“To celebrate its 50th anniversary as North America’s longest-running competitive international film festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, running from October 9-23, could have chosen one of two paths,” writes Peter Sobczynski, opening up his overview of this year’s edition. “On the one hand, a look back at many of the key films and filmmakers that it helped to introduce to the world over the past half-century. On the other, a look forward to the next wave of groundbreaking works of cinema. Keeping in the wide-ranging spirit of the festival, founder and artistic director Michael Kutza and his staff of programmers have chosen to do both through a program consisting of over 150 feature films (not including various programs of short subjects) from 52 countries that combine some of the most talked-about films of the moment, new titles from filmmakers on the cusp of discovery and special presentations of some of the more notable films to have unspooled since the fest’s inauguration in 1965.”
Also at RogerEbert.com, Susan Wloszczyna talks with Jessica Chastain about co-starring with Colin Farrell in tonight’s opener, Miss Julie, Liv Ullmann’s adaptation of Strindberg’s play.
At Newcity, Ray Pride highlights the “notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of Roger & Me, a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, Hope For Film, and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of Natural Born Killers and Alexander: Ultimate Edition, a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher and Claire Denis’s White Material, both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic Mountains of the Moon before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.”
Ray also talks with founder and artistic director Michael Kutza: “For forty-five minutes, we dished about personalities, considered whether film festivals have changed across the decades, and what fifty years in the biz means to him.”
The Reader, of course, has a big preview package with capsule reviews of around twenty films screening the first week. Here’s Ben Sachs, for example on Miss Julie: “One can feel the influence of her mentor Ingmar Bergman in the meticulous staging and the use of close-ups, which seem to scrutinize every inch of the actors’ faces for what they might reveal of the characters’ inner lives. This is so focused that it may strike some viewers as monotonous, though it’s definitely not stodgy; Ullmann always stresses the emotional violence underlying the action.”
The Reader‘s also gathered a collection of reviews of fifteen revivals from archive (including pieces by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dave Kehr) and posted an overview of a “half century of CIFF milestones, from Scorsese’s debut to Lee Daniels’s achievement award.”
Michael Smith‘s posted short reviews of Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, J.P. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry, Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks and, of course, Miss Julie.
“In the spirit of film critic Roger Ebert’s sense of discovery, the 50th Chicago International Film Festival introduces the Roger Ebert Award,” notes Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter. “The award will be presented annually to emerging filmmakers with a fresh and uncompromising vision.”
Updates, 10/10: Taking the tribute as an occasion for a lengthy appreciation at RogerEbert.com, Peter Sobczynski proposes that “if someone wanted to make a case for France’s Isabelle Huppert as the greatest screen performer of our time, regardless of gender, I would have no problem supporting such a notion.”
“As I’ve written before, CIFF has always been a grab bag, with many of the films arriving here with little fanfare and returning to obscurity once the festival ends,” writes the Reader‘s Ben Sachs:
That programming strategy might have yielded eye-opening discoveries in past, when there were more discrete national filmmaking movements. But today the festival film is practically a genre unto itself, and movies on the international festival circuit tend to resemble each other as often (if not more so) than they resemble other movies from their native countries.
As such, each year at CIFF one now finds South American movies that feel like Middle Eastern movies and western European films that feel like eastern European films. They all seem to draw on the same pool of internationally respected auteurs (Kiarostami, Hou, Haneke, Pedro Costa, et cetera), combining them into something like Esperanto. (Of the six films we recommend in the first week of this year’s festival, it’s worth noting that four of them are by established auteurs.) I find it hard to hate most of these movies—they lack the courage to truly offend, and they tend to feature enough pretty images of nature or modernist architecture to palliate my disinterest. (For the record, the films that inspired these observations this year have been Artico from Spain, August Winds from Brazil, Force Majeure from Sweden, Next to Her from Israel, and La Tirisia from Mexico.)
Update, 10/11: From Kevin B. Lee:
Update, 10/12: At RogerEbert.com, Peter Sobczynski reviews Dominik Graf’s Beloved Sisters and Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.
