This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.
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Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," an independent American production, won the Gold Hugo as the best film in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival, and added Gold Plaques for best supporting actress (Jossie Thacker) and best screenplay (Mabry). It tells the harrowing story of three black children growing up in rural Mississippi in circumstances of violence and addiction. The film's trailer and an interview with Mabry are linked at the bottom.
Kylee Russell in "Mississippi Damned"
The winner of the Audience Award, announced Friday, was "Precious" (see below). The wins came over a crowed field of competitors from all over the world, many of them with much larger budgets. The other big winner at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East awards ceremony Saturday evening was by veteran master Marco Bellocchio of Italy, who won the Silver Hugo as best director for "Vincere," the story of Mussolini's younger brother. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi won Silver Hugos as best actress and actor, and Daniele Cipri won a Gold Plaque for best cinematography.
Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank" (right) a British film about a young girl growing up in a public housing project, won a Silver Hugo as the winner of the Special jury Prize and a Gold Plaque for best supporting actor (Michael Fassbender).
A Gold Plaque for best art direction went to "Hipsters" (Russia) for its "infectiously colorful and imaginative sets and its stimulating counterbalancing of a modern generation set against Soviet darkness." A Silver Plaque was given to "Backyard" (Mexico) for "its exposé of the horrible crimes of violence against women in Juarez."
A career achievement award was given to actor Martin Landau, who appeared with the screening of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest." "I have a fondness for this very room and Chicago itself," said Landau, who acted for Hitchcock in scenes (below left) shot at the Ambassador East. CIFF's feature film jury included president Jacqueline Bisset (UK), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Iran), Duane Byrge (US), Pablo Cruz (Mexico), and Bruce Sheridan (New Zealand).
In the New Directors' Competition, for debut films, the Gold Hugo was won by Adrian Biniez's "Gigante" (Uruguay). The jury wrote: "A humorous and poignant story of people striving to connect in a contemporary world of isolation and loneliness. The film and its charm center on the admirably conceived central figure of the gentle, vulnerable and lovelorn giant."
A Silver Hugo went to "Made in China" (USA), "an exemplary demonstration of guerrilla film-making, shot at speed but conceived and assembled with wit, charm, coherence and a distinctively wry view of 21st century entrepreneurism." The Gold Plaque as won by "Partners," (Switzerland/France), and its "brutal theme of the young trapped into commercial vice and violence without forfeiting affection for the victims or belief in their fundamental yearning for love and escape."
The New Directors Competition Jury included Charin Alvarez (USA),Chiara Arroyo Cella (Spain), Leonardo Garcia Tsao (Mexico), and David Robinson (UK).
In the Documentary Competition, the Gold Hugo went to Peter Kerekes' "Cooking History" (Austria/Slovakia/Czech Republic) "for its originality and humor, and for presenting a view of war from an unexpected angle, so as to shock, entertain, and educate." The Silver Hugo was won by "Racing Dreams" (USA) "for revealing in an unsparing yet sympathetic way the inner life of young people aspiring to break into professional sports." The Gold Plaque in Direction to went to "Soundtrack for a Revolution" (USA) "for its inventive combination of historical footage, interviews, and musical performance."
The documentary jury included John Russell Taylor (UK), Matt Irvine (USA), and Alison Cuddy (USA).
In the Short Film Competition, the Gold Hugo for best short film goes to Balint Kenyeres's "The History of Aviation" (Hungary), "with an unconventional story structure to illustrate a failure in aviation history."
The Silver Hugo Grand Jury Prize went to "Good Advice" (Sweden), "about a ten-year old who creates audio messages for his yet-to-be-born sibling."
The Silver Hugo for best animated short film was won by "Skhizein" (at left, France) and its "ingenious use of animation to tell the story of a man literally beside himself." The Gold Plaque for best experimental short film goes to "Photograph of Jesus," "which depicts interesting and, at times, bizarre requests for photographs from the Hulton Archive/Getty Images. The Gold Plaque for best student short film went to "Cherry on the Cake" (UK).
The Gold Plaque for best essay short film was won by "The Illusion" (Cuba) which "conveys a young woman's tumult in leaving her native Cuba for the first time to visit her estranged father in London. A Special Mention for best ensemble performances went to "Short Term 12" (USA), "which successfully rises above the conventions of the troubled teen and mental illness film sub-genres through its affecting and detailed performances." A Special Mention for animated short film goes to "Attached to You" (Sweden), for its stunning claymation, superb attention to detail, and compelling story line."
The short film jury included Jacinta Banks, John Bleeden, Gabe Clinger, and Armando Ibanez.
The Chicago Award winner was "Wet," "a beautiful metaphor for isolation and loneliness." Special mentions went to "Girls on the Wall" and "An Evening with Emery long."
Following are our capsule reviews for the films in this year's 45th anniversary Chicago International Film Festival, which continues through Oct. 22 at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois. Tickets are $12 for the public, and $9 for Cinema Chicago members. In a special attraction this year, all matinees starting before 5:05 p.m. are $5, except for special presentations. Tickets are at Ticketmaster or the AMC box office. Seats remain for many screenings, and for at least one movie at any time.
Stamets adds: "These are their nation's nominations as entries for Best Foreign film for 2009 Academy Awards that are also in the 2009 CIFF: "About Elly" (Iran), "Backyard" (Mexico), "Police, Adjective" (Romania), "Mother" (South Korea).
Capsules are alphabetical. Click here for the complete festival schedule, which can be downloaded in an attractive calendar format, ideal for posting on the refrigerator door.
"About Elly" (Iran, 119 minutes) From the director of "Fireworks Wednesday" (winner of the Festival's 2006 Gold Hugo), this complex mystery launches with the lighthearted weekend reunion of a group of old college pals. Sepideh has brought along her new friend Elly, hoping she'll hit it off with Ahmad, newly divorced from his German wife and in search of an Iranian bride. But when Elly disappears from their seaside bungalow, compounding lies and deception quickly lead to catastrophe. Director: Asghar Farhadi. Oct 10, 3pm; Oct 12, 2:30pm, $5; Oct 20, 8:30pm. CIFF
"Against the Current" (USA, 99 minutes) Peter Callahan assembles fine indie talent for a letdown. Joseph Fiennes plays a New Yorker swimming down the Hudson River to the Atlantic Ocean. Playing his friends, Justin Kirk and Elizabeth Reaser upstage this glum widower with a fake-loking swim stroke. The surrounding talent is less than the sum of their promise: the producers of "The Hawk is Dying" and "Choking Man"; the cinematographer from "Zoo"; and the editor of "Day Night Day Night." Also stars Justin Kirk (Angels In America), Elizabeth Reaser, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Mary Tyler Moore. Directed by Peter Callahan; Oct 15, 4:15pm, $5; Oct 20, 6:30pm. Director Peter Callahan scheduled to attend. Stamets
"Air Doll" (Japan, Oct 17, 3:30pm, Oct 18, 5:30pm, Oct 19, 3:00pm). Seems like quite a departure for the Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Eda ("After Life," "Maborosi") but is a parable about similar themes: Loneliness, seeking companionship, what it means to be alive. A waiter comes home every night to a life of contended domesticity with an inflatable doll. He treats her as if she were real, and amazingly one day she comes to life. As played uncannily by Bae Doo-na, she mimics others in learning who to behave, and begins a secret life of her own when her owner is away. Not a film about sex, but about the gulf between appearances and realities. Ebert
