Dispatch: The Chicago International Film Festival Saves Some of the Best for Last

We’ve made it this far, film fans. There are just a few days left of the 54th Chicago International Film Festival, and believe it or not, there’s still plenty of films enjoying their first screenings through this second weekend. In our latest dispatch of brief reviews, we’re also including a few films you’ve still got a chance to see. So if you’ve waited this long to make it over to AMC River East or if you’re looking for what else to check out after a week of movies, we’ve got a few ideas.

As always, check online or at the Festival Box Office for tickets before you make your plans; some titles sell out well in advance. What will you see before this year’s festival ends?

Boy Erased
Image courtesy of Chicago Film Festival

Boy Erased

For his second directing effort after The Gift, actor Joel Edgerton adapts the hard-hitting memoir from Garrard Conley (called Jared in the film and played by Lucas Hedges), a Baptist pastor’s son who is outed to his parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) by a friend and is subsequently forced to enroll in religious-based conversion therapy. In the sometimes brutal program led by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, who adapted the book), young people are forced into feeling shame in order to lose all same-sex urges or risk being cast out by family and the church, and the results are emotionally devastating and quite damaging. As much as the bulk of the film is about Jared, Edgerton also includes scenes in which it’s clear that his parents are struggling with the prospect of losing their son, to the point where Kidman’s Nancy give husband Marshall an ultimatum about what might happen if their son doesn’t “stop” being gay. Boy Erased is a powerhouse family drama about a practice that is not only ridiculous but also dangerous. Boy Erased screens Thursday, 10/18 at 6pm. Writer-director Joel Edgerton and author Garrard Conley are scheduled to attend. (Steve Prokopy)


Sari Braithewaite’s documentary about censorship in Australia and the 200-odd imported, mid-century films that the country’s government sliced and diced is, at times, a bit confusing. That’s not necessarily a knock against it. Braithwaite herself admits early in the film’s narration that her plan to liberate these clips of sex, violence and other material deemed “offensive to a friendly nation” (why shouldn’t we see them!?) doesn’t exactly go according to plan. When presented in concentration, grouped thematically (here a series of women being beaten by the men in their lives, there the “lewd” dancing, thrusting and jiving, and so on and so on), some of it is harmless, to be sure. Some of it is graphic (quite, actually).

But most of it is the result of oversight from a government body that thought it knew what was best for its citizens, without ever giving those citizens an option or even acknowledging that the films were edited. Portions of [CENSORED] are downright difficult to watch, relentless scenes of sexual assault presented in quick succession, the patriarchy (male directors, male protagonists) rearing its ugly head. Braithwaite makes the choice not to identify the films from which each clip originates, which is a curious omission but perhaps doesn’t matter in the end. At just over an hour long, the documentary still manages to pack quite a punch, ultimately asking audiences to reflect on our own expectations of art, narrative and reality and just what we do—and don’t—want to see on screen. [CENSORED] screens Thursday, October 18 at 2p.m. (Lisa Trifone)

The Feeling of Being Watched

After a premiere at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, filmmaker Assia Boundaoui brings her documentary home with two screenings in Chicago. It’s the gripping chronicle of her investigation into FBI surveillance of the Muslim-American community where she grew up in suburban Bridgeview, and it should be required viewing for anyone seeking to understand that particular community’s American experience, particularly post-9/11. A telling early scene sees Boundaoui, a journalist by profession, literally going door to door looking for neighbors willing to talk on camera about their experiences with surveillance and strange encounters with the authorities. Sure enough, the community was under the watchful eye of the FBI, as part of Operation Vulgar Betrayal as early as 1993. Boundaoui is relentless in her push for answers, and the film becomes as much about the very real religious and racial profiling of U.S. intelligence agencies she discovers as it is this young woman’s journey to understanding her own agency. The Feeling of Being Watched screens Thursday, October 18 at 5:30p.m. and Friday, October 19 at 3:30p.m. Filmmaker Assia Boundaoui is scheduled to attend both screenings. (LT)

