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
3pm 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.
5:15pm Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood Dir. Daniele Vicari. 2012. 127mins. Italy/Romania. Vicari dramatizes the real-life storming of a school during the 2001 G-8 summit. Not available for review.
* 6pm Kern Dirs. Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. 2012. 98mins. Austria. Familiarity with the work of Austrian actor-director Peter Kern is not a prerequisite for appreciating this tricksy profile, which finds the enormously obese, control-freak filmmaker speaking openly about his love life, disrobing for the lens and frequently lashing out at his documentarians. All is not what it seems, though, as breaks in the “performance” call into question the trustworthiness of the entire project. Is this the real Kern? Can the camera even capture such a thing?—A.A. Dowd
6:15pm Mekong Hotel Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 2012. 61mins. Thailand/U.K. This baffling almost-feature from SAIC grad “Joe” Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) isn’t major; it plays more like gallery art than a full-fledged movie. Still, the director makes interesting use of guitar (in a departure) and organ-eating ghosts (in a return of sorts).—Ben Kenigsberg
6:15pm 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
6:30pm 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
6:30pm Tey Dir. Alain Gomis. 2012. 86mins. Senegal. In this fanciful but naturalistically presented parable, a man, knowing he’ll die that evening, reflects on his life and says farewell to the family and friends who gather around him. The overall effect suggests an ultra-serene, Senegalese All That Jazz, and is moving without quite being profound.—Ben Kenigsberg
7pm 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.
8pm 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.
* 8:15pm 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 Keep the Lights On Dir. Ira Sachs. 2012. 102mins. USA. Anyone who’s ever stuck out a dysfunctional relationship for way too long should get pangs of recognition from Sachs’s semi-autobiographical drama, in which a Manhattan-based, European-born filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) tries to make things work with his crack-addicted boyfriend (Zachary Booth). Deftly skipping forward in time, the movie condenses a nearly decade-long affair to its crucial moments—a series of startlingly candid, crumbling-romance snapshots.—A.A. Dowd
8:45pm Black Pond Dirs. Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe. 2011. 86mins. U.K. A miserable couple (Chris Langham and Amanda Hadingue) are forced to confront the true emptiness of their lives when a strange man (Colin Hurley) follows the husband home. Structurally uneven and occasionally forced in its weirdness, Black Pond achieves a striking, unique tone of acutely observed bourgeois melancholy in its quieter moments.—Tom Huddleston
8:45pm Reality Dir. Matteo Garrone. 2012. 115mins. Italy. Neorealism for the era of reality TV, Garrone’s engaging if somewhat one-note follow-up to Gomorrah concerns a fishmonger (nonpro Aniello Arena, reportedly let out of prison to play the role) who develops the Rupert Pupkin–like delusion that he’s destined for stardom on Italy’s version of Big Brother. Peaking with its opening sequence, the movie has been seen as a belated salvo at the cult of personality built around Berlusconi.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 9pm 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
* 9:15pm 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
10:30pm 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.
11pm 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
11:15pm Maniac Dir. Franck Khalfoun. 2012. 90mins. France/USA. Khalfoun and star Elijah Wood mount a found-footage remake of the iconic 1980 exploitation film. Not available for review.