"Antichrist" (Denmark / Germany, 109 minutes) Without question drawing the most attention of this year's entries, Lars Von Trier's controversial provides a club in its title: The hero of his film will be he enemy of the good. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg co-star in courageous performances that take enormous chances. A married couple, they despair after their baby dies in the harrowing opening scenes, and then join in a bizarre descent into horror and physical pain. Read my blog entry about the premiere at the Cannes film festival, and my initial reflections on the film. (Gala Presentation Oct 12, 7:00pm - $25/$20; actor Willem Dafoe scheduled to attend). Ebert
"Astro Boy" (Hong Kong / USA, 94 minutes) A Hollywood voice cast in a first-rate version of a Japanese manga. Metro City circles in orbit above a devastated Earth, and faithful robots serve the every need of the inhabitants. A brilliant scientist harnesses energy from a star to provide unlimited "blue power" for the city and even the planet. But a politically ambitious politician wants to employ the anti-energy of "red power" to arm a weapon of war. The red-powered robot goes rogue, and it's up to Astro Boy, a newly-fledged robot with the memories of a real little boy, to save the day. With Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron, and Nicolas Cage. Gala, Oct 18, 4pm - $15/$12. Ebert
"Backyard" (Mexico, 122 minutes) The most chilling frame of this thriller, from the director of "The Crime of Father Amaro" may be the one that reads: "based on actual events." In the border town of Juárez, Mexico, hundreds of women have gone missing or turned up as sun-burnt corpses in the desert, but new police Captain Blanca Bravo (Ana de la Reguera) is determined to stop the savagery. Jimmy Smits also stars. Oct 15, 6:30pm; Oct 16, 9:15pm; Director Carlos Carrera scheduled to attend; Oct 20, 3pm, $5. CIFF
"The Be All and End All" (UK, 100 minutes) Bruce Webb directs an unoriginal drama of best buddies Robbie (Josh Bolt) and Ziggy (Eugene Byrne.) The 15-year-old mates deal with a fatal heart muscle diagnosis. Another condition is more susceptible to treatment: virginity. Ziggy does his best to let his best friend Robbie lose his before Robbie loses his life. Mild adventures with nurses, classmates, pimps, hookers and cops make for a merely cute dodge of graver matters. Oct 13, 8:20pm; Oct 15, 8:45pm; Oct 18, 12:45pm; director Bruce Webb scheduled to attend all three. Stamets
"Bellamy" (France, Oct 9, 6 p.m.; Oct 10, 3:30 p.n., $5; Oct. 19, 8 p.m.) Gérard Depardieu stars in French New Wave veteran Claude Chabrol's 58th film, a playfully witty crime story centered around Paris police chief Paul Bellamy. While on holiday with his wife, the famed detective is approached by a stranger who "sort of killed" another man, and before long Bellamy becomes embroiled in a puzzle that boggles even his mind. CIFF
"Berlin '36" (Germany, 100 minutes) With Nazi-ruled Berlin facing boycotts of its 1936 Olympic Games if Jewish athletes aren't allowed to participate, party officials bully expatriate champion high jumper Gretel Bergmann (Karoline Herfurth) into training with members of a team that reviles her. At the same time, the Nazis use über-athlete Marie Ketteler (Sebastian Urzendowsky) as a pawn in a covert campaign to assure Gretel's defeat, thus allegedly proving the superiority of the Nordic race. Her loss would be fodder for Leni Riefenstahl's famous documentary. This powerful story, based on real life events, celebrates the small triumphs strong-willed individuals can win over tyranny and hatred. Oct 15, 6:30pm; Oct 16, 8:15pm; Oct 18, 11:30am; director Kaspar Heidelbach is scheduled to attend all three screenings. CIFF
"Blue" (U.S., Oct 9, 3:15pm, $5; Oct 15, 6 pm) Oct 15, 2009 6:00 Murder. Robbery. Abandonment. Gary "Blue" Meekins' past is one he'd prefer not to remember. Even after surviving the rough streets of Harlem, Blue finds himself struggling to make it through the days. Now, with the help of an old coach and his emotionally damaged neighbor, this burgeoning prizefighter is finally getting his shot at the title. But after so much, will Blue make it to the fight of his life? Director Ryan Miningham and writer, producer and actor Don Wallace are scheduled to attend. CIFF
"Beyond Ipanema" (Brazil, 80 minutes) Starting in the '40s with Carmen Miranda and continuing ever since, Brazil's music has created waves across the globe. Featuring infectious samples of different musical styles and interviews with David Byrne, Devendra Banhart, M.I.A., Os Mutantes, Seu Jorge, Thievery Corporation, CSS, Creed Taylor, and many others, this vibrant documentary explores how the inimitable sound and spirit of Brazilian music has been adopted and transformed throughout the world. Directed by Guto Barra. Oct 11, 3:30pm; Oct 12, 6:15pm Producers Beco Dranoff and Sandro Fiorin scheduled to attend both. CIFF
"Case Unknown" (Poland, Oct 9, 4:00 pm, $5; Oct 12, 8:45pm; Oct 15, 5:45pm) Work is everything to young psychiatrist Konstanty Grot--something his wife often teases him about. But when he brings his patient Pawel home for treatment, Konstanty discovers hidden secrets from Pawel's past... and endangers his own family in the process. This thoughtful thriller paints a portrait of a man who risks his professional and personal life in the search for justice. Directed by Feliks Falk. CIFF
"The Castle." (Australia, 5 p.m. Oct 11, $15/$12) I was asked by Michael Kutza to present one of my favorite films from Ebertfest, and I chose this 1997 Australian comedy by Rob Sitch, which may be the funniest movie you've never seen. The happy Kerrigans proudly occupy a home only inches from a jumbo jet runway, and refuse to move. This leads to a courtroom battle, but hardly disturbs their serenity. When the family is served chicken dinner. Dad observes something on the chicken and asks his wife what it is. "Seasoning," she says proudly. Dad beams: "Seasoning! Looks like everybody's kicked a goal." And so life spins along in Melbourne, where the Kerrigan home sits surrounded by its built-on rooms, screened-in porch, greyhound kennel, big-dish satellite and carport. For Dad, it is not so much a house as a shrine to one of the best darn families in the universe, and he proudly points out the plastic Victorian gingerbread trim and the fake chimney. Ebert
"Cedar Boys" (Australia, 106 minutes) For Tarek, a young Lebanese man living with his parents in suburban Sydney, everything he wants seems just out of reach--cash to help out his family, acceptance into mainstream Australian society, and the arm of a fetching girl from the wealthy 'burbs. When his best friend hatches a plan to rob a drug house, Tarek sees a quick way to get all three, but his desire to rise above his lot in life leaves him blind to the consequences of their caper. Director Serhat Caradee scheduled to attend all three screenings: Oct 10, 8:45pm; Oct 11, 3:15pm; Oct 13, 3:30pm, $5). CIFF
"Chicago Overcoat" (U.S., 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7, 12:45 p., Oct 9, 8:45 p.m. Oct 19) The title of this crime drama is vintage slang for a coffin. And a "Chicago typewriter" is a machine gun, explains Lou Marazano (Frank Vincent from "The Sopranos") to his grandson. This aging hit man misses the family values and professionalism of the old Chicago and Cicero mobs. Brian Caunter's directing debut sports a philandering alderman, a Chinatown crematorium and a fine turn by local actor Danny Goldring as an old-school cop. Overdone voiceovers and a soundtrack crowded with too much music of too many kinds. Stamets
"Claustrophobia" (Hong Kong, 100 minutes) Five coworkers cram into one car for their shared ride home. The tension churning through this tight space instantly intimates the clandestine office romances Claustrophobia will explore. Cleverly piecing together fragments of these often ambiguous relationships, this urbane, naturalistic drama reminds us that physical proximity and intimacy are two vastly different things. Directed by Ivy Ho. Oct 15, 9:30pm; Oct 20, 6pm. CIFF
"Coffin Rock" (Australia, 89 minutes) Evan (Sam Parsonson) is a receptionist at a fertility clinic. He stalks a patient (Lisa Chappell) to a small fishing town, and mistakes their drunken random act of unprotected sex for something more. Psychotic calls home- made with a phone unplugged from the wall- and cliched flashbacks to past trauma indicate where this young creep is coming from. Writer/ director Rupert Glasson grafts the horror genre onto an old-time "women's picture" about fidelity and fertility for a gripping art film. Directed by Rupert Glasson. Oct 16, 10:30pm; Oct 17, 9:30pm. Stamets.
