By Ray Pride
Some people are better at making lists than others. Some people seem to breathe and shed lists.
My memory’s more of a mosaic; the way movies are being written about by inexperienced writers online is often list-driven, as if USA Today and Entertainment Weekly were looked up to the way reviewers of an earlier age looked up to Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris or Manny Farber. There’s a painfully young writer online who recently asserted that this annum “has been one of the most disappointing years for film.” 2007, he says, “feels especially bad.” Oh, callow enervated youth! The list I was able to make before the festival opened more than belies that presumption: the forty-third edition of the Chicago International Film Festival, without even considering the wealth of mainstream and arthouse releases that have soared this year, indicate that despite the challenges of distribution and the level of piracy that threatens the entire production and finance system of movie production around the world, movies are better than ever. All kinds of movies. There are about forty movies that I’ve either seen or know enough about to heartily recommend. A movie year should be this lucky, let alone a festival filled with these postcards from around the planet.
About a hundred features from forty-four countries are on tap for CIFF 43, which opened last Thursday night at the Chicago Theatre with Marc Forster’s now-delayed Afghan-set “The Kite Runner,” preceded by an overflowing tribute to Roger Ebert, to whom this year’s festival is dedicated, which piled on a couple of hours of tribute, with just a little tap-dancing by the honoree.
The festival runs through next Wednesday, and here are a few movies you can still catch. Tamara Jenkins’ closing night entry, “The Savages,” is a tone-perfect American black comedy. Serene Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien decamps to Paris and updates “Flight of the Red Balloon” on Saturday. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “The Banishment” is another post-Tarkovsky, post-Soviet slab of gloom from “The Return”‘s director. (Check to see if the print’s arrived before going; Tuesday.) Photographer Anton Corbijn’s “Control” (Tuesday) is a touching, tragic biopic of doomed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, whose “Invisible Waves” dazzled, returns with another Thai puzzle, “Ploy” (Monday). An unexpected treasure is “Her Name Is Sabine” (Sunday), Sandrine Bonnaire’s documentary about her 38-year-old sister, autistic yet undiagnosed for most of her life. Alex Gibney takes a “Taxi to The Dark Side” (Sunday, Monday) in his wrenching examination of the Bush administration’s torture policies. Nina Davenport’s “Operation Filmmaker” examines what happens after an Iraqi film student is shown on MTV and then is given an internship by a Hollywood production company (Saturday, Sunday). Chicago’s own Kartemquin Films has a discerning new doc, “Terra Incognita” (Monday, Tuesday), directed by Maria Finitzo, about stem-cell research and those whom it would help if the government were to allow it.
Paul Schrader, director of “Light Sleeper” and screenwriter of “Taxi Driver,” has a thriller about homosexual acts in high political places, “The Walker,” and he’ll appear at an added screening on Wednesday. Another director drawn to controversy, Mexican Carlos Reygadas (“Japon,” “Battle in Heaven”) returns with the lengthy yet reportedly beautiful “Silent Light” (Tuesday). Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf (“Kandahar”) hits the road to India to examine the spiritual aspirations of a newly married couple in “Scream of the Ants” (Tuesday). And the always confrontational king of gloom, gorgeous, wondrous gloom, Hungarian Bela Tarr, returns with the is-it-a-thriller “The Man From London,” based on a Georges Simenon novel (Friday, Sunday). Catherine Breillat’s “The Last Mistress” (Sunday) is a fresh twist on the French director’s sexual excess, placing Euro-indie queen Asia Argento in the midst of an explicit nineteenth-century period piece.
Among newcomers, Paul Oremland’s “Surveillance” (Tuesday) is an intriguing critique of contemporary surveillance society, and quite a different take from Andrea Arnold’s great “Red Road,” released earlier this year. Craig Zobel’s “Great World Of Sound” (Saturday, Sunday) is pretty terrific on our post-“reality” world, dismissing concerns about how the film was made: the actors actually conned the musicians on-screen into auditioning for them, before confessing the ruse. Somehow, humanity rises above it. The nuttiest new director, it turns out, may be Sir Anthony Hopkins, whose “Slipstream” (Sunday, with Hopkins), which he wrote, directed, financed and scored, is the kind of cracked vision you’d never expect from a 68-year-old cinematic veteran, an almost indescribable, impressionistic, deeply, dearly daffy, sweetly playful Mobius strip-cum-mosaic about levels of movie “reality.” I could do without Christian Slater in a fedora, but there are compromises you have to make sometimes for a good giggle.
Complete listings at chicagofilmfestival.org