Update, 10/13: Michael Smith‘s posted another round of short reviews and I’ll highlight one here. Baby Mary, “writer/director Kris Swanberg’s follow-up to her criminally underrated feature Empire Builder,” screens as part of the Shorts 1: City and State — Locally Sourced program. And “the wealth of feeling packed into its compact nine minutes, making it a far more rewarding experience than most contemporary American features.”
Update, 10/14: The Reader‘s Ben Sachs on György Pálfi’s Free Fall: “I couldn’t look away from this unclassifiable Hungarian feature when I caught it over the weekend. Pálfi’s imagery evokes classic surrealism, alluding to repressed anxieties about sex and death as they might manifest themselves in dreams. And like many of the first-generation surrealists, Pálfi is a meticulous realist with regards to the environments in which his dream scenarios unfold.”
Updates, 10/16: “The great Polish writer-director Krzysztof Zanussi was in town this past weekend to introduce two of his movies at the Chicago International Film Festival: his 1971 breakthrough Family Life and his latest feature, Foreign Body.” Ben Sachs has interviewed him for the Reader and posted the first part of the conversation, touching on “the legacy of Illumination and The Constant Factor, the relationship between scientific and humanistic thinking, and the prospect of immortality.”
A Drink With goes for a Blue Moon while Michael Kutza sticks with vodka on the rocks, a squeeze of lemon and tonic on the side. Via MCN.
Update, 10/17: The Reader writes up the highlights of the second week and Ben Sachs has posted the second part of his interview with Zanussi.
Update, 10/18: CIFF has “spread the wealth around during its award ceremony,” reports Peter Sobczynski. “The winner of the festival’s top prize, the Golden Hugo, was The President, the dark political satire that saw acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Mahkmalbaf travel to Georgia to tell the story of the dictator of a former Russian Republic who is overthrown in a coup, and who, along with his grandson, winds up living amongst the people he once ruled with an iron fist, getting a close-up look at what they have had to endure over the years because of his whims.”
Also at RogerEbert.com, jury member Brian Tallerico reports on the presentation of the first annual Roger Ebert Award to be given to a first- or second-time filmmaker with work in the New Directors program. “Which films transported us into someone else’s shoes? Which films served as a portal to a world underrepresented in cinema? Which director most impressively replicated the empathy machine which Ebert so greatly valued? For us, the choice was clear—Jorge Pérez Solano’s La Tirisia from Mexico.”
- Silver Hugo, Special Jury Prize: Refugiado (Argentina, Colombia, France, Poland, Germany) Director: Diego Lerman.
- Silver Hugo, Best Director: Timbuktu (France, Mauritania) Director: Abderrahmane Sissako.
- Silver Hugo, Best Actor: Anton Yelchin, Rudderless (USA).
- Silver Hugo, Best Actress: Geraldine Chaplin, Sand Dollars (Dominican Republic, Mexico).
- Silver Hugo, Best Cinematography: John Christian Rosenlund, 1001 Grams (Norway).
- Silver Hugo for Best Screenplay: Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz (co-writer and co-directors), Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel, France, Germany).
- Gold Plaque for Best Art Direction: Mauro Radaelli, Human Capital (Italy).
- Gold Plaque for Best Costume Design: Pia Myrdal and Anne-Dorthe Eskildsen, Speed Walking (Denmark).
- Gold Plaque Special Mention for Originality: The Owners (Kazakhstan) Director: Adilkhan Yerzhanov.
Update, 10/19: “Kutza has often said the festival is himself and he is the festival,” writes Christopher Borrelli in an overview of CIFF’s half-century for the Chicago Tribune. “Andrew Davis, Chicago-bred director of The Fugitive, said: ‘For as long as I can remember, it has been the Michael Kutza Festival. But I get it: Maybe you need to be controlling and arrogant to keep a festival going 50 years, right?’ Kutza inspires complicated feelings.” Via MCN.
Update, 10/27: Michael Smith presents “the first part of my 50th CIFF report card, including the best films I saw at the fest—with ratings of 7.5 or higher—and featuring four new capsule reviews (of Winter Sleep, Clouds of Sils Maria, Of Horses and Men and It Follows).”
Update, 11/3: Michael Smith‘s posted his second report card.
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