There might have been more power—and beauty—in a more understated approach all around.
Two men are in conflict in a stunning sub-Arctic landscape in "How I Ended This Summer," the Russian drama by Aleksei Popogrebsky that won the Gold Hugo, the top prize in the 46th Chicago International Film Festival.
In an awards ceremony Saturday night at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East Hotel, the fest's international jury also awarded Silver Hugo Special Jury Prizes to the brackish crime comedy, "A Somewhat Gentle Man," from Norway, and to "We Are What We Are," a Mexican vampire thriller with piercing social commentary.
A Silver Hugo for Best Actor went to Youssouf Djaoro in "A Screaming Man," a France/Belgium/Chad co-production. A Silver Hugo for Best Actress went to Liana Liberato, who plays a 13-year-old girl imperiled by an Internet pal in "Trust" (2011) directed by former 'Friends' star David Schwimmer.
The jury for the new directors competition voted a Gold Hugo for "Faith,'' a drama about young Muslims in Berlin by writer-director Burhan Qurbani. "Beautiful Darling,'' a profile of Andy Warhol star Candy Darling by Hinsdale native James Rasin, won a Gold Hugo for documentary.
"How I Ended This Summer" was shot in at the Valkarkai polar station on the northern edge of Chukotka, where two men monitor meteorological devices and send their data by radio. The real danger is not a leaky radioactive isotope generator or hungry polar bears, but toxic distrust between the old hand and the young new guy. The former tells a cautionary tale of a prior duo that imploded on duty. The latter is writing an essay about his summer stint, but his failure to relay a tragic message from the mainland precipitates local tragedy. Time-lapse landscape sequences supply transporting interludes.
The complete list of festival winners, along with the citations by the jury:
International Feature Film Competition Gold Hugo for Best Film to "How I Ended This Summer" (Russia) for the brilliantly acted and dynamically staged exploration of human nature under pressure. Director: Aleksei Popogrebsky
Special Jury Prize shared by: Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize to "A Somewhat Gentle Man" (Norway) for a hilarious and deeply serious adventure into crime and, if necessary, retribution. Director: Hans Petter Moland
Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize to "We Are What We Are" (Mexico), a film as dazzlingly unpredictable as it is cunningly constructed, a Hammer horror as directed by Buñuel. Director: Jorge Michel Grau
Silver Hugo for Best Actor to Youssouf Djaoro of "A Screaming Man" (France / Belgium / Chad) for a performance that ignites like a quiet fire.
Silver Hugo for Best Actress to Liana Liberato of "Trust" (USA) for a moving performance beyond her years, which is at the same time innocent, stubborn and heartbreaking.
Silver Hugo to "Brother & Sister" (Argentina), a delicious ensemble concoction of rock-solid and seasoned performances led by Antonio Gasalla and Graciela Borges. Director: Daniel Burman
Silver Hugo for Best Screenplay to Mahamat-Saleh Haroun of "A Screaming Man" (France / Belgium / Chad), a simple and profound story of a threatened father and son relationship in a time of violent change.
Gold Plaque to Márta Mészáros in recognition of her long and distinguished career in the international cinema on the occasion of "Last Report of Anna" (Hungary).