"Cooking History" (Austria / Slovakia, 88 minutes) Director Peter Kerekes interviews cooks who fed combatants in Algeria, Chechnya, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslavia. Vets from diverse European conflicts relive memories. A Jewish baker poisoned hundreds of Nazis by adding arsenic to their bread. Honoring his drowned comrades, a Russian submarine cook prepares pork cutlets on shore as the tide rises. Beautifully shot and smartly edited, this documentary delivers an unusually moving view of cuisine in war-time. (5 p.m. both Oct 11, Oct. 13). Directed by Peter Kérekes. Oct 12, 5 p.m. ; Oct 13, 5 pm. Stamets
"Cropsey" (U.S., Oct 09, 11 pm; Oct 11, 5:30 p.m.) The directors, who both grew up on Staten Island, connect the urban myth of a child-snatching escaped mental patient that haunted their youth with the true stories of the kids who actually went missing in their community. This chilling horror documentary follows the filmmakers as they investigate the seedy underbelly of their borough, searching for answers only to unearth more mysteries. Director Barbara Brancaccio is scheduled to attend both screenings. CIFF
"Dear Doctor" (Japan, 127 minutes) Lies told in the name of love and compassion are the focus of this beautiful psychological drama about a country doctor whose good intentions outstrip his honesty. Universally beloved by his community for his kindness and diligence, he abruptly leaves town one day, throwing it into turmoil. Astonishing secrets about his background soon surface, and the villagers must come to terms with this new knowledge of the man they so admire. Directed by Miwa Nishikawa. Oct 19, 7:45pm: Oct 20, 5:30pm; Director Miwa Nishikawa scheduled to attend both. CIFF
"Don't Let Me Drown" (U.S., Oct 09, 4:15pm, $5; Oct 18, 8:20 pm; Oct 19 9 pm) Two Brooklyn teens search for solace in a city brimming with hatred and trepidation in this comical and touching coming-of-age drama. A month after 9/11, Lalo and Stefanie meet at a birthday party. Lalo's father cleans up at Ground Zero, where Stefanie lost her sister in the attacks. As their friendship blossoms into a romance, they're forced to keep each other hidden from their families, each struggling with still-fresh wounds. Director Cruz Angeles is scheduled to attend on the 18th and 19th. CIFF
"Eastern Plays" (Bulgaria, Sweden). This multilayered debut is a fresh, honest, sensitively wrought portrait of two young men struggling with their existential ennui in different ways. Swept up in the Bulgarian capital's turbulent political climate, Georgi falls in with a violent gang of neo-Nazis while blackout drunk and all-around jerk Christo flounders in a dead-end job. Their roles in a racist beating will reveal the connections between them and alter their lives in unexpected ways. Director: Kamen Kalev Oct 10, 1:30pm; Oct 12, 4:15pm, $5; Oct 13, 9pm. CIFF
"Eclipse" (Ireland, Oct 9, 8:30pm; Oct 10, 2009 10:50pm; Oct 16, 9:30pm). Michael (Ciarán Hinds, Munich) has been plagued by dark dreams and strange noises since his wife died. Volunteering at the local literary festival, Michael is drawn to supernatural fiction writer Lena (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity) as much for her beauty as for her fascination with the otherworldly. Pop novelist Nicholas (Aidan Quinn) has also been enthralled with Lena since their one-night affair a year ago, but when he arrives to reclaim her, all three will be forced to deal with their own ghosts. Directed by Conor McPherson. CIFF
"Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl" (Portugal, 63 minutes). Lonely office-bound accountant MacÁrio, sees a captivating woman in the window across the street. Instantly smitten, he throws himself headlong into pursuit of her, only to discover that there's a long fall from the top of a pedestal down to solid ground. At 100, de Oliveira is still finding fresh perspectives on human nature and delivering them with a richness and visual poetry all his own. Oct 10, 1 pm; Oct 13, 3:15pm, $5; Oct 14, 6:30pm. CIFF
"An Education" (UK, Oct. 11, 6 p.m. Gala Presentation, $15/$12). One of the year's best films. Carey Mulligan in a career-changing performance as a precocious 16-year-old who falls in love with a man in his 30s (Peter Sarsgaard). Her father (Alfred Molina) doesn't approve but is handled like putty by the smooth-talking flatterer. We worry about her, but gee, this guy seems so nice. An he offers entre into a world of clubs and parties and lifestyle out of her reach and unimaginable to boys her age. Plus, he doesn't seem like a dirty old man but is always courteous and polite, and almost has to be talked into making a move. The film is subtly crafted to bring us along in the same way as it develops the teenage girl. Mulligan deserves a nomination. Director Lone Scherfig will be present at the screening. Ebert
"Effi Briest" (Germany, 118 minutes) In 19th-century Germany, 17-year-old Effi Briest sees her carefree life disappear when her parents marry her off to a man 20 years her senior. To find respite from her dull domestic existence, she begins an affair with a handsome young officer, but their dalliance carries a high cost.... This adaptation of the famous novel approaches the classic story through a post-women's-lib lens, allowing it to transcend costume-drama conventions. Directed by Hermine Huntgeburth. Oct 17, 12:30pm; Oct 19, 5pm, $5; Oct 20, 8:30pm. CIFF
"Eyes Wide Open" (Germany / Israel) Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community offers the comfort of belonging, but the conformity can be suffocating. Aaron, a devoted husband and father, is well respected in this world. Then he meets Ezri, a charismatic 22-year-old, who quickly steals Aaron's heart. Soon he's choosing this taboo love over his family. Guilt, torment, and pressure from the community will lead him to make a radical decision. Directed by Haim Tabakman. Oct 17, 8:30pm; Oct 18, 1:30pm; Oct 19, 4:30pm, $5. CIFF
"Face" (France / Taiwan, 141 minutes) A four-time award winner at the Festival, master Tsai Ming-Liang ("Goodbye, Dragon Inn;" "What Time Is It Over There?") returns with a sumptuously staged, boldly visual film about a Taiwanese filmmaker who casts French actors in his latest disaster-fraught film--despite not speaking a word of French. An artistic tip of the hat to Francois Truffaut's"Day for Night" and the spirit of the New Wave, "Face" stars Truffaut regulars Jean-Pierre Leaud and Fanny Ardant. Oct 14, 8:30pm; Oct 15, 8:15pm; Oct 19, 3:15pm, $5. CIFF
"Fish Tank" (UK. 124 minutes). Oscar winner Andrea Arnold ("Red Road") asserts her place at the pinnacle of contemporary British cinema with "Fish Tank," her keenly observed and unflinchingly realistic portrait of life in a rough-and tumble Essex housing project. The booze-swilling Mia (Katie Jarvis, a revelation in her first screen role) is an alienated, emotionally volatile teenager whose sluttish mother (Kierston Wareing) brings home a parade of anonymous one-night lovers. Mia's life is turned upside down by the arrival the latest man in the parade, the charming new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender, named best actor at last year's Festival for "Hunger"). Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes 2009. Oct 14, 8:40pm; Oct 15, 6:15pm. CIFF
"A Frozen Flower" (South Korea, 133 minutes). Set in 13th-century Korea, this sweeping epic tells the unconventional story of a taboo love triangle between the king of Goryeo, his male guard, and the queen. In the midst of nobles plotting to dethrone the king, the distraught commander of the royal guards must decide where his loyalties lie. This bold and provocative tale of blossoming desire is laced with bloody battles and betrayal, lust and forbidden love.Directed by Yoo Ha. Oct 11, 2:15pm; Oct 13, 8:30pm. CIFF
"Gigante" (Uruguay, 84 minutes). Writer/ director Adrian Biniez tells a delightful low-key romance via surveillance video: obsessive boy-observes-odd girl. Jara (Horacio Camandule) is a 35-year-old security guard on the night shift at a suburban supermarket. A sign over the mirror in the employee locker room states: "This Is the Image Customers Have of Me." Crippled by shyness and self-conscious of his overweight stature, Jara stalks and courts Julia (Leonor Svarcas), who works there on a cleaning crew. A mutual affection for heavy metal seals the deal for the misfit couple. (5:30 pm Oct 1; 8:40 p.m. Oct 13; 3:45 p.m. Oct 14) Oct 12, 5:30pm; Oct 13, 8:40pm; Oct 14, 3:45pm, $5. Director Adrian Biniez scheduled to attend. Stamets
"The Girl on the Train" (France, Oct 8, 5 pm; Oct. 9 5:30 pm; Oct 10 12:45 pm.) French writer-director Andre Techine offers another intergenerational drama with an incisive social issue. His "The Witnesses" (2007) dealt with the early days of the AIDS epidemic, with Michel Blanc playing a gay doctor. This time, Blanc returns in this engaging ensemble piece as a Jewish lawyer representing the daughter of an old sweetheart (Catherine Deneuve). In this film, based on a news story about a woman falsely claiming she was attacked by anti-Semites, Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne) is a 22-year-old roller blader who cuts her face and draws swastikas on her stomach. Her story unravels, though, due to a business card. Jean-Marie Besset co-wrote the screenplay, based on her earlier stage play about the incident. Stamets
"Give Me Your Hand" (Oct 09, 9:00 pm; Oct 10, 2009; Oct 13, 2009 4:15pm) The journey is more important than the destination in this beautifully meditative film. Twin brothers--one gay, one straight--travel to the funeral of a mother they never met, equipped with only their rucksacks. Theirs is a close if combative relationship, but it is threatened by sexual entanglements and betrayal as they progress through the European countryside. Directed by Pascal-Alex Vincent. CIFF
"Green Waters" (Argentina, 89 minutes). Juan can't wait to start his family holiday at the beach, but a deep reserve of paternal paranoia is tapped when his teenage daughter meets leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding Roberto at a gas station on the way. Roberto resurfaces at the beach, and soon Juan's whole family is smitten by his charms. Subtle suspense--often hidden by sun-bright visuals and comedy--builds to a stunning climax in this offbeat debut. Directed by Mariano de Rosa. Oct 13, 6:15pm; Oct 14, 8:30pm; Mariano De Rosa scheduled to attend first two; Oct 16, 4:15pm, $5. CIFF
"Girls on the Wall" (USA, 61 minutes) In this affecting documentary, the girls of the Warrenville, Illinois prison are given a chance to tell their stories in a musical based on their lives. To do this, they must reach within themselves and reflect on the life choices they have made. With unprecedented access to the juvenile prison, director Heather Ross skillfully traces these young women's attempts to reclaim their humanity and ultimately their freedom. Oct 11, 1:30pm; Oct 16, 3:30pm, $5. Director Heather Ross and cast members scheduled to attend both. CIFF
"Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno" (France), (1 p.m. Oct 9, 6 p.m. Oct 13) This highly recommended documentary excavates an unfinished film from 1964 by French director Henri-Georges Clouzot ("Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique"). He wrote a 300-page screenplay and shot 13 hours of experimental footage for this folly about an insanely jealous man. Co-directors Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea Annonier may not diagnose Clouzot's creative impasse, but the evidence on view is amazing. "It all started with insomnia," the late Clouzot once stated in an interview. " I don't think I'm a pathological case." Perhaps not. Stamets
"Hipsters" (Russia), 6:30 p.m. Oct 7, 6 p.m. Oct 8, 12:30 p.m. Oct 9) Director Valery Todorovsky sets his high-energy musical in 1955 Moscow for a glossy retro look at the era's stilyagi scene. Hipsters model their outlandish styles after American fashions. Primping their pompadours, overspending on flashy outfits, dancing "The Atomic" and digging Charlie Parker discs are part of this politically incorrect counterculture. Mels (Anton Shagin) -- his name is an acronym for Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin -- is torn between the hip Polly (Oksana Akinshina) and the square Katya (Evgeniya Brik), his longtime Komsomol comrade. Todorovsky confects a classic Hollywood-style musical with little ideological irony. But he nods to Grigori Aleksandrov's kitschy commie musical "Circus" (1936) by casting an African-American to father a baby who's warmly embraced by the Russians. Stamets
"The House of the Devil" (U.S., Oct 9, 11 pm; Oct.10, 11:15 p.m., Oct 18, :30 p.m.) Desperate to earn money, a college student (Jocelin Donahue) accepts a babysitting job sight unseen. She's asked to come to a creepy mansion deep in a forest, where she's greeted by a exceedingly odd employer (Tom Noonan) who explains she's not needed for a baby, exactly, but for his elderly mother. But to to worry, she will stay upstairs and not cause any trouble. Escalates eerily into a situation more frightening than she--or we-- anticipate. Director Ti West is scheduled to attend the Oct. 9 and 10 screenings. Ebert
"Kanikôsen" (Japan, 109 minutes) The mononymic Sabu adapts Takiji Kobayashi's 1929 novel for an acidic parable of workers on a crab-fishing vessel. Brutalized by a cruel, limping overseer with a severe streak of nationalism, they see suicide as their only escape. The outrageous mise-en-scene borrows from "Battleship Potemkin" and "Metropolis" but Sabu's agitation is merely cynical and not insightful. Oct 18, 8:15pm; Oct 19, 6pm; Oct 20, 3:30pm, $5. Stamets
"I Know a Woman Like That" (USA, 103 minutes). Its description may sound innocuous, but Elaine Madsen's documentary is transformative in the way it regards life from the perspective of age. She talks intimately with 16 women in their 70s and above, who didn't put life on Pause but kept right on living. Barbara Hillary skied to the North Pole, and says women her age are expected to feel "mindless, useless and sexless." Lauren Hutton smiles, "I'm better in bed." Elaine Kaufman presides nightly over the most famous saloon in New York. Lorraine Morton was elected mayor of Evanston at 74, and is still mayor 14 years later. After a famous career in prose, Maxine Hong Kingston has returned to poetry, her childhood love. Gloria Steinem thinks maybe at 70 you understand who you really were at 14. Madsen doesn't ask celeb-trash questions, but is an adult talking to adults--even when she and Suzanne Adams (her daughter Virginia's drama teacher) are lying on a rug on their tummies, talking face to face like two seven-year olds. Extraordinary. (Oct 13, 5pm at Film Row Cinema at Columbia College in conjunction with CIFF's Reel Women panel, to be followed by a reception; Oct 15, 3:45pm, $5; director Elaine Madsen and Virginia Madsen scheduled to attend both. (Oct 13, at 5pm at Film Row Cinema at Columbia College in conjunction with CIFF's Reel Women panel, to be followed by a reception; Oct 15, 3:45pm, $5; director Elaine Madsen and Virginia Madsen scheduled to attend both. Read my interview with Elaine, Virginia and Michael Madsen.
