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Preview of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival, October 12-26: (Spoor/They/A Moon of Nickel and Ice/The Other Side of Hope/Let The Sunshine In/12 Days/In the Intense Now/The Line/Rogers Park/Thelma)

I thought I'd roundup my coverage of the 53rd Chicago Internation Film Festival, to date.

With Jacob Oller, I co-authored an article for Chicagoist on "10 Films You Must See At The Chicago International Film Festival," in which I recommend SpoorTheyA Moon of Nickel and IceThe Other Side of Hope, and Let the Sunshine In.

Over at Cine-File Chicago I recommend 12 Days and In the Intense Now

While I've got you, I thought I'd put in a word for The Line: What separates a good genre picture from a tired one is, the good ones make the tropes feel at once classic and fresh, evocative engines instead of generic cliches. Peter​ ​Bebjak's mob movie THE LINE is a cracking piece of quality entertainment set along the Slovakia/Ukraine border, where smugglers hustle to get their contraband across before the line shuts down for good. It's a deft, droll story, rich in character and suspense. Géza Benkõ plays the long-suffering boss with a code of ethics, who restricts his smuggling to cigarettes, while others traffic in heroin or even human beings. He hits that Tony Soprano sweet spot where vulnerability and violence somehow compellingly mix; he has his hands full as much with his rebellious, pregnant teenage daughter as he does with his brothers-in-crime and his own, much more malign, boss. 

Then there's Rogers Park. Kyle Henry, a professor of film production at Northwestern University, directed this affecting drama from a script by his partner, Carlos Treviño. It may smack a bit of the workshop, but it's a portrait of the North Side and its residents that locals will recognize as the place and people we know. The titular neighborhood is an outpost of cultural and ethnic diversity in a still painfully segregated city, but that diversity's not an issue, just a fact, in this penetrating story of two middle-aged interracial couples coming to moments of crisis, catharsis and healing: a realtor with secrets; his wife, a preschool teacher; her brother, a depressed, abrasive novelist; and his girlfriend, a community organizer. It probes the idea of closeness—whether between brother and sister, father and daughter, or friends—and the performance of happiness versus the real thing. It's well-acted, if a bit theatrically. 

Lastly, I'll mention Joachim​ ​Trier's engrossing nightmare, Thelma. I went in almost cold, and maybe that's the best way to do it. I knew only that the film was playing in the Out-Look Competition, and that it had supernatural overtones. It starts off like gangbusters and works like a page-turner for its length, containing some awesome images (in the true sense of that oft-abused adjective). Some others are a bit on-the-nose, but still powerful, as Biblical symbols go. Comparisons to De Palma's Carrie are right on point. Emerging, I wasn't quite sure what it all added up to, but I knew I'd seen quite a movie. 



For CINE-FILE Chicago, I wrote about Arturo Ripstein's 1965 Mexican Western TIME TO DIE. The fuse is lit from the beginning: all we're doing, really, is watching it play out. It would make a good double feature with another resonant genre piece, Henry King's 1950 Western THE GUNFIGHTER with Gregory Peck, which I like to imagine a young García Márquez (he co-wrote TIME TO DIE with no less than Carlos Fuentes) enjoying as the young film critic he once was. Check out my writeup here, and consider going to see it at the Siskel Film Center on Saturday at 5:45 or on Wednesday at 6:00pm.



For CINE-FILE Chicago, I wrote up THE NILE HOTEL INCIDENT. It's unforgettable, I think: an Egypt-set crime picture. You may read my writeup here. Do consider seeing it at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week. 



I contributed a writeup of Kogonada's COLUMBUS to CINE-FILE Chicago. Do consider checking the film out if architecture or movies, or both, mean something to you. I'm still thinking about it, actually. Maybe it's saying, Even if art doesn't change the world, it can connect with one person. And maybe that's the same thing, in a way. You may read my writeup here. It's playing at the Music Box this week; check their website for showtimes. 



While I had a few reservations, FOOTNOTES tickled me, precisely because it is so very French. My writeup's at CINE-FILE Chicago. It plays this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I reprint my review below.

Does the prospect of a French socialist musical-comedy where singing female workers occupy their factory excite you? It does me, and I found Paul Calori and Kostia Testut FOOTNOTES a likable, amusing, and rather innocuous blend of fantasy and social realism. Set in rural Romans-sur-Isère, site of a luxury shoe factory where committed designers once lovingly handcrafted women's shoes, the film immediately contrasts those halcyon days with our era, cutting to a wall of mass-produced footwear at an antiseptic retailer, where a taciturn young woman (Pauline Étienne) is being turned down for a job. She finally secures a tryout period as a stock packer in the historic factory itself. Almost immediately, the all-female staff learns of management's plans to downsize, and the spunky workers strike to save their jobs. They must fight their piggy male bosses, both the local one (François Morel), himself a hapless cog, and the boss's boss, a rakish dissembler (Loïc Corbery). I always believed Etienne as this quiet but strong-willed young woman, who reveals her core of resilience when she sings. Buffeted by the recession and the McJob economy, she's been everything from (as one of her songs tells) a floor-scrubber at an abattoir to Santa Claus. A trucker (Olivier Chantreau) romances her, a dreamer who fancies himself a bit of an existential cowboy. Co-writers/directors Testut and Calori modeled this film after social-conflict musicals like Jacques Demy's UNE CHAMBRE EN VILLE and Stanley Donen's THE PAJAMA GAME. (The latter featured choreography by Bob Fosse, another avowed influence.) Their graceful handheld camera frames the dancers in pastel compositions of quite exquisite balance. Some may find the light, whimsical chanson a bit twee or quaint; while it veers towards Muzak at times (intentionally?), I thought it quite pretty and, at its best, it's got that breathy, ardent sexiness that only works when sung in French. At times, this feels just a tad tentative. Still, when the women fight the men who have come to empty out the warehouse, it's dance as bitter hand-to-hand fighting. When the women rally by recreating one of the factory's vintage '60s models, a beautiful ruby number "the color of blood and revolt, of kisses stolen and heartbeats," I naturally thought of Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES, but also, oddly, of the sections of Philip Roth's American Pastoral about the family-run glove factory, which speak to its values of careful, local quality versus cheap quickness. As the women begin to make their own history, they put their shod feet forward on social media and chant "rebel, rebel, rebel" (co-director Testut did his thesis on Guy Debord and Situationalism, but he wears it lightly). Showing the reality of the labor that goes into producing these enchanted commodities, this film is a slice of life topped with a slice of mille-feuille. It's earnest, humane, and admirably free of irony, striking a note of hope and dreams without settling for easy uplift.

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