Chicago International Film Festival 2011: A day-by-day guide to week two
We review the second week's titles in a comprehensive roundup.
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.
1:50pm 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
2pm 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
2:15pm Love Is in the Air Dir. Simon Staho. 2011. 93mins. Denmark. Put fond memories of Dancer in the Dark out of your head; this Zentropa musical, about a wanna-be pop chanteuse trying to bed a megastar producer, is like Moulin Rouge! reimagined by a high-school drama troupe. The sets are hideous, the pop songs are mostly wretched, and the sex comedy is sub–Kevin Smith.—A.A. Dowd
2:15pm Valley of the Forgotten Dir. Maria Raduan. 2010. 72mins. Brazil. Raduan charts the land rivalries in Brazil’s Mato Grosso region, where the indigenous population fights for property ownership rights with private-sector-sanctioned squatters, who the film argues are essentially placeholders for an eventual government takeover. A pointed but brief bit of muckraking, dealing with issues applicable beyond Brazil, this documentary has so much ground to cover that it really calls for a three-part miniseries.—Ben Kenigsberg
3pm Dekh Indian Circus Dir. Mangesh Hadawale. 2011. 103mins. India. Eager to secure a ticket to a traveling circus in town, two children fixate on an illicitly obtained wad of cash. Not available for review.
* 3:15pm Chronicle of My Mother Dir. Masato Harada. 2011. 119mins. Japan. So indebted is contemporary art cinema to the films of Yasujiro Ozu that the late director is basically his own genre at this point. Harada’s drama, about a family coping with the worsening dementia of its eldest matriarch, even name-drops Tokyo Story. No hollow tribute, the film applies the master’s techniques to its own unique treatise on the generational divide.—A.A. Dowd
* 3:30pm Buddha Mountain Dir. Yu Li. 2010. 101mins. China. Three provincial, irresponsible, party-hearty slackers clash with their abusive landlady, a retired opera singer whose prickly exasperation masks deep grief over her son’s death. Surprisingly more playful than melodramatic, this emotionally perceptive drama of loss and connections is, across-the-board, fabulously acted.—Aaron Hillis
* 3:45pm Man Without a Cell Phone Dir. Sameh Zoabi. 2010. 83mins. Israel/Palestine. Jawdat (Razi Shawahdeh), a young Arab-Israeli man, goes from aimlessly chasing girls to joining his curmudgeonly father (Bassem Loulou) in taking a political stand over a cell-phone tower erected near their family farm. The film is full of laughs and heart.—Jessica Johnson
4pm The Silver Cliff Dir. Karim Aïnouz. 2011. 82mins. Brazil. After her husband abruptly leaves her, a dental worker (Alessandra Negrini) goes on an impromptu excursion. This Brazilian feature sometimes plays like a gentler version of Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman in its sensual, often wordless depiction of a character’s dissociative state, but Aïnouz can’t quite tie it together (which may be the point).—Ben Kenigsberg
4:30pm All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert Dir. Vivian Ducat. 2011. 78mins. USA. Ducat looks at the life and work of African-American artist Rembert, who hand-tools images in leather and colors them in. The art is autobiographical, drawing on his experiences growing up in the racist South of the 1950s. The film glosses over the racial complexities of Rembert’s wealthy white clients and patrons embracing him and his work, which seems a strange oversight at best. Nonetheless, Rembert’s stories are compelling, as is watching him at work.—Hank Sartin
* 5:30pm Play Dir. Ruben Östlund. 2011. 118mins. Sweden/Denmark/Finland. With coolly distanced long takes that suggest a (slightly) more compassionate Michael Haneke, Östlund offers his version of an actual rash of racially fraught incidents in Sweden. The film follows a scam in which black teens successfully talk white kids into handing over their cell phones. Once the two groups of adolescents negotiate a fragile accord, the film becomes more conventional than it first appears, but this is still confident, arresting filmmaking.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:50pm Karma Dir. Prasanna Jayakody. 2010. 88mins. Sri Lanka. Yes, this film is about karma, good and bad, from this lifetime to the next. Centered around an apartment complex, the movie is plodding, but it deals in universals: guilt over a mother’s death, life-altering choices, failed and unlikely romances. The last 15 minutes bring the indulgent image-making of the preceding hour and change into focus. At Doc Films, University of Chicago (1212 E 59th St).—Amy L. Hayden This screening will take place at the AMC River East 21.
6pm An Evening with David Robinson The director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, which supports the restoration of silent movies, will present highlights from past Pordenone programs.
