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
3:15pm Black’s Game Dir. Óskar Thór Axelsson. 2012. 104mins. Iceland. “Based on shit that actually happened,” reads a title card. Shit, indeed. Set on the eve of Y2K, this frantic, overeager-to-be-badass crime drama aspires to be the Icelandic Goodfellas, down to the sequence in which our coked-up protagonist struggles to stay focused while running through a complicated errand list. Initially you may wonder if the movie is on fast-forward; that’s just how it’s edited.—Ben Kenigsberg
3:30pm Bad Seeds Dir. Safy Nebbou. 2012. 95mins. Luxembourg/Belgium. Two teens kidnap a schoolteacher—which sounds like a Kevin Williamson premise, but it’s from a novel by the guys who wrote the sources for Diabolique and Vertigo. Not available for review.
5:30pm After Lucía Dir. Michael Franco. 2012. 102mins. Mexico/France. As the new kid in town, level-headed, easygoing Alejandra (Tessa Ia) quickly finds her friends. But a drunken, videotaped hookup later, she’s immediately branded as the class slut. Relentless teasing and abuse ensue. Favoring long takes, Franco shoots the film in a dreamy, distanced style that deftly mitigates the potential Larry Clark vibe. The ultimate retreat into moralizing is a letdown, although the movie rallies with a WTF ending.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:45pm Marie Krøyer Dir. Bille August. 2012. 103mins. Denmark. The wife of Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer (1851–1909) feels stifled in their marriage. His mental instability drives her away, but it also gives August's perfunctory infidelity drama what little excitement it has.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:45pm War Witch Dir. Kim Nguyen. 2012. 90mins. Canada. Powerful newcomer Rachel Mwanza is the highlight of Canadian director Nguyen’s drama; she plays a 12-year-old forcibly recruited into a group of Congolese rebels. As initiation, she’s forced to kill her parents or die, and the movie has still other appallingly grim sights in store.—Ben Kenigsberg
6pm Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica Dir. Marcelo Gomes. 2012. 90mins. Brazil. A Recife-based psychiatrist (Hermila Guedes) has trouble healing herself—both in terms of committing to a relationship and caring for her ailing father—in this rather schematic Brazilian feature.—Ben Kenigsberg
6pm 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
6:15pm Any Day Now Dir. Travis Fine. 2012. 97mins. USA. Having classed up the margins of No Country for Old Men, Winter’s Bone and Looper, character actor Garret Dillahunt steps into the spotlight to play a closeted NYC attorney working with his drag-queen lover (Alan Cumming) to secure custody of the abandoned, mentally handicapped teenager they’ve taken in. The leads are excellent, but the film around them succumbs to every Lifetime-channel convention this spring’s In the Family neatly sidestepped.—A.A. Dowd
6:15pm A Caretaker’s Tale Dir. Katrine Wiedemann. 2011. 87mins. Denmark. A curmudgeonly building caretaker comes across a mute, immobile naked woman in an apartment. It turns out she’s good in bed. No, this movie was not directed by Jennifer Lynch or Jackie Treehorn. Not available for review.
8pm The Exam Dir. Peter Bergendy. 2011. 89mins. Hungary. Unbeknownst to him, a member of Hungary’s secret police spends December 24 undergoing a covert loyalty exam. Exactly who’s doing the testing, and what’s being tested, shifts over the course of the day and holiday night. Great premise, so-so execution; the movie nullifies suspense with a too-obtrusive score.—Ben Kenigsberg
8pm The Repentant Dir. Merzak Allouache. 2012. 87mins. Algeria/France. Offered a pardon in exchange for officially denouncing his violent radicalism, a reformed terrorist attempts to assimilate back into civilian life. Functioning much like an ex-convict movie, The Repentant eventually takes a sharp turn into pricklier territory. Credit Algerian actress Adila Bendimerad, who provides a spark of volcanic rage and sorrow to an otherwise muted drama.—A.A. Dowd
8:15pm 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
8:15pm Off White Lies Dir. Maya Kenig. 2011. 86mins. Israel. A teenage girl is reunited with her father in Israel just as the 2006 war with Lebanon breaks out. The complex, well-acted relationship between the characters is underserved by an overly quirky plot that has them pose as refugees to get free room and board.—Jessica Johnson
* 8:30pm Beyond the Hills Dir. Cristian Mungiu. 2012. 150mins. Romania. This magnificent slow-burn plays like a compendium of recent festival hits, from Silent Light to Mungiu’s own 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Alina (Cristina Flutur) returns to Romania from Germany, hoping to abscond with her former orphanage-mate Voichita (Cosmina Stratan). But Voichita has been taken in by a group of ultra-orthodox Christians; Mungiu explores the ensuing clash between modernity and medievalism methodically and relentlessly. Not to be missed.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:30pm The Cleaner Dir. Adrián Saba. 2012. 95mins. Peru. When will filmmakers tire of putting adorable tykes in the care of grumpy old loners? That stock scenario gets an apocalyptic makeover with this tale of a forensic maintenance worker who gets stuck looking after a preteen orphan during a Contagion-like epidemic. Beautifully filmed, with hypnotic scenes of the man and his surrogate brood traversing a deserted Lima, the film trudges forward with a grim sense of purpose. Cutesy consolation: The kid wears a cardboard box over his head for most of the running time.—A.A. Dowd
8:30pm Student Dir. Darezhan Omirbayev. 2012. 90mins. Kazakhstan. Omirbayev (Chouga) takes a page from Bresson with this reportedly Pickpocket-like contemporary reworking of Crime and Punishment. Not available for review.
10:30pm Citadel Dir. Ciaran Foy. 2012. 84mins. Ireland/U.K. After a violent attack in their housing project renders his wife comatose, a traumatized Glaswegian (Aneurin Barnard) is forced to protect their baby daughter on his own. But who exactly were the perpetrators? Taking a page from Candyman, Citadel conflates poverty with literal monstrousness. The tasteless allegory overwhelms the movie’s few good jolts.—Ben Kenigsberg