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
Noon 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.
Noon Shorts 1: City & State Various dirs. Approx. 80mins. This program of curtain-raisers puts an emphasis on place.
12:15pm Mr. Sophistication Dir. Danny Green. 2012. 97mins. USA. It’s amateur hour at the Apollo, cinematically speaking, in this tedious tale of a has-been Chicago comedian (Harry Lennix) juggling a wife and a new mistress during his comeback tour. Everything falls flat: the acting, the dialogue, even our hero’s anecdotal, painfully unfunny routines. Avoid.—A.A. Dowd
* 12:30pm Coming of Age Dirs. Sabine Hiebler and Gerhart Ertl. 2011. 90mins. Austria. Hiebler and Ertl’s octogenarian love-and-death drama is equally frank about sex for seniors and the horrors of caring for someone terminally ill. (Fairly or not, it will draw comparisons to Michael Haneke’s Amour.) Christine Ostermayer and Karl Merkatz have undeniable chemistry; despite a few rushed and implausible plot developments, this is pretty powerful.—Hank Sartin
1pm Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me Dir. Raúl Fuentes. 2012. 100mins. Mexico. Clunky title aside, this is a light-footed feature debut for Fuentes, who puts a sapphic spin on the Woody Allen–ish plot of a middle-aged intellectual romancing a teenager. Strikingly shot in black-and-white, the film has a stylistic playfulness that partially compensates for its fairly pedestrian love story.—A.A. Dowd
1:15pm 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
* 1:30pm 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
2:30pm A Royal Affair Dir. Nikolaj Arcel. 2012. 131mins. Denmark. Physician Mads Mikkelsen provides counsel to Denmark’s mad King Christian VII, strikes up a passionate affair with the regent’s discontented queen and paves the way for progressive reforms in Arcel’s watchable if almost aggressively rote costume drama.—Ben Kenigsberg
2:30pm The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni Dir. Rania Stephan. 2011. 70mins. Lebanon. This impressionistic memorial attempts to capture the essence of Egyptian actress Soad Hosni (1943–2001) using clips from her screen appearances. Stylistically, that makes for a striking antidote to the standard bio-doc, though you’d need a working knowledge of Egyptian cinema to fully appreciate it.—Ben Kenigsberg
3pm The Patsy Dir. King Vidor. 1928. 78mins. USA. The title is a pun: Vivacious Kewpie Pat (Marion Davies), long regarded as the black sheep of the family, sets her sights on her stuck-up sis’s beau. No one’s going to mistake this for major Vidor, but it’s a generous showcase for Davies’s comic chops and overall adorability.—Ben Kenigsberg
3pm 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
* 3:30pm Sister Dir. Ursula Meier. 2012. 97mins. Switzerland. Resilient and resourceful, young Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) moves between two worlds—the street-level apartment building where he lives with his deadbeat older sister (Léa Seydoux) and the mountaintop Swiss ski resort where he steals from the vacationing rich to support his broken family. Aided by cinematographer Agnès Godard, Meier deftly explores the character’s fracturing sense of self while grounding him in a vividly realized locale.—Keith Uhlich
3:45pm Kern Dirs. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. 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
* 4pm 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. Logan Theater (2645 N Milwaukee Ave).—Ben Kenigsberg
4:15pm Germania Dir. Maximiliano Schonfeld. 2012. 75mins. Argentina. An extremely tight-knit family of German extraction deals with change—specifically, selling the farm—in rural Argentina. The cinematography is lovely, but with the brief running time, a sense of place and culture never quite takes hold.—Ben Kenigsberg
4:30pm 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 transforms 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
5:15pm 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
5:15pm Yuma Dir. Piotr Mularuk. 2012. 113mins. Poland/Czech Republic. A very small-potatoes true-crime saga gets a slightly bloated screen treatment in Mularuk’s overlong drama, which draws its title from both the 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma—excerpted here—and a small German border town that a group of Polish punks begins looting after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Packed with nothing but unlikable characters, Yuma earns a couple of points for its almost complete lack of gunplay—a distinction in the gangster genre.—A.A. Dowd
5:30pm Shun Li and the Poet Dir. Andrea Segre. 2011. 100mins. Italy. Shun Li is a young Chinese woman working at a café in Venice, trying to save enough money to bring her son abroad. The “poet” is an aging Yugoslavian fisherman with whom she bonds. Their platonic love affair forms the crux of Segre’s quietly moving drama, which stumbles only in the contrived manner with which it inevitably separates its lonely protagonists.—A.A. Dowd
* 6pm Drought Dir. Everardo González. 2011. 90mins. Mexico. González’s documentary looks at a community of cowboys and farmers in northeast Mexico struggling to survive as they await the rain. The slow pace seems fitting for the subject, and the film provides an insightful look at the destitution and daily relations of the ranchers and their families.—Kristin Scharkey
6pm Quartet Dir. Dustin Hoffman. 2012. 97mins. USA. Showing an indulgent hand with his thespians, Hoffman directs four fine British actors in this slack tale of a retirement home for opera singers. A performance of Rigoletto may or may not rekindle the spark between two onetime stars (Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay) who used to be married.—Ben Kenigsberg
6:15pm Out in the Dark Dir. Michael Mayer. 2012. 96mins. Israel/USA. Closeted to his family for fear of exile, a Palestinian man (Nicholas Jacob) secretly ventures by night from Ramallah to Tel Aviv, where he falls for an Israeli lawyer (Michael Aloni) whose father is well-connected in government. Mayer’s social-issue drama has a heavy hand, but the leads are terrific. Logan Theater (2645 N Milwaukee Ave).—Ben Kenigsberg
6:15pm An Oversimplification of Her Beauty Dir. Terence Nance. 2012. 90mins. USA. The director, playing a character based on himself, analyzes an unrequited attraction through a prism of mixed media. Not available for review.