In Search of Greatness

The latest documentary from Gabe Polsky (Red Army) is as much a series of motivational speeches as it is an examination into what makes some of the greatest athletes the world has ever known as distinguished as they are. Narrowing the focus on three subjects—hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, NFL running back Jerry Rice and soccer phenom Pelé—In Search of Greatness provides an overview of their skills from a technical angle, as well as a look at what motivates them to success (in nearly every case, someone daring to say they weren’t special). From a performance vantage point, nearly every subject played their sport in ways that simply weren’t taught, and it was this creative drive that eventually made their way of doing things the standard. In addition to those interviewed, the film also looks at figures like Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, and even musician David Bowie as examples of innovators who went on to be the norm rather than the exception. The film is sometimes vague and scattered in sticking to its primary themes, but it’s undeniably thought-generating and impossible not to watch, as the best of the best show us a way at looking at the world that most of us will never understand. In Search of Greatness screens Friday, 10/19 at 6pm, and Saturday 10/20 at 12:15pm. Director Gabe Polsky is scheduled to attend. (SP)

Claire Darling
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Claire Darling

There are a few constants in life: death, taxes and captivating performances from Catherine Deneuve. In the title role of writer/director Julie Bertuccelli’s Claire Darling, Deneuve does it again, this time sharing the screen with her real-life daughter (Chiara Mastroianni) in the story of an aging woman facing the end of her life and her daughter navigating their rocky history together. Long widowed and living on her own in a dusty old mansion filled with antiques, Claire’s showing early signs of dementia as she hires a few local kids to clear out all her possessions for a sort of high-end yard sale. Her daughter Marie gets word of the odd behavior and comes home from Paris to see what can be done, and soon we learn via flashbacks about the tumultuous family life the two shared decades ago, from loss and tragedy to conflict and hurt feelings. Bertuccelli infuses the story with whimsy and weight as she introduces some of the darker, more interesting moments of their shared history, and that combined with the presence Deneuve brings to the screen (as she always does), it makes for a touching, engaging film. Claire Darling screens on Friday, October 19 at 8:30p.m.; Saturday, October 20 at 12:15p.m.; and Sunday, October 21 at 4:30p.m. Filmmaker Julie Bertuccelli and author Lynda Rutledge are scheduled to attend the Saturday and Sunday screenings. (LT)

Sorry Angel

Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a 30-something Parisian writer. Arthur (Vincent Lacoste) is a young student who runs a summer camp in Brittany. In Christopher Honoré’s Sorry Angel, the two of them fall in love after engaging in a one-night stand. But their budding relationship is hindered by the fact that Jacques is dying of AIDS. Sorry Angel will likely remind you of Robin Campillo’s BPM (2017)another LGBT-themed film about France’s AIDS epidemic. Unlike Campillo’s work, however, Sorry Angel eschews a nakedly political narrative, opting for a more intimate look at the damage that AIDS inflicts on a personal level. Thanks in part to this, Honoré succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of desperation, secrecy, and creeping despair that overhung the French gay community in the ’90s. And the film also greatly benefits from Lacoste and Deladonchamps, both of whom prevent the narrative from degenerating into melodrama. Sorry Angel screens Saturday, October 20 at 8:15p.m. and Sunday, October 21 at 11:45a.m. (Andrew Xu)


They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

Director Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, 20 Feet from Stardom) moves heaven and earth in his efforts to piece together the last 15 years of filmmaker Orson Welles’ life—a period that included the filming of the legendary, unfinished The Other Side of the Wind—and finds fairly blatant parallels between the film’s narcissistic storyline and Welles’ messy, self-destructive life. Infinitely more enjoyable and digestible than Wind, Neville’s narrative is often just as much of a whirlwind through a chaotic period in the filmmaker’s existence. Nearly all of the living participants in Wind are on hand to discuss their interactions with Welles, and they all try their best to shed light on the stream-of-consciousness work. But the sum total of this doc is that it sets you up to watch Wind with a hint of clarity about what fed into Welles’ ideas and who pissed him off enough in this period to get skewered in that movie. If you get a chance to watch the two films back to back, you should view this one first in order to get context and a clear understanding of Welles’ work in that era. I’d even go so far as to say that you could watch the doc without watching Wind. Just a thought. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead screens Saturday, 10/20 at 2:30pm (screening in conjunction with The Other Side of the Wind). Producer Josh Karp and editor Aaron Wickenden are scheduled to attend.

