A work of almost breathtaking visual beauty that manages to ravish the heart while dazzling the eye simultaneously, neither at the expense of the other.
The 47th Chicago International Film Festival gave its top award, a Gold Hugo for Best Film, to Aki Kaurismaki's drama "Le Havre" (Finland/France). Idrissa, an illegal immigrant, finds allies in a French port city. On Friday, Michael Kutza, the festival's founder and artistic director, and programmer Mimi Plauche, announced decisions of five-member International Feature jury that weighed 17 different features in competition.
The second-place Silver Hugo went to "Cairo 678." A Silver Hugo for Best Actor went to Maged El Kedwany from that Egyptian drama.
"The Forgiveness of Blood" (US/ Albania) earned co-writers Joshua Marston and Andamion Murataj a Silver Hugo for Best Screenplay. In the New Directors Competition, "The Good Son" (Finland) beat 13 other features for the Gold Hugo. A Silver Hugo was bestowed on "Volcano" (Iceland/ Denmark), the debut of Runar Runarsson.
Here is how the winning "Le Havre" was described by Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert: "To describe any film by the deadpan Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki as upbeat may seem unexpected, and indeed this is no comedy, but it's more tender and hopeful than his usual brilliant work. A shoeshine man (Andre Wilms) in the French port city encounters a young African boy who hoped to enter Europe hidden in a container. Taking him in, he enlists his wife and neighbors to hide him, and goes to extraordinary lengths to reunite him with his mother in London. Kaurismaki's usual flat, objective gaze is employed, and his favorite actress, the usually glum Kati Outinen, plays the wife. Like all his films, compulsively involving."
In the Docufest Competition, Serbian director Mila Turajlic scored a Gold Hugo for her "Cinema Kominsto," an ironic and elegiac look at the film industry in the former Yugoslavia.
Jurors for the After Dark Competition saluted "Snowtown" (Australia) and "A Lonely Place to Die" (UK).
Among the short films winning prizes are "The Eagleman Stag" and "The Unliving," a Swedish zombie drama whose "idiosyncratic detailing" the jury admired. "L Train," beautifully made by Anna Musso during a blizzard, won the Chicago Award. Presented by Cinema/ Chicago, the Chicago International Film Festival continues through Thursday with a Closing Night Presentation of Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist." This black-and-white salute to silent-era stars won the Founder's Award, which is given by Kutza to a "film across all categories that captures the spirit" of the festival.
Next Wednesday offers 11 "Best of the Festival" screenings, partly based on print availability and popularity with audiences. Titles will be posted Monday on the festival's Web site at www.chicagofilmfestival.com. All screenings are at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St.
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A note of thanks from Chaz Ebert to the wonderful people behind "Life Itself."
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