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 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.
2pm Panel: Spotlight Middle East This discussion will center on the nexus of art and politics.
2:45pm 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
3pm 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 protagonists’ tragedy.—Alec Moran
3pm Shorts 2: Animation—Blurring the Lines Various dirs. Approx. 98mins. Looking for animation shorts? This program has your number.
3:15pm 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
* 4pm Leviathan Dirs. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. 2012. 87mins. USA. Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Paravel (Foreign Parts) rethink cinematic space with this astonishing nonfiction fishing film, shot with waterproof digital cameras on a boat 200 miles off the Massachusetts coast. Closer to Stan Brakhage freak-out than documentary, the movie eschews context and has almost no dialogue. The dexterity of the visuals can’t be overstated—there are moments in Leviathan when you literally can’t tell up from down, as the camera suddenly dives beneath the waves or slides across the vessel’s deck, buried amid the day’s piscine catch.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:45pm The Land of Eb Dir. Andrew Williamson. 2012. 87mins. USA/Marshall Islands. A work of fiction shot vérité-style (indeed, you might mistake parts for documentary), The Land of Eb centers on a cancer-stricken Hawaii resident who’s emigrated from the Marshall Islands—one of the most radioactive places on Earth, thanks to U.S. government nuclear tests. You don’t see this character much in movies, and Williamson’s film earnestly coasts on its novelty.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:45pm 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
* 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
6pm 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
6:15pm A Secret World Dir. Gabriel Mariño. 2012. 87mins. Mexico. Teenage María suddenly leaves her mom’s house in Mexico City to go road-tripping, where she encounters strangers of varying degrees of pleasantness and creepiness. We watch María’s impassive face while a couple of men treat her as a sexual vessel, yet the film likewise sees her as little more than a mopey cipher.—Novid Parsi
* 6:30pm 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-baked 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
6:30pm 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
7pm The Impossible Dir. Juan Antonio Bayona. 2012. 112mins. Spain. It may sound inspiring, but this true story of a family separated and eventually reunited across the wreckage of the 2004 tsunami becomes a grim slog onscreen, even glammed up with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.—Ben Kenigsberg
8pm Fuckload of Scotchtape Dir. Julian Grant. 2012. 84mins. USA. Scotchtape definitely presents a fuckload of cringe-inducing moments—from its amateurish acting to its poorly written and delivered voiceovers. (“Fags always have drugs,” the main character says with a barely post-pubescent rasp.) But the worst are the bizarre interludes in which the pretty-boy protagonist looks dead into the camera and lip-synchs to the sappy acoustic soundtrack. The recover-the-stolen-money plot gets lost about 30 minutes in.—Alec Moran
8:15pm 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
* 8:30pm 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, turning into a sobering portrait of the tragedy of gun violence in Chicago, then and now.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:30pm 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
8:40pm 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
8:45pm 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
8:45pm The World Is Funny Dir. Shemi Zarhin. 2012. 122mins. Israel. This Israeli comedy hinges on the tragic histories of a trio of adult siblings whose troubles began in childhood when their mother ditched them. World Is Funny attempts to find humor in a string of misfortunes leveled upon its main characters. But the melodrama is laid on so thick, there’s little to laugh about.—Jessica Johnson
11pm The ABCs of Death Dir. Various. 2012. 123mins. Each segment in this omnibus horror film corresponds to a letter in the alphabet, and each letter stands for a different way to die; a surprising number of these involve flatulence. About a month after seeing the film, I remember G (for gravity), O (from the directors of Amer), Q (Adam Wingard riffing on his bad luck for getting the letter Q) and X (to explain would spoil the punch line). Four out of 26 is a terrible ratio.—Ben Kenigsberg