Last Friday, we took a look at some of of the best films screening during the first week of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival. This week, CIFF continues into its second week, wrapping up on Thursday, October 27 with Arrival, the latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, as well as the upcoming Blade Runner 2049). The film concerns the landing of a dozen massive crafts from outer space, each hovering just above different spots around the planet. The U.S. chooses to deal with the one hovering over our country by bringing in a world-renowned linguist (Amy Adams) to learn the alien language and teach it English in the hopes of finding out their purpose for coming to earth. As sci-fi friendly as Arrival sounds, it is also a highly cerebral movie, dealing with complex emotions, fears, loss, memories, and global ingredients that could either lead us to war or bring nations together in a way that is truly unprecedented. It’s a phenomenal film, and I’ll have a full review closer to release on November 11.
Other highlights from the second week of CIFF include:
— Afterimage, the final film from the recently departed Polish legend, Andrzej Wajda (Man of Iron, Katyn), who passed away earlier this month. The passionate biopic is about a famous Polish avant-garde artist (Boguslaw Linda), who battled Stalinist orthodoxy and his own physical impairments, to advance his progressive ideas about art.
— The Eagle Huntress, narrated by Daisy Ridley, this documentary follows a 13-year-old Mongolian girl, who sets out to become the first female eagle hunter in her family in 12 generations. A visually stunning and gender-empowering tale on inspiration and struggle. Great stuff.
— The Handmaiden, the latest from South Korean master Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Stoker) is an exceptional, erotic and often troubling story of Japan-colonized Korea. In it, two thieves attempt to con a rich heiress by befriending her on different fronts. But the more that is revealed about the heiress’ life, the more the thieves realize that they may be in over their heads. It’s an intricate, swirling, twisted masterpiece from a filmmaker who excels in mind games and vengeance.
— Harmonium, from Japan and the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner at Cannes this year, focuses on a small, middle-class family who invite a stranger into their home to live with them and eventually regret it when their delicate balance is thrown off.
— I, Daniel Blake, a return to form from the great Scottish filmmaker Ken Loach (Ladybird Ladybird, My Name Is Joe, Bread and Roses). It’s about about an older man recovering from a heart attack who is eager to get back to work but is utterly trapped in the red tape nightmare that is the kafkaesque British healthcare and welfare system that has unfortunately driven people to their deaths. I haven’t cried in a movie in years, but this one almost broke me—that’s a huge compliment. The film also won the top prize at Cannes this year.
— Kaleidoscope, the latest project from from writer-director, Rupert Jones. Jones’ brother, Toby Jones, stars as an unassuming, middle-aged man who is trying to re-enter the dating scene but is forced to come to terms with his criminal past and his psychological torment when his estranged mother arrives on his doorstep uninvited. Toby Jones has rarely been this good, and I love seeing him in leading roles.
— Karl Marx City, a quite personal documentary from director Petra Epperlein (who co-directs with Michael Tucker) involving an investigation into his father’s suicide and its possible connection to rumors that he was a spy for the Stasi in East Germany.
— Zoology, from Russia comes this incredibly dark comedy about a put upon middle-aged women who is bullied by her co-workers and berated by her live-in mother, until she wakes up one day to discover she has sprouting a tail, a biological anomaly that awakens a passion in her she’s never experienced. But her neighbors thinks she’s a demon. A truly original, haunting work.
— Moonlight, from filmmaker Barry Jenkins (who will be at the screening, along with various cast members) comes this extraordinary tale told at three different times in the life of Kevin, a young black man, who also happens to be gay. I’ve quite honestly never seen a film quite like this, in all of its hypnotic splendor and tough emotional rawness. The film is also quite strong when it comes to the portrayals of the women in Kevin’s life, especially his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) and unofficial guardian (singer Janelle Monáe). This just might be the best film at CIFF, which is why it was the first to sell out.
— Trespass Against Us, which profiles three generations of a criminal family, led by father (Brendan Gleeson) and heir apparent (Michael Fassbender). The feature debut from television and music video great Adam Smith.’
— You’re Killing Me, Susana, is the second film at CIFF starring Gael Garcia Bernal as a womanizing Mexican actor whose wife leaves him in the middle of the night. In an effort to win her back, he tracks her down to a writer’s conference in Iowa. It’s a brisk, light-hearted comedy, but a nice love story as well.
— Lion, from Australia. This is the tale of a young Indian man (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), who gets separated from his family as a boy and is eventually adopted by a sweet Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). When he gets older, he longs to head back to India to seek out his long-lost family. The feature debut from “Top of the Lake” director Garth Davis, and co-starring Rooney Mara.
The full schedule for CIFF 2016, as well as descriptions of all films and special events, can be found at their website. And I’ll have highlights from Week 2 of the festival next week.