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written by Kyle Sanders
Movie critic Roger Ebert put it best when he said "We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds." It's a quote I've unknowingly followed for years, specifically when it comes to movies. I love movies. And when you've seen as many films as I have, you tend to venture outside your comfort zone and search beyond the familiar to find a flick you've never seen before. Personally speaking, that which is unfamiliar to me are foreign films.
Of course, I've seen many of the classic international motion pictures that every film studies course recommends as essential viewing: The Grand Illusion, Seven Samurai, La Dolce Vita, Black Orpheus, Raise the Red Lantern and so on and so forth. But just like today's new releases of American cinema, who's to say what current foreign films will end up a classic? This is why each year during the month of October, I look forward to the Chicago International Film Festival.
This year's fest will offer 123 submissions ranging from Argentina to Switzerland--twenty four of which will be making their North American premiere. From October 10th through the 21st, CIFF (now in its fifty-fourth year) will showcase contributions of up and coming filmmakers from around the globe, as well as provide tributes to those who have already made an impact in the film industry, including costume designer Ruth Carter, director William Friedkin, and silent film comedienne Colleen Moore.
While the festival celebrates new releases, there will also be retrospective screenings of the Vincente Minnelli musical The Band Wagon, The Power and the Glory starring Spencer Tracy, and Orson Welles' previously unreleased The Other Side of the Wind.
With so many film submissions (and limited free time), it's impossible for me to review them all. In the past, I've reviewed two films of interest, but this year I'll have the privilege of seeing a lot more (receiving a press pass for this year's festival has its privileges!), including:
Coming from Down Under, this Australian documentary is filled with never-before-seen movie clips ranging from 1951 to 1978 that were considered immoral by the Australian government and cut out of film's print. Director Sari Braithwaite liberates over 200 snippets of sex, violence, and misogyny, ranging from Hollywood classics to European art-cinema.
As I Lay Dying
The William Faulkner novel gets an adaptation with a Middle Eastern spin: Set in modern-day Iran, a family must fulfill their dead father's burial wishes by driving his body to a remote village to be laid to rest. The village, however, is located in the middle of the dessert. Needless to say, this arduous trip finds more than just the suffocating temperatures rising.
Ash is the Purest White
This Chinese crime saga is about a woman newly released from prison who finds that her mobster lover has moved on, leaving her betrayed and alone in a society she no longer recognizes. In order to survive, she will have to fight for her place in the world.
At Eternity's Gate
Willem Dafoe, a three time Oscar nominee who has contributed some of the most colorful performances in film, takes on one of the greatest artists of all time. As Vincent Van Gogh, Dafoe shows us a side of the painter based on personal letters, rather than a biographical blurb straight out of an encyclopedia. It was directed by Julian Schnabel, who has provided us other glimpses into the creative minds of real life author Reynoldo Arenas (Before Night Falls) and street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Basquiat).
Birds of Passage
This Colombian drama finds an indigenous community caught up in the drug trade when two of its members begin selling marijuana to American tourists. Traditions begin to crumble as the Wayuu tribe tries to hold on to its ancient ways while also dealing with a series of events that leave them in peril.
Monolo and Mirko are just two teenage friends working on the outskirts of Rome when a hit-and-run suddenly sends them down a criminal path. The pedestrian that they accidentally killed was actually wanted by the mob, and now the grateful gang wants both teens working for them. Will the mob life give them everything they've ever wanted ? The D'Innocenzo brothers direct.
World renowned actress Catherine Deneuve plays Claire Darling, a woman finding herself at the end of her life and deciding to sell her belongings. Every object up for grabs brings back particular memories of the colorful woman's past. Deneuve's actual daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, co-stars as Claire's estranged daughter.
Core of the World
Nabbing top prize at the Sochi Film Festival, this Russian film tells the story of Egor, who works as a vet and prefers the company of animals over humans. The training facility he works at is ideal considering his troubled background, and the family he works for might be able to offer him a cure for his emotional wounds.
The name of the film's title in question of this American character study belongs to a woman dealing with the guilt of misconduct from the past. To make up for for this transgression, she spends her time in the present helping others, including her drug addict son.
This psychological thriller is Belgium's ode to Hitchcock, telling the story of two suburban housewives whose sons are best friends, until tragedy sends a ripple through both women's perfect lives.
Facing the Wind
This contribution from Spain finds a woman returning to the Spanish village where she grew up to visit her dying father, only to find out she has arrived too late. To help her grieving mother, she assists in selling the family home, confronting the guilt-ridden feelings from her past.
