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
12:30pm Rat Fever Dir. Cláudio Assis. 2011. 110mins. Brazil. A Brazilian boho poet meets the woman of his dreams. Not available for review.
* 1pm 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
1:15pm 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
* 2pm 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
2pm 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
2:45pm 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
3pm 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
3pm 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.
3:15pm 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
3:45pm The Exam Dir. Peter Bergendy. 2011. 89mins. Hungary. A member of Hungary’s secret police unknowingly spends December 24 undergoing a covert loyalty exam. Exactly who’s doing the testing, and what’s being tested, shifts over the course of the day and holiday night. Great premise, so-so execution; the movie nullifies suspense with a too-obtrusive score.—Ben Kenigsberg
4:30pm A Conversation with Joseph Cedar The Footnote director will discuss his work.
5pm 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
5:30pm Color of Sky Dir. Dr. Biju. 2012. 117mins. India. A thief winds up stranded on an island where a man he’s tried to rob resides. Not available for review.
5:45pm Hemel Dir. Sacha Polak. 2012. 80mins. Netherlands. The title character, whose name means Heaven, drifts from pickup to pickup without ever finding satisfaction. It’s a sentiment viewers may relate to, as Hemel packs in sex scene after sex scene without providing much in the way of eroticism or interest. Baiting the art-house contingent, the movie attributes its protag’s chronic neediness to repressed family trauma.—Ben Kenigsberg
6pm The Jeffrey Dahmer Files Dir. Chris James Thompson. 2012. 75mins. USA. Titled simply Jeff at South by Southwest last spring, this gratuitous info-rehash on the Milwaukee Monster splits its time among a forensic investigator, one of Dahmer’s neighbors and the detective who first interrogated the serial killer. There’s a certain procedural interest in what the latter has to say (when the man you’ve just arrested has a human head in his fridge, do you offer him a cup of coffee?), but the movie mainly traffics in morbid curiosity. Reenactments, designed to show how Dahmer could operate unnoticed, feel particularly exploitative.—Ben Kenigsberg
6pm 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
6:15pm Caesar Must Die Dirs. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. 2012. 76mins. Italy. A theater audience rises to its feet as the cast of Julius Caesar takes its curtain call. We then rewind back to the beginning, as the actors—all felons in an Italian prison—rehearse their parts and turn Shakespeare’s drama into a riff on jailhouse power plays. If the film’s commentary on the corrupting power of contemporary Roman politics deserves neither overwhelming praise nor burial through dismissal, the Taviani brothers’ riff does drive a stake through platitudes about the healing power of art.—David Fear
7pm An Evening with Viola Davis An Oscar nominee for last year’s The Help, Davis will be honored.
7pm 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
7:45pm 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
8pm 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
8pm 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
8pm Surprise Film Past years’ selections for this slot have been: RocknRolla, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Next Three Days and (36 hours before release) Margin Call. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
8:30pm 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
8:30pm 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.
10pm John Dies at the End Dir. Don Coscarelli. 2012. 100mins. USA. After inadvertently injecting himself with a mystery drug, Dave (Chase Williamson) begins…seeing things. Making a bid to be the next Donnie Darko, Phantasm director Coscarelli’s enjoyably unhinged adaptation of David Wong’s cult novel is at once amusing and irritatingly self-amused. It’s aimed squarely at the superfans of all involved.—Ben Kenigsberg