Dispatch: A Dozen Films for Your Week at Chicago International Film Festival

If your weekend was such that you couldn’t spend hours at the cinema, never fear! The Chicago International Film Festival continues for another week, with several films either screening again throughout the next several days or having yet to make their Chicago premiere. The Third Coast Review film team logs another dozen brief takes on some of the best the Fest has to offer, from gala presentations to local productions and even a few more shorts programs. The Festival’s diverse program means there’s something for everyone, but don’t just take our word for it. If none of the below fit your schedule, branch out and try something new!

Worth noting that as the Festival offers just a few screenings of each film (and sometimes just one!), purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended. You can buy tickets online, or at the Festival Box Office in the lobby of AMC River East 21. What will you see this week?


Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke’s feature film blends traditional documentary with elements of experimental narrative to tell the story of a group of young people working, living, and dreaming in a desolate hotel on the Egyptian coast after the Arab Spring. We follow a new-hire in the entertainment department, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, a musician, and a masseuse through listless days and neon nights, with a general sense of ambivalence underlying the proceedings. We never see management, or guests, which adds to the feeling of surrealism; the place is so quiet, and so unpopulated that it recalls the first scenes after the hotel closes inThe Shining. There are mentions of the state of affairs outside this Vegas-like tourist town, of the socio-political nightmares happening in the rest of the Middle East, but these young folks are living in an artifice of excess and comfort. Sure, their salaries have been slashed, but its better than being laid off. At points, it all comes off as a bit indulgent, unfocused and self-serious, which may in fact be the point; these people are wayward and take their situation as a precious example of how life is unfair, their ennui earned, their angst appropriate—sort of Noah Baumbach does the Jersey Shore. As a study in stasis, Dreamaway is painfully effective. Dreamaway screens on Monday, October 15 at 3:30p.m. Filmmaker Marouan Omara is scheduled to be in attendance. (Matthew Nerber)

Too Late to Die Young
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Too Late to Die Young

Dominga Sotomayor’s Too Late to Die Young depicts a group of people—in particular, an alienated teenager named Sofía (Demian Hernández)—who live in a mountain commune during Chile’s transition to democracy. With its long takes and languid camera movements, the film provides an astute depiction of adolescence and the frustrated, “Where am I going in life?” self-questioning it inevitably entails. But Sotomayor also gives her work a political subtext, offering a mesmerizing portrait of a post-totalitarian society and the muted disillusionment that its citizens feel. Hernández’s perceptive performance is only one of the many strengths of this thoughtful, strikingly mature directorial debut. Too Late to Die Young screens Monday, October 15 at 5:45p.m.; Tuesday, October 16 at 8:45p.m.; and Wednesday, October 17 at 12:45p.m. (Andrew Xu)

What They Had

A favorite from the Sundance Film Festival, What They Had centers on three generations of a Chicago family who are pulled together when the matriarch, Ruth (Blythe Danner), wanders off into the snowy night due to her failing memory. Joining Ruth’s overprotective husband Burt (Robert Forster) and ornery son Nick (Michael Shannon) is daughter Bridget (Hilary Swank), who escaped the city and the family for the west coast and presumably a less smothered life. But upon her return (with daughter Emma in tow, played by Taissa Farmiga), Bridget discovers that her escape years earlier has only led to more loneliness and a disconnection from the things that matter to her most. The movie’s messages and plot are nothing new, but the execution and precise writing and directing by actor-turned-first-time filmmaker Elizabeth Chomko make it exceptional.

As you can probably tell from the cast list—with quite a few Oscar winners and nominees among them—the performances are what propel this film into something strong and interesting. The scenes with Shannon and Swank are exceptional, with his bitterness about being the sibling that got left behind to take care of their parents fueling a dark wit that is both mean and hilarious. And anytime you get Forster on a tear is a good day. The use of the city is also quite remarkable, giving the entire production the feeling that it takes place somewhere familiar and homey. What They Had is a much-needed acknowledgement of several familial issues, from the inability to please one’s parents, even as adults, to how difficult it can be to discuss medical issues or make decisions about care. It gets a great deal right on many fronts, especially when it comes to the performances, making it an exciting first look from a promising, confident new director. What They Had screens Monday, 10/15 at 8:30pm. Director Elizabeth Chomko, producer Albert Berger, and actor Robert Forster are expected to attend. (Steve Prokopy)

Shorts #8: Meditations

For the first time in its 54-year history, the Festival program includes a section devoted to experimental short films. Of the four films included, the highlights are The Remembered Film, an absurdist and stirring indictment of modern-day militarism; and Creature Companion, a meditation on the ways in which manmade spaces inhibit the expression of desire. None of these shorts is “entertaining” in the traditional sense—but unlike so many films made nowadays, they’re all guaranteed to leave you thinking.  Shorts #8: Meditations screens Monday, October 15 at 8:30p.m. (AX)

Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival


Chicago takes center stage in Olympia, starring McKenzie Chinn (who also wrote the script) in the titular role of a millennial adrift in the uncertainty of young adulthood. She’s got a job as the receptionist at a small office, but she’d much rather be illustrating…anything…than answering phones and placing lunch orders. She and her boyfriend Felix (Charles Andrew Gardner) have an understanding, even after three years: they can walk away any time they want, no explanation necessary. But his job announces they’re transferring him to California, her mother is gravely ill in the hospital, her best friend is breaking out and heading for NYC; there’s a lot of change swirling around Olympia, and it threatens to force her into finally making some decisions about her life, staking a claim for what she wants—and doesn’t. This sort of quarter-life crises may seem inconsequential to anyone who’s a decade or two on the other side of their own, but director Gregory Dixon (making his feature debut) builds a narrative worth following around a beautifully rendered central performance. Olympia screens Monday, October 15 at 5:30p.m.; Tuesday, October 16 at 8:45p.m. and Friday, October 19 at 1p.m. Several cast and crew are scheduled to attend. (Lisa Trifone)


My adoration of Mary Kay Place (The Big Chill) knows few bounds, so the fact that documentarian (and former film critic) Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) has cast her as the lead in his first narrative feature, Diane, is nothing short of remarkable. Diane is a kind, patient and giving woman who volunteers in a soup kitchen regularly, is close with her still-living relatives and has a great number of close friends (including her best friend, played by Andrea Martin), all of which she visits regularly. She keeps up a strong front while being quietly plagued with concern over her grown son Brian (Jake Lacy) and his struggles with drug addiction. We soon discover that Diane is still haunted by a particular memory of a transgression from years ago; it’s been haunting her lately because the family member she wronged is dying in the hospital, and while this person doesn’t bear her any ill will, that doesn’t stop Diane from being racked. This quiet, serene work about the increasing role of loss in our lives as we age is truly given a face and voice by Place. There are several dark corners in this work and in the character of Diane, but she’s always guided by a good heart, even when she did the worst thing she’s ever done. Diane is a terrific character study that I hope finds an audience. Diane will screen on Monday, 10/15 at 9pm, with writer/director Kent Jones in attendance; and Tuesday, 10/16 at 6pm. (SP)

Guie’dani’s Navel

We are first introduced to Lidia (Érika López) and pre-teen Guie’dani (Sótera Cruz) as they leave their rural Mexican home and board a bus for the city. The mother and daughter are traveling to work as maids in a wealthy family’s extravagant compound, a culture shock for Guie’dani. Guie’Dani’s Navel is oftentimes observed with a beautiful, devastating clarity—Lidia is revealed to be practically illiterate as she barely sounds out items on a grocery list; Guie’dani is so confused by a modern shower that she catches the water in a bowl and pours it over her head (I was reminded of Kelly Reichardt’s unflinching eye in films like Certain Women or Wendy and Lucy) But writer/director Xavi Sala also demonstrates a devilish sense of humor, as when Guie’dani is left by herself after the family goes on vacation and her mother is called away. It plays like a nightmarish Home Alone, as she seeks her tiny revenges: lighting fires on the lawn, trashing the dining room, spitting on Valentina’s dresses. It is painful to watch, though oh so satisfying. The performances from López and Cruz as mother and daughter are reserved and biting, packing the same punch with deadly stares that other films do with pages of dialogues. Guie’dani’s Navel screens Tuesday, October 16 at 3p.m. (MN)

Shorts 3: Bad Don’t Sleep

This international selection of hair-raising chillers is here to remind us that screams need no translation. The excellent program includes Hair Wolf, a clever, retro flavored send-up set in a Brooklyn salon, that trades traditional hack and slash for gentrification and selfie sticks; Milk, a brooding maternal shocker that will make you think twice the next time you swig out of the carton; La Persistence, the slow-burn tale of a man, his motorcycle, and the deadly consequences of separating the two; and Home Shopper, actor Dev Patel’s stylish domestic creeper about a housewife’s deadly shopping habit. Some of these flicks are scarier than others, but this creepy program is full of distinct voices and original flair; it’s sure to satisfy all types of Halloween appetites. Hold tight to your popcorn, there’ll definitely be some bumps in the night. Shorts 3: Bad Don’t Sleep screens Tuesday, October 16 @ 1p.m. and Friday, October 19 at 10:30p.m. (MN)
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival


Turning in the finest and most complex character of her career, Carey Mulligan (An Education, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mudbound) gives and absolutely searing performance as Jeanette Brinson, a wife and mother circa the early 1960s, who recently relocated with her family to Great Falls, Montana. The family has moved there because her restless husband Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) is chasing work. But after he gets fired from his most recent job, he spontaneously decides to join a team of men heading hours away into the forest to fight wildfires that seem to plague the region every year, leaving his wife and teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould, The Visit) home alone with little money and no understanding of why Jerry would choose to abandon them.

