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Thursday
Oct132016

Preview of the first week of Chicago International Film Festival, 10/13/16 to 10/20/16 (Journey Through French Cinema, Finals, A Quiet Passion, ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail, Staying Vertical, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, Elle)  

I had a chance to check out a handful of the myriad exciting films on offer at the first week of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival. I'd point you toward the following.

I heartily recommend Bertrand Tavernier's documentary Journey Through French Cinema, playing on Saturday, October 15. I wrote a blurb about it for CINE-FILE Chicago. To check out my capsule review, click here and scroll down.

From Iran comes a film that wins my seal of approval, Adel Yaraghi's well-turned drama Finals, co-written with his mentor, the late master Abbas Kiarostami. It tells the tale of a bitter adolescent and his mother's attempts, along with her fiancé (the boy's teacher), to cajole him into sitting for his final exam. It's also about the boy's friendship with an alienated friend whom the adults regard as leading him down the path to juvenile delinquency. As observant as a good short story, it conveys a real feel for Tehran life. It plays Saturday, October 15 at 6:15 p.m., Sunday, October 16 at 2:30 p.m., and Wednesday, October 19 at 12:30 p.m.

In Terrence Davies' soulful, unsentimentally beautiful A Quiet Passion, playing at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 16, Cynthia Nixon is the fiercely agnostic, independent Emily Dickinson, ensconsed in her famous second-story bedroom. This very funny film boasts such comic brio in its banter, such charged quiet in its candelit interiors, where worlds of inner emotion swim. The ticking of a clock tolls those looming universals: time and mortality. In the poet Dickinson, the poet Davies meets a subject where his form finds its ideal content. Not to be missed.

Not to be missed is Steve James' documentary ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail, playing on Tuesday, October 18 at 6:00 p.m. I wrote a blurb recommending it for CINE-FILE Chicago. To check out my capsule review, click here and scroll down. 

Alain Guiraudie's droll, startling Staying Vertical, playing at 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday, October 19, is a frank, comic picaresque about a feckless screenwriter wandering the French countryside, looking for inspiration for his next picture. He seems to take life as it comes, and soon enough he finds himself cradling a newborn across city and countryside, committed to protecting his baby as wild wolves abound. The sexual border between gay and straight is highly porous here, and so is reality, which blends into metaphor quite exhilaratingly. For tastes that run to the shocking and original, this is essential viewing.

One of the highlights of my fest sampling so far is Juho Kuosmanen's very original boxing movie/love story The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki playing on Wednesday the 19th at 5:45 p.m. and Thursday the 20th at 8:30 p.m. To check out my capsule review for CINE-FILE Chicago, click here and scroll down

Paul Verhoeven's controversial, perversely entertaining Elle, plays at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 20. It's a darkly satiric drama/thriller about sex, power dynamics and sadomasochism, with a sly performance by the great Isabelle Huppert as a truly odd duck, a boss whose company makes video games involving loosely-veiled rape fantasies. The movie turns on her own assault and rape, an incident she regards strangely ambiguously, turning it over with clinical detachment. We seem to be at a point where just about everybody agrees Verhoeven's a subversive genius. I'm still mixed on him, but there's no doubt this is one helluva movie.    

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