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CIFF 2011: All our capsule reviews

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The 47th Chicago International Film Festival (Oct. 6 - 20, 2011) will present more than 180 films from 50 countries. Here is our complete selection of capsule reviews by Roger Ebert, Bill Stamets and Jim Emerson. More will be added as new films are screened. Be sure to check the official CIFF site for ticket information, updates and schedule changes throughout the festival.

"Andrew Bird: Fever Year" (USA), 8:50 p.m.: Chicago filmmaker Xan Aranda documents the creative flow of singer-musician Andrew Bird, an exquisite all-around craftsman. Aranda's own style is equally thoughtful. Sat. Oct. 15, 8:50 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. (Stamets)

"The Artist" The surprise hit of Cannes 2011, and winner of the Best Actor award. It is a silent film--nearly--and a loose retelling of "Singin' in the Rain," about a silent star failing to make the transition to talkies. The talkies make the hero yesterday's star, and elevate a charming starlet named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) to fame. His new film is ignored, hers is a hit, he sinks into depression, she remains loyal, and fate decides. Jean Dujardin, at age 39, resembles a young Sean Connery, and would have made a great silent star. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is a significant box office success. Recommended. Thurs. Oct 20, 7 p.m. (Ebert)

"Buddha Mountain" (China). Director Yu Li follows up her "Lost in Beijing" with another drama about an improvised family. A trio of footloose club kids move into the apartment of a retired Peking Opera singer. Mutual emotional aid ensues. Sat. Oct. 15, 3:30 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 17, 3:30 p.m.; Tues. Oct. 18, 3:50 p.m. (Stamets)

"Bullhead" (Belgium). A gangster thriller about meat and hormones, the bovine kind and the human kind. Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), the beefed-up title character, is a 'roid raging bull of a man involved in the illegal market for growth-hormone-enhanced livestock. Years of testosterone injections and other steroids have turned Jacky himself into a human hulk; his hands and feet almost as thick as hooves. When a police detective investigating the underground trade is murdered, the riddles of Jacky's mysterious character come unraveled. Recommended. Sun, Oct. 9, 8:15 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 10, 6 p.m.; Wed. Oct. 12, 3:15 p.m. (Emerson)

"Cinema Komunisto" (Serbia). Mila Turajlic directs this nostalgic look back at the film industry in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Marshall, prime minister and later president-for-life Tito watched lots of movies, testifies his loyal projectionist. Tito's studio filmed lots of WWII dramas with partisans shooting lots of Germans. Sun. Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 10, 4 p.m. (Stamets)

"Coriolanus" (UK). Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a modern-dress version of the Shakespeare play, finding uncanny parallels with the current global situation. Opens with food riots in Rome, which General Martius quells with troops and scorn for democracy. Renamed Coriolanus, he becomes the ruler, but finds popular politics demeaning to his patrician character. Co-stars Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave, all at home with the Shakespearean language which Fiennes largely preserves. Recommended. Thurs. Oct. 13, 8 p.m. (Ebert)

"The Descendants" (USA). George Clooney stars in Alexander Payne's deeply involving present-day drama about a member of one of the early white landowning families of Hawaii. Pressured to sell a huge tract of surviving virgin forest for a commercial development, his plans are tested when his wife is killed and his daughters (Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley) force him to reconsider his decision. The land is in a family trust, but the choice is his alone. In a way, like a sequel to Michener's "Hawaii." Recommended. Tues. Oct. 18, 8:45 p.m. (Ebert)

"The Destiny of Lesser Animals" (Ghana/USA). Writer Yao B. Nunoo stars as a Ghanian policeman, deported from New York City on 9/11, who tries to return on a fake passport. Deron Albright directs a watchable, though didactic study of self-discovery. Sat. Oct. 15, 12:10 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 16, 6 p.m.; Tues. Oct. 18, 2 p.m. (Stamets)

"Le Havre" (Finland). 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. Recommended. Sat. Oct. 8, 5:30 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 9, 3:30 p.m. (Ebert)