Father the Flame
Serving as a tribute to the handcrafted pipe, Father the Flame is a globe-trotting documentary featuring Lee Erck, world-renowned Michigan craftsman. He talks with people from all walks of life, regarding this epic tradition while also explaining his family's legacy.
A coming-of-age comedy, Flammable Children gives us a glimpse of growing up in the Australian suburbs of the 1970s. As rowdy as it is raunchy, this film gives us three neighboring couples and their children who fight and argue throughout every bbq, beach day, and game night. It comes from Stephen Elliot, who brought us The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
A young determined girl is the protagonist of this Mexican portrait about race and class. Guie'dani moves to Mexico City with her mother who just received a job as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family. Needless to say, Guie'dani does not care for her and her mother's new role in the service industry and is willing and ready to fight for her dignity.
This Brazilian film is one of several LGBT submissions from around the world, and is about a young gay man named Pedro. Socially repressed by day, Pedro becomes Neonboy by night, stripping and smearing himself with body paint, releasing all of his pent-up inhibitions in front of a webcam. Through his secret alter-ego, Pedro meets Leo, another webcam performer. Can Pedro pursue a mutual relationship in an otherwise oppressive, macho society?
Two soccer players find romance, but must conceal their true feelings in front of their teammates or otherwise risk the chance of going pro. Directed by Marcel Gisler, this Swiss drama is about romantic longing in the regressive culture of professional sports.
French auteur Olivier Assayas brings us this sophisticated comedy about a film editor, his actress wife, and an author all coping with middle-age disruptions and surviving in a new media environment that seems to be leaving them behind. This study of our digital times is directed with the same brilliance as Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria.
Initially banned in its home country, this love story is about two Kenyan women--one, a skateboarding tomboy, the other, a conservative politician's daughter--who find romance in a culture that forbids same sex love. This particular film was recently allowed to be seen in Kenya, a country whose penal code still criminalizes "carnal knowledge against the order of nature."
A character study about a French hustler, this provocative film shows us a drug-fueled world of fleeting encounters, specifically involving Leo, a young man who gets paid for random sex with strangers. Through it all, Leo still wants meaning in his life, searching for love in all the wrong places.
Sibel is a free-spirited woman living with her father and sister in a secluded mountain village. Despite only being able to communicate in an ancestral whistled language, Sibel is determined to prove herself to the community that has ostracized her, even if that means hunting a wolf supposedly haunting a neighboring forest. It's Nell meets The Hunger Games in this French film.
The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia
Celeste Garcia is a retiree working part-time at the Havana planetarium, when one day it is announced by the government that aliens have been living among them and have invited their human hosts to visit their planet. Celeste wants to go, and soon finds herself and several others going through gauntlets both of a physical and bureaucratic nature. Arturo Infante directs this absurdist take of contemporary Cuban society.
From Yorgos Lanthimos, the director who brought us the unusual films The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, comes a period piece set in the early eighteenth century, as a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne while her closest friend Lady Sarah Churchill governs England in her stead. That all starts to change as a new servant becomes the Queen's companion and unveils some ambitions of her own.
The Road Not Taken
An odd pairing of an ostrich farmer and kidnapped boy taking a picaresque journey through the plains of China's Gobi Desert is not your average road trip movie. The farmer in question is indebted to the mob and is tasked with taking care of a boy as the mob waits for the ransom. As the pair hit the road, they come across several odd inhabitants along the way.
Too Late to Die Young
Taking place in 1990, this Chilean film takes place during a post-dictatorship era where a commune of idealists have moved to the mountains with the intentions of living off the land. Yet teenager Sofia has other ambitions that the commune cannot provide for her, hoping that life in the city can provide her independence and love.
On the run from a fascist invasion, Frechman Georg pretends to be a dead author to escape his country, but ultimately ends up in Marseilles and becomes trapped. He meets a woman searching for her missing husband--who just so happens to have the same name as the author Georg has stolen. A surreal puzzlebox of a plot unfolds in this surreal German film.
The subculture of roller skating is the subject of this American documentary, showcasing the ambulatory activity's role in the African-American community and the threat of its extinction. This film rolls through America finding skaters from all walks of life and their attempts at saving a portable pastime from wheeling into the past.
This fish-out-of-water tale hails from Ukraine. An interpreter named Lukas find himself stranded in a small village after a series of unfortunate events. Lukas finds this town to be stuck in a lawless universe straight out of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
I look forward to seeing all of these films and will be providing you updated reviews as they make their debut at the Chicago International Film Festival!
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