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
1pm 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
3pm Industry Panel 1: Fundraising Forums Filmmakers who have thought outside the box to fund their films offer tips.
3pm 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
3:15pm The Drudgery Train Dir. Nobuhiro Yamashita. 2012. 113mins. Japan. Yamashita, of 2005’s infectious girl-rock drama Linda Linda Linda, makes what sounds like an unofficial companion piece to that film: a coming-of-age story centered on two men. Not available for review.
3:30pm 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
3:30pm Rhino Season Dir. Bahman Ghobadi. 2012. 103mins. Iraqi Kurdistan/Turkey. If you know the work of Kurdish author Sadegh Karmangar, who was jailed for 30 years by the Iranian government and whose poetry, read by his daughter, is used in voiceover, Ghobadi’s roman à clef is almost certainly a must-see. For those coming in cold, it’s pretty opaque.—Ben Kenigsberg
4pm 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 The Scapegoat Dir. Charles Sturridge. 2012. 108mins. U.K. In a dual performance, Matthew Rhys stars as identical strangers—a traveling teacher and an aristocrat—who meet by chance in 1952 London. When the latter skips town, the former is mistaken for his wealthy doppelgänger and thrust into the frothy British answer to Face/Off. Rhys initially has some fun with the predicament, but his character is so unflaggingly decent that his identity mix-up just turns into an opportunity to play savior.—A.A. Dowd
5:45pm Xingu Dir. Cao Hamburger. 2012. 103mins. Brazil. Three brothers venture into the Brazilian wilderness, hoping to modernize a village still populated by the country’s indigenous Xingu people while at the same time preserving age-old tribal traditions. The Brazilian government has a different idea of “progress.” João Miguel’s performance as one of the siblings is a highlight.—Kristin Scharkey
* 6pm 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
* 6pm Modest Reception Dir. Mani Haghighi. 2012. 100mins. Iran. Another audacious enigma from Haghighi (2006’s Men at Work), Modest Reception follows a man and a woman as they drive through an Iranian mountain region, insisting that anyone they encounter accepts one of the bags of money they carry in the trunk of their car. That the residents are skeptical, refusing the handouts, only adds to the mystery. The duo’s strong-arm tactics become more aggressive, and predicated on new layers of lies. Trafficking in a Beckett-like intransigence, Modest Reception presents its riddles with a confidence befitting its characters.—Ben Kenigsberg
6:15pm Boys Are Us Dir. Peter Luisi. 2012. 73mins. Switzerland. Getting over a breakup, a young woman is persuaded by her sister to go the In the Company of Men route: meet someone online, get him smitten, then dump him, cruelly. This initially disorienting movie adds a twist, though, which is that (spoiler?) we see her use this tactic on three different guys, whose parallel stories are interlaced. The structural novelty is fun, but the film seems hollow once all the pieces are in place.—Ben Kenigsberg
6:15pm 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.
6:45pm 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
7pm Cloud Atlas Dirs. Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. 2012. 2hrs 44mins. USA/Germany/Hong Kong/Singapore. The Wachowskis’ and Tykwer’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s reputedly unfilmable novel hardly lacks ambition: Intolerance-like cross-cutting bridges everything from the 19th-century slave trade to the postapocalyptic future. Every era gets its own Tom Hanks. Although the subject matter varies wildly in world-historical importance (would Jim Broadbent’s nursing-home escape really cause such a cosmic ripple effect?), Cloud Atlas seems destined to be embraced by the crowd that lapped up The Fountain.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 8:10pm Gimme the Loot Dir. Adam Leon. 2012. 81mins. USA. NYC graffiti artists (Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington) with an eye on tagging Shea Stadium’s home-run apple hatch a half-pint scheme to rob the snooty Cornell grad (Zoë Lescaze) one of them has sold pot to. Less plot-heavy than that description makes it sound, this slapdash but frequently funny indie has some of the unassuming charm of Raising Victor Vargas.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:15pm 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.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:20pm 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
* 8:30pm Meeting Leila Dir. Adel Yaraghi. 2011. 88mins. Iran. When his bride-to-be insists he give up smoking, an ad man struggles to follow through with her request in a warm and witty story about a man’s choice between love and addiction.—Jessica Johnson
8:30pm Rat Fever Dir. Cláudio Assis. 2011. 110mins. Brazil. A Brazilian boho poet meets the woman of his dreams. Not available for review.
8:45pm The Weekend Dir. Nina Grosse. 2012. 97mins. Germany. A group of old friends is reunited, Return of the Secaucus Seven–style, when one of them is released from prison after serving two decades for being a Red Army Faction terrorist. He wants to know which of his pals sold him out—a tension that gives this talky and familiar drama the initial, misleading appearance of a thriller.—A.A. Dowd
9:15pm 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
10:30pm In Their Skin Dir. Jeremy Power Regimbal. 2012. 96mins. Canada. Important safety tip: When you’re alone with your wife and kid in a remote woodland home, don’t invite the psycho family who brings you lumber as a welcome gift over for dinner. This gleefully nasty home-invasion thriller fails multiple plausibility tests.—Ben Kenigsberg
11pm John Dies at the End Dir. Don Coscarelli. 2012. 100mins. USA. After inadvertently injecting himself with a mystery drug, Dave (Chase Williamson) begins…seeing things. Making a bid to be the next Donnie Darko, Phantasm director Coscarelli’s enjoyably unhinged adaptation of David Wong’s cult novel is at once amusing and irritatingly self-amused; it’s aimed squarely at superfans of all involved.—Ben Kenigsberg