Film & TV

AMC River East Hosts 54th Chicago International Film Festival

AMC River East (322 E. Illinois St.) was flooded with audiences Oct. 10 through Oct. 21 as it hosted the 54th annual Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF).

With over 50 countries represented, CIFF provides countless stories from all around the world to be viewed by audiences from all corners of the planet.

While feature films such as “Beautiful Boy,” “The Frontrunner” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” had no problem packing theaters, it was the independent films like “Buy Me a Gun,” “Hard Paint” and “In the Aisles” that comprised a majority of the festival’s lineup.

This year’s festival provided a wide range of female-fronted, as well as LGBTQ, films with an overall emphasis on minority groups. Movies such as “Rafiki” (Kenya), “Joy” (Austria), “Working Woman” (Isreal), “The Third Wife” (Vietnam) and “Retablo” (Peru), brought a different perspective of womanhood, sexuality and society as a whole.

Several directors were present for their respective screenings, including Jason Reitman (“The Frontrunner”), Felix Van Groeningen (“Beautiful Boy”), Joel Edgerton (“Boy Erased”) and William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”). Friedkin was honored with a tribute screening of “Friedkin Uncut,” a documentary film chronicling Friedkin’s achievements in the industry.

Sold out shows were common around 8 p.m. when audiences entered the theater in droves to see feature films including Yorgos Lanthimos’s (“The Lobster,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) latest release, “The Favourite.” Starring Olivia Colman (“Hot Fuzz,” “Locke”), Rachel Weisz (“The Mummy,” “The Fountain”) and Emma Stone (“La La Land,” “Birdman”), “The Favourite” is a whimsical period-piece with a powerhouse cast.

Queen Anne (Colman) sits comfortably on the throne of England amidst a bloody war with France, all the while indulging in celebratory cakes and duck races. She’s assisted by Sarah Churchill (Weisz) an eccentric and manipulative stewardess, keen on watching the war continue.   

Abigail (Stone), Sarah’s cousin, is bound to shake things up around the palace when she arrives seeking work. As Sarah takes her estranged cousin under her wing, the two grow envious of one another’s attachment to the queen leading to a duel of wit.

Stone’s take on smug Abigail is impeccable, delivering each insult or eye roll with every intention of adding to the comedy and obscenity of the film. Her performance paired well with Weisz who showed no shortage of spite and prowess. 

Perhaps one of the best performances of the year, Colman doesn’t miss a beat as Queen Anne. The royal tantrums and raucous outbursts are laughable yet entirely believable, contributing to her possible nomination as Best Actress in a Leading Role for the 2019 Oscars, according to the Indiewire.

Sensational performances from the three lead actresses allowed no shortage of laughter from the audience, as they received a standing ovation proceeding its Oct. 18 screening.

Lanthimos proves to be one of the most ambitious directors in Hollywood with an abundance of unconventional shots utilizing fish-eye lenses and awkward angeling to propel the on-screen shenanigans forward.

Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, “The Favourite” screened in Chicago a month before its U.S. release Nov. 23. The film garnered plenty praise from critics and audiences alike.

Now a top contender for the Oscars Best Picture category, according to the Hollywood Reporter, as well as Best Actress in a leading role for Colman and possible Best Supporting Actress for both Weisz and Stone, “The Favourite” has charmed the academy.

Further representing women in film, “Las Niñas Bien,” from Mexican director Alejandra Márquez Abella (“Semana Santa”) recounts the struggles one family faced during the 1982 economic crisis in Mexico.

A drama with a purpose, “Las Niñas Bien” is able to execute a fall from grace in an entertaining and less than predictable way. 

Sofia (Isle Salas) and her husband Fernando (Flavio Medina) live a privileged life wrought with designer clothing and fancy dinners, until Fernando’s family company, now run by his uncle, faces severe financial turmoil related to the rising influence of the American dollar. 

Faced with threats of repossession, Sofia must find a way to avoid humiliation in a community obsessed with status and appearances.

As her and her family become more desperate, Salas’s acting seems to become stronger, portraying steadfast composure in a way that rarely betrays her inner anguish. 

“Las Niñas Bien” is unique and enticing, weaving character into scenery, giving each setting a feel of its own, becoming further and further removed from the life Sofia used to know.

Europe held heavy representation within the festival as select films screened for an international audience. 

Among them were “Transit” (France), “Mug” (Poland) and the German feature, “In The Aisles,” which tells the story of a bashful supermarket employee in search of love within the walls of his workplace.

Directed by Thomas Stuber (“A Heavy Heart”) and starring Franz Rogowski (“Transit,” ‘Victoria”), “In The Aisles” is a slow burning drama focused on the hefty toll of isolation.

As Christian (Rogowski) trains for his job, he can’t help but catch sight of his coworker and soon-to-be love interest, Marion, played by Sandra Hüller (“Requiem,” “Toni Erdmann”). 

Advised to keep his distance by his pal and fellow employee, Bruno (Peter Kurth), Christian can’t help grow even closer to Marion, perhaps too close for his own good.

Rogowski does well in his role as the awkward supermarket employee and approached each line with a certain meekness and insecurity. 

Juxtaposed with Hüller’s lively, yet mysterious demeanor, the two make for an interesting match made possible only through the mundane task of stacking beverages.

Coming to a close Oct. 21, CIFF announced the winning films for each category, with three of four top prizes going exclusively to women.

CIFF will return to Chicago next year, but will host plenty of Cinema/Chicago programs in the meantime. For more information visit www.chicagofilmfestival.com/year-round-programs. 

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