The Other Side of the Wind

One of the most anticipated film curiosities in cinematic history, this unfinished work by Orson Welles—shot in fits and spurts between 1970 and 1976—has finally been pieced together and is set to hit theaters and Netflix in just a couple of weeks. For better or worse, the finished product is a bit of a mess, but it’s also bold, highly watchable and an absolute condemnation by Welles of a Hollywood that cast him aside while still claiming to admire his early works. John Huston plays Jake Hannaford, who returns from years in a self-imposed exile in Europe with the hopes of making his big comeback film. He’s surrounded by sycophants (led by young filmmaker Brooks Otterlake, played by Welles prodigy Peter Bogdanovich) and reporters seek an exclusive interview (including Pauline Kael stand-in Susan Strasberg). Welles’ co-writer and romantic partner at the time, Oja Kodar, also stars as an object of Hannaford’s affections. The film is a cacophony of overlapping dialogue, non-sequiturs, bland humor and a mixed bag of performances. It’s a fascinating but ultimately messy and ugly affair that, nevertheless, might be too much of a discovery and curiosity to pass up.

The Other Side of the Wind screens Sunday, 10/21 at 2:30pm (screening in conjunction with They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead). Film critic and recognized Orson Welles expert Jonathan Rosenbaum will introduce the film and conduct a post-screening Q&A. (SP)

Maria by Callas
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Maria by Callas

Filmmaker Tom Volf makes his directorial debut with Maria by Callas, a documentary about the life and career of opera superstar Maria Callas told entirely through archival footage and her own words (through interviews and letters). Born to Greek parents in 1920s New York City, Callas rose to fame in the 1950s, appearing everywhere from Teatro alla Scala to the Metropolitan Opera, from Mexico City to Dallas, Texas. Volf’s intimate portrait of the girl who became an international superstar follows Callas as she navigates the pressures and expectations of her talent, constantly greeted by crowds of fans and flocks of journalists wherever her performances take her and ever aware of what she’s given up—namely motherhood—for the sake of her career. Interspersed between each phase of her life, Volf includes Callas’ most memorable arias, performances enjoyed in full (and subtitled!) that display her remarkable ability in breathtaking relief. From her earliest successes to scandals in the papers; from the loves of her life (first husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini and soulmate Aristotle Onassis) to her comeback tours and reinventions, Maria by Callas is a treat not just for fans of opera and its most memorable diva, but for anyone seeking insight into the lives of the geniuses who live among us. Maria by Callas screens on Saturday, October 20 at 3p.m. (LT)

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone

One comment

  1. “For better or worse, the finished product is a bit of a mess, but it’s also bold, highly watchable and an absolute condemnation by Welles of a Hollywood that cast him aside while still claiming to admire his early works.” It’s not an absolute condemnation at all. It both celebrates and examines it in somewhat-brutal honesty.

    “He’s surrounded by sycophants (led by young filmmaker Brooks Otterlake, played by Welles prodigy Peter Bogdanovich) and reporters seek an exclusive interview (including Pauline Kael stand-in Susan Strasberg). … The film is a cacophony of overlapping dialogue, non-sequiturs, bland humor and a mixed bag of performances.” It’s one part Hannaford’s unfinished film, and another part pseudo-documentary footage Hannaford’s 70th birthday party that serves as commentary on said film, the two combining to form a strange portrait of the man. Hannaford is surrounded by cameras that record the event, hence the overlapping dialogue and non-sequiturs. It’s not meant to be a conventional drama; it’s experimental.

    “Welles’ co-writer and romantic partner at the time, Oja Kodar, also stars as an object of Hannaford’s affections.” She’s not the object of Hannaford’s affections. Bob Random is one who stars as the subject of Hannaford’s affections, John Dale. Hannaford is a closeted homosexual whose mask of machismo gradually slips away as the night goes on.

    “It’s a fascinating but ultimately messy and ugly affair that, nevertheless, might be too much of a discovery and curiosity to pass up.”

    How can something be both a highly-watchable, bold movie and a mess at the same time?

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