Dispatch: Selections from Chicago Int’l Film Festival’s First Weekend of Screenings

The 55th Chicago International Film Festival is officially underway, and with ten full days of screenings to go, there’s more to see than any one person could possibly make time for. Enter: the Third Coast Review film team. With advanced access to a significant selection of the films screening throughout the week, several writers are here to share brief takes on what caught our eyes.

Complete festival coverage can always be found right here.

Forman Vs Forman
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Forman vs. Forman

There are few filmmakers with a track record for great movies like Milos Forman, who died about a year and a half ago and is the subject of a new documentary from the Czech Republic directed by Jakub Hejna and Helena Třeštíková. As the title implies, Forman vs. Forman is about a filmmaker sometimes at war with himself and his upbringing through the horrors of living in a Nazi-occupied nation (which then became a communist country) that he eventually left to take a shot at Hollywood filmmaking (he won two Best Director Oscars—for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus). The wealth of archival footage moves through Forman’s early years as a celebrated Czech-based director (The Firemen’s Ball being a highlight), through two marriages (and two sets of twin boys, one pair by each spouse), and through a celebrated career in the U.S. The only downside of the documentary is that it’s ridiculously short (just 77 minutes, including credits); as a result, much of the storytelling feels rushed—so much so that the movie doesn’t even cover his final two movies, Man on the Moon and Goya’s Ghosts. But what is here is heartfelt and honest about Forman’s attempts to find a balance between the creative and the political in his work and life. (Steve Prokopy)

Forman vs. Forman screens Saturday, 10/19 at 11:30am, and Monday, 10/21 at 2:45pm.


The conversation around representation in media is, now more than ever, more than just talk—and it’s about time. Anyone with a story to tell and a perspective from which to tell it has more opportunity than ever to see their idea come to fruition, and a film like Hala is the proof. Minhal Baig writes and directs this coming-of-age drama about a high school senior from a conservative Muslim home who’s navigating a budding romance, a family secret and her parents’ efforts to arrange a marriage for her much the way theirs was for them. Geraldine Viswanathan delivers a gentle, thoughtful performance in the title role as a teen whose internal chaos remains there; this isn’t a film of loud outbursts of teenage rebellion, and anyone who was a bit of a bookworm (and people pleaser) in high school will relate. The sense of quiet pervades the whole of the production, as at times the film’s pace feels a bit too drawn out for its own good. But in the end, Hala makes an encouraging union of a traditional coming-of-age indie with a sharp new perspective at its heart. (Lisa Trifone)

Hala screens Friday, 10/18 at 5:45pm and Sunday, 10/20 at 3pm. Filmmaker Minhal Baig will be in attendance at both screenings.

I Was at Home But… 

Angela Schanelec’s stilted, cryptic drama isn’t so much plotless as much as it is narratively defiant. On the surface it deals with the reappearance of a young student who vanished for a week, and the fallout of the event on several Berliners, including mother Astrid (Margen Eggert) and teacher Lars (Franz Rogowski). Yet I Was at Home But… forgoes a conventional arc in service of a more meditative approach; dramatic details are sparse, and the quiet, awkward dialogues are interspersed with an array of head-scratching non-sequiturs, like the frequent cutaways to schoolchildren rehearsing a production of Hamlet. The camera is consistently trained in static, artful framing, only tracking for the occasional walk and talk, lending the film a tone of uneasy voyeurism.

The resulting experience is, for all of its cold conventions and deliberate obtuseness, surprisingly personal. The patient setup and committed performances fill out Berlin’s cavernous architecture with small scale epic—Eggert is truly exceptional, crafting scenes of mundane exchanges that rattle across the stark production—when she attempts to return a junky bike to its elderly owner, the scene has the sickly tension of a thriller, and a maternal meltdown in front of her children is all the more compelling because of its unsatisfying deflation. It’s a film that demands a re-watch; a strange bookend involving a stoic donkey piratically dares the viewer to crack the code. (Matthew Nerber)

I Was At Home, But… screens Thursday, 10/17 at 8:15pm and Sunday, 10/20 at 4pm.


Jesus Shows You The Way To the Highway

I’ll have what they’re smoking.

You can live a long time and never see a film quite like the second film from Miguel Llansó (Crumbs), who tells the tale of CIA Special Agent DT Gagano (newcomer Daniel Tadesse, whose physical disability makes him appear to have no neck), who is on the verge of retiring with his wife when he’s called upon for one last mission involving a Russian-made computer virus infecting the Agency’s mainframe. Although Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway appears to be set in the relative present, it has the feel of a C-movie exploitation work, complete with dubbed dialogue, amateur actors, mediocre kung-fu, and a host of old-school science fiction tropes that make it feel like a late-’60s production that all add to something bizarre and hilarious.

