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CIFF 2014 – IN REVIEW, part 2

October 26, 2014

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The Chicago International Film Festival – CIFF – is over. It ended on Thursday, October 23rd, with the Closing Night screening of the new Jean Marc-Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) where Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who treks over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Likewise, all the festival staff, volunteers, attendees and special guests are now spread out a thousand different ways as well. As usual, I didn’t see as many film as I’d hoped, but at 17 films, I probably saw the most of any year I’ve ever attended – AND only one of them was a USA film. That’s something that’s never happened before. Just like any year, I wound up steering clear of any film that I knew would certainly get picked up. So, “St. Vincent”, The Imitation Game” and “Birdman” had to wait (although a review of “Birdman” is forthcoming), while select films with uncertain theatrical release dates received my time and attention.

You can find a rundown of the first 10 films I saw in Part 1, but this is my last post of the fest, with films listed below in  alphabetical order. Hopefully, we’ll see them get released in the next year or so. Enjoy….

 

 

 

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BLACK COAL, THIN ICE

(China/Hong Kong) – directed by: Diao Yinan

Relying heavily on mood and atmosphere, this dense crime mystery is a contemporary take on some familiar noir conventions: the ex-cop haunted by the past who is continuously drawn to a femme fatale. Writer/director Diao Yinan delivers a dense (often confusing) story revolving around a series of gruesome murders that is beautifully shot and affectively immersive. Unfortunately, the anti-hero (Liao Fan) we follow is too often just plain odd and the mysterious woman (Gwei Lun), he finds working in a laundry shop, is too catatonic to care about. It’s too bad the characterizations and portrayals of these two wound up distancing me, because I found many sequences and environments in the film quite captivating. “Black Coal, Thin Ice”, won top prize earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival and it might benefit from another viewing, but I don’t know if I could endure this slow-burn again. It sure was nice to look at though. Mandarin with subtitles. 106 min.

RATING: **1/2

 

 

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GOAL OF THE DEAD

(France) – directed by: Thierry Poriaud and Bernjamin Rocher

This was a surprise. Granted, the draw of this horror thriller/comedy was the title and its general conceit – which could be economically summarized as a zombies and soccer mashup (it was only a matter of time?) – I really had no expectations whatsoever for this film, except that it would serve as a relief from the rather heavier or demanding festival options. What I found was a midnight movie that started off kind of slow, but developed into an infectious tale that offers a surprising balance of laughs and nasty action, as well as some fun characters to follow. When a soccer star and his Paris teammates returns to his native Caplongue to play his final game, he’s met with contempt from his villagers and hometown friends. While the players and townfolk prepare for a night of competitive revelry, Caplongue star player Jeannot injects himself with a mysterious substance that turns him into a projectile vomiting berzerker. So, not quite ‘true zombies’ (slow and undead), but moreso the speed freaks found in “28 Days Later” and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this crazy and playful movie as it offers a different take on an overused genre. Although I grow tired of slo-mo action shots, this film delivered some creative executions. French with subtitles. 120 min.

RATING: ***

 

 

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IT FOLLOWS

(USA) – directed by: David Robert Mitchell

One of the few films from The States made it in my festival agenda. I had heard good things about writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s (2010’s “The Myth of the American Sleepover”) horror flick, “It Follows” when it generated positive buzz recently at Fantastic Fest, so I was eager to catch up with it. The story follows 19 year-old Jay (Maika Monroe, “The Guest”), an attractive young woman who, after a sexual encounter with a local young man, she finds herself being followed by a stranger out to kill her. The stranger will not stop until she’s dead. It will take on the form of a man or woman, usually naked and someone Jay may or may not know. It does not run or drive; it will simply walk toward Jay and take her out. Without going into how Jay learns all this or explaining more about this stranger, just know that has made a chilling thriller set in seemingly harmless suburbia, much akin to the atmosphere established in John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. At times, “It Follows” seems to drag a bit, but that’s a slight complaint. This beautifully shot film is more artful than your typical midnight movie fare.
107 min.

RATING: ***

 

 

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JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING

(Canada) – directed by: Denis Côté

This unusual-yet-observant documentary takes a look a meditative look at life at work, particularly those with a certain trade or manual workers. Director Denis Côté is our tour guide, using the camera as a hidden observer that overhears conversations among employees, but mostly captures the silent mundane and repetitive tasks and responsibilities of people who seem very familiar. We visit a handful of workplace locations, from a metal shop to a coffee roasting company. There we find those who are dissatisfied with their job and some who pray before working with their machinery. It definitely took me a while to align myself with Côté’s style, but after a while my appreciation grew for his fascination with the idea of labor and those who toil away their days. Is it meaningful or meaningless? The static shots and monotony captured throughout the majority of the film, feels like a character all its own. French with subtitles. 70 min.

RATING: ***

 

 

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NEXT TO HER

(Israel) – directed by: Asaf Korman

Director Asaf Korman debuts with an impressive feature film, focusing on the real life experiences of his wife (and lead actor), Lion Ben-Shlush, who also wrote the screenplay. Ben-Shlush plays Chelli, a 27 year-old woman working as a security guard at a local school and the sole caretaker of her mentally-disabled 24 year-old sister, Gabby (a phenomenal Dana Ivgy). The challenges for the resilient Chelli are present every day, but her love for her sister is also ever-present. When a romantic relationship begins to develop between Chelli and a kind teacher, Zohar, she is reminded of the limitations of a life taking care of her dependent sibling. This is a fascinating, complex and unpredictable film with a startling ending I didn’t see coming. “Next to Her” still resonates and impresses, long after viewing and I look forward to seeing it again.
Hebrew with subtitles. 90 min.

RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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SUPEREGOS

(Austria) – directed by: Benjamin Heisenberg

Nick (Georg Friedrich) is a small-time criminal on the run, looking for a place to hide out for a while. He winds up stumbling upon the remote home of Curt Ledig (Andre Wilms), a noted elderly psychologist, whose family is looking for someone to take care of him. Nick poses as that someone and, although Curt doesn’t feel the need for a caretaker, he decides Nick might be an interesting person to analyze, which inadvertently conjures his own Nazi past. It makes for some comical and charming moments. Add to the mix a couple of low-life thugs pursuing Nick and you have the makings of a potentially intriguing story revolving around this odd couple. “Superegos” is being touted as a slapstick buddy comedy, but it could’ve committed to a more absurd tone to sell the slapstick, if that’s what was intended. I sensed a degree of unexpected self-evaluation in the film that could’ve been expanded upon. While it definitely has some laughs, the film’s tonal shift toward the last half kind of left me indifferent. German with subtitles. 93 min.

RATING: **

 

 

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SUPERNOVA

(Netherlands/Germany/Belgium) – directed: Tamar Van Den Drop

“Supernova” is told from the perspective of the main character, fifteen year-old Meis (Gaite Jansen), which probably doesn’t seem all that unusual or surprising, since most films are told from the point-of-view of the protagonist. But we don’t learn that much about Meis and her life situation from what she says to others, but instead from the internal voice we hear throughout the film. She makes nebulous observations about life, science, love and death, that come across like bumper sticker quotes, instead of the intended existential and poetic life observations. I quickly grew tired of that aspect. It all felt too pretentious. The young woman grows restless and bored, living in a rural home with her deadbeat dad, worndown mother (played by writer/director Tamar Van Den Drop) and ill grandmother; she longs for anything different to happen. That comes in the form of a crash in front of her home. The film is quite artful in its approach with stunning cinematography, but it’s so intent on being an “art house film”, it just kind of lost me. Dutch with subtitles. 102 min.

RATING: **

 

 

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