ll attend the screening, too. Not available for review.
* 3:15pm 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
3:20pm The Clown Dir. Selton Mello. 2011. 88mins. Brazil. Raised in a circus, a clown leaves the tent in search of himself. Not available for review.
* 3:30pm 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
3:40pm Joint Body Dir. Brian Jun. 2011. 86mins. USA. Mark Pellegrino brings uncommon sensitivity to the stock role of a just-released convict trying to turn his life around. The actor is better than the material, which devolves into a rote sins-of-the-past melodrama, complete with resentful cop brother, estranged teenage daughter and saintly stripper sidekick.—A.A. Dowd
4pm 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
5pm L.A. Raeven—Beyond the Image Dir. Lisa Boerstra. 2011. 74mins. The Netherlands. Boerstra profiles L.A. Raeven, two performance- and video-artist sisters. Not available for review.
5:20pm If Not Us, Who? Dir. Andres Veiel. 2011. 124mins. Germany. After Carlos, The Baader-Meinhof Complex and Good Morning, Night, we’ve reached a quota for biopics on post-’60s radicalism; this slick, politically disinterested entry, focusing on Red Army Faction founding figure Gudrun Ensslin, lacks a clear outlook.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:30pm Return Ticket Dir. Teng Yung-Shing. 2010. 85mins. China/Taiwan. Executive producer Hou Hsiao-hsien’s stamp seems clear in the opening scenes, which offer an interesting sense of dislocation as a twentysomething woman (Qin Hailu) returns to Shanghai looking for work. The movie takes a mawkish turn once she signs on for an ill-fated scheme involving a beat-up bus, but the sense of economic anxiety is potent.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 5:50pm 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
6pm Women and Children Dir. Daniel Mitelpunkt. 2011. 80mins. U.K. About to become a parent for the second time, a hapless sod goes looking for the teen son he abandoned with his first wife, and learns that parenthood is, you know, not bad. A laugh or two can’t compensate for the overarching slightness.—Ben Kenigsberg
6:10pm Wild Bill Dir. Dexter Fletcher. 2011. 96mins. U.K. After eight years in prison, Bill Hayward returns home to find his sons abandoned by their mother. A Western-tinged gangster flick set in London’s East End, the film offers a spirited, mildly charming look at the psychology of leaving a life of crime and settling into a working-class family.—Amy L. Hayden
6:40pm Hotel Swooni Dir. Kaat Beels. 2011. 90mins. Belgium. At the titular hotel, an estranged mother and daughter reunite, a husband and wife grapple with adultery, and an immigrant boy separated from his father gets some help from the aforementioned daughter in this hackneyed connect-the-dots ensemble piece.—Ben Kenigsberg
7pm My Week with Marilyn Dir. Simon Curtis. 2011. 100mins. U.K. This year's exercise in prestige-biopic dress-up—based on the set diaries of an assistant on The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)—begins inauspiciously, with Eddie Redmayne's go-getter protagonist as fawning to viewers as he is to his movie-studio bosses. Then Michelle Williams appears as Marilyn Monroe, and her impersonation (not just of Monroe's mannerisms, but her appeal) is so uncanny that it's difficult not to melt. Kenneth Branagh gets a few choice moments as Laurence Olivier, but the idea that any movie so calculated could show us the "real" Marilyn is pretty bogus—this is revisionist mythmaking, sold to you by Harvey Weinstein and the crowd-pleasing whizzes behind The King's Speech.—Ben Kenigsberg
(UPDATE, Oct 5: This morning we received an e-mail from Chicago's Weinstein Company publicist, who says yesterday's screening was of an unfinished version of the film. "As there are actually some big changes in scenes and whatnot, [the distributor doesn't] want any reviews to run off of the older version," he says. Because the film was never announced as incomplete, we've decided to leave the review with this disclaimer. To be fair, the movie was projected in HDCAM and lacked tail credits, though neither is unheard of for a press screening.)
7:15pm Machete Language Dir. Kyzza Terrazas. 2011. 85mins. Mexico. Though visually it errs on the side of shaky-cam cliché, this tale of romance between two anarchist activists—Ray, a depressed writer, and Ramona, a punk-rock cutter—gives its leads some compelling depth of character. The film’s real subject is family: where the two came from and where they’re headed.—Erin Osmon
7:50pm Volcano Dir. Rúnar Rúnarsson. 2011. 99mins. Iceland. A newly retired, curmudgeonly janitor lets the mask slip while caring for his ailing wife. The volcano is strictly metaphorical; the film is seldom volatile or surprising.—Ben Kenigsberg
8pm We Believed Dir. Mario Martone. 2010. 2hrs 50mins. Italy. A flatulent, hectoring, multi-stranded dirge through the genesis story of modern Italy, Martone's lavish, dress-up-box epic doesn't skimp on the mundane political detail and pretty much amounts to what Bertolucci's 1900 would be like if you sapped all the salty playfulness out of it. A detailed knowledge of, and a keen interest in, contemporary Italian history might help to ease you in to the material, but otherwise this is filmmaking at its most grating and inert.—David Jenkins
* 8:30pm Nobody Else but You Dir. Gérald Hustache-Mathieu. 2011. 102mins. France. A crime-fiction writer with Ellroy-esque aspirations begins investigating the supposed suicide of a small-town weather girl, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Quirkier touches, like beyond-the-grave narration from the victim, scarcely upset the delicate balance of low-key comedy and superior murder-mystery mechanics.—A.A. Dowd
8:30pm Smuggler Dir. Katsuhito Ishii. 2011. 115mins. Japan. If you’ve seen one over-the-top seriocomic Japanese crime picture, you’ve seen them all. This latest variation, about a meek corpse smuggler who gets mixed up in a gang war, offers the usual mix of broad mugging and stylized mayhem. A few moments of well-choreographed carnage fend off narcolepsy.—A.A. Dowd
8:40pm The Good Son Dir. Zaida Bergroth. 2011. 87mins. Finland. The brat kid of one of Finland’s biggest movie stars grows jealous when Mom shacks up with a new guy on their vacation. Eleventh-hour violence fails to compensate for the aimlessness of the rest.—Ben Kenigsberg
9pm Don’t Go Breaking My Heart Dir. Johnnie To. 2011. 115mins. Hong Kong. One of two new To films on the festival circuit this year, Heart comes billed as a lighthearted love triangle—a departure for the action director. Not available for review.
9:45pm The Whisperer in Darkness Dir. Sean Branney. 2011. 103mins. USA. Branney gives an old H.P. Lovecraft story the Good German treatment, lending it the look and feel of an unearthed genre classic from the Golden Age. As with Soderbergh’s experiment, the film never fully commits to the “limitations” of its retro aesthetic. Worse still, the unknown stars seem ill-equipped to mimic the acting styles of their Hollywood forebears.—A.A. Dowd