Shot in such exotic locations as Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, and Ethiopia, the movie examines the world of the early VR universe in a program known as PsychoBook, and before long Agent Gagano’s world turns upside down, and his dreams of opening up a pizzeria in his golden years are placed in mortal danger. Featuring such classic lines as “You don’t give a shit about my kickboxing academy,” and “I’m not dead; I’m stuck inside a portable TV,” the film is that glorious combination of terrible (very much on purpose), sublime, and utterly re-watchable. (Steve Prokopy)

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway screens on Saturday, 10/19 at 10:30pm, and Sunday, 10/20 at 12:45pm. Director Miguel Llansó and producer Sergio Uguet de Resayre are scheduled to attend. 

The Kingmaker
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

The Kingmaker

The major success in The Kingmaker, a film by documentarian Lauren Greenfield (Queen of Versailles) that boasts many great qualities, is its expertly managed scope. Largely, it’s centered around former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos and her family’s long (and continuing) legacy in that country’s politics. Where the magic happens is in the way Greenfield threads throughout just enough context and backstory about the country’s history, the actions of Ferdinand Marcos’s administration and the current state of the Philippine government, zooming out just far enough to put Mrs. Marcos’s story into gripping perspective. The filmmaker quickly (and deftly) puts to rest any notion that this is a puff piece on the infamous First Lady and her shoe collection; instead, Marcos and her adult children, themselves serving in government to varying degrees today, become one storyline in a complicated and complex national history where decisions made by leaders decades ago continue to have an impact on the everyday lives of its citizens today. By including interviews with activists, political rivals and victims in addition to quite transparent conversations with Marcos herself, The Kingmaker is as much an exploration of unchecked ego and entitlement as it is a crucial historical record. (Lisa Trifone)

The Kingmaker screens Friday, 10/18 at 8:15pm and Saturday, 10/19 at 1:45pm. Director Lauren Greenfield is scheduled to attend the Friday screening.

The New Bauhaus

From director Alysa Nahmias (Unfinished Spaces), this terrifically informative and fascinating documentary about Hungarian artistic pioneer László Moholy-Nagy takes us from his roots at the famous German Bauhaus school (where he was looked upon with much suspicion, since he had very little artistic training or experience) to his move to Chicago in 1937 to eventually create a New Bauhaus school (now known as IIT Institute of Design). The New Bauhaus dissects and examines in detail the thinking behind Moholy-Nagy’s groundbreaking mixed-media approach to his craft, as well as his teaching style that was less about instruction and more about experimentation and letting the students find their vision, rather than having a vision forced upon them. An unexpectedly moving aspect of the film is the presence and constant voice of Moholy-Nagy’s now-elderly daughter, Hattula, who is very much a part of this discovery process and walk through the designer/artist’s life and work. She takes us through his triumphs, as well as the many criticisms of his approach and resulting projects, giving the entire film a much more personal feel than a standard-issue artist profile might otherwise have. The impact of the Bauhaus movement is still very much a part of the world around us, and this doc does it and its creator tremendous justice. (Steve Prokopy)

The New Bauhaus screens on Thursday, 10/17 at 5:45pm, and Friday, 10/18 at 6pm (at MCA Chicago). Guests scheduled to appear at both screenings are: (10/17) Director Alysa Nahmias, executive producer Marquise Stillwell, producers Petter Ringbom and Erin Wright, editor Miranda Yousef, and subject Hattula Moholy-Nagy; (10/18) Director Alysa Nahmias, producers Petter Ringbom and Erin Wright, editor Miranda Yousef, and subject Hattula Moholy-Nagy.

The New Bauhaus
Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Song Without a Name

When we first meet Georgina (Pamela Mendoza) she is happily pregnant, living with husband Leo (Lucio Rojas) in a small rural home, selling potatoes to fund their modest lifestyle. After hearing a radio advertisement for a clinic offering free services to mothers, Georgina travels to Lima and gives birth—the staff rushes the baby to a nearby hospital for testing, and Georgina is reluctantly shown the door. When she returns the next day, the clinic has been shuttered and her baby is nowhere to be found. After getting lost in a bureaucratic nightmare trying to file a police report, Georgina enlists the help of journalist Pedro (Tommy Parraga), who uncovers a string of infant kidnappings across the country.

The debut feature from writer/director Melina Leon, Song Without a Name is inspired by the rampant illegal adoptions out of Peru, and manages to feel grounded in the real world horrors of Peruvian political turmoil during the late 1980’s. Mendoza turns out a heart-wrenching performance as the tortured Georgina, and personal touches in the scripting—such as Pedro’s budding romance with a local actor—carve out a warm center in an otherwise bleak tale. The film’s last third doesn’t quite live up to its promising setup, but the sincere, understated acting paired with Pauchi Sasaki’s paranoid, claustrophobic score and Inti Briones’ exquisite black and white photography maintain a technical proficiency that usurps any narrative deficiencies. (Matthew Nerber)
Song Without A Name screens Friday, 10/18 at 1:30pm; Friday, 10/25 at 6:15pm and Saturday, 10/26 at 12:30pm.

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone
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