By Ray Pride
After summer’s somersaults, autumn through Christmas is when the grownup movies come out to play, and the forty-seventh edition of the Chicago International Film Festival has a lot to celebrate. In this rundown, I’ll keep “great” as a random adjective to a minimum. (Disclosure: I was a program consultant for this year’s Docufest section.)
From the highlights of the program, it seems like it’s going to be a strong season for good, solid movies in coming months. The range of films being shown that have been submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award seem to be uncommonly strong as well. While there may well be other discoveries to be made, most of the films recommended here will show up in commercial or art-house release. Screenings can sell out in advance, which may partly be due to the capacity of the smaller screens at River East. The festival is keeping a running tally of shutouts on their Facebook page.
“Chicago Connection,” a section of conversations with five Chicago film figures, is a new attraction, and the first week includes eighty-nine-year-old cinematographer and activist Haskell Wexler; ninety-one-year-old voice of the festival and “Word Jazz” exemplar Ken Nordine; and the far less senior but no less worthy actor John C. Reilly.
Among feature films, “Goodbye, First Love,” the third feature by Mia Hansen-Løve, the thirty-year-old writer-director of the astonishingly fluent “Father of My Children” is a tale of French first love, traducing the expected clichés. It’s not the end of the world as you know it in Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia,” but his story of neurosis under pressure does flash forward at its very beginning to the titular planet reversing the creation myth of Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” We all know it’s gonna end, just not when. Closer to ground is Sean Durkin’s hypnotic “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” concrete, tactile, and more resonant the more you look at it. Elizabeth Olsen is a superlative mess as a young woman running from/running toward authority.
Joachim Trier, whose “Reprise,” the fractured, densely imagined story of the strengths and weaknesses of male friends in their early twenties, was one of the best debuts of the past decade, returns with “Oslo, August 31,” which sounds like it covers similar ground, but what ground! The amply empathetic actor Paddy Considine directs “Tyrannosaur,” about a different sort of weakness: male rage. The great Peter Mullan acts, savagely. Arch, angry, bloody, “Tyrannosaur” earns its flaws with its powerful passages.
From old Europe: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish master of mood and sound who made “Distant,” “Climates” and “Three Monkeys” returns with a lengthy, mysterious murder investigation in “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia.” Belgium’s Dardenne brothers work with their accustomed understated compassion in the brightly colored fairytale “The Kid With A Bike.”
“Le Havre” is deadpan Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s riff on 1930s-40s French cinema, with a shoeshine man working to care for an immigrant child in the French port of the same name. Even more deadpan is the latest, and avowedly last, film from Hungary’s maximal minimalist, Béla Tarr, “The Turin Horse,” a black-and-white story about a man tending to his horse in the wilderness, told in about thirty long takes, consisting largely of howling wind and the contemplation of oil lanterns, boiled potatoes and booze. (It’s Hungary’s Oscar submission.) Rúnar Rúnarsson’s “Volcano” is Iceland’s run for an Academy Award: a sixty-seven-year-old man tries to adjust to retirement. Ideally, it’ll have the tone of Rúnarsson’s comment, “Each country has the right to pick their stud or sheep to join the Hollywood roundup and then some sheep get picked for the ram exhibition and we are hoping to qualify for the ram exhibition again.”
Mexico’s entry, “Miss Bala,” by talented director Gerardo Naranjo (“I’m Gonna Explode”), is the unstoppable story of a beauty queen on the run from violence. David Cronenberg’s latest, “A Dangerous Method,” pits Freud versus Jung, Michael Fassbender versus Viggo Mortensen: it’s also the story of a woman (Keira Knightley) on the run from her own mind. Lynne Ramsay’s long-awaited return is the critically divided “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” with Tilda Swinton giving her all as the mother of a teenage son gone wrong. Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, “Coriolanus,” from a script by John Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Last Samurai”), transposes Shakespeare’s tragedy to the modern-day. Early reviews promise, there will be blood. It’s also star-dusted, with Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain and Lubna Azabal. See next week’s issue for second week notables.
See ChicagoFilmFestival.com for full listings, including a downloadable PDF of the program guide.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.