6:30pm Numbered Dirs. Dana Doron and Uriel Sinai. 2012. 60mins. Israel. Sharing their recollections of the camps, Holocaust survivors focus on the numbers tattooed on their arms. Not reviewed.
7:30pm 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 filmmaker makes interesting use of guitar (in a directorial departure) and organ-eating ghosts (in a return of sorts).—Ben Kenigsberg
7:45pm Rhino Season Dir. Bahman Ghobadi. 2012. 103mins. Iraqi Kurdistan/Turkey. If you know the work of Kurdish author Sadegh Kamangar, 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
8pm Sea Shadow Dir. Nawaf Al-Janahi. 2011. 98mins. United Arab Emirates. Two teenagers—a boy desperate to get into the dating game, a girl anxious about the attention of her male neighbors—make eyes in the streets of Ras al-Khaimah. The film then splinters into parallel story lines, keeping these would-be sweethearts apart as they bristle under their parents’ tough love. The insight into Emirati gender relations is interesting; little else about this flatly earnest drama is.—A.A. Dowd
8:15pm Shadow Dancer Dir. James Marsh. 2012. 100mins. U.K./Ireland. Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim) brings a grounded, unpolished sense of reality to this atmospheric Belfast drama set in the early ’90s. Andrea Riseborough plays a single mom from a hard-line IRA family dead-set against the looming political settlement. The acting is impeccable, though the pace at times feels sluggish.—Cath Clarke
8:15pm Tchoupitoulas Dirs. Bill and Turner Ross. 2012. 80mins. USA. In a narrative work imbued with a strong documentary flavor, three boys wander New Orleans at night, providing a striking look at local revelry and culture. The impressionistic visuals aren’t quite enough to make up for the overarching feeling of drift.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 8:30pm Our Children Dir. Joachim Lafosse. 2012. 111mins. Belgium/Luxembourg. Three is most certainly a crowd in Lafosse’s devastating look at a young married couple (Tahar Rahim and Émilie Dequenne) whose lives are intertwined with that of an elderly doctor (Niels Arestrup). The latter raised the husband, an Arab immigrant, since he was a lad—so why shouldn’t the kindly physician live with the now-grown man and his new wife and virtually control every aspect of their lives? Dequenne is the movie’s MVP; the way the Rosetta star goes from quiet suffocation to full-blown mental breakdown is nothing short of revelatory.—David Fear
8:30pm Valley of Saints Dir. Musa Syeed. 2012. 82mins. India/USA. “I was born with a paddle in my hands,” says Gulzar, a poor boatman whose plot to escape a politically fractious Kashmir is interrupted by the appearance of a beautiful visiting anthropologist. A documentarian making the transition to features, Syeed has an eye for composition, though for all the hot-button issues, the material feels more earnest than tense or involving.—Patrick Z. McGavin
* 9:15pm Simon Killer Dir. Antonio Campos. 2012. 105mins. USA. Brady Corbet, who played one of the yuppie prankster sociopaths in Haneke’s Funny Games remake, stars here as a heartsick American couch-surfer who gets involved with a prostitute in Paris. As in Campos’s debut, Afterschool, the troubled-young-man pathology feels pat. Formally, though, the film is often mesmerizing, with the director investing a Last Tango in Paris scenario with the mood and menace of collaborator Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene.—A.A. Dowd