Chicago International Film Festival 2012 | CIFF reviews
We review 60 titles in our definitive guide to week one.
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.
* Recommended titles
* 11am Benji Dir. Coodie & Chike. 2012. 79mins. USA. Shot and killed in a senseless scuffle in Chatham, high-school basketball star Benjamin Wilson is here held up alongside Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, Harold Washington and Roger Ebert as one of the key Chicago cultural figures of the 1980s. The bulk of this ESPN-produced documentary provides a straightforward account of Wilson’s rise, featuring compelling reminiscences from friends and family; the movie becomes thornier as it moves to the circumstances surrounding its subject’s 1984 death, becoming a sobering portrait of the tragedy of gun violence in Chicago, then and now.—Ben Kenigsberg
Noon Black Perspectives: Voice and Authenticity in Black Cinema The participants on this panel include filmmakers, activists and academics.
12:30pm The Delay Dir. Rodrigo Plá. 2012. 84mins. Uruguay/Mexico. A single mother can’t cope with housing her aging father along with her children. Not available for review.
1pm Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland Dir. Valeri Vaughn. 2012. 73mins. USA. Vince Vaughn narrates this documentary on political street art during the Troubles. Not available for review.
* 1pm Full Circle Dir. Zhang Yang. 2012. 105mins. China. Nursing-home residents enroll in a nearby city’s variety-show competition, but when their plans get derailed by the chief nurse, they decide to take matters into their own hands. The script does well to mask the eventual plot twist, and the stars (most of them in their sixties or seventies, some in their nineties) more than compensate for any predictability.—Matt de la Peña
1pm Otelo Burning Dir. Sara Blecher. 2011. 95mins. South Africa. About as grim a surfing movie as you’ll ever see, Otelo Burning follows a group of Zulu teens who hit the waves to find freedom from the fighting of the waning days of apartheid. Amid scenes of village bloodshed, betrayal and sexual violence, the film’s hopeful message rings oddly hollow relative to the tragedy brought to bear on the protagonists.—Alec Moran
2:15pm Jai Bhim Comrade Dir. Anand Patwardhan. 2011. 3hrs 5mins. India. Acclaimed activist-filmmaker Patwardhan crafts an epic history of India’s untouchable caste. Not available for review.
2:30pm Flowerbuds Dir. Zdenek Jirasky. 2011. 91mins. Czech Republic. In a wintry Czech nowhere town, one unlucky clan copes with gambling addiction, teenage pregnancy and an unhealthy sexual fixation. Suffocatingly dour, Jirasky’s award-winning drama makes you long for the relative mastery of American Beauty, which at least had the good sense to spike its rupture-of-the-family melodrama with humor.—A.A. Dowd
2:30pm Hometown Boy Dir. Hung-I Yao. 2011. 72mins. Taiwan. Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon) produced this documentary about an artist returning to his hometown. Not available for review.
2:30pm The Sapphires Dir. Wayne Blair. 2012. 103mins. Australia. Drawing on a true story, Blair chronicles the rise and sibling rivalries of an aboriginal Supremes-like group (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell) as they entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam. The songs are infectious and the cast is winning, but the second half feels strangely rushed.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 3:15pm The Final Member Dirs. Zach Math and Jonah Bekhor. 2012. 75mins. Canada. Laboring to complete his globally unique collection of mammalian penises, Icelandic Phallological Museum founder Siggi Hjartarson is short only a human specimen. He receives two offers: one from a nonagenarian adventurer and the other from a California cowboy who’s very, very precise about how “Elmo” is to be displayed. You’ll develop a rooting interest as The Final Member spins this material into a hilarious meditation on mortality and eccentric dreams—a movie Errol Morris might envy.—Ben Kenigsberg
3:30pm Of Snails and Men Dir. Tudor Giurgiu. 2012. 93mins. Romania/France. Workers in a Romanian snail cannery hightail it to Budapest, hoping to earn enough money from sperm donations to save their factory. Not available for review; not making this up.