6pm The Kid Who Lies Dir. Marité Ugas. 2010. 100mins. Venezuela. A 13-year-old Venezuelan boy searches for his mom. Not available for review.
6:10pm 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.
6:15pm Club Zeus Dir. David Verbeek. 2011. 75mins. The Netherlands/China. The director of last year’s unwatchable R U There explores the inner workings of a Shanghai escort club. Not available for review.
* 6:30pm Ending Note: Death of a Japanese Salesman Dir. Mami Sunada. 2011. 90mins. Japan. So intensely personal that it sometimes feels like an invasion of privacy, Sunada’s documentary is a last will and testament from her father, who drew up a kind of bureaucratic bucket list upon being diagnosed with inoperable cancer. The final-days footage is plenty affecting on its own terms; it gains an extra dimension of feeling via a singular organizing gimmick: Sunada writes and performs voiceover narration from the perspective of her dying dad.—A.A. Dowd
* 7:30pm Into the Abyss Dir. Werner Herzog. 2011. 107mins. Canada/Germany. Less a typically Herzogian doc than an act of portraiture, the Teutonic explorer’s latest examines a Texas death-penalty case where guilt is not in question. Rather than sleuthing, the film ponders the loss and recriminations on both sides. With its long, relatively unedited testimonies, the film takes a clinical, dry but reflective approach that stands out among death-penalty documentaries.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 7:30pm Pina Dir. Wim Wenders. 2011. 103mins. Germany/France/U.K. Wenders’s love letter to German choreographer Pina Bausch, who died during their collaboration on the film, only truly sells its choice to go 3-D in a few scenes. But it’s a stunner nonetheless, featuring brilliant performances in four major works from throughout Bausch’s career. Her company rarely appeared stateside outside of New York; for most Americans, Pina will serve as a great, if late, introduction.—Zachary Whittenburg
8pm Here Dir. Braden King. 2011. 110mins. USA. Here explores the complicated relationship between an American satellite cartographer (Ben Foster) in Armenia and his beautiful, haunted guide (Lubna Azabal). Chicago-born independent filmmaker King’s frequently audacious commingling of narrative and experimental modes has a probing, sensual texture that transcends its sometimes indifferently structured story.—Patrick Z. McGavin
8:10pm Target Dir. Alexander Zeldovich. 2011. 2hrs 34mins. Russia. In this sci-fi takeoff on Anna Karenina, Muscovites from the year 2020 search for the secret to eternal life. Color us disappointed that this title wasn’t available for review.
8:15pm Amador Dir. Fernando Léon de Aranoa. 2010. 112mins. Spain. This movie has all the raw ingredients of a moving film. But Magaly Solier’s intense portrayal of a woman hiding an unwanted pregnancy from her husband—and struggling with the financial realities of not being able to leave him—allows an additional sense of empathy without the tinge of moral condemnation Hollywood would have layered in.—Amy L. Hayden
* 8:20pm Love Always, Carolyn Dirs. Malin Korkeasalo and Maria Ramström. 2011. 71mins. Sweden. Using Carolyn Cassady as a starting point to penetrate the legends of Jack Kerouac and especially Neal Cassady, this lovely documentary offers a portrait of the artists as oft-failing family men. Despite Carolyn’s conflicted feelings about the writers she loved, her affection for them persists in a world where the Beats have become more moneymakers than culture-shakers.—Amy L. Hayden
8:30pm The Double Steps Dir. Isaki Lacuesta. 2011. 86mins. Spain. A quip by the French artist François Augiéras provides the organizing principle of this globe- and time-hopping film, also inspired by African griot storytelling. Not available for review.
8:30pm Sleeping Beauty Dir. Julia Leigh. 2011. 102mins. Australia. Australian novelist Leigh (The Hunter) makes the classic first-time filmmaker’s mistake of confusing coyness with subtlety in this tale of a college student (Emily Browning) who takes a sideline gig getting drugged and fondled in her sleep. Leigh withholds all detail and asks viewers to supply the profundity. The carefully composed images flirt with art-house cliché, though the oft-undraped Browning is a selling point.—Ben Kenigsberg
9pm David Is Dying Dir. Stephen Lloyd Jackson. 2011. 90mins. U.K. Narcissistic, abusive hedge-fund manager and all-around prick David shares his tale of woe (he’s HIV positive) with a shrink, triggering a series of shaky handheld flashbacks and gratuitous art-film flourishes (recurring images of David as a child in clown makeup). It’s intense, but the main character is such a monster it’s hard to invest much in his fate.—Hank Sartin