"The Last Days of Emma Blank" (Netherlands, 89 minutes). The Dutch master of madcap misanthropy returns to the Festival with a precise, pitch-black comedy set in the country home of terminally ill Emma Blank. Her domestic servants have long submitted to her venomous attitude and irrational whims with an eye on an inheritance (van Warmerdam himself plays a character ordered to serve as the family dog... see it to believe it), but slowly the truth about this way-offbeat household is revealed. Directed by Alex van Warmerdam. Oct 11, 8:30pm; Oct 12, 5:30pm; Oct 15, 3:15pm. CIFF
"The Long Night" (Syria, 93 minutes). This bold first feature tells the story of three men suddenly released after 20 years of imprisonment for political acts of conscience. When word of their freedom and imminent arrival reaches their families, old wounds are opened. What happens when duty to country conflicts with duty to family? Winner of the top prize at the Taormina Film Festival. Director: Hatem Ali. Oct 10, 4pm; Oct 11, 5:30pm; Oct 12, 4pm , $5. CIFF
"The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond" (USA, 102 minutes) How often do you hear about "the new Tennessee Williams film"? That's just what you get in this long-unproduced Southern Gothic tale Williams penned for Directed by Elia Kazan in the '50s. Bryce Dallas Howard stars alongside Ellen Burstyn and Ann-Margret as a free-spirited young heiress who falls for a handsome but humble guy in this 1920s-set story of jealousy, status, and good old-fashioned backstabbery. Directed by Jodie Markell. Oct 17, 7:45pm, $15/$12. CIFF
"Lost Times" (Hungary, 90 minutes) A car mechanic who moonlights as a smuggler, Iván Priskin finds himself wanting to chase his dreams but remaining rooted by his sense of obligation. Iván's autistic sister Eszter depends on him for survival, motivating him to strive for more while at the same time confining him to a countryside largely devoid of both hope and opportunity. When a tragedy befalls Eszter, Iván must renegotiate the relationship between his own self-interest and his love for his sister.Oct 14, 6pm; Oct 15, 8pm; director Áron Mátyássy scheduled to attend first two; Oct 20, 3:45pm, $5. CIFF
"Lovely, Still" (USA, 90 minutes) Christmas brings elderly Robert Malone (Oscar winner Martin Landau) an unexpected present: love. One evening when Robert returns to his lonely home, he finds a stranger (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn) in his living room. She's his new neighbor, and it isn't long before a romance begins to blossom. Robert's on cloud nine--his only worry is whether his health can keep up with his heart. Directed by Nicholas Fackler. Gala, Oct 17, 5pm, $25/$20; Martin Landau expected to attend. CIFF
"Love & Savagery" (Canada/Ireland, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 7, 3 p.m. Oct. 9, 3:45 p.m. Oct.11) : Director John N. Smith andwriter Des Walsh, who collaborated on "The Boys of St. Vincent" (1992), offer an unremarkable romance set on the scenic Irish coast in 1969. Michael (Allan Hawco) is a rockhound and poet visiting from Newfoundland who fancies local pub waitress Cathleen (Sarah Greene). It turns out that at age 13, both made their own deals with God when their mothers were dying, but drew different conclusions from the answers to their prayers. Their spiritual paths trouble their love. Local hotheads supply the title's savagery by repeatedly beating the unwelcome foreigner. Closure occurs three years later with his poem and her letter, which are read over a soundtrack graced with fine traditional Irish music. Stamets
"Made in China" (U.S., 5:45 p.m. Oct 7; 8 p.m. Oct 9; 8 pm Oct 11) In Judi Krant's peppy indie, Johnson (Jackson Kuehn) learns the proper two-handed manner for presenting his business card in Shanghai. As this naive novelty-item entrepreneur from Texas goes to China to find a manufacturer for his idiotic product, Krant inserts little animated factoid segments about the real-life inventors of the Slinky, Pet Rock or other moneymakers. The stock footage is informative, though Johnson's narration irritates. Cinematographer Petter Eldin proves far more inventive in his lensing of Shanghai street scenes, without benefit of shooting permits. Recommended only for business-school students needing a study break. Stamets Winner of the festival's Silver Hugo in the New Directors Competition for "an exemplary demonstration of guerrilla film-making, shot at speed but conceived and assembled with wit, charm, coherence and a distinctively wry view of 21st century entrepreneurism." CIFF
"Made in Hungaria" (Hungary, 109 minutes) Like the fest's "Hipsters" from Russia, this chipper musical is set behind the Iron Curtain where kids dig American vinyl despite official bans. Director Gergely Fonyo's trite plot shows a rockin' teen who comes back to Hungary in 1963 after four years in America. Contraband Buddy Holly records could get him six years in prison for "anti-state agitation." But parents and commies see the error of suppressing youth. There's romance, stage rivalry, and a big talent show finale. Fonyo skips a chance to riff on state-sanctioned Socialist Realist musicals made in the sixties. Oct 17, 1pm; Oct 19, 8:30pm; Oct 20, 6:45pm ; Director Gergely Fonyó scheduled to attend last two. Stamets.
"The Maid" (Chile, 94 minutes). Raquel has spent half her life as the live-in housekeeper and nanny for a family of six. Her iron-fisted, borderline-OCD behavior keeps things running smoothly, but lately her snappishness is creating a strange tension in the household. Hoping to relieve her stress, the family brings in a second maid, but Raquel is prepared to defend her territory at all costs. This unpredictable, naturalistic gem was a top winner at Sundance. (Oct 10, 4:30pm; Oct 11, 6pm; Oct 14, 4:15pm, $5) CIFF
"Mammoth" (U.S. Sweden Oct 14, 6 pm; Oct 17, 8:45pm) A lovely, heartfelt film about parents whose jobs separate them from their children. A game designer (Gael Bernal Garcia) and his wife, a surgeon (Michelle Williams) are so busy that the raising of the their daughter is performed largely by their Filipino nanny. On a business trip to Thailand, he unknowingly comes across another mother apart from her son. The surgeon worries that her all-night E.R. shift alienates her from her daughter, and agonizes over a young boy in critical condition after being stabbed by his own mother. Williams excels as a bold, expert surgeon; the strength of her performance is in marked contrast to her wandering waif in "Wendy and Lucy." Her husband reaches a business and personal crossroads in Thailand and grows intensely restless on his business trip because he misses his family. Bad things happen to good people. The intercut plots build instead of, as can sometimes happen, distracting. Directed by Lukas Moodysson ("Lilya 4-Ever"). Ebert
"Mary and Max" (Australia, 92 minutes) A lonely Australian girl and a middle-aged New Yorker form a lifelong friendship through letters in the alternately comic and tragic Mary and Max. Inventive and endearing stop-motion animation brings the eccentric characters to vividly expressive life. The dark, ironically humorous script is empathetically played by a strong voice cast, with Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the title characters. Directed by Adam Elliot. Oct 18, 6:15pm; Oct 20, 6pm. CIFF
"The Messenger" (USA, Oct. 10, 8:30 p.m., Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.) One of the best Iraq War films to date, this stateside drama stars Ben Foster as Will Montgomery, a U.S. Army officer assigned duty on a Casualty Notification team with an officer played by Woody Harrelson. They inform next of kin about the deaths of family members. The protocol is precise and heartbreaking. Montgomery goes beyond the call of duty by befriending a young widow played by Samantha Morton. First-time director and co-writer Oren Moverman earlier contributed to screenplays for "I'm Not There" and "Face," which is in the festival. As Montgomery deals with trauma, Moverman indelibly maps the interior landscape of warriors. Willie Nelson's craggy rendition of "Home on the Range" is pitch perfect as a closing grace note. Stamets; Ebert agrees this film is very special
"Mother" (Oct 9, 9:30 pm; Oct 11, 8:45 pm; Oct 15, 3:30pm). One of the most-applauded performances at Cannes 2009 was by Kim Hye-ja, in Bong Joon-ho's "Mother," a small town tale set in South Korea about a mother who defends her slow-witted son against a horrifying murder charge. There is damning evidence against him, but she believes the boy is innocent, and is quiet but relentless and implacable on her mission. Kim Hye-ja completely dominates the film, which withholds enough information to make us wonder if she's on a fool's errand. All the time, the director embeds her in et fabric and routine of the neighborhood where she has long been a fixture. Ebert
"Motherhood" (USA, 90 minutes) Uma Thurman shines in this charming, high-energy comedy as a beleaguered Manhattanite just trying to survive another day of madness raising two young kids (and a husband and best friend) in the most frenzied city in the world. Between planning little Clare's birthday party, navigating a neighborhood under siege by tourists and film crews, and dealing with the neuroses of every other frazzled mom on the playground, can Eliza find the time to chase her own aspirations as a writer? Anthony Edwards and Minnie Driver round out this sharp-witted cast. Opening Night, Oct 08, 7:00pm, $150/$25, Director Katherine Dieckmann and actor Uma Thurman scheduled to attend. CIFF
"Mississippi Damned" (USA, 120 minutes). A heartbreaking, powerful drama about the generations of a small-town Mississippi family tortured by alcoholism, violence, poverty and abuse. A sad story redeemed by hope as a young girl, musically gifted, breaks loose for a different future. Audiences are deeply affected. "What happened to the young girl?" the actress Jossie Thacker was asked in a Q&A. "She grew up to become a great director," she replied. The story is closely based on the life of its writer-director, Tina Mabry. Winner of the Gold Hugo as the festival's best film. Mabry won the Hugo for best screenplay, and Thacker for best supporting actress. Mabry, Thacker and Producer Morgan Stiff all attended. Ebert