"Here" (USA). Ben Foster ("The Messenger") and Lubna Azabal ("Coriolanus") co-star as a satellite cartographer and an art photographer in Braden King's visionary love story set in Armenia near Iran's border. Peter Coyote narrates layered time-lapse "interludes" shot by various experimental filmmakers. Sat. Oct. 15, 8:15 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 17, 8 p.m. Note: King will attend both screenings and also discuss his art in "An Evening with Braden King" at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16. (Stamets)

"Hotel Swooni" (Belgium). Kaat Beels sets this formulaic exercise in family fix-up in a posh Brussels hotel Swooni. Three families intersect in a roundelay of episodes that test their bonds and thread their fates. Mon. Oct 17, 2 p.m. (Stamets)

"Innocent Saturday" (Russia). On the night of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a worker parties hard till dawn with his rock band buddies at a wedding. Director Aleksandr Mindadze meditates on where the frantic handheld camera channels panic. Sat. Oct. 15, 5:50 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 16, 9 p.m.; Tues., Oct. 18, 3:40 p.m. (Stamets)

"Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life" (USA). The saddest film Werner Herzog has ever made. It regards a group of miserable lives, and in finding a few faint glimmers of hope only underlines the sadness. The doc is about two young men in Houston, one on Death Row, the other spared death but facing a life sentence. There is no reason to especially pity these two. They were responsible for murders distinguished by their stupidity. The film doesn't argue they were wrongly convicted. Herzog keeps a lower profile than in many of his documentaries. He is not seen, and his off-camera voice quietly asks questions that are factual, understated, and simply curious. His subjects talk willingly. One speaks within days of his scheduled execution. In some of his films Herzog freely shares his philosophy and insights. In this film, he simply looks. He always seems to know where to look. Mon. Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m. (Ebert)

"Jeff Who Lives at Home" (USA). This gentle comedy observes an especially eventful day for the title's thirtysomething single guy, played by Jason Segel from the CBS TV series "How I Met Your Mother." He looks to M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 film "Signs" for signs to orient his own life. Watching an infomercial in his mom's basement, Jeff divines that a "Kevin" is his long-awaited lodestar. This stoner slacker follows various Kevins with uneven outcomes. No relation to the fest's "We Need to Talk about Kevin," this smart little drama detours for his mother, played by Susan Sarandon, handling a blindsiding office romance, and his brother handling his wife's life-derailing infidelity. Jeff will redeem himself in an ending that called for the resources of four different Coast Guard agencies. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass– the brothers who brought us "Cyrus," "Baghead" and "The Puffy Chair"– co-script and co-direct their best effort to date. Tues. Oct 18, 7 p.m. (Stamets)

"Kaidan – Horror Classics" (Japan). The fest's longest entry is an anthology of four ghost stories by four directors. None horrify. Most are about deceased children. In "The Arm," though, a man borrows a woman's arm. The best is "The Nose" A monk stigmatized for his repellent elongated shnoz is haunted by a drowning victim. Sun. Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m. (Stamets)

"Karma" (Sri Lanka). Prasanna Jayakody directs a murky psychodrama about a voyeur with a panoply of fantasies. A mother's death, a masectomy and a rowboat swinging above a theater stage don't add up. Nor do credits that run backwards. Sun. Oct. 16, 5:30 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 17, 5:50 p.m. (Stamets)

"The Last Rites of Joe May" (USA). A career performance by veteran actor Dennis Farina as an aging low-level crook, just out of hospital, broke and thrown out of his apartment. He haunts Chicago's snowy winter streets and CTS buses, tries to hustle up a con, is befriended by the woman (Jamie Anne Allman) who has moved into his apartment. Farina shows great depth and vulnerability in a portrait of a failing man who makes a last grand gesture of doing the right thing. With Gary Cole as a cold-eyed mid-level mob boss. A production of Steppenwolf Films. Recommended. Opening night: Thurs. Oct. 6, 6 p.m. Director Joe Maggio and stars Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Allman and Gary Cole will be in attendance. (Ebert)

