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 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
1:30pm Screen Adaptations: Novel Approaches Want to turn your favorite book into a screenplay? First, buy the rights. Then attend this panel.
2pm King Curling Dir. Ole Endresen. 2011. 75mins. Norway. You saw Goon? Now see it in Norwegian, with curling instead of hockey. Not available for review.
2:30pm 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
2:45pm Kuma Dir. Umut Dag. 2012. 93mins. Austria. Dag’s debut feature explores the social and sexual havoc a beautiful Turkish village girl (Begüm Akkaya) unleashes on a striving émigré family in an Austrian suburb. Akkaya is hypnotic, though the episodic and incident-packed story frequently devolves into the blunt and hysterical.—Patrick Z. McGavin
3:15pm 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.
* 3:30pm Sleep Tight Dir. Jaume Balagueró. 2011. 96mins. Spain. From one of the directors of [REC] comes this darkest of dark comedies, about the skin-crawling misadventures of a disturbed concierge (Luis Tosar) taking out his issues on an unsuspecting tenant. Enjoyment levels will fluctuate depending on one's tolerance for bugs, gleeful sadism and home-invasion scenarios. Tastelessness aside, the film's manipulation of our sympathies—especially during a queasily suspenseful, trapped-in-the-apartment set piece—is almost Hitchcockian.—A.A. Dowd
3:45pm 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
4pm The Bella Vista Dir. Alicia Cano Menoni. 2012. 73mins. Uruguay/Germany. Through interviews and reenactments, Uruguayan villagers lay out a recent conflict in their community: the fight over an abandoned soccer clubhouse, which a group of transvestite prostitutes transform into a brothel. It’s possible to admire Menoni’s impartiality and still wish she had afforded more screen time to the working girls, and less to the conservative old bigots who practically chased them out of town.—A.A. Dowd
5pm The White Dawn + A Conversation with Philip Kaufman Dir. Philip Kaufman. 1974. 110mins. USA. This screening of Kaufman’s neglected 1895-set Arctic expedition film will be followed by a conversation between the director and Columbia University’s Annette Insdorf.
5pm Empire Builder Dir. Kris Swanberg. 2012. 70mins. USA. With her husband (Swanberg’s actual spouse, filmmaker Joe) planning to join her in a week, a new Chicago mom (Kate Lyn Sheil) heads off to a mountain cabin. Soon she’s fantasizing about the construction worker (Bill Ross) rehabbing the place, who’s pretty much her white-collar hubby’s opposite. Sheil’s performance and well-choreographed long takes add delicate layers of suggestion, although the film sells itself short by going for the obvious punch line.—Ben Kenigsberg
5pm The Last Sentence Dir. Jan Troell. 2012. 120mins. Sweden. A Swedish journalist who famously threatened his country’s neutrality during WWII by writing scathing indictments of Hitler, Torgny Segerstedt is a worthy subject for a biopic. Too bad they botched this one. Perversely marginalizing Segerstedt’s campaign against the Nazis, Troell (Everlasting Moments) favors dreary psychoanalysis instead, portraying the writer as a loveless lover whose deceased sweethearts return to him as vindictive apparitions.—A.A. Dowd
5:45pm 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
6pm Shorts 1: City & State Various dirs. Approx. 80mins. This program of curtain-raisers puts an emphasis on place.
6pm 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.
6:15pm 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
7pm Consuming Spirits Dir. Chris Sullivan. 2012. 136mins. USA. Employing a combination of cutout, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation techniques, local filmmaker Sullivan presents a profoundly strange, sometimes affecting vision of small-town misfits and madmen in the American South. The film overstays its welcome, though; all but the most patient of cartoon connoisseurs may wish a few oddball anecdotes had been trimmed.—A.A. Dowd
7:30pm Not Fade Away Dir. David Chase. 2012. 117mins. USA. Sopranos creator Chase makes his feature-filmmaking debut with this nostalgia-blinkered look at college-age rock-group aspirations in the mid-’60s, when every band from Jersey wanted to be the next Beatles or Stones. In interviews, Chase has said the material is 15 percent autobiographical; revolving around a Dylan-haired, idealistic lead singer (John Magaro), Not Fade Away feels at once familiar and disjointed.—Ben Kenigsberg
8pm The Believers Dir. Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross. 2011. 80mins. USA. The “discovery” of cold fusion, as well as its subsequent denouncement by most of the scientific community, is the subject of this glorified Dateline special. The filmmakers feign objectivity, but their refusal to get tough with the theory’s proponents—many of whom are notorious for concealing their supposed findings—betrays a clear bias.—A.A. Dowd
8:15pm Rat Fever Dir. Cláudio Assis. 2011. 110mins. Brazil. A Brazilian boho poet meets the woman of his dreams. Not available for review.
* 8:30pm Like Someone in Love Dir. Abbas Kiarostami. 2012. 109mins. France/Japan. A thematic companion piece to Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s first Japan-set feature is a chillier, less accessible piece of work. It centers on a student who moonlights as an escort (Rin Takanashi). Her client for the evening is an elderly sociology professor (Tadashi Okuno) who seems ready to treat her as a genuine paramour. As in Copy, false perceptions are key; even the movie’s gorgeous first half, filled with Tokyo’s nighttime neons, turns out to be a kind of aesthetic misdirection. It’s an elegant, wholly original brainteaser certain to inspire debate.—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
8:45pm 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
10:15pm 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.