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written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival
A funny thing happened the night after I watched the aforementioned titles: they won awards at the Chicago International Film Festival!
No sooner had I performed my morning task of checking emails, that I received a list of winners from this year's fest, and surprisingly, a lot of the films I've already posted about won't be traveling back home empty handed.
Of course, with the announcement of awards, it can only mean that the festival has come to a close, and my life can get back to normal (whatever that means these days!).
This year's Gold Hugo award in the International Feature Film Competition category goes to Sweat, an entry from both Poland and Sweden, and takes place in the obsessively compulsive world of social media branding.
Our protagonist is Sylwia, a gorgeous blonde fitness instructor who uses her toned body and perky demeanor to inspire her 600,000 followers to live their best life. Her life though, is constantly uploaded to her Instagram, where she posts how to maintain physical fitness and good nutrition.
Having a brand that encourages self-acceptance and positivity can have its setbacks, and after posting an emotional breakdown, it goes viral--much to the chagrin of her sponsors.
To make matters worse for Sylwia, a stalker has showed up on her radar. The social media pressures of maintaining a positive, balanced existence begins to chip away at Sylwia's candy-colored exterior, making her question if happiness exists post-uploaded content.
Another film that took home an award this year was an entry from Japan entitled Under the Open Sky. The Silver Hugo for Best Performance went to the film's star Yakusho Koji, for his skillfully organic performance of Mikami, a former Yakuza gangster beginning his life anew after thirteen years in prison.
No sooner is he beyond the prison's gates he realizes that life as a free man is not easily acquired. With every step of applying for jobs to grocery shopping comes the stigma of being a convicted felon.
Mikami knows that in order for him to reenter society, he must change his old ways or else he will never fit in, but how is that possible when society shows no mercy towards "those who step off the path?" With the help of a few unexpected allies, Mikami sets out to prove to society he is worthy of its acceptance.
Having the perfect life is not all that it's cracked up to be, but even starting your life over has its obstacles. For all that Sylwia has achieved in her life (a toned physique, numerous sponsors to send their products to her door step, thousands of adoring fans), she's still vulnerable and isolated within her self-made empire.
For Mikami, having freedom after years of imprisonment is not so simple when living in a system that continues to look down on you. Trying to climb yourself out from rock bottom is no easy task, no matter how hard you try to scrape by. You can have it all, or absolutely nothing, and humanity will choose whether or not to celebrate or ignore you.
The Chicago International Film Festival chose to celebrate these two films instead of ignoring them. Maybe that's because the stories they tell are about the human struggle for finding a place in an indifferent world.
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