"A Little Closer" (USA), This splendid find in the New Directors Competition begins with an cornea injury and ends with a luminous look from a Ferris wheel. Director Matt Petock portrays a working-class family in Virginia. Summer is a time for a single mom to recover her sexuality. Her two boys discover theirs. Sun. Oct. 9, 6:15 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 10, 8:40 p.m.; Fri. Oct. 14, 2:15 p.m. (Stamets)

“Madame X” (Indonesia), 10:15 p.m. A transsexual dancer turns into a fabulous action figure and battles the National Morality Front. This campy cartoon by Luc­ky Kuswandi garnishes fight scenes by spelling out blows with “JROT!” and “NGOK!” Fri. Oct. 14, 10:15 p.m.; Sat. Oct. 15, 4:10 p.m. (Stamets)

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" (USA). Those are all her names in one sense or another, in this anguished film about an impressionabe young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who escapes from a cult and seeks shelter with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). So insidious was the cult, so sinister the persuasiveness of his leader (John Hawkes with surface charm and deep evil), that she is still possessed by fear and paranoia. Director Sean Durkin enters into her mental state with chilling use of flashbacks to her ordeal. Recommended. Sat. Oct. 8, 5 p.m. (Ebert)

"Michael" (Austria). A mousy, unobtrusive man keeps a 10-year-old boy locked in a child's bedroom in his basement. Michael (Michael Fuith) is a mid-level insurance executive, a kidnapper and a pedophile. And, to him, his life with his forcibly "adopted" boy seems almost… normal. That's part of what's exceptionally horrifying about it. The movie is not graphic or sensational, just cold and observational, as you might expect from the directorial debut of Markus Schleinzer, the long-time casting director for Michael Haneke ("Funny Games," "Caché," "The White Ribbon"). Sat. Oct. 8, 2:40 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 9, 7:45 p.m. (Emerson)

"My Best Enemy" (Austria/Luxembourg ). Wolfgang Murnberger cites "The Emperor's New Clothes," Ernst Lubitsch and Charles Chaplin as inspiration for this diverting World War II saga about a Michelangelo drawing of Moses that Hitler wants to give to Mussolini, as a Nazi and a Jew swap outfits for a Holocaustic forgery caper. Sun. Oct. 16, 4:15 p.m.; Tues. Oct. 18, 5:20 p.m. (Stamets)

"Natural Selection" (USA). Rachael Harris is wonderful as the wife in a religious but sexless marriage, who after her husband's stroke discovers he has been a sperm bank donor for years, and has some 500 living children -- including an ex-con in Florida. She feels it her duty to seek out this child and help him, and together they forge an unlikely mutual aid relationship. Human, insightful, touching, funny. Writer-director Robbie Pickering does a skilled job with seemingly impossible material. Swept the top prizes at this year's SXSW festival in Austin. Sat. Oct. 15, 8:40 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 16, 3:45 p.m. (Ebert)

"Nobody Else But You" (France). Under deadline, a crime novelist on the run from his Paris editor detours to crack a supposed case of suicide. In the French Alps, a skier finds the body of a local TV celeb. Is this sexy weather personality and cheese ad star channelling Marilyn Monroe? Her diary supplies clues. Gerald Hustache-Mathieu directs a diverting whodunit with snowy twists. Wed. Oct. 12, 8:30 p.m.; Fri. Oct. 14, 5:40 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 15, 1 p.m. (Stamets)

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (Turkey). The new film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan ("Climates," "Three Monkeys") begins as a police procedural in the darkness of the Anatolian countryside. For almost an hour, we ride around with the police as a confessed murderer and his accomplice try (or possibly avoid trying) to locate where they buried the body. But as the evening wears on, with a thunderstorm looming and the landscape illuminated only by headlights, other perhaps more profound and elusive mysteries about the characters, including a prosecutor and a doctor, begin to come to light. Recommended. Tue. Oct. 11, 7:50 p.m.; Thurs. Oct. 13, 6:10 p.m. (Emerson)

