Dizzying schedule presents the globe through film
10/07/2009 10:00 PM
The 45th annual Chicago International Film Festival offers nothing less than a pitch-perfect opportunity to experience the world through fine cinema. More than 45 countries will be represented via 147 feature-length and short films during the festival’s 15-day run, which begins today, Oct. 8. In a break from the past, the majority of programs are consolidated at one venue — the AMC River East 21 at 322 E. Illinois — allowing audiences to enjoy selections without jogging to various locales around the city.
As usual, kudos goes to festival founder and artistic director Michael Kutza and the festival programmers for a strong line-up that balances mainstream fare with off-the-beaten-path films that otherwise wouldn’t be screened in Chicago. While the fest has been criticized in the past for emphasizing high-profile films and celebrity appearances, this year’s wealth of gems from Iran, Israel, Hong Kong, Brazil and all points in-between negates such gripes.
Amongst the 2009 entries are buzz films and festival winners such Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist; Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire; Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective, which won multiple awards at Cannes; and Ken Loach’s comedy Looking for Eric.
Compelling scripts come from recognizable stars, like Tennessee Williams’s Southern Gothic The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond and Nick Hornby’s An Education. Contributions from renowned auteurs like Claude Chabrol’s Bellamy, Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth, Tsai Ming-Liang’s Face, Andre Techine’s The Girl on the Train and many others are dotted throughout the festival’s schedule.
Look for classic retrospectives, such as Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, animated titles like Astro Boy and Mary and Max as well as locally-produced fare such as the gangster flick Chicago Overcoat.
There is also a wide variety of documentaries, late-night thriller flicks and intriguing features from African-American filmmakers and first-time directors. All are worth the price of admission.
Luminaries, from Uma Thurman to Willem Dafoe, will be making appearances over the next two weeks as well.
So where to begin? The best bet is to peruse the festival schedule (either the printed edition or online) and dive in. Be warned, though — most films sell out quickly, so buy tickets early.
If the choices are overwhelming, fear not. A “Best of the Festival” showcase on Wednesday, Oct.21 of the prize-winning films and audience favorites provides an adequate snapshot of the festival as a whole.
Alternately, selecting a film “blind” is just as rewarding. Breaking free from comfort zones to discover a new worldview via a potentially beautiful piece of cinema is one of the joys of the film festival experience.
Two very different features should be added to your “must-see” list, though.
About Elly, by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, is a complex mystery wrapped in a Big Chill-ish reunion of college friends at a seaside bungalow. The film earned Farhadi the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival and is Iran’s selection for this year’s Oscars.
On the other side of the spectrum is The Revenant. This acclaimed zombie-comedy with political undertones follows an American GI killed in Iraq who returns home as a walking, talking zombie. With his friend’s help, he adjusts to the bloody business of being “undead.”