"No Hard Feelings" (Belgium / France, 104 minutes) It's 1955, and troublemaker Laurent finds himself at a Belgian boarding school, where a teacher there recognizes his intelligence and encourages him to write. As Laurent's talent develops, he adopts his inspiring teacher as a father figure, while at the same time wondering about his real father, who disappeared during the war. As Laurent investigates the past, he is forced to confront his present. Oct 18, 4:30pm; Oct 19, 6:30pm; Oct 20, 4pm, $5; director Yves Hanchar scheduled to attend all three. CIFF
"North by Northwest" The arrival of "North by Northwest" on Blu-ray is a landmark event in home video history, as it marks the very first of Alfred Hitchcock's films to become available on this state-of-the-art format. Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famed Director's Oscar-nominated thriller with this special screening and retrospective conversation with Martin Landau and Hitchcock historian and biographer John Russell Taylor. The film has received a meticulous restoration and remastering for this release with Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging scanning the original VistaVision production elements in 8K resolution. The resulting presentation reveals a depth of field and clarity never before possible, serving to heighten every thrill-packed moment. Oct 18, 5pm, $15/$12; actor Martin Landau and British critic John Russell Taylor, a CIFF jury member from its earliest years, are scheduled to attend. CIFF
"Nothing Personal" (France, 90 minutes) The canapés are set, the string quartet is playing, and the champagne is flowing. The Muller pharmaceutical company is hosting a swank company banquet for its execs, but when the rumbling rumor of an imminent buyout and layoffs turns to a roar, suddenly it's survival of the fittest.... Cleverly constructed and darkly funny, "Nothing Personal" puts a fresh, timely spin on the cutthroat nature of corporate--and human--relationships. Oct 13, 6:15pm; Oct 14, 4:30pm, $5; director Mathias Gokalp scheduled to attend first two; Oct 20, 4pm, $5. CIFF
"Nymph" (Thailand, 94 minutes). A young couple with a marriage at risk camp out in the jungle, where a tree spirit kidnaps the husband. His wife returns to the city, where she breaks off an affair with her boss. The motive and the modus operandi of the elusive forest nymph may be opaque, but writer/ director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang is a wizard of light, sound and mood in this ghostly story. Cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong and sound designer Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr merit special attention for creating the animistic mise-en-scene. 6:15 pm Oct 14, 9 p.m. Oct 15, 3:15 p.m. Oct.16. Stamets
"A Place of One's Own" (Hong Kong / Taiwan, 118 minutes). Lou Yi-an delights with this affecting tale of assorted Taipei residents seeking places to call home. A traditional artisan constructs detailed models of homes out of paper and bambo that are burnt in funeral rites. Developers covet the his undeeded land for its feng shui. A tapestry of characters includes a rock star couple, a ghost with a bank job tip, and homeless activists. This is a wry city-symphony of scams and family ties. Oct 12, 8 pm; Oct 14, 5:30pm; Oct 19, 3:30pm, $5. Actor Mo Tzu Yi scheduled to attend. Stamets
"Prank " (Hungary, 93 minutes). Peter Gardos sets this uneven tale of seventh graders in a 1912 Catholic boarding school. A new father conflicts with an old-timer about discipline. A regime of bemused cruelty rules. When students are not busy pulling mean tricks on each other, their teachers are channeling the intellectual currents of the day. Zoetropes are put to excellent use as a visual device whenever students imagine acts of violent impudence. The whimsical score and witty cinematography seem mistaken in light of where this tale unexpectedly ends. Oct 13, 4pm, $5; Oct 17, 6:15pm; Oct 18, 3:15pm. CIFF
"Plastic City" (Brazil / China / Hong Kong, 118 minutes) Yu Lik Wai directs this visually inventive drama set in Sao Paulo. A Chinese crook Yuda (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his adopted son Kirin (Jo Odagiri) traffic in pirated knock-offs of high-end items. Their business plan is "Sell fake goods, make real money." "Yankee globalization" and corrupt politicians make for an intriguing backdrop, but this crime saga is more interested in inter-generational psychodrama with mystical leanings: an albino tiger looms as a totem to bond the murderous entrepreneurs. (6 p.m. Oct 11, 3:30 p.m. Tuesday) Directed by Yu Lik Wai. Oct 12, 6 pm; Oct 13, 3:30p, $5. Stamets
"Police, Adjective" (Romania, 115 minutes) From the writer/director of the internationally acclaimed "12:08 East of Bucharest" comes an austere cop drama that says a lot by doing a little. Young inspector Cristi's conscience is keeping him from sending a kid to jail for seven years on a dopesmoking charge, but his by the book boss has other ideas about the definition of "police." Affirming Porumboiu as a singular new talent, "Police, Adjective" is already the winner of two top awards at Cannes 2009. Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. Oct 13, 6pm; Oct 17, 8:30pm. CIFF
"Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" (USA, 109 minutes) One of the most powerful films of the year. Set in Harlem in 1987, "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire." tells the story of a fat, shy, 16-year-old African-American. The heroine, who never speaks in school, is insulted and bullied and sees herself as negligible, but has her intelligence spotted by a teacher (Paula Patton) and a social worker (Mariah Carey). Having escaped to a mental fantasy world where she's an Oscar nominee, she very slowly learns to value the person she is. Preciois is played by Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, whose screen presence and evocation of character in a difficult role make her a possibility for an Academy nomination. Also Oscar-worthy is Mo'Nique, who plays her abusive mother. Winner of the Audience Awards at both Sundance 2009 and Toronto 2009, it now adds the Chicago Audience Award for a triple play. Director Lee Daniels and Actor Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe were present; Oct 16, 6:15pm. Ebert
"Persecution" (France, 100 minutes) Daniel has a talent for making life go his way, but lately he's been put to the test by a stranger who follows him through the streets, to his job, to his apartment. And this strange relationship is not the only one wearing on him: His possessive attitude toward Sonia, his partner of three years, is slowly poisoning them both. Soon Daniel will discover how it feels to be both persecutor and persecuted.... Charlotte Gainsbourg, Romain Duris, and Jean-Hugues Anglade star in this psychological drama from provocative Directed by Patrice Chéreau (Intimacy, Queen Margot). Oct 17, 6pm; Oct 20, 8:15pm. CIFF
"Raging Sun, Raging Sky" (Mexico, 191 minutes). This strangely hypnotic tale follows a young man's quest for love through the seediest spots in contemporary Mexico City. Named best gay-themed feature at Berlin, the film creates a deeply sensual atmosphere by blending intense eroticism and arresting monochrome visuals. For art film lovers, the rewards are worth the challenge. Directed by Julián Hernández. (Oct 10, 9:15pm; Oct 12, 8pm). CIFF
"Rain" (Oct 9, 6:15pm; Oct 12, 3:45 pm, $5; Oct 13, 8:30pm ) When her grandma dies, 14-year-old Rain is sent to live with her drug-addicted mother in the poverty-stricken ghettos of Nassau. The irony of disease, drug addictions, prostitution, and poverty--set against the tourist-filled island backdrop--is difficult to ignore as these women struggle to find an inner strength to overcome their seemingly inescapable destiny. Directed by Maria Govan, produced by Nate Kohn, director of Ebertfest. CIFF
"The Rapture of Fe" (Philippines, 78 minutes) Caught between her violent husband and a dithering young lover, Fe's life takes a scary turn when baskets of fruit begin unexpectedly appearing at her door. At first the enigma is endearing, but Fe realizes someone (or is it something?) sinister is looking to join her love triangle. Blurring the boundaries between the mundane and the mysterious, "The Rapture of Fe" is the sexy supernatural tale of a woman's will to survive in the face of oppression. Director: Alvin Yapan. Oct 09, 10:30pm; Oct 13, 9:30pm; Oct 16, 11pm; producer Alemberg Ang scheduled to attend all three. CIFF
"Red Cliff" (Special presentation Oct 9, 7:30pm, with director John Woo scheduled to attend, Oct 10, 2:30pm, $12/$9 John Woo puts his singular stamp on the art of war in this Chinese box office smash. Based on the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Red Cliff dramatizes the scandals, spies, and romance surrounding the epic battle that signaled the end of the third-century Han Dynasty. Spectacularly choreographed martial arts and heroic combat show the struggle of the southern alliance as they face off against the massive invading forces from the north, led by a corrupt prime minister bent on domination. CIFF
"Red Riding 1974" (UK, 102 minutes) The first in a film trilogy based on a David Peace's quartet of novels adapted by Tony Grisoni and aired by Channel 4 last March. Hotshot, chain-smoking crime reporter Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield "Boy A") links the murders of three little girls in gloomy West Yorkshire. Perversity is afoot: the killer stitches swan wings onto the backs of his victims. Director Julian Jarrold ("Becoming Jane") creates a chilly period piece about a murky conspiracy linking cops, reporters, priests and a developer displacing gypsies to build England's biggest shopping mall. From the director of "Becoming Jane," Julian Jarrold. 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Stamets.
Red Riding 1980" (UK, 93 minutes) This second entry in a trilogy can stand alone as solid genre fare about a clean Manchester cop (Paddy Considine) with issues checking out dirty Yorkshire cops without scruples. James Marsh ("Wisconsin Death Trip," "Man on Wire") directs this double investigation drama, as a serial killer targets young women and the police fail to catch him. Perhaps on purpose. Like the preceding and following films, there's a dense layering of links between characters. It all adds up to a sober dissection of corruption in the police force and the dodgy interests it serves and protects. Torture is standard procedure in this grim thriller. From the Oscar-winning Director of "Man on Wire," James Marsh. 3:45 p.m. Sunday. Stamets.
"Red Riding 1983" (UK, 103 minutes) The third film in the "Red Riding" trilogy does not resolve all the mysteries posed in the first two films, but the screenplay revisits enough of the case history. One misstep by director Anand Tucker ("Shopgirl," "Hilary And Jackie") is overdoing the long doleful close-ups as detective Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) recalls the error of his ways in a sordid scheme. A flashback to his wedding includes his superiors making a toast: "To the North, where we do what we want." This motto is heard again, as we dive into the foul muck of crimes against boys and girls. A hustler deft at word play narrates this arty procedural about righteous revenge. Anand Tucker directs the final installment in this engrossing trilogy. Oct 18, 5:45pm. Stamets.
"The Revenant" (USA, 105 minutes). An Iraq War vet (David Anders from "Heroes" and "Alias") climbs out of his coffin and discovers he needs human blood to stay on his feet. Asking for a bite in the neck, his pal embraces a nocturnal lifestyle upgrade as a vigilante. Writer/ director D. Kerry Prior ("Roadkill") offers an original zombie buddy lark with a kicker of political satire. This scattershot black comedy hits on Frantz Fanon, Daniel Pearl, and Scientology. Our hero is redeployed overseas as a military vector and tactical vampire. Director Kerry Prior scheduled to attend all three screenings: Oct 10, 11pm; Oct 16, 10:45pm; Oct 17, 11:15pm. Stamets.
"Revenge." Brazil, 105 minutes) A little boy walking by the river in the rural south of Brazil stumbles on a woman-raped, battered, left for dead. Six months later in Rio de Janeiro, a fiery take-charge beauty named Carol finds herself falling for Miguel, a steely-eyed "gaucho" from the country. As their affair intensifies, the secret circumstances of their meeting are slowly revealed, propelling this sexy, sophisticated thriller to a shocking finish. Oct 09, 8:15pm; Oct 12, 8:30pm; Oct 15, 3 pm; Oct 15, 3:00, $5) CIFF
"Ricky" (France / Italy) Writer-director: Francois Ozon begins this working-class family fable with a stressed out mom's (Alexandra Lamy) downbeat appointment with a social worker. The plot rewinds to happier times eight months earlier, and then shows what comes after her plea for assistance with her newborn Ricky. Regrettably, the festival's blurb gives away a key detail that emerges around the 40-minute mark. The two hits of horror-film music you hear before then are a ruse. So are Ricky's bruises suggesting abuse. Ozon births a real treat about premature "empty nesters." To block out overheard spoilers from other film-goers, wear your iPod earpieces until the film begins. 4 p.m. Oct. 14, 45 p.m. October 20. Stamets
"Shortchanged" (India, 97 minutes) Maybe something was lost in translation, but I can't see why Raja Menon calls his rather downbeat drama of underemployment in Mumbai "a comedy of real life." Somehow the government declared 48-year-old Shukla (Naseeruddin Shah) officially dead. Most of the film is about members of the upper-class humiliating Shukla and his two roommates. The trio starts kidnapping a few of those folks for cash. "I think there's a strong connection between being rich and stupid," opines one of Shukla's pals. Class consciousness does not ensue. Oct. 13, 9:15 p.m. . Oct 16, 7pm; Oct 17, 2pm; Oct 20, 9:15pm - Director Raja Menon scheduled to attend all three. Stamets.
"Shorts 1: Illinoi[s]emakers" (USA) 12:15 p.m. Benjamin Kegan's topical "Team Taliban" profiles a local Muslim pro wrestler who dons a terrorist persona. Brad Bischoff's "Wet" (still photo at right) is a nicely weird sketch of a denizen of Lake Michigan who visits Chicago, all the while immersed in his own personal deluge. Alex Hans Hansen's "Public Speaking," a comic tale of an insecure oratory student, is an especially amateur effort compared to the more accomplished dramas in this otherwise recommended program of seven well-made shorts. 6:15 p.m. Oct 13. Stamets.
"Shorts 2: Animation Nations" (Canada, France, Ireland, Sweden, UK, USA) This international line-up of shorts includes "Logorama" (left), which could be either an apocalypse or a bonanza for corporate copyright lawyers. The French graphic studio H5 animates an action story zipping through a postmodern terrain of logos, brands, and mascots that goes extra-terrestial. In "Photograph of Jesus" Laurie Hill directs, shoots and edits a skewed tour of the Hulton Archive in London. Narrator and archivist Matthew Butson recalls idiotic requests for photos of Jesus Christ, dodo birds, and Hitler at the 1948 Olympics. 8:45 p.m.: Oct 14, 1:45 p.m.; Oct 18; 5:45 p.m. Oct. 19. Stamets
"Shorts 4: Escape and Rebellion" (Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, Hungary, Spain, Sweden) Several of these shorts are about lost children. By far the best is the 17-minute "The History of Aviation" by Balint Kenyeres. A little girl wanders away from a fancy seaside picnic and spots a flying machine. Superb cinematography by Matyas Erdely frames an odd flight off a Normandie cliff. Perhaps the most off-putting short is "The Illusion," Susana Barriga's documentary about traveling from Havana to London. She secretly records their first meeting. Likely their last. 3:30 p.m. Friday Stamets.
"Spy(ies)" (France, UK, 99 minutes). With explosive tension and stark cinematography, Spy(ies) is an intense throwback to classic '70s thrillers. French heartthrob Guillaume Canet stars as a bright but underachieving airport worker who gets his hands on the wrong bag-and finds himself thrust into a dangerous world of international agents and life-threatening secrets. This sexy spy flick also echoes the real-life anxieties of French society and plays on the unjust social prejudices wrought from a world of fear. Oct 10, 12:15pm; Oct 17, 6pm; Oct 18, 2pm; Director Nicholas Saada scheduled to attend. CIFF
"Storm" (Germany / Denmark, 107 minutes) At the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague, prosecutor Hannah Maynard takes on the trial of a general accused of atrocities committed in Bosnia. But when her principal witness crumbles on the stand, the rushed search for new evidence uncovers a story that political forces on all sides want swept under the rug. Justice is not a foregone conclusion in this globe-hopping courtroom drama. Directed by Hans-Christian Schmid. Oct 13, 6pm; Oct 14, 8:15pm (director Hans-Christian Schmid scheduled to attend); Oct 16, 3:45pm, $5. CIFF
"Straight to the Heart" (Canada, 109 minutes). Montreal car thief Benoit (Pierre Rivard) works with Jimi (Keven Noel), a fatherless 14-year-old drop out who looks after his mentally ill mother. There's a hot market for white Jeeps in Lebanon. Stephane Gehami directs this insightful portrait of two men figuring out how to live and work on the margins, both economic and emotional. Most revealing is Jimi's jealousy of Benoit's two lovers. The ending nicely defies crime genre expectations. (8:30 p.m. Oct. 11, 5:45 p.m. Oct.13; 3:45 p.m. Oct. 16) Oct 12, 8:30pm; Oct 13, 5:45pm; director Stéphane Géhami and screenwriter Heloise Masse Scheduled to attend; Oct 16, 3:45pm, $5. Stamets
"Sweet Rush" (Poland, Oct 9, 4:30pm, $5; Oct 11, 8:15pm; Oct 12, 6:15pm ). Honorary Academy Award winner (lifetime achievement) Andrzej Wajda ("Katyn") memorializes another cinema colleague in another film weighing the aftermath of World War II. In "Everything for Sale" (1968), Wajda portrayed a Wajda-like director making a film. His key actor is missing. This was an homage to Zbigniew Cybulski, an actor Wajda cast in earlier films who had recently died. Wajda appears in person in "Sweet Rush" that honors his late cinematographer Edward Klosinski, whose widow Krystyna Janda ("Man of Marble") appears here in a double role. She plays a Polish actress playing a woman with terminal cancer who mourns her two sons killed in the Warsaw Uprising. This elegaic study is graced with a moving score by Pawel Mykietyn. Stamets
"Tales from the Golden Age" (Romania, 155 minutes). Romanian urban myths from the latter years of the Ceausescu regime come alive in this omnibus highlighting the absurdities of everyday life under the dictator. From doctoring a photograph to gassing a pig in the kitchen to stealing bottles of air, these legends reveal the humor used to survive in this surreal era. Written by Cristian Mungiu, the acclaimed Directed by Hanno Höfer of the Cannes Palme d'Or winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." Oct 17, 3pm; Oct 19, 8:30pm. CIFF
"Tomorrow at Dawn" (France, 96 minutes) When a man loses himself in the escapist world of historical battle reenactment, his older brother, Mathieu, tries to rescue him. But to help, Mathieu must also immerse himself in a world where the line between role-play and reality is blurred. Denis Dercourt--who proved he can generate unnerving tension in even a piano recital in his debut The Page Turner--returns to the Festival with this compelling psychological thriller.Oct 11, 5:45pm ; Oct 12, 8:30pm; Oct 17, 1:45pm. CIFF
"Videocracy" (Italy / Sweden, 80 minutes). "I believe there is no one in history to whom I should feel inferior," declared Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last week. This vainglorious media mogul stars in Erik Gandini's understated expose of Italy's celebrity politics. Long clips, ironic cuts and an ethereal score reveal a toxic, corrupt fixation on TV shows and sexy "weather girls." A welder living with his mom seeks stardom as a hybrid of Ricky Martin and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Gandini, who dealt with Che and consumerism in his earlier documentaries, indicts Italy's masses as well as their manipulators. Stamets.
"Vincere" (Italy/France, 5:45 p.m.Oct 7, 6 p.m.Oct 10) Director Marco Bellocchio draws on Alfredo Pieroni's 2006 book The Secret Son of Il Duce for a ravishing portrait of Mussolini's lover. The future dictator (Filippo Timi) bewitches Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) when she beholds the charismatic rabble-rouser deliver a bravura proof that God does not exist. Bellocchio traces Mussolini's path to power and Dalser's descent into madness. Like the recent "Il Divo," a biopic about former Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti, "Vincere" brims with cinematic excess. Key scenes are staged in cinemas: an epic with Christ's crucifixion, along with World War I newsreels and Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid." A fest highlight, "Vincere" recalls Joy Davidman's lefty critique of "Citizen Kane" for implying "the important thing about a public figure is not how he treats his country but how he treats his women." Stamets
"Who's Afraid of the Wolf?" (Czech Republic, 90 minutes) Writer/ director Maria Prochazkova attempts a child's view of her family in mild crisis. Her mother put aside her career as a classical singer to raise her daughter with a man who is not the child's true father. Terezka (Dorota Dedkova) figures the new man in her mom's life is an alien. This musician is her former accompanist, on stage and off. Prochazkova adds slight fantasy scenes to tap into Terezka's imagination, but the output is more pro-mommy pap like the fest's opening night "Motherhood." 4:15 p.m. Oct. 13. Stamets.
"Will Not Stop There" (Croatia / Serbia, 110 minutes) When private eye and Croatian war veteran Martin brings a Serbian porn star back to his Zagreb apartment, his plans for the night are clear only to himself. But twists and turns--and a little bit of humor--will gradually reveal Martin's motivations for this bizarre adventure. A dark satire with an unconventional romance, "Will Not Stop There" explores the devastation and heartbreak left in the wake of war. Directed by Vinko Bresan. Oct 17, 11:15am; Oct 19, 6pm; Oct 20, 9:15pm. CIFF
"A Woman's Way" (Greece, 113 minutes) Released from prison, Yiorgos (Yannis Kokiasmenos) looks for his long-lost son. Down the hall in his dumpy Athens hotel he meets Strella (Mina Orfanou), a pre-op transsexual prostitute. Their love grows. An untraditional family is born, accompanied by Maria Callas drag numbers and dreamy visits by a View-Master squirrel. The International Istanbul Film Festival billed this transgressive drama "a post-modern Greek tragedy." I cannot recommend it, but do credit director Panos H. Koutras for surpassing his earlier "The Attack of the Giant Mousaka." Oct 17, 8pm; Oct 18, 2:15pm; director Panos H. Koutras scheduled to attend both. Stamets.
"Women in Trouble" (USA, 94 minutes) A pregnant porn star, a couple of call girls, a scorned psychiatrist, a teenage goth, a flight attendant with a crush on a famous passenger... the troubles of this cluster of LA women couldn't be more different, but on one crazy day feminine compassion will alter all of their lives. Devilish humor, razor-sharp scripting, and a knockout ensemble of talented actresses (including Carla Gugino, Connie Britton, and Marley Shelton) turn Trouble into pure pleasure. Director: Sebastian Gutierrez. Oct 10, 1:45pm; Oct 16, 8 pm; Oct 17, 7 pm Director Sebastian Gutierrez scheduled to attend. CIFF
"The Yellow Handkerchief" (USA, 102 minutes) Gorgeous in its visual execution and sublime in its emotional resonance, The Yellow Handkerchief is a timeless story of trust, forgiveness, and love. After serving six years, Brett Hanson (William Hurt) is released from prison with quiet dignity and subtle remorse. Bound for home, but unsure if his wife (Maria Bello) will welcome him, Brett accepts a ride from two wayward teens (Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne). At first, he keeps to himself, but in time he becomes a trusted father figure and begins to slowly reveal the secrets of his troubled past. As Brett watches young love blossom between his two new friends, he is reminded that true love is worth waiting for, and sometimes fate gives you a second chance. Directed by Udayan Prasad. Gala, Oct 18, 7pm, $25/$20. CIFF
"The Young Victoria" (UK / USA, 100 minutes) In The Young Victoria, Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada") delivers an incredibly appealing performance as Queen Victoria in the turbulent first years of her reign. Rupert Friend ("Pride and Prejudice") portrays Prince Albert, the suitor who wins her heart and becomes her partner in one of history's greatest romances. This love story, set amongst all the intrigue of the court, also features Paul Bettany ("Iron Man," "The Da Vinci Code"), Miranda Richardson ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"), Jim Broadbent ("The Damned United"), Thomas Kretschmann ("Valkyrie"), and Mark Strong ("Sherlock Holmes," "Tristan & Isolde"). Closing Night Gala; Oct 22, 7pm, $100. CIFF
[ Bill Stamets teaches cinema at the School of the Art Institute of Chicgago and Columbia College Chicago, and has long written on the arts for the Sun-Times. ]
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