"Patang" (India). One of this year's best sleepers, directed by Chicagoan Prashant Bhargava. An affluent Delhi businessman returns home for a visit with his grandmother, mother and sister-in-law to Ahmedabad, at the time of the famous annual kite festival. The storytelling is effortlessly made part of the hypnotically beautiful visuals, and woven into a kaledioscope of colors, faces, music and a little romance. Bhargava is masterful in the way he allows his story to emerge from his mosaic, instead of spelling it out by the numbers. Evokes the old and new Indias side by side as well as I've seen done. Recommended. Tues. Oct. 11, 6:15 p.m., Thurs. Oct. 13, 2:20 p.m., Fri. Oct. 14, 9:10 p.m. (Ebert)

"Pina" (Germany). German director Wim Wenders previously profiled Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu, Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto and Cuban musicians. His latest documentary introduces cinefiles to the choreography of German avant-gardist Pina Bausch. In his first use of 3-D cinematography, Wenders evokes the volume of the stage, even for performances staged in non-theatrical settings, including a tramway and an escalator. Four different works are presented. Some are revisited via archival 2-D footage. Seeing various versions adds more figurative depth to our appreciation of Bausch's work than the 3-D adds literal depth to our onscreen perception. Bausch's death during the making of the film may have lent an elegiac note to the laudatory interviews with members of her international company Tanztheater Wuppertal. They do not speak on camera during looking-into-the lens portrait sessions. The soundtrack excerpts their comments, apparently recorded off-camera, to underscore their role as voiceless dancers. Wenders channels Bausch's tactile and theoretical grasp of the body as metaphysical material for art. He is scheduled to attend screening. Tues. Oct. 18, 6:15 p.m. (Stamets)

"Return Ticket" (Taiwan). Yung-Shing Teng directs a nicely shot sociological drama about woman working in Shanghai. They seek seats on a bus headed home for New Years. Like recent documentaries about this massive seasonal migration, this realist drama underscores the emotional costs of China's economy. Wed. Oct. 12, 5:30 p.m.; Thurs. Oct. 13, 6 p.m.; Sat. Oct. 15, 1:15 p.m.. (Stamets)

"Salaam Dunk" (USA/ Iraq). An American grad student coaches a women's basketball team at the American University of Iraq at Sulaimani. Director- editor David Fine and his Kurdish/ Iraqi cinematographer offer a modest documentary on the usual saga of a season in an unusual setting. Sun. Oct. 9, 11:30 a.m.; Tue. Oct. 11, 5 p.m. (Stamets)

"Sleep" (Japan), 8:50 p.m.: One of the fest's best looking works, this lustrous nocturnal drama follows a family of victims who seek redemptive justice 17 years after a 15-year-old dancer is raped. This humanist melodrama goes overboard with tribulations, but offers artful catharsis. Sun. Oct. 16, 8:50 p.m.; Tues. Oct. 18, 8:10 p.m. (Stamets)

"Sleeping Beauty" (Australia). Recalling the kinky premise of "House of the Sleeping Beauties" (2006), this intriguing tale shows how a college student pays her tuition by working in a weird sector of the erotic services industry. Julia Leigh directs a smart, skewed take on the '60s feminist mantra "our bodies, our selves." Sun. Oct. 16, 8:10 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 17, 8:30 p.m. (Stamets)

"Top Floor, Left Wing" (France). On an anniversary of 9/11, gendarmes suspect a father and son with Algerian roots are terrorists. A 24-hour hostage crisis ensues on a street commemorating the Algerian war of independence. Angelo Cianci directs this zany affair about eviction and conviction. Sun. Oct. 9, 5:30 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 10, 3:30 p.m.; Thurs. Oct. 13, 3:30 p.m. (Stamets)

