There are still some reviews to come, but now that it’s come to a close, I wanted to showcase some of the winners and awards presented from another terrific year of the Chicago International Film Festival, an event I’ve been attending for over a decade, and look forward to seeing what’s in store for their 55th in 2019.
What really worked for me was the intense emotional expression whether internal or external, portrayed with unwavering cruelty at times by one of my favorite actresses working today. From the moment I saw Carey Mulligan in An Education, I knew she would continue to go on to accomplish great performances consistently. She exhibited so much talent with another complicated character for her debut and now has worked even more majestically as a distraught, unhinged mother. She seems to have good intentions but also neglects her son’s wants and desires to the point of being oblivious. One has to commend the screenwriters for not letting her off easy or too sympathetic.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s newest film, Cold War, is a haunting love story set against the backdrop of the Soviet-occupied Poland. As with his last feature, Ida, Pawlikowski uses academy ratio that emphasizes the height of the frame. As a result, characters tend to be framed on the lower part of the screen, while the sky looms above them. Also like Ida, Cold War is shot in black and white. The unusual framing contributes to a dreamy tone that allows the film to make great leaps in time and space and take on the tenor of metaphor.
Non-Fiction finds Olivier Assayas exploring both new and familiar territory. Questions about the nature of art are never absent from his work, but each film takes on a different theme and runs with it, like a never-ending debate between friends. Non-Fiction is bursting with ideas, but they somehow all find a home together, touching on the changes wrought by our increasingly digital communications as well as the nature of fiction itself, and whether any narrative we create can actually be truthful.
Farhadi is a rigorous, prolific filmmaker but never a showy one. He is definitely not the type to simply point-and-shoot, but it’s clear he doesn’t want the camera to be obtrusive, but experiential based on whatever intimacy he’s capturing. His latest finds him out of his native culture and comfort zone which might be a reason for its overall weakness, especially when compared to his previous, more assured work. The story surrounds a mother, Laura (Penélope Cruz, carrying the film), who returns to her provincial village for her sister’s wedding. The night takes a sharp turn when every parent’s worst nightmare becomes her reality: her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is kidnapped out from under her nose and is being held for ransom by unknown assailants.
Using an expressive visual style, director Alejandra Márquez Abella depicts the lavish lifestyle of a community living out its final days as members of the elite. At the center of the film is Sofia (Ilse Salas), a wealthy housewife, and her network of similarly-situated friends. While their husbands conduct business deals, the women gossip about who should be admitted to the club and compete for who can host the most effortless, opulent gatherings.
Transit manages to be a film that is direct, simple and confidently tells a story that is fairly easy to comprehend once all the pieces come into play. Once you acclimate, what transpires feels like an old-fashioned drama in which the suspense derives from character interaction and decision-making that may or may not be selfish. In a way it reminded me of the strengths contained in a show like Better Call Saul, only streamlined into 100 minutes. We follow a desperate man during WWII, Georg (a superb Franz Rogowski) who is hired to transport a writer, his travel documents, and controversial novel from Paris to Marseilles.
Core of the World creates a dark and isolating atmosphere that is unique as it is unnerving. The film, which was directed by Natalia Meshchaninova, centers on Egor (Stepan Devonin), a veterinarian living at a remote Russian facility that trains hunting dogs. We learn that Egor had an unhappy childhood. Innocent with an open, honest face, he chases affection, much like the dogs he works with. Early on, Egor rehabilitates a mauled dog that his boss (Dmitriy Podnozov) wants him to put down, so we see Egor has a gentle heart an an affinity for the animals under his care.
Retablo is a beautifully-shot film from Peru that is undermined by the uglier parts of its narrative. The film’s title refers to the objects produced by master craftsman, Noé (Amiel Cayo), who is passing along the trade to his talented son, Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca). It was the promise of seeing these objects up close that lured me to this film, and in that respect, Retablo delivers. Peruvian retablos are intricate pieces of art that use colorful clay figurines to depict religious, historical, and everyday events.