The 54th Chicago International Film Festival committees reviewed almost 6,000 films in numerous categories, choosing some 125 to screen at the AMC River East Cinema, 322 E. Illinois, in Chicago, between October 10 and October 21, 2018.
This reviewer watched the below-enumerated 10 films; capsule summaries with credits and Festival category information follow:
- The City That Sold America, 2018, U.S., Documentary, City and State, Women In Cinema, 69 Minutes, Directed by Ky Dickens, Written by Ky Dickens and Mary Warlick, Executive Producers John Bosher, Katie Bryan and Chris Charles
This absorbing documentary cum history lesson, largely told in the voices of people in the advertising business, along with well-deployed animation, reveals how a myriad of talent, business acumen and hard work by creative immigrants, blacks and independent thinkers revolutionized and shaped the advertising world and consumer behavior. The point of view is positive, even reverent, as such beloved cultural icons as Tony the Tiger and The Jolly Green Giant are interspersed with the actual words of Leo Burnett about the industry he loved.
- Claire Darling, 2017, France, World Cinema, Women In Cinema, 94 minutes, Directed by Julie Bertucelli, Written by Julie Bertuccelli and Sophie Fillières, Produced by UniFrance Films/Les Films du Poisson, Executive Producers Yoël Fogiel and Laetitia Gonzalez, Starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni
Wealthy, haunted Claire decides to have a ridiculously underpriced “estate sale” on the spacious grounds of her estate and rid herself of all her favorite possessions. As the neighbors fight over the objects, her estranged daughter, alerted by a childhood friend, returns to the scene, where her mom is having memory flashbacks, to come to an understanding and rapprochement.
The beauty of the cinematography and the stunningly centered performance by Denueve, who as Claire is enmeshed both in the early clutches of dementia as well as a certain sense of impending doom combine in this touching film which offers glimpses of an unsettling past.
- Core of the World, 2018, Russia/Lithuania, New Directors Competition, Women In Cinema, 124 minutes, Directed by Natalia Meschaninova, Written by Natalia Meschaninova, Boris Khlebnikov and Stepan Devonin, Produced by Just a Moment/CTB Film Company, Producers Sergey Selyanov and Natalia Drozd, Starring Stepan Devonin
This is a beautifully filmed surreal yet staunchly earthbound tale about an unconventional man. Traumatized by a violent and drunken mother, he lives in a remote Russian village, caring only for his employers and his animal charges. When life invades his rustic realm, in the form of environmental activists, an aunt who comes to importune him after his mother’s demise, and the amorous attentions of his employers’ daughter, he responds with confused anger. The barren setting, the raw emotions of the characters, the clarity of the cinematography, and the simple steadfastness of our hero all combine to paint an unforgettable portrait of a life lived in brutal simplicity.
- Diane, 2018, U.S.,International Competition, 94 minutes, Directed and written by Kent Jones, Executive Producers Julia and Leonid Lebedev, Martin Scorsese and Eddie Vaisman; Starring Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons, etc., etc.
Diane is desperate to connect with her drug-addled son; as her ceaseless efforts to help him and a host of others lead to frustration, she is forced to confront very disturbing memories, as well as many losses. The inspired choice of Mary Kay Place as lead actor ensured that audiences would not miss the nuances of this stunted personality’s devotion to do-goodism in an effort to expiate her guilt over a long-ago sexual misalliance. The film is difficult to watch, as death follows routine, and routine follows death, inexorably leading through disappointment to nothingness.
- Echo, 2018, Israel, New Directors Competition, 96 minutes, Directed and Written by Amikam Kovner and Assaf Snir, Executive Producer Ra’anan Gershoni, Starring Yaël Abecassis, Yoram Toledano and Ilanit Ben-Yaako
Our hero, obsessively in love with his wife, spies on her via secret recordings of her telephone conversations; of course, he ends up even more obsessed as he discovers a woman he never knew he shared a life with. The twists and turns of emotion that beguile him as he moves closer to what he believes to be the truth only serve to estrange him further from his children’s mother, and his heavy-handed ways threaten to cost him those children, his job, and his sanity. It’s a film that doesn’t offer any easy answers, but keeps us wondering until the end.
- The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia, 2018, Cuba/Germany, New Directors Competition, Spotlight: Comedy, Cinemas of the Americas, 92 minutes, Directed by Arturo Infante, Producers Ernst Fassbender and Claudia Calviño, Starring Maria Isabel Diaz and Omar Franco
60’ish widowed planetarium guide/former teacher Celeste is offered a trip to outer space and is all too willing to leave Havana and seek excitement among the aliens. The revelations about her prior unhappy marriage come out as she awaits transport. The film is gently humorous, surprisingly poignant and filled with light-handed yet acute observations of human behavior. In fact, although the overwhelming presentation is everyday picaresque, there’s plenty of drama below the surface.
- Friedkin Uncut, 2018, Italy, Documentary, Spotlight: Italy, 106 minutes, Directed and Written by Francesco Zippel, Produced by Francesco Zippel and Frederica Paniccia; Starring Wes Anderson, Dario Argento William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.
A loving biography, this is a fascinating look inside the mind of a thoroughly original auteur, director William Friedkin. It’s filled with quips about his point of view from the master himself, insights on his technique by “real” people- ie, not actors- cast by Friedkin, and tributes from such luminaries of the world of film as Quentin Tarantino. There are also as a wealth of terrific scenes from Friedkin’s best-known movies. Particularly engrossing are the scenes from that masterpiece of horror, “The Exorcist”, and the startlingly realistic New-York cops vs. heroin smuggler classic “The French Connection”. In all, a beautifully shot and unconventional homage to a fearless filmmaker, who shows himself to be a kindly and sensitive iconoclast, despite his tough-guy pronouncements.
- Naples in Veils, 2017, Italy, World Cinema, Spotlight: Italy, 104 minutes, Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek, Written by Ferzan Ozpetek, Gianni Romoli and Valia Santella, Produced by Tilde Corsi, Rocco Messere and Gianni Romoli, Starring Giovanna Mezzegiorno and Alessandro Borghi
A stunning visual and aural photoscape/sounscape of Naples sets the scene for a mystery that engulfs the life of a beautiful woman via a torrid affair, a shocking murder, and subsequent revelations from the past. Highly atmospheric, sometimes seeming like an ominous fable, sometimes like a macabre masked ball, sometimes like the compartmentalized consciousness of those repressing startling and awful memories from the past, it’s a rich film full of art, sensuality and secrets.
- Transit, 2018, Germany/France, International Competition, 101 minutes, Directed and written by Christian Petzold, Produced by Antonin Dedet and Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Starring Antoine Oppenheim, Barbara Auer, etc.
A darkly imagined non-linear journey through fascist-infested France, involving a woman whose character is mutable, fear, death, and responsibility. The characters in this haunting fantastic nightmare are enigmatic, the facts are not synonymous with truth, fidelity is not consonant with commitment of actions, and obsessive love can develop in an instant. It’s a version of Hades from which one emerges unsatisfied-there’s no resolution-yet strangely moved.
- Wolenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into The Arms Of A Shiksa, Switzerland, Spotlight: Comedy, 90 minutes, Directed by Michael Steiner, Written by Thomas Meyer, Produced by Jiries Copti, Michael Steiger and Anita Wasser, Starring Noémie Schmidt, Joel Basman and Inge Maux
A pointed comedy, filled with plenty of Yiddish insider jokes, about the coming-of-sexual-age of an Orthodox Jewish boy, Motti, who resists getting trapped in a forced matched marriage. Instead, he falls head over petzel for a “shiksa” (non-Jew) who couldn’t look and sound more Aryan if she tried. Unfortunately, this deliberately extra-seductive damsel, along with all the other women in the film, is remorselessly caricaturized, and Motti’s father doesn’t escape the unsubtle ethnic mockery, either. When the gorgeous gentile plays with this young man’s mind, it seems a comeuppance of sorts, but for what?
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All photos courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival