Film & TV

Week Two of the Chicago International Film Festival Draws Big Crowds

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"The Cordillera of Dreams" kicked off the second week of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Opening with “Motherless Brooklyn” and closing on “The Torch,” the 55th annual Chicago International Film Festival featured diverse international filmmaking across every genre from start to close. Running from Oct. 16 to 27, the festival highlighted some of the industry’s most famous filmmakers as well as burgeoning new ones.

The festival’s second week included new films from industry stalwarts Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick, as well as director Rian Johnson’s latest genre mashup “Knives Out.” The additional presence of several fascinating documentaries on top of the fictional selection broadened the range of the festival’s closing week offerings.

Sunday (10/20):

Filmmaker Patricio Guzmán’s documentary “The Cordillera of Dreams” treated Sunday night festival attendees with a heartfelt non-fiction look at the societal role of Chile’s cordillera, the country-length stretch of the Andes mountains that spans the country’s Eastern border.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the festival’s Best Documentary award. Guzmán’s documentary joins the filmmaker’s previous works “Nostalgia for the Light” and “The Pearl Button” to complete his trilogy exploring Chile’s geography and cultural identity.

Guzmán guides the film by reconciling his childhood memories of Chile with its current landscape. Highlighting the effects of Chile’s devastating civil war, the filmmaker interviews numerous artists, writers and filmmakers, including Chilean documentarist Pablo Salas.

Salas’s work documents Augusto Pinochet’s political reign, focusing on Chilean citizen protests and government control. “The Cordillera of Dreams” examines the rim of mountains bordering Chile, but Guzmán’s focus on Salas’ work belies the film’s true goal: to capture Guzmán’s home country as truthfully as possible.

Sunday night’s screening was the U.S. premiere of “The Cordillera of Dreams,” which currently has no U.S. release scheduled.

Monday (10/21):

Director Belén Fune’s resonant family “A Thief’s Daughter” brought audiences yet another excellent Spanish-language screening.

Starring Greta Fernández as 22-year-old single mother Sara, Fune’s film explores the burdens that come with familial bonds while ultimately being a testament to the strength of said bonds. Sara and her infant son live in public housing while Sara works part time. She hopes to move out of public housing and save her young brother from his foster home.

Fernández commands the screen, displaying the grace and determination Sara embodies as a breadwinner and caregiver. Fune’s film puts Sara to the test, and Fernández delivers.

When Sara’s criminal father re-enters her life, Fernández’s conflicted gaze and tormented nature perfectly embody the character’s emotion.

Though Fune’s film forces Sara to weigh her current life against a tantalizing image of a better life, “A Thief’s Daughter” understands how messy the complicated bond between parent and child can be.

“A Thief’s Daughter” had its U.S. premiere at the festival Oct. 21, and has no U.S. release scheduled.

Tuesday (10/22):

Writer and director Arthur Franck’s enthralling documentary “The Hypnotist” illuminates Olavi Hakasalo, the prolific Finnish hypnotist who was convicted of unauthorized medical practice in 1981.

Franck’s film takes an approach similar to Benjamin Christensen’s classic partially fictionalized documentary “Haxan” as it highlights the legend of Hakasalo, who went by the stage name Olliver Hawk. Recreating Hakasalo’s life with elaborate narrative vignettes, the film follows Hakasalo’s journey into hypnotism from his childhood all the way to his attempts to influence Finnish politics.

The vague, largely anecdote-based history of Hawk’s hypnotism career give the film an ambiguous core, leaving room for audiences to ponder how much of Hawk’s product was genuine, and how much was just good salesmanship.

“The Hypnotist” had its U.S. premiere at the festival Oct. 22 and currently has no U.S. theatrical release scheduled.

Wednesday (10/23):

Writer and director Marcelo Gomes’ documentary “Waiting for the Carnival” introduced audience members to his odd Brazilian hometown on Wednesday. Toritama, Brazil has roughly 40,000 residents, nearly all of whom work year-round in the same industry: jean production.

Gomes’ film approaches its setting with the filmmaker’s own sentimental attitude, leaving the political undertones to the audience. Toritama residents work year-round, ceasing only once every year for an eight-day carnival most residents struggle to afford, but Gomes is content to let viewers interpret this without his commentary.

Instead, the director illuminates his hometown with tales from his childhood and through meeting local residents. “Waiting for the Carnival” highlights a rural town full of year-round laborers who routinely struggle to afford their only annual luxury, but Gomes presents these facts objectively, preferring to thoroughly illuminate a unique culture and let viewers interpret the economic systems at work for themselves.

“Waiting for the Carnival” had its U.S. premiere at the festival Oct. 23, and has no U.S. release scheduled.

Festival attendees who weren’t at “Knives Out” had the opportunity to screen “A Hidden Life,” the newest film from “Tree of Life” director Terrence Malick.

Malick’s latest film is based on the true story of real-life conscientious objector and Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (portrayed by August Diehl), who was imprisoned for his refusal to fight for Nazi Germany during World War II.

Running 173 minutes, the film centers on the bond between Jägerstätter and his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner), as he grapples with maintaining his religious ideology and preserving his way of life.

“A Hidden Life,” rated PG-13, is scheduled to release in U.S. theaters Dec. 13.

Fresh off “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” filmmaker Rian Johnson and star Michael Shannon attended the festival Oct. 23 for a screening of their newest film “Knives Out.”

The film follows southern detective Benoit Blanc’s (Daniel Craig) investigation of the Thrombey family following the mysterious death of family patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) the night after his birthday party.

Starring an ensemble including Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield and Jamie Lee Curtis, Johnson’s mystery thriller brings a surprising amount of humor to its dark premise.

Readers can find a review of “Knives Out” — which is scheduled to release in theaters Nov. 27 — featuring a conversation with Rian Johnson on The Phoenix’s website.

Thursday (10/24):

Screened as one of the festival’s Gala presentations, director Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” brought audience members a sweeping mob epic starring renowned Scorsese alums Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

A renowned film historian with an illustrious 40-year career directing, Scorsese’s (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Goodfellas”) hotly anticipated new film marks his ninth collaboration with DeNiro (“Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull”), and allows the pair to add one more collective effort to their inextricably-linked careers.

Based on former homicide prosecutor Charles Brandt’s narrative nonfiction book, the film follows WWII veteran-turned-mob-hitman Frank Sheeran (DeNiro) as he reflects on his criminal career and the path that led to it.

Though Scorsese’s filmography includes offerings from nearly every genre, it’s refreshing to see a return to mob movies for Scorsese, whose dramatic irony and exploration of Catholic guilt fold naturally into the complicated psyche of organized criminals.

“The Irishman” opens theatrically in the U.S. Nov. 1, and releases on Netflix Nov. 27.

A political thriller based on true events, writer Scott Z. Burns’ (“Contagion,” “The Informant!”) directorial debut “The Report” festival screening started just 15 minutes after “The Irishman” on Thursday night.

The film has appeared at a string of film festivals across the globe since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with Adam Driver’s (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Patterson”) performance as real life Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones drawing critical acclaim.

Set in a paranoid, post-9/11 U.S., Burns’ first film as a director follows Jones as he compiles “The Torture Report,” a real document that revealed the CIA’s excessive, yet ineffective use of torture.

“The Report,” rated R, is scheduled for a limited U.S. release Nov. 15 and an Amazon Prime release Nov. 29.

Friday (10/25):

Writer and director Noah Baumbach’s latest tragic comedy “Marriage Story” took audiences through a messy divorce Friday night, intimately documenting the end of a relationship in the filmmaker’s traditional style.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as Nicole and Charlie Barber, a young couple in the throes of a divorce. Baumbach’s film follows their relationship as it falls apart, showing the couple’s efforts to heal, spare their son’s emotional state and find some sense of normalcy in the new chaos of their lives apart.

The film continues Baumbach’s trend of telling intimate stories focused on the mundane interactions of daily life. By crafting relatable characters and placing them in familiar situations, Baumbach finds profound connection in the daily toils of human life. “Marriage Story” allows Baumbach to explore these intimate moments through the lens of a failed pairing.

“Marriage Story” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August, and will be available to stream on Netflix Dec. 6 after a limited U.S. theatrical release on Nov. 6.

Saturday (10/26):

Rodd Rathjen’s dramatized depiction of real-life modern slavery “Buoyancy” stunned festival attendees Saturday.

The harrowing docu-thriller follows Cambodian 14-year old Chakra’s (Sarm Heng) capture and enslavement on a Thai fishing vessel, taking a cinematic approach to an all-too-real humanitarian crisis.

Chakra’s journey mimics that of some 17,000 fishers in Southeast Asia, according to figures compiled by The Interpreter’s JJ Rose. This cultural backdrop adds an intentional layer of discomfort to the entire film. Rathjen’s film entertains viewers while showing them the visceral plight endured by victims of this real world ethical issue.

Not only a social commentary, “Buoyancy” is a harrowing revenge thriller. Chakra’s captors are harsh and realistic, and his struggles and plans for retaliation make this a nerve-wracking suspense film.

Saturday’s screening was the U.S. premiere for “Buoyancy,” which has no U.S. release scheduled.

Sunday (10/27):

The festival closed Sunday with the world premiere of documentary “The Torch,” a profile of Chicago blues guitarist and pioneer Buddy Guy.

Director Jim Farrell’s directorial debut follows Guy’s musical journey, giving special attention to the mentorship he received from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf upon moving to Chicago in 1957.

The film also highlights Guy’s efforts to keep the art form going, touching on his mentorship of young guitarist Quinn Sullivan. Interspersed with footage of Guy’s performances, “The Torch” draws parallels between the mentoring Guy received early in life and the guidance he offers young guitarists such as Quinn.

The film currently has no U.S. release scheduled beyond Sunday night’s premiere, which marked the closing night of the festival.

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