3:30pm Something in the Air Dir. Olivier Assayas. 2012. 122mins. France. Assayas returns to the youth milieu of 1994’s Cold Water with this semi-autobiographical look at inchoate radicalism in France “après Mai”—that is, after May of 1968. The movie is as engaging and terrifically acted as we’ve come to expect from this director (Carlos), but it’s also somewhat shapeless, never clarifying why it needs to tell this story now.—Ben Kenigsberg
4pm Sharqiya Dir. Ami Livne. 2012. 82mins. Israel. A bus-station security guard from Israel’s marginalized Bedouin population mulls what to do when his home—“unrecognized” property occupied by his family for generations—is slated for government takeover. Suspense belatedly ratchets up in the second half, but the material is a bit narrowly conceived to sustain a feature. New 400 Theaters, 6746 N Sheridan Rd.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 4:30pm The Land of Hope Dir. Sion Sono. 2012. 133mins. Japan/U.K. Set in 2013, this powerful—if absurdly overlong—melo-polemic from the director of Love Exposure focuses on the aftermath of a fictitious nuclear disaster that, for all intents and purposes, is exactly the same as Fukushima. Through the story of a husband and his newly pregnant wife, Sono critiques the degree to which Japanese society has turned a blind eye to the radiation in its midst.—Ben Kenigsberg
4:45pm Day of the Crows Dir. Jean-Christophe Dessaint. 2012. 94mins. France. When his Tarzan-like father takes an incapacitating spill, a woodland wild child ventures out of his enchanted-forest home and into the forbidden world of civilized man. Basically a Miyazaki-lite spin on The Jungle Book, this animated French fable may prove too bland even for preadolescent viewers.—A.A. Dowd
* 5pm The Central Park Five Dirs. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. 2012. 119mins. USA. In 1989, five black and Latino youths were coerced by NYC police into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. This rigorously researched documentary takes us inside that famous case, affording the victims a voice and providing a social context for what happened to them. Like the Paradise Lost films, it’s a forceful, essential reminder of how easily our justice system can be twisted to condemn the marginalized and manufacture scapegoats.—A.A. Dowd
5:30pm Alaskaland Dir. Chinonye Chukwu. 2012. 75mins. USA. Feeling responsible for the car-accident death of his Nigerian-immigrant parents, wayward Alaskan Chukwuma (Alex Ubokudom) toys with going back to school and shaking the druggy crowd that landed him in trouble. It’s hard to think of another movie with this milieu or characters, though both are undercut by somewhat amateurish acting and editing.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:45pm Winter of Discontent Dir. Ibrahim El-Batout. 2012. 94mins. Egypt. It’s usually fascinating to see recent history filtered through the lens of movie drama, but this somber, mostly colorless film—about the events leading up to last year’s revolution in Egypt—limits our perspective to that of three underwritten characters. Notably, the demonstrations happen off-camera; it’s a decision consistent with the film’s strategy of only giving us the pain behind the protests.—A.A. Dowd
6pm Out in the Dark Dir. Michael Mayer. 2012. 96mins. Israel/USA. Closeted to his family for fear of exile, a Palestinian man (Nicholas Jacob) secretly ventures by night from Ramallah to Tel Aviv, where he falls for an Israeli lawyer (Michael Aloni) whose father is well-connected in government. Mayer’s social-issue drama has a heavy hand, but the leads are terrific.—Ben Kenigsberg
6:15pm Numbered Dirs. Dana Doron and Uriel Sinai. 2012. 60mins. Israel. Sharing their recollections of the camps, Holocaust survivors focus on the numbers tattooed on their arms. Not available for review.
6:30pm An Evening with Joan Allen The prolific actress, a founding member of Steppenwolf, will be honored.
7pm Shameless Dir. Filip Marczewski. 2012. 80mins. Poland. Tadek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) humors a local Gypsy girl (Anna Próchniak), but he only has eyes for his half-sis (Agnieszka Grochowska). Unfortunately, she’s dating a fascist douche bag (Maciej Marczewski) with political ambitions. In spite of its false-dichotomizing, this year’s sibling-incest drama keeps its proceedings absorbing and admirably anti-sensational.—Ben Kenigsberg
7:30pm Westerland Dir. Tim Staffel. 2012. 90mins. Germany. Writer and theater director Staffel adapts his novel Jesús und Muhammed for his first feature, about a desperate and unusual love that binds two very different men. Set in Germany’s desolate northern islands, the material is familiar, though the intensity and skill of the actors (Wolfram Schorlemmer and Burak Yigit) gives their interplay alternately tough and tender shadings.—Patrick Z. McGavin
7:45pm Clip Dir. Maja Milos. 2012. 102mins. Serbia. More teens and smartphone sex? The closing credits guarantee that no underage actors participated in this film’s hardcore sequences; you’ll have wondered about that more than once. As 16-year-old Jasna (Isidora Simijonovic) falls into an abusive relationship with a slightly older drug dealer (Vukasin Jasnic), Milos’s feature debut aspires to say something about adolescents and technology; it never ekes out anything coherent.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 7:45pm Holy Motors Dir. Leos Carax. 2012. 115mins. France/Germany. Carax’s first feature in more than a decade stars Denis Lavant as the director’s surrogate, “Monsieur Oscar,” who crisscrosses Paris assuming a new identity—a sewer monster, an ailing father, an actor shooting a motion-capture sequence—every few minutes. Half-genius, half-wankfest, it demands to be seen; what other movie this year features talking limos and an impromptu musical number by Kylie Minogue?—Ben Kenigsberg
8pm Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God Dir. Alex Gibney. 2012. 106mins. USA. Gibney’s latest outrage doc recounts one of the earliest attempts to expose a Catholic priest as a pedophile, focusing on the Milwaukee case of Father Lawrence Murphy, who taught at a school for the deaf. The movie makes a damning case against the Vatican, particularly Pope Benedict’s actions before assuming the papacy. That said, nothing here is news.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:15pm Paradise: Love Dir. Ulrich Seidl. 2012. 120mins. Austria/Germany. The first part of a trilogy, Seidl’s expertly served provocation sends middle-aged, corpulent Austrian women on a vacation to Kenya, where they proceed to treat the black male residents as little more than sex-delivery objects. The women’s casual racism only grows more outrageous as this study in mutual exploitation progresses, pushing the boundaries of hardcore. Seidl knows what he’s up to—but it’s hard to deny he indulges in the same racial stereotyping he means to decry.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:30pm La Playa DC Dir. Juan Andrés Arango Garcia. 2012. 90mins. Colombia. There are shades of the Dardenne brothers and early Ramin Bahrani in this life-on-the-streets picture, about an Afro-Colombian teen trying to find his wayward brother in the hustle and bustle of Bogotá. Unremarkable as drama, the film has a loose aesthetic grace and flavorful city atmosphere that bode well for its debuting director.—A.A. Dowd
9:15pm Don’t Click Dir. Kim Tae-kyeong. 2012. 91mins. South Korea. A tech whiz falls under the curse of a Ringu-like viral video. Not available for review.