Silver Plaque to "The Matchmaker" (Israel) for the lighthearted but touching way it describes a coming of age in an Israel torn between memory and desire. Director: Avi Nesher
New Directors Competition Gold Hugo to "Shahada" (Germany). In a world packed with narratives that overlap, SHAHADA pinpoints in precise moments the forces in its character's complicated lives— work and love, immigration and Islam. The story is specific to Germany and Europe today, but universal in its implications. "Shahada" is especially inspiring as the first feature of a young director, Burhan Qurbani, fresh from film school. Director: Burhan Qurbani
Silver Hugo to "Norman" (USA). "Norman," Jonathan Segal's bittersweet debut, is a witty variation on the American teen movie, adding death, cancer and mourning to drama club and first love. The father-son bond between Richard Jenkins and the splendid young Dan Byrd as Norman is especially touching and funny. Director: Jonathan Segal
Gold Plaque to "Erratum" (Poland). A Polish feature by first-time director, Marek Lechki, "Erratum" chronicles a man's journey in which he struggles with regret from the distant and recent past. Through insightful and emotionally poignant encounters, the film offers hope that it's never too late to address life's mistakes, big and small. Director: Marek Lechki
Docufest Competition Gold Hugo to "Beautiful Darling" (USA), an elegant character study that unfolds almost as a mystery as it explores the public face and private thoughts of an enigmatic heroine. The film navigates the contrasts of its subject—beauty and decay, fame and obscurity, masculinity and femininity—to moving and thoughtful effect. Director: James Rasin
Silver Hugo to "The Minutemen Movie" (USA), a strong vérité film that challenges our perceptions of a controversial issue. The film catalyzes us to consider the meaning of patriotism, immigration and freedom. Director: Corey Wascinski
Gold Plaque to "Moving to Mars" (UK / Thailand), a lyrical film that captures the complex realities of what it means to lose everything, be displaced, and then begin anew. The film's characters are compelling and insightful and their journey inspires a precarious hope. Director: Mat Whitecross
Silver Plaque to "Sex Magic" (USA) for achieving something that is difficult to do in the documentary medium: It brings us into a potentially shocking world with confidence and sly humor. Directors: Jonathan Schell, Eric Liebman
Short Film Competition The Gold Hugo for Best Short Film goes to "Deeper Than Yesterday" (Australia), which combines outstanding cinematography, camerawork and editing to successfully create an ominous tone and a claustrophobic feel while also allowing for a formal exploration of shape, geometry and texture. The film also fluidly moves from lightness to violence; confusion to wonder; and ultimately to a quiet sense of release. It expertly marries a distinctive style, complex tone, and carefully reserved storytelling and performances. Director: Ariel Kleiman
The Silver Hugo is awarded to "The Swimmers" (Cuba), a lighthearted look at life for a local boy's swim team in search of a place to practice. The jury applauds the warmth and humor that transcends the difficult circumstances that face the boys and their troubled nation. Its simple and direct storytelling, carefully considered use of color, and excellent use of location give it a charm and gentleness that are strongly affecting. Director: Carlos Lechuga
The jury awards a Gold Plaque to "Grandmothers" (Brazil) for its stellar cinematography, its deft rendering of period details, and for handling difficult subject matter with both humor and heartfelt emotional impact. Through its editing and differing shooting styles, the film blurs the distinction between narrative and documentary, which adds weight to the themes of history, memory and reality. Director: Michael Wahrmann
A second Gold Plaque goes to "The Descent" (Israel). Focused on three family members dealing with loss, it is a beautifully shot film wrought with emotion and tension. Deeply rooted in symbolism, it captures Israeli landscapes that are otherworldly and unexpected. The arid light and stark surroundings complement the grief and raw feeling of the characters. Director: Shai Miedzinski
A Silver Plaque for Best Animation goes to "Stanley Pickle" (UK). Its clever use of stop-motion animation wonderfully complements its comic, but bittersweet, story about loneliness, isolation and freedom. Director: Victoria Mather The Short Film Jury includes Mimi Brody, Jamie Ceasar, Patrick Frie and John Noble.
The Human Condition 60 Second Film Competition First Prize of $1,000 goes to I.D., directed by Sam Firth.
The International Feature Film Competition Jury included Denis Dercourt (France), John Russell Taylor (UK), Regina Taylor (USA), Valery Todorovsky (Russia) and Lucy Virgen (Mexico). The New Directors Competition Jury included Zbigniew Banas (Poland / USA), Ray Pride (USA), Lisa Nesselson (France / USA) and Reiner Veit (Germany). The Docufest Jury included Tod Lending, Heather Ross and Matt Tyrnauer.
The festival continues through Thursday with screenings at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois.
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