The 49th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 10 – 24. The majority of the screenings are at the AMC River East theaters at 322 E. Illinois St. A few screenings will also be held at the Harper Theater (5238 S. Harper) in Hyde Park, and at the Logan Cinemas (2646 N. Milwaukee) in Logan Square. The full schedule is available here.
Wild Duck (Greece, 2013) is the first fiction feature film from the Greek filmmaker Yannis Sakaridis. He’s been an active director of short films, as well as an in-demand film editor, in London as well as Greece. He has a good way with complex tones (the skillfully moody visuals are courtesy of cinematographer Jan Vogel as well) and the larger allegorical foundation that runs underneath his storytelling. Dimitris (Alexandros Logothetis) is a telecommunications expert who has been on both sides of the phone-hacking industry. But he’s been a miserable businessman, and is nearly destitute due to extraordinary debts he’s run up with a local loan-shark. A business associate, Nikos (Giorgos Pyrpassopoulos) providentially offers him a gig tracking down a group of high-end hackers who have infiltrated the phone systems of a big real-estate firm in Athens. Dimitris knows he’s looking for seasoned pro hackers with serious transmitters and lots of server power. His investigations take him to a particular residential apartment building, where he finds ways to gain entrance looking for equipment, and to intercept the phone conversations of building residents. What he discovers there, hardware-wise and in human terms, leads to a surprising reversal of his former mercenary strategies. Sakaridis is good with the atmospherics of his technology-driven mystery, and the perhaps-chequered motivations of his protagonist. But his narrative is obscurely structured – his experiments with non-temporal plotting, disconnected flashbacks and a confusing lack of backstory make the plot specifics tough to string together. At first, it seems like he’s listening in to the conversations of an ex-wife or family member – it’s only later that we figure out that it’s a woman, who lives in the building he’s investigating, that he’s never met. She, nonetheless, figures prominently in his later uncharacteristic decisions. Dimitris’ (and Sakaridis’) choices have a lot to illustrate about the ubiquity of surveillance underneath our lives, and how powerful interests subvert that power to benefit themselves at the expense of the formerly ordered lives of their inferiors, i.e. Us. He knows what he wants to say, and it’s a truth worth communicating, but, despite his visual and technical skills, Sakaridis’ narrative failures make those issues too much work to process.
‘Wild Duck’ screens on Friday, October 11th at 5:45 pm, Monday the 14th at 8:00 pm, and Friday the 18th at 3:30 pm.
Tsai Ming-Liang is a consistently interesting and thoughtful Taiwanese filmmaker. One of the masters of kinetic minimalism, the long take, the static camera, and music-free concrète soundtrack s, his latest film, Stray Dogs (Jiao You, 郊遊) (Taiwan, 2012) will test the adaptability of Western audiences to his slow rhythms, almost dialogue-free tableaus, and severely internalized characters. The film follows a Taiwanese family whom, for reasons not elaborated on, have fallen on hard times, and lead a life of squatting and scavenging. The father (Lee Kang-Sheng, a terrific actor used by Tsai in all of his films) makes a little money by holding a real-estate advertising sign at a busy freeway interchange. The wife (inscrutably played by three different actresses throughout the film) is a meagerly-paid produce manager at a large grocery store. They, nonetheless, tend to their two children, a boy and a girl, in somewhat admirable fashion, keeping up their good hygiene habits, sustaining their innocent good humor, and allowing them to tag along unobtrusively to their respective jobs. The world they inhabit is decidedly urban, but located in those spaces between public and private, residential and commercial, populated and abandoned; under highway overpasses, in deserted parking garages, abandoned offices, foreclosed-upon houses, condo models. There’s no sign of the possibility of jobs that will sustain them reasonably, a home they can confidently settle into, or consistent resources for clothing or food. At one point, a cabbage comes to represent the wishes and disappointments of their existence; for the kids, it’s a doll with a painted-on face and funny made-up names. For the father, it’s a tormenting reminder of what he’s had to leave behind and do without; Tsai’s surreally conceived scene between Lee Kang-Sheng and this cabbage becomes astonishingly heartbreaking. For me, the film is an indictment of the alienating, dehumanizing effects of technology, corporate commodification and urbanization, no less affecting than anything Michelangelo Antonioni or Jacques Tati expressed on the same subject. The mother discovers a painted mural of a mountain landscape inside that aforementioned parking garage, and her elemental longing to return to a world like that (on a number of levels) is palpable. While lacking a lot of the quirky humor that infused his earlier films (Vive L’Amour, What Time Is It There? or The Wayward Cloud), there’s a novel’s worth of depth, impression and emotion in Tsai’s meticulous visual narrative. Tough going for the uninitiated, Stray Dogs is still a rewarding film for discerning filmgoers with a long fuse.
‘Stray Dogs’ screens on Friday, October 11th at 8:30 pm, and Sunday the 13th at 12:30 pm.
Blue Is The Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2) (France, 2013) is a knockout – an emotionally rigorous, enthusiastically carnal and profoundly engaging coming-of-age tale that features an amazingly intimate and unguarded performance from the young French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Blue… won the Palme D’Or (with jury president Steven Spielberg divergently insisting that Exarchopoulos and co-star Léa Seydoux be named on the award as well), director Abdellatif Kechiche claimed soon after that, "I think this film should not go out, it was too dirty… The Palme d'Or was a brief moment of happiness, then I felt humiliated, disgraced. I felt a rejection of me, I live like a curse." His own film! The actresses themselves relate tales of Kechiche’s famous perfectionist propensity for hundreds of takes, and the tedium thereof; they claim they’ll never work with Kechiche again, but they’re not dismissing the film overall, or their own work in it, in the slightest.
The girls know, thankfully, that Kechiche’s worries are kinda silly. It's a great film: he should just trust the work. The film rides on almost tangible waves of genuine passion and the estrogen-fueled urgency of young love - not just in the two fairly explicit sex scenes between Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, but in every aspect of how our protagonist, Adèle, shapes her young life as a student, as a daughter, as a teacher and as a friend, as well as lover; what she accepts, what she rejects, and what she gains and loses along the way. It also reminded me very much of Mia Hansen-Løve’s excellent Goodbye First Love from last year, another chronicle of a resourceful young woman (Lola Créton) willfully shaping her own life in the midst of young amorous abandon and upheaval. The sex scenes here are most of what you’ll hear about, but it’s the two ferocious performances of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux in the rest of the film that lend credibility to these particular scenes. The film is a loose adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel of the same name, and, while she respected Kechiche’s right to make of her story what he chose, she wasn’t happy with the sex scenes; “Especially when, in the middle of a movie theater, everyone was giggling. The heteronormative laughed because they don't understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it's not convincing, and found it ridiculous.” I certainly can’t speak for the lesbians in the audience – they’ll have to judge for themselves. But the average Western audience, in the view of a lot of filmmakers and/or producers, needs things pretty lipstick-y to relate to it at all, unfortunately; I thought this would still be pretty strong medicine for the average filmgoer. Again, I feel the rest of the film informs the sex scenes, not the other way around. This is as it should be. It’ll get a regular theatrical run in a few weeks, and I’ll talk more specifically about the film’s content then, but it’ll be released here uncut, rated NC-17. The American distributor, Sundance Selects, is going to get some pretty unwelcome heat over this from conservative cultural watchdogs, but I applaud them for leaving this provocative and impressive film intact. This film joins Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt as one of my favorite films of the year, and this Film Festival screening will be a very hot ticket. Go now, go later; just GO.
‘Blue Is The Warmest Color’ will have one screening on Saturday, October 12th at 6:30 pm.