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by Kyle Sanders
We're at the halfway point of the Chicago Critics Film Festival, but the lineup doesn't appear to be running out of steam! Here are two impressive films from first-time filmmakers (both of which I'm only allowed to provide mini-capsule reviews), but let me tell ya, they're both quite good!
Think of the endless connections you make in the course of your lifetime. Even something as meaningless as a slight brush against a stranger's sleeve could be caused by events from thousands of years ago connecting you to that person. This Korean philosophy is known as "in-yun," which describes the ties between two people over the course of their lives.
In Past Lives, Nora and Hae Sung are two childhood friends who, in the span of twenty-four years, are torn apart, reconnect online, then finally reunite face to face. Despite separate time zones and different countries, fate keeps their lives intertwined.
When Hae Sung travels to New York for a visit, he and Nora confront those years apart and untangle all the "what if's," their life choices, and what metaphorical doors remain open or closed between them.
In her directorial debut, playwright Celine Song gives us a modern romance that is heartfelt and heartbreaking, devastating yet hilarious, and will have you chuckling one moment, then choking back tears the next. It's a rom-com that's destined to be a hit with audiences and critics alike.
Past Lives is scheduled to be released on June 2nd.
"Why is it that a woman gotta suck a dick to get to Benihana's?"
This is just one candidly unfiltered quote from the refreshingly bold Kokomo City, a documentary that provides four portraits of black trans women as they navigate the dangerous territory of sex work in Atlanta and New York.
Directed by Grammy-nominated producer, singer and songwriter D. Smith, this black-and-white documentary feels like an explicit segment from one of HBO's former "after dark" series, but, to suggestively put it, goes deeper.
Despite the flashy retro credit sequence played to the tune of Randy Crawford's "Street Life," Kokomo City grittily captures these prostitutes in all their candid glory, as they prepare for another day of "the Life," keeping their mind on their money and an eye out for danger.
These trans women know their lives are constantly at risk, but openly admit they've normalized how "disposable" they are to society. They explain the many ways of how they make ends meet, various cosmetic surgeries they've had (or could barely afford), and the unspoken culture of black masculinity.
Kokomo City is quite an eye-opening debut from a first-time filmmaker who understands the stigma of living as an openly trans black woman in America. It's all the more unfortunate that one of the doc's subjects, Koko Da Doll, was fatally shot last month. A portion of the proceeds from the festival's ticket sales will be donated to Brave Space Alliance in her memory.
Kokomo City is scheduled to be released on July 28th.
The 2023 Chicago Critics Film Festival screens from May 5th to May 11th at the Music Box Theatre
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