June at Midwest Independent Film Festival: The Charming, Musical Saints Rest

The first Tuesday of every month is a special night for Chicago film fans. Where a typical film festival presents all its selections in a truncated timeline—a long weekend or over the course of a couple weeks—the Midwest Independent Film Festival carves out this one night a month to feature its selections. From shorts programs to world premieres, the programming team consistently delivers strong independent filmmaking from the region. Saints Rest Image courtesy of the film On Tuesday, June 5, MIFF again delivers with a premiere screening of Saints Rest, a film by Israeli-born writer/director Noga Ashkenazi (who will be in attendance). The story of two sisters mourning their mother's recent passing in small-town Iowa, the film is a poignant, feminine meditation on our ties to family and our dreams for the future. Adding a layer of artistry to the proceedings is a beautiful soundtrack of original acoustic music, written effortlessly into the story of Joni (Hani Furstenbberg), who's taken over the local café her mother used to run, and younger sister Allie (Allie Trimm), back from college before heading east for a stint on Broadway. It's not surprising that Saints Rest was recently named the Audience Award winner at the RiverRun Film Festival; at just under 90 minutes, it's as enjoyable as curling up at your own favorite café with a warm latte and a good friend. As we get to know Joni, her roommate Danny (Dana Igvy, hugely entertaining in 2014's Zero Motivation) and the little corner of the world they call home in Grinnell, IA, Ashkenazi strikes a respectable balance of humor and heart, emotion and entertainment. And did I mention the music? Writing original songs for a film is daunting enough; writing original music for your characters to perform as part of their narrative is a special kind of challenging. Get it wrong and you've sunk the whole film, even if the storyline is strong; a bad song is like nails down a blackboard to a captive audience, completely ruining the experience. Credit to Ashkenazi, then, and her music team (Naama Or and Eliya Scemama, apparently new to the feature film world) for crafting numbers that are unassuming yet intricate, delivered with sincerity and nestled comfortably into the film as a whole. It's not exactly a musical, but like 2013's Begin Again or the forthcoming Hearts Beat Loud, music is enough a part of the film that it becomes a character of its own. With summer blockbuster season in full swing (and Star Wars fatigue in full effect), there's still plenty of diversity on Chicago's big screens. Do yourself a favor and carve out time on Tuesday, June 5  to check out this charming film and the post-film Q&A with the people who made it. Tickets to Saints Rest at the Midwest Independent Film Festival, 6p on Tuesday, June 5 at Landmark Century Cinema, are $10-$15 and available here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjU_WVgDFfg
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Lisa Trifone