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.
2pm The Destiny of Lesser Animals Dir. Deron Albright. 2011. 89mins. Ghana/USA. This policier about a Ghanaian cop attempting to buy his way back to the U.S. after being deported is more interesting for its ideas about brain drain than its crime elements. Writer Yao B. Nunoo, who also stars, presents a sincere if unsubtle look at a country where the younger generation is more inclined to leave than fight for improvement.—Alison Willmore
2:10pm 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
* 2:15pm 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
2:45pm Southwest Dir. Eduardo Nunes. 2010. 128mins. Brazil. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Nunes’s magical-realist fable concerns a woman who lives out her entire life in the space of a single day. Neither its outlandish, Benjamin Button conceit nor its often-stunning visuals can lend the film a heartbeat; its solemnity grows wearisome almost immediately.—A.A. Dowd
* 4pm 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
3:30pm Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel Dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland. 2011. 92mins. USA. Lisa Immordino Vreeland traces the career of her grandmother-in-law, the influential Harper’s Bazaar fashion editor. Not available for review.
3:40pm Innocent Saturday Dir. Aleksandr Mindadze. 2011. 99mins. Russia. Communist party officer Valery (Anton Shagin) witnesses the wreckage of the explosion at Chernobyl, and while he tries to leave the city with his girlfriend before panic sets in, mundane circumstances prevent their escape in this sluggish and meandering film.—Jessica Johnson
* 3:50pm 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
4:10pm Amnesty Dir. Bujar Alimani. 2011. 83mins. Albania/Greece. Meeting at a jail when visiting for their respective conjugal visits, the spouses of two prisoners in Albania move into a relationship of their own. Such couplings are inevitably doomed, however, and Alimani’s padded feature debut settles this one in the grimmest, most convenient manner possible.—Ben Kenigsberg
4:40pm Holidays by the Sea Dir. Pascal Rabaté. 2011. 77mins. France. Rabaté pays homage to M. Hulot’s Holiday director Jacques Tati—right down to the focus on vacations. Not available for review.
5:20pm My Best Enemy Dir. Wolfgang Murnberger. 2011. 106mins. Austria/Luxembourg. If you can forgive the fact that it belongs to the dubious genre of “Holocaust comedy”—and yes, that’s a pretty big if—Murnberger’s WWII-era farce is good for a chuckle or two. As in The Great Dictator, there’s an ingenious mistaken-identity plot, this one involving an SS officer, his Jewish childhood friend and a rare, sought-after Michelangelo.—A.A. Dowd
5:50pm 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
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.
6pm 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
6:10pm 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.
6:20pm The Mole Dir. Rafael Lewandowski. 2011. 108mins. Poland. Accused of being a former Communist informant, a man flees Poland, leaving a mess behind for his friend. Not available for review.
7pm Jeff, Who Lives at Home Dirs. Jay and Mark Duplass. 2011. 83mins. USA. After Cyrus, the Duplass brothers take one more step toward the mainstream (and utter inconsequence) with this extra-fluffy shaggy-dog story, in which two very different brothers—slacker Jason Segel, uptight Ed Helms—bond when the latter suspects his wife (Judy Greer) is being unfaithful. That’s about it, really, except for a go-nowhere subplot involving their mom (Susan Sarandon) and an office romance.—Ben Kenigsberg
7:45pm We Need to Talk About Kevin Dir. Lynne Ramsay. 2011. 112mins. U.K./USA. Morvern Callar director Ramsay’s first feature in nine years sorts through the fragmented memories of the mother (Tilda Swinton) of a school shooter. Once the flashbacks kick in, it quickly devolves into a moronic, trivializing bad-seed drama. Fest VIP John C. Reilly’s part is way too small for what the film is trying to do.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:10pm Sleep Dir. Katsumi Sakaguchi. 2011. 96mins. Japan. Sakaguchi’s film is a disturbing, borderline-surreal examination of how random acts of violence linger, in this case leaving a homeless family to make decisions out of desperation rather than logic. This off-putting movie’s quiet, Zenlike plodding through even the most lurid scenes is sometimes shocking.—Amy L. Hayden
* 8:20pm 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
8:45pm 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.
* 8:45pm The Descendants Dir. Alexander Payne. 2011. 115mins. USA. Working for the first time without writing partner Jim Taylor, Payne makes what’s probably his most successful film since Election. George Clooney plays the heir to a vast Hawaiian land tract. A boating accident has put his wife in a coma, prompting reflection on his parenting skills and less-than-perfect marriage. Payne paints an uncommonly credible portrait of a family whose approach to snowballing troubles is a mix of sadness, anger and gallows humor.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:50pm 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.
9pm Romeos Dir. Sabine Bernardi. 2011. 94mins. Germany. After moving to Cologne, a female-to-male transgender youth falls for a new friend. Not available for review.