In October. CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders attended the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and reported on what he discovered there...
If you haven't been paying attention, I love cinema. It's one of the easiest activities to do, and requires very little effort other than sitting down and looking at what's on the screen in front of you. And while our modern toys provide us many different formats to consume it, I will ferociously argue and strongly recommend that the only way to truly experience a film is at the movie theater. It might be easier to Netflix 'n chill in the comfort of your own home, but the cineplexes have upped their game and provide you dinner and plush recliners. Even the smaller theaters have added a little panache, providing lounge areas and full bars to take the edge off of the power of 35 and 70 millimeter motion pictures. And for what reason? Well, to reference one of the best horror films of all time, "it's all for you."
For me though, I don't need all the frills to go to a movie theater, I just need the movie. And the Chicago International Film Festival certainly provided me with enough movies to kick reality to the curb for two weeks while watching film after film from another side of the world.
This was the first year I attended as a member of the press, which excited the inner film critic and yet overwhelmed the outer film goer. My press badge provided me access to view many titles--almost TOO many titles--free of charge, and while normally I would select TWO films I was very interested in seeing, this year I chose a solid FIFTEEN flicks to view at my leisure. Some of which even won a few CIFF awards, including [Censored], Ash is the Purest White, Birds of Passage, and Rafiki, all worthy of accolades.
Yet before the fest closed down, I still had one film left to see: The Road Not Taken. After reviewing genre films about adolescence, crime, and queer characters, The Road Not Taken I was unable to categorize, because it blends several into one cohesive film. There's comedy, some drama, and a little bit of action, all rolled up into a road movie with landscapes that would best even the most expansive landscapes of an American Western (due to festival restrictions, the following is a capsule review only):
A lone ostrich farmer finds himself the keeper of a glum little boy at the request of the mob. As it turns out, the boy was actually kidnapped for a ransom the boy's father has to pay. When the farmer believes his ex-wife to be in trouble, he and the child hit the road, driving through the expansive plains of China's Gobi Desert and crossing paths with peculiar characters along the way. Directed by Tang Gaopeng (who attended the screening I went to!), this film won top honors at the Shanghai Film Festival this year.
There is a lot there to work with in this film. The bumbling protagonist and deadpan boy have an odd chemistry at the start of the film yet ultimately bond by the end. Mixed in between the comedic relationship are action-packed chase sequences, high-stakes drama, and surreal moments of outburst that give it an unpredictable plot.
There's an ongoing conversation about what the difference is between a good guy and a bad guy. This complex conversation muddies the waters between who we are supposed to root for and who we're supposed to root against.
Yet by the film's end, I was on the verge of tears. I found myself so touched by the story and the relationship between the boy and the farmer that when the ending hit me (quite literally, in fact), I was moved beyond actually moving up and out of my seat. And that's what I'm ultimately left with as the Chicago International Film Festival comes to an end: completely moved by the world outside my own back yard. Until next year!