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CIFF 2021 – Hit the Road & Fabian: Going to the Dogs

October 14, 2021


Ever determined and deliberate, the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) is back for another October stay from the 13 through the 24th. In its 57th year, the festival brings films co-produced by 57 different countries to the Windy City, presenting 89 feature-length films and 10 programs of shorts. There are world premieres and Chicago premieres that sit alongside films that have been working the festival circuit for months. While last year’s festival online viewing is still available for some films, most of the selections will be shown in theaters once again. One can only hope that vaccinated or not, patrons will be mindful of indoor mask etiquette that’s in place as the pandemic still exists.

The main difference this year is the where and how of it all. CIFF isn’t just back at AMC River East (the Streeterville neighborhood) the usual festival stomping grounds and the drive-in at ChiTown Movies (a location included last year) at 2343 S. Throop, there will also be screenings at two of the best Chicago theatres, The Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 N. State St. in The Loop and Music Box Theatre on the north side at 3733 N. Southport Ave.; Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. This means these scene is different this year and you may or may not have to travel as far or near as you used to. However, if you’re still not crazy about attending an in-person theater, there’s a Geoblock streaming option available in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin.

That being said, if you decide to show up in-person, keep in mind that you’ll need proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test results, for indoor screenings. More details on that here.

Due to life and other viewing preoccupations, I’ve only seen a couple films so far and to be honest, I don’t anticipate my CIFF viewing this year to be as ambitious as it has been in previous years. There’s just too much going on.

That being said, what I have seen are two films that have already been picked up by Kino Lorber, and you can expect them to be released in early 2022. Below are my thoughts on them and below those thoughts are links that will send you to purchase tickets for your viewing pleasure…



For his directorial debut, Iranian writer/director Panah Panahi shows an impressive and unique voice in his storytelling, delivering an uncanny ability to effortless capture the emotional highs and lows of the family dynamic. His story opens with the sound of piano music as the camera pans inside the interior of a car parked along the side of a desolate country road. There’s a young boy (Rayan Sarlak) playing the along on the drawing of black and white piano keys that is on the hard cast that runs the entirety of his bearded father’s (Hassan Modjooni) left leg. The boy’s mother (Pantea Panahiha) is in the vehicle’s passenger seat and behind the wheel is the couple’s older son (Amin Simiar), a young adult and the reason for the family’s road trip. Also there for the ride is the family’s sick albeit content dog, Jessy, who is mostly relegated to a the back or at one point tied to a yard chair. There is manic energy in the air thanks to the young boy (6 yr-old tour de force Sarlak is simply amazing), with the family either ignoring each other, getting on each other’s nerves, or singing together to loud music. There is also an underlying tension that builds, especially for the two parents, which has to do for the reason they are heading to the northern border to meet someone named Houshang. It has to do with their oldest son and possibly the opportunity for him to have a brighter future. Each character is a fascinating study, with each actor bringing a captivating naturalness as they convey distinctive personalities and internal depth. There is talk of Batman and “2001: A Space Odyssey” and there is also potent silence that speaks volumes. Panahi is the son of filmmaker Jafar Panahi (“The White Balloon” and “Taxi”), who serves as co-producer here, and it’s easy to see what he has learned (he edited his father’s 2018 “3 Faces”) from his father, but there are also apparent influences from Abbas Kiarostami in the way he frames certain scenes and provides amble time for characters to simply be themselves in the same place together. “Hit the Road” premiered last spring in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and just last month at the New York Film Festival. Even if he didn’t share his father’s last name, this film proves that Panah Panahi would still be a exciting talent to watch closely.

RATING: ***1/2

Monday, October 18th at 5:15pm at AMC River East




Berlin is in a state of transition in director Dominik Graf’s latest feature film, which premiered earlier this year at Berlinale and his handheld camera approach, quick editing, and long tracking shots, communicate such uncertainty. Set in postwar 1931, two years after an economic nosedive with Nazism looming around the corner, the story (co-written by Graf and Constantin Lieb, an adaptation of Erich Kästner’s novel of the same name) follows titular protagonist, Jakob Fabian (Tom Schilling), a 32-year-old war veteran who works as a copy writer by day for a cigarette company with literary aspirations on the side. In an unstable time, society is desperate, debauched, and deteriorating, with hedonism on the rise, as seen in the brothels and nightclubs Fabian frequents with Stephan Labude (Albrecht Schuch), a friend who exercises his stance on communism as much as his libido. At one of these locations, Fabian meets aspiring actress, Cornelia Battenberg (Saskia Rosendahl, “Lore” and “Never Look Away”), and is smitten and as the two quickly get to know each other with lustily abandon, Fabian is fired from his job while opportunities for Cornelia begins to blossom. The overall story is almost a secondhand concern, but that’s less a slight to the film than it is indicator that there is something more going on here than a typical period piece. Tonally and visually, the 68-year-old veteran filmmaker offers an unpredictable rhythm to the feature, thanks to editor Claudia Wolscht and the understated set design from Claus-Jürgen Pfeiffer. The use of stock footage of the time, split screens, swiftly tilted angles and zooming close-up shots, amid saturated light and fading colors, make “Going to the Dogs” quite an expressionistic affair. As the lead, Schilling (who looks and kind of acts like an 80s era Andrew McCarthy) isn’t asked to carry the film as much as he is swallowed up by the characters that buzz around him and the circumstances they find themselves in. The women in his life become the most fascinating characters (and actors) to watch – from Rosenthal (who is mesmerizing in nearly every scene, but knocks one particular monologue out of the park) to Petra Kalkutschke, who plays Fabian’s concerned mother, and Meret Becker, who portrays an alluring albeit toxic woman who continuously offers Fabian work throughout the film – all three manage to provide different experiences for Fabian and the audience. Unfamiliar with the source material, I would imagine that a feature that is just four minutes shy of three hours is quite faithful, but I must admit the length here is kind of daunting at times. It’s not that boredom creeps in, but the mind does tend to meander, wondering where Graf is going with certain experimental moments in the film. Regardless, “Going to the Dogs” leaves an indelible impression during and after viewing and definitely finds me curious for the director’s previous work.

RATING: ***1/2

Saturday, October 23rd, 4:45pm at AMC River East



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