There was a time you could count on some sort of follow-up local exposure for the best of the movies programmed at the Chicago International Film Festival. That time has passed, don’t know precisely when it happened, but the Night of the Small Screens has overtaken those of us who still hope for the thrill of the new and the strange and the lovely. (Seeing art-house pictures on a big screen: the new Forbidden Cinema.) Even for movies that have established art-house distributors behind them, there’s no counting on anything but a final resting place at the bottom of the streaming ocean. A roundabout way of saying, not too many of the hundred or so features at the fifty-third edition of the festival founded in 1964 by Michael Kutza are likely to be seen again on screens as large as those at the River East location. Of titles announced before our deadline, highlights are likely to include fifty-seven-year-old Japanese wild man Takashi Miike’s one-hundredth feature, “Blade of the Immortal”; Ruben Östlund’s Cannes-prized art world satire, “The Square” and Agnès Varda and JR’s playful mural doc, “Visages Villages.” Two docs with strong advance word: French documentary veteran Raymond Depardon’s “12 Days,” another dive into France’s legal system, tracking psychiatric patients who meet with a judge every twelve days to establish if they are eligible for release. Alexandre Desplat’s score elevates the legal-mental-moral complexities. In “In the Intense Now,” Brazilian nonfiction stalwart João Moreira Salles (brother of Walter Salles) makes montage of the 1960s political events, from May 1968 in Paris to the Prague Spring, incorporating home movies from his mother’s trip to China during that country’s own Cultural Revolution. Chicago-based entries include Scott Smith’s “Chasing the Blues,” a comedy about music collectors vying for a rare blues record, starring Jon Lovitz. Stephen Cone’s sixth feature, “Princess Cyd,” as the festival beguilingly has it, is “…a charming coming-of-age tale about generational difference, sexual identity, spirituality—and the delicate process of opening up to human intimacy.” Two further standouts on my card: Aaron Katz’s fifth feature, “Gemini” and “Thelma,” a baroque thriller from Norway’s great Joachim Trier. “Gemini” is a Los Angeles neon-noir starring Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz that apparently combines heat and cool with equal aplomb. After the audience oversight of his first English-language film, the prismatic family saga “Louder Than Bombs,” Trier returns with his first supernatural outing, with a student moving away from her religious family to college in Oslo, where confusion reveals not only passion, but paranormal gifts. The Norwegian trailer looks like his terrific earlier work, “Reprise” and “Oslo, 31 August,” only with more desire and bolts of electricity.
The Chicago International Film Festival runs October 12-26 at River East.
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.