Marking the directing debut from actor Paul Dano (who adapted the novel by Richard Ford with partner and fellow actor Zoe Kazan), the film is largely told from Joe’s perspective as he glimpses conversations and other happenings, especially regarding his mother, as she attempts to negotiate her new existence. It takes a while to realize it, but Joe is witnessing the end of his parents’ marriage. Jeanette is hurt, confused and concerned about her future as both a mother and desirable woman. Bill Camp plays Warren Miller, one of the town’s richest men, whom she meets at her part-time job teaching the locals to swim, and they start a clumsy flirtation that Joe is forced to witness because she drags him around on their first date. Wildlife is an exercise in awkward relearning and discovering who we really want to be in a period of American life where gender roles were both fixed and on the brink of change. Dano and cinematographer Diego Garcia have crafted a serene, melancholy portrait of isolation that is one of the strongest, most provocative dramas I’ve seen all year. Wildlife screens Tuesday, 10/16 at 6pm. Actress Carey Mulligan is expected to attend for a tribute to her career to date. (SP)

Couch Potatoes

A charming, thoughtful exploration of a father/son relationship suffers from a bit of mischaracterization in both its unfortunately translated English title and the Festival’s categorization of it as a comedy. Neither do the film much credit. Where father/son stories are concerned, it may not be of the caliber of Beautiful Boy, but is nonetheless a worthwhile perspective on this unique familial relationship, and though it has its moment of levity, filmmaker Francesca Archibugi (a co-writer with Francesco Piccolo) is much more concerned with the emotional peculiarities of parenting (and being a teen) in an era of mobile phones, non-traditional families and privilege. The title refers to seventeen-year-old Tito and his friends, a group of harmless if slightly arrogant young guys who never get do much but aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of what they can get away with, from ignoring their parents’ calls to shoplifting. Tito’s dad Giorgio, a television personality, has shared custody with Tito’s mother, who finally divorced him after she caught him in one too many affairs. There’s a storyline about a potential lovechild that I suppose could be played for laughs, but where the film shines is in the moments Gio attempts to connect with Tito, to varying degrees of success. It’s these ups and downs that are the most authentic in a film that shouldn’t be looked over in the festival’s crowded program. Couch Potatoes screens Tuesday, October 16 at 12:30p.m.; Saturday, October 20 at 8:45p.m. and Sunday, October 21 at 12:15p.m. (LT)

Shorts #2: Outside the Lines

This year’s crop of animated shorts includes six films from the United States and Europe. The stand-outs are Obon, a harrowing depiction of a Hiroshima survivor’s wartime memories; Relax, It’s Probably Just a Parasite, a brief but vivid illustration of the effects of hypochondria; and Solar Walk, a delightfully fantastical vision of outer space that harks back to A Trip to the Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Taken together, these shorts easily refute the idea that animation is “for kids only.” Shorts #2: Outside the Lines screens Wednesday, October 17 at 3:30p.m. and Thursday, October 18 at 7:45p.m. (AX)

Facing the Wind

A choreographer in the city, Mónica (Mónica Garcia) is summoned home when her father falls ill; he and her mother still live outside of town on a small farm where he grew up. The home and various work buildings may be old and in a state of disrepair, but they’re home, and though she arrives too late to see her father before he passes away, Mónica decides to stay and help keep up the house at least until her mother can sell it and move to someplace smaller and more easily managed. Writer/director Meritxell Collel Aparicio, making her narrative feature debut, leans into Mónica’s grief as the camera lingers on scenes long enough to allow audiences and actors alike the time process whatever wave of emotion is triggered at a given moment. There’s a particularly poignant scene when Mónica’s niece recounts a story of the patriarch and how he loved his daughter; Garcia’s tortured, bereft response is gut-wrenching. It’s a captivating if slow portrait of life after death; more broadly, it’s a welcome examination of women living their lives—Mónica, her mother, her sister, her niece—blissfully absent of any subplot where their existence revolves around a man. Facing the Wind screens Wednesday, October 17 at 8p.m. and Thursday, October 18 at 6p.m. (LT)

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone