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 Cinema (2646 N. Milwaukee) in Logan Square. The full schedule is available here.
Part 1 reviews are here.
Like Father Like Son (Soshite Chichi Ni Naru, そして父になる) (Japan, 2013) is the involving new film from Hirokazu Kore-eda (Maborosi, Nobody Knows, Still Walking, I Wish). Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is an ambitious young executive with a loyal wife, Midori (Machiko Ono) and a six-year-old son. The young boy, Keita (Keita Ninomiya), is already enrolled in a ‘cram’ school (juku), takes piano lessons, and is generally being pushed along to disciplined excellence by the insistent Ryota. But a call from the hospital where Midori delivered Keita throws their lives into dilemma – a blood test involving another family has revealed that Keita was switched with another male baby in the maternity ward, and each family has had the wrong child for the last six years. The families are left to decide whether to keep the children they've raised thus far, or exchange them (as happens, it seems, in most of these rare cases), with the hospital helping the parents with the transition. The other family, the Saikis, are working-class, salt-of-the-earth types; an appliances repairman (Lily Franky) and a restaurant waitress (Yoko Maki), who initially seem only concerned with how much money they can get for the hospital’s mistake. We eventually learn, though, that they are friendly, laid-back and fairly gracious people, with two other children as well. Ryota, though, sees this as the reason his own ‘son’ hasn't exhibited the high upside that Ryota assumed he naturally would; furthermore, he and his high-powered lawyer are plotting to keep both boys – the son he’s raised thus far, and the ‘blood’ son he should have had all along. Ryota, predictably, gets a comeuppance for his more selfish early machinations, and the exchange is slowly fostered between the families over the next six months or so. It’s in this latter half of the film where the true complexities of the situation are most effectively, and affectingly, examined. Most of Kore-eda’s films involve families, either makeshift or extant, and he’s especially talented at working with children, and seeing things from their point of view. I don’t think it’s an outright spoiler to say that Kore-eda’s admirable lesson here is that the idea of family is far more powerful than the sum of the parts of individual families. Kore-eda lets a little too much of the plot get in the way of the story (as Joe Bob Briggs used to say), but this is a very thoughtful examination of fatherhood, motherhood, childhood and the heights and depths of love and hurt that can inadvertently, but inevitably, result from that profound connectedness. It isn’t quite as cleanly structured as his other earlier films, but Kore-eda’s not afraid to take deeply emotional dilemmas and follow them to where they lead themselves. And little Keita is so dorkily stinkin’ cute that I defy you to keep your eyes dry throughout the film. I had to think about it a bit afterwards, but I ultimately liked this film very much, and recommend it.
*It’s also been recently announced that an American remake (Dreamworks) is already in the works. Spielberg won’t necessarily direct it, but, even so, as always, I implore you to see the original while you can.
‘Like Father, Like Son’ will be shown on Wednesday, October 16th at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 19th at 7:00 p.m.
The great Luis Buñuel famously stated “Thank God I’m an atheist!” late in his life. Buñuel, indeed, was an admitted atheist, but he also had enormous respect and regard for people who tried to constructively shape their lives by the tenets of Christianity, and the enormity of the moral perils and dilemmas they were letting themselves in for. Vinko Brešan, the director of The Priest’s Children (Svećenikova Djeca) (Croatia / Serbia, 2013), carries on Buñuel’s subversive but generously humanistic work. Their target isn’t the Catholic Church, or even its teachings – it’s the uses to which the church and its teachings are hypocritically put – the absolutism, the arrogance, the money scams, the shaming of ‘others,’ the moral insularity. Buñuel is often sympathetic to his protagonists, like Father Nazario (Nazarin) or Viridiana, even as he chronicles the disasters they leave in their well-intentioned wake. And so, too, is Brešan with his protagonist, Father Fabian (Kresimir Mikic) who is starting his own priesthood on a small island in the Adriatic. He’ll eventually succeed Father Jacob, who has led a very loyal, faithful, older congregation for quite a few years. In fact, youth is a diminishing commodity on this island – births are few and far between, while the death rate remains consistent. A demographic spiral like that doesn't bode well for Father Fabian’s aspirations to clerical excellence. He discovers the root of the problem – most of the island’s population uses contraception, with condoms being the method of choice. When Fabian makes the acquaintance of Peter (Niksa Butijer), a newsstand operator who happens to also sell half of the condoms on the island, they formulate a plan to increase the island’s birth rate themselves. But who sells the rest of the condoms? The pharmacist, Marin (Drazen Kuhn), who turns out to be a militant Croatian, and far more help to Fabian’s cause than either he or Peter figured he’d be. And, indeed, there’s a notable spike in unintended pregnancies…Success! But with that success comes a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences. Brešan has a terrific hand with his excellent actors (though Mikic, the youngest actor here, tends to rely on mugging more than his supporting cast), and works a lot of Blake-Edwardian invention into his visual scheme. Like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, his techniques are surprisingly straightforward, but he has a great sense of how simple camera shots can eccentrically exaggerate a series of small moments into a larger, comically surrealist conspiracy against logic and consequence. The Priest’s Children doesn't aspire to laugh-out-loud farce, but it’ll elicit that reaction a few times nonetheless. Brešan, like Buñuel, is more about exposing the folly of overly earnest good intentions, and how easily, and humorously, they are distorted when they blend with guileless human nature. This is a very good film with a nice black streak coursing just underneath, by a very resourceful director who knows exactly what he’s doing. I suspect we’ll have other opportunities to see it again besides these two screenings here.
‘The Priest’s Children’ screens on Wednesday, October 16th at 8:15 p.m. and Thursday the 17th at 5:45 p.m.