"The Turin Horse" (Hungary). Auteurist Bela Tarr directs one of his weaker efforts, despite a catchy intro about that day in 1889 when Friedrich Nietzsche saw a horse whipped in Turin. The philosopher goes mad. The horse goes to a barn in the countryside. Tarr's signature mise-en-scene includes wind, rain and mud. A farmer and his daughter react to obscure signs and portents. Turgidity ensues. Don't blame the horse. Thurs. Oct. 14, 7:15 p.m.; Sat. Oct. 15, 2 p.m. (Stamets)

"Turn Me On, Dammit!" (Norway). Jannicke Systad Jacobsen directs an appealing tale of 15-year-old Alma managing her libido in a little town. As Alma handles an image crisis with classmates., her single mom goes jogging with a turnip plant manager. Sat. Oct. 15, 5 p.m.; Sun. Oct. 16, 6:20 p.m. (Stamets)

"Undefeated" (USA), 8:20 p.m.: Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin's uplifting documentary observes the last season that coach Bill Courtney invested his "emotional capital" in a North Memphis high school football team. His sacrifice is exemplary. Fri. Oct. 14, 8:20 p.m. (Stamets)

"Valley of the Forgotten" (Brazil), 4:15 p.m.: Maria Raduan listens to indigenous peoples, ranchers, squatters, politicos and activists vying for land. Do the Xavantes really set the forest on fire to hunt anteaters, as charged? No answers emerge in this open-ended documentary. Sat. Oct. 15, 4:15 p.m.; Mon. Oct. 17, 2:15 p.m. (Stamets)

"We Have a Pope" (Italy). After failing on severa ballots to elect a Pope, the College of Cardinals settles on a popular compromise, Cardinal Melville, played by the legendary French veteran Michel Piccoli. Although all the other cardinals professed dread of the awesome responsibility, Melville's fear is real. He accepts because he thinks it's his responsibility, but then his whole being cries out in protest. He wants to live his remaining years in peace, quiet and prayer, and suddenly the world is focused on him. Italian Nanni Moretti weaves a great deal of humor into his telling, but this is not a comedy, and contains intriguing insights into politics and public relations of the Vatican. Recommended. Sun. Oct. 9, 3:00 p.m. (Ebert)

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" (UK). Tilda Swinton in a fiercely challenging by Lynne Ramsey in which she plays a mother with a son she never wanted--a son who fully realizes that fact, and uses great intelligence to make her life hell. At every point in the film, which moves around freely in her life, we are challenged to read this woman: What is she thinking? What is she suppressing? What is she capable of? In a period of peak work in her career, this is Swinton at her best. And note Ezra Miller's work as Kevin; it could have been a one-dimensional character, but actually he engages with his mother with fine-tuned instincts, knowing just the buttons to push. John C. Reilly plays her husband, who has made a marriage out of avoidance and disengagement. Recommended. Tue. Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (actor John C. Reilly scheduled to attend), Tue. Oct. 18, 7:45p.m. (Ebert)

"The Whisperer in Darkness" (USA). In 1927, a folklore prof visits Vermont to check out reports of supernatural terror. Sean Branney directs this lovingly crafted, black-and-white homage to Hollywood horror that's based on a 1931 tale by H. P. Lovecraft. Stereoscope viewers reveal otherworldly critters. 10:15 p.m. Tue. Oct. 11, 10:15 p.m.; Wed. Oct. 12, 9:45 p.m. (Stamets)

"Women and Children" (UK). This weak effort follows an immature cook dealing with news of his current girlfriend's pregnancy. Long absent as a dad, he tries to make amends with his teenaged son from an earlier relationship. Director Daniel Mitelpunkt makes it worse with drippy piano music and sad montages of isolated men in streets framed with a long lens. Wed. Oct. 12, 6 p.m.; Thurs. Oct. 13, 9 p.m.; Tue. Oct. 18, 2:10 p.m. (Stamets)

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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