Chicago International Film Festival 2012 | CIFF reviews
Find out what you need to see October 18–25.
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 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
1pm Industry Panel: Meet the Festival Programmers Want to find out who watched all this stuff beforehand (other than us?). Attend this panel.
1pm Shorts 1: City & State Various dirs. Approx. 80mins. This program of curtain-raisers puts an emphasis on place.
* 2:30pm Post Tenebras Lux Dir. Carlos Reygadas. 2012. 120mins. Mexico/France. Word is that Reygadas has tweaked his booed-and-applauded WTF since its Cannes debut, but don’t worry—there’d be no way to make it lucid. And that’s okay: From its mesmerizing prologue, in which the director’s daughter frolics in a field as a lightning storm approaches, the director makes clear he’s going for an intuitive logic. Some moments (a minotaur-like specter wandering through a contemporary home) seem inspired by the cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, though the class tract and just-out-of-frame pet slaughter are pure Reygadas.—Ben Kenigsberg
2:45pm 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
3:15pm Dreams for Sale Dir. Miwa Nishikawa. 2012. 134mins. Japan. A restaurant fire leaves a couple in a financial hole. Naturally, there’s no better way to fund the new place than for the husband to pimp himself out as an escort. Wait, what? Tonally screwy, Nishikawa’s not-quite-farce expends far too much time on far too little.—Ben Kenigsberg
3:45pm 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
3:45pm Shorts 6: Truth Be Told Various dirs. Approx. 78mins. Nonfiction shorts are the center of this program.
4pm 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
5pm Bound by Flesh Dir. Leslie Zemeckis. 2012. 91mins. USA. Extraordinary subjects, ordinary approach: This career-spanning profile of conjoined twins and vaudeville stars Daisy and Violet Hilton has a very made-for-TV feel, with Zemeckis—wife of Robert—consulting only a handful of interview subjects and repeatedly reusing the same archival footage and photographs. As in Tod Browning’s Freaks, in which the sisters appeared and to which this film devotes only a couple of minutes, the motives seem equally empathetic and exploitative.—A.A. Dowd
* 5pm 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
5pm Postcards from the Zoo Dir. Edwin. 2012. 96mins. Indonesia. If one were to mate We Bought a Zoo with Jia Zhangke’s The World, the offspring might look something like this. Early scenes of an abandoned tyke wandering the menagerie set a whimsical tone; the film grows more bittersweet in later passages, as the now-grown orphan, who was raised by trainers within the zoo, struggles to adjust to life in the “wild.”—A.A. Dowd
6pm 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
6pm A Monkey on My Shoulder Dir. Marion Laine. 2012. 91mins. France/Argentina. The revamped English title of Laine’s paint-peeling drama links vascular surgeon Édgar Ramirez’s nickname for wife Juliette Binoche with his increasingly out-of-control alcoholism. But the French title—An Open Heart—is more to the point for a movie that cuts its stars open and watches them bleed, emotions spurting in directionless gouts.—Sam Adams
6pm Shorts 2: Animation—Blurring the Lines Various dirs. Approx. 98mins. Looking for animation shorts? This program has your number.
6:15pm Agon Dir. Robert Budina. 2012. 110mins. Albania/Greece. Two Albanian brothers, each unlikable in his own special way, struggle to get by in Greece. The plot twists involving a prostitution ring and a gangster’s wife feel more forced—and vaguely ridiculous—than, as seems to be intended, poetically tragic.—Hank Sartin
7pm 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
7:15pm Antiviral Dir. Brandon Cronenberg. 2012. 110mins. Canada/USA. A biotechnician (Caleb Landry Jones) sells pathogens extracted from the rich and famous; in this dystopian present, fans pay top dollar to be infected with their favorite movie stars’ illnesses. It’s a way for them to feel closer to fame. Along those lines, the half-effective, half-hacky Antiviral begs a self-reflexive reading: Making his feature debut, Cronenberg seems to be infecting his own work with the influence of his father David’s greatest hits.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 7:15pm The Last Friday Dir. Yahya Al Abdallah. 2012. 88mins. Jordan. Five years after losing his job, family and life savings in a disastrous poker game, divorced cabbie Yousef (a terrifically taciturn Ali Suliman) reconnects with his teenage son while trying to drum up the funds for an operation he can’t afford. Shot in immaculately framed, frequently wordless long takes, Al Abdallah’s affecting debut has been labeled a comedy by CIFF programmers—a genre classification that will only make sense to the folks who howled with laughter during The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.—A.A. Dowd
8:30pm Shorts 4: Not OK, Cupid! Various dirs. Approx. 66mins. Don’t expect any long-term romances: These are short films.
8:45pm Fable Dir. Lester Hamlet. 2011. 92mins. Cuba. A Havana man falls for a prostitute. Not available for review.
8:45pm StringCaesar Dir. Paul Schoolman. 2010. 88mins. U.K. As a therapeutic exercise, real prisoners from jails around the globe stage an original theater piece based on the early life of Julius Caesar; they’re joined by a handful of professional thesps. While performing alongside convicts clearly provided a novel acting exercise for Alice Krige and Derek Jacobi, the movie that’s resulted is poorly assembled and nigh-inaccessible—a record of what took place rather than a shaped work.—Ben Kenigsberg
9pm Night Across the Street Dir. Raúl Ruiz. 2012. 110mins. Chile/France. The late Mysteries of Lisbon director’s final film, a surreally inflected childhood reminiscence, is the kind of deeply personal memoir that makes no effort to elucidate its assorted anecdotes and tangents. The uninitiated will likely struggle to find a way in, but Ruiz’s fans shouldn’t miss this.—Ben Kenigsberg
9:30pm 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
* 9:45pm Room 237 Dir. Rodney Ascher. 2012. 102mins. USA. According to Room 237, Stanley Kubrick had an IQ of 200. After seeing Ascher’s explication of some of the more bizarre interpretive theories of The Shining, you’ll suspect the man made use of every intelligence point. Some readings (noting The Shining’s repeated references to genocide) are more persuasive than others (e.g., the notion that Kubrick used his movie to cop to a role in faking the moon landing). No matter; Room 237 is irresistibly entertaining as a work of film-criticism-on-film.—Ben Kenigsberg
10:30pm Shorts 3: Midnight Mayhem Various dirs. Approx. 96mins. Is there a significant difference between this shorts program and The ABCs of Death (see above)?
11pm Don’t Click Dir. Kim Tae-Kyeong. 2012. 91mins. South Korea. Although Kim claims this rote scare-flick is based on a true story, it plays more like a movie based on Ringu: Cursed after watching a viral video, two sisters have just days to live. Don’t Click might pack more of a punch with even the slightest formal grounding. Kim seems to believe that fake-outs and discontinuous editing are inherently scary.—Ben Kenigsberg