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CIFF 2019 preview

October 19, 2019



The 55th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) kicked off this week and like the last several years, I will definitely not get to see all the films I’d like to. This is where goals are interrupted by reality. Traditionally, my goal is to view as many of the programmed films that I can manage to fit into my own life schedule. Of course, the reality is I am never able to fulfill such goals since there are entirely too many films that I’d like to see, making the task nearly impossible. Nevertheless, I persist each year and inevitably wind up rewarded with enriching viewing experiences. Below is my take on five films that I’ve seen so far and you can expect more coverage in the near future as I see more films.

My approach to CIFF viewing has typically been to cover foreign films and documentaries, since many of the “Spotlight” or “Gala” presentations have already been picked up by major studios and will soon be released theatrically. That’s what you’ll find below.

The first are two films are from the CINEMAS OF THE AMERICAS program, which
highlight vibrant work of voices from South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Indeed these two films are definitely vibrant and unique, showcasing great performances and intuitive writing and distinctive tones that make me crave for more films from Argentina. The other three are documentaries that take a look at the impact of a distinctive region of land or the impact of a passionate and influential artists.





directed by: Leticia Jorge Romero,(Uruguay/Argentina), 88 min.

Uruguayan filmmaker Leticia Jorge Romero co-wrote a wonderfully astute screenplay with Ana Guevara Pose, and the result is a touching and relatable look at family, specifically the passive-aggressive friction between adult siblings. The title represents those siblings: AL for Alba and Alfredo, E for Ernesto and LI for Lilián, all of whom are relatable characters we’re introduced to as this story unfolds. ALELÍ is also a name that still hangs in front of the family’s beach house, which is up for sale after their father and family patriarch has recently died. While this sale has kept them and elderly mother peoccupied from mourning, their grief surfaces in both subtle and obvious ways, as their dysfunctional communication comes to an inevitable head. The screenplay is populated with rich characters who are portrayed by a cast who deftly navigate a balance of potent drama and deadpan comedy. The film is a spot-on look at a family at an uncertain time, involving nostalgia, longing and grief in sensitive and humorous ways. (Spanish with subtitles)


Saturday, October 19th at 12:00 pm (director Leticia Jorge Romero and actress Romina Peluffo in attendance)





directed by: Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia, (Argentina/Lebanon/United States) 98 min.

Sometimes there’s one singular element that will draw me to a festival film. Without knowing anything about the Argentina-set “Initials S.G.”, the sole selling point was when I realized Julianne Nicholson was in it. Having recently seen her in “Monos” and being a fan of her previous work, I was both sold and curious when I saw that she was in this hilarious and twisted dark comedy from writing/directing pair Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia. Set during Argentina’s bid for the World Cup, the film follows Sergio Garces (Diego Peretti), a struggling Buenos Aires actor is at the point in his career where he can only find work as an extra in movies or in porn. It could be because he’s approaching middle-age status or due to his anger issues, either way his luck is about to take a turn for the worse when his nose is broken while riding his bicycle. Sergio is introduced to a confident and attractive American film publicist (Nicholson), who he eventually gets entwined in sexual and precarious adventures with while becoming a magnet for trouble and misfortune. The film’s influences may be apparent (it unfolds like a Coen Brothers film and traces of Scorcese and Godard are apparent), but it has a contagious unpredictability that’s invigorating. It left me curious and interested in past and future work from all involved. (Spanish with subtitles)

RATING: ***1/2

Saturday, October 26th at 5:45pm & Sunday, October 27th at 6:45pm





directed by Patricio Guzmán, (Chile/France), 85 min.

What you’ll remember about Patricio Guzmán’s latest film is how the titular geography region is stunningly captured. The narrator poetically reflects on “The Cordillera”, the immense presence of the Andes mountain range that hugs Chile, as a constant witness to all that the people have endured in the past under tyrannical dictatorship and the changes that the present has brought. Fascinating in its viewpoint and in how it offers an up close and personal ground-level view of Santiago’s history, Guzmán offers a passionate look at loyally and devotion to one’s land as well as a commitment to chronicling how the lives of its people are affected by local government and economic turns. An enlightening documentary that is dDefinitely worth checking out on the big screen. (Spanish with subtitles)


Sunday, October 20th at 6:00 pm & Tuesday, Oct 22nd at 1:00 pm





directed by Jakub Hejna, Helena Třeštíková, (Czech Republic/France), 78 min.

If you’re only familiar with Milos Forman’s great American films, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “Amadeus”, “The People vs. Larry Flint” and “Man on the Moon”, than this documentary is recommended viewing. Here is a documentary which offers a look at his breadth of work, from the distinctive filmmaker’s interesting Czech films to his Oscar-winning Hollywood films, all while providing viewers with a greater understanding of Forman on a personal level. Through candid home footage, interviews with colleagues and family members, as well as past conversations with Forman himself, “Forman vs Forman” is a documentary that reveals what exactly went into the director’s creative process and how he and his films will be remembered.


Saturday, October 19th at 11:30am & Monday, October 21th at 2:45pm





directed by Alysa Nahmias, (USA), 89 min.

Every year there is at least one documentary set in Chicago at CIFF and this one sheds light on some fascinating art history that occurred in the Windy City. The focus is on Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy, a one-time member of the German Bauhaus art school and how he created a new version of it when he moved to Chicago in 1937. Not only does the film offer a detailed look at the life of this radical artist, it also captures an absorbing look at what art education looked like in the past. Through input from fellow teachers and students, as well as Moholy-Nagy’s daughter, director Alysa Nahmias delivers an illuminating look at a pioneering leader in art and design, one who made a long-lasting impact in how the world we live can be incorporated into art.

RATING: **1/2


For more information on CIFF, including a full schedule and tickets, click here. 



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