Though a lot of exciting films and guests were in Chicago over the weekend for all the happenings at the Chicago International Film Festival, there’s still a lot more in store. If you can sneak away during the day, the festival features afternoon matinees (at discounted ticket prices), and plenty of primetime fare as well. The films your Third Coast team got to check out in advance are all screening for the first time during the week, many with filmmakers and cast in town for the occasion.
Although it may sound like a flight of fancy, the latest from director Tom Harper (whose fantastic Wild Rose came out earlier this year stateside) is actually a thrilling and highly enjoyable story about a significant 1862 hot air balloon rise that not only marked the highest flight humans had ever taken to date, but advanced (hell, it practically invented) the science of weather prediction. Young but untested meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) hires skilled pilot and daredevil Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), whose balloonist husband died in her last flight, and the two both have a great deal to prove to the world at large. The physical and emotional challenges they face are unparalleled, but it’s the breathtaking (literally) photography and beautifully realized personal moments during the journey (which only lasted about 90 minutes) that really make The Aeronauts something far more special than a simple adventure story. It’s a story of discovery, survival, and outsiders with everything to lose, including their lives. I’m sure some of the details aren’t quite factual, but that doesn’t stop the film from being something quite special. (Steve Prokopy)
The Aeronauts screens on Wednesday, 10/23 at 5:45pm. Director Tom Harper is scheduled to appear.
Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), paroled from a juvenile detention center, is being sent to work in a sawmill in a remote Polish town—much to his dismay, since he’d rather join the seminary and follow the faith that he found while locked up. But he’s told the blunt truth by his priest mentor: the church won’t let convicts like him join the clergy. Arriving in the small town, he finds a community grieving from a horrific car crash that killed several young parishioners a few months earlier, and ditching the hard labor for a priest’s garments he’s brought with him, Daniel impersonates a young clergyman from Warsaw and begins building a following in town.
The blue-grey tone of Jan Komasa’s film is grimly dramatic—watching Daniel’s lie become increasingly hard to keep while he’s expected to, for instance, perform last rites for an elderly townswoman, is an anxiety-inducing experience. But the film manages to balance these moments with an unexpected humor, not dissimilar to the Coen Brothers’ dark comedies. Once the pieces are in the place, the plot does tend feel somewhat repetitive, but Bielenia turns in a fascinating performance as Daniel, with his skeletal, emotive face registering each new anxiety with dramatic clarity—and the finale, gruesomely climatic, is a real stunner. (Matthew Nerber)
Corpus Christi screens Wednesday, 10/23 at 5:45pm; Thursday, 10/24 at 8:45pm and Friday, October 25 at 12pm. Filmmaker Jan Kosama is scheduled to attend on Thursday and Friday.
Director Damien Manivel (The Night I Swam) takes a particularly powerful dance piece from Isadora Duncan, entitled “Mother,” (which she choreographed in response to the accidental death of her two young children more than 100 years ago) and shows how the routine resonates with four different dancers in the present day. One woman uses the piece as means to ease back into dancing after an unnamed accident, using the originally sketched out choreography notations; a dancer with Down’s Syndrome is taught the performance by her instructor in preparation for a recital; and an elderly woman in the audience is visibly moved by the performance and takes a slow journey back home while imagining that her body is once again capable of such movement. With little dialogue (outside of dance instructions), Isadora’s Children examines both Duncan’s means of dealing with unimaginable suffering in 1913, as well as how the pain that birthed the piece might connect with people today on a less specific but no less emotional level. The film is unexpectedly moving, instructive and inspiring. (Steve Prokopy)
Isadora’s Children screens Thursday, 10/24 at 5:45pm, and Sunday, 10/27 at 12:15pm.
The new film from Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton, Just Mercy tells the true-life story of young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan, also a producer) who graduates from Harvard Law and immediately moves to Alabama, seeking justice in a state where black men are rarely treated as equals in the eyes of the law and no one on death row has ever been released from prison. But when Stevenson hears the story of death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man who is clearly innocent, he digs in and fights for his release—first using legal means, which don’t stand a chance in Alabama, and then using slightly more clever means, like getting his client profiled on “60 Minutes.” Cretton elevates both the jailhouse scenes and the legal wrangling to expose a racist, corrupt and unfeeling judicial system, from the police to the courts, and Jamie Foxx’s performance is astonishing as a man who has given up on hope and holds out for a while, not allowing many to enter his life when Stevenson comes along. The impressive cast includes Brie Larson as Stevenson’s invaluable legal secretary, as well as O’Shea Jackson Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Karan Kendrick, and an unrecognizable Rafe Spall as the DA who is new enough to seem compassionate but veteran enough to know how things are expected to happen in Alabama. (Steve Prokopy)
Just Mercy screens on Monday, 10/21 at 8:15pm. Director of photography Brett Pawlak, and actors Karan Kendrick and Tim Blake Nelson are scheduled to attend.
Making its North American premiere at the festival (it enjoyed a world premiere in the UK earlier this year), Kristof Bilsen’s moving documentary looks at a very particular set of life circumstances that revolves around the huge impact an Alzheimer’s diagnosis has on an individual, their family and the people enlisted to care for them. Pomm is a caretaker at a residential facility in Thailand that caters to Westerners in need of round-the-clock attention as they deteriorate due to the disease; she leaves her three children with their father or extended family in a rural part of the country so that she can live and work at the center. The film never delves into the “why” of this type of arrangement, sending an aging loved one to another continent in the final years of their life (though one imagines it has to do with cost), and that’s too bad. There’s certainly something worth exploring in just what’s happening in a society when it can’t support its vulnerable elderly. But I digress…
The central question in Mother is just that, the relationship of the women to each other, their children, and their own definition of being a good parent and different phases in their lives. When Maya, a fairly young patient, relatively speaking, arrives at the facility, we learn a lot about both the family’s choice to send her to Thailand and Pomm’s path to earning her trust via candid voiceovers from one of Maya’s grown daughters and Pomm herself. And as we get to know Pomm and her kids better, the film truly shines in its exploration of the universal complexity of the parent/child relationship. (Lisa Trifone)
Mother screens on Monday, 10/21 at 8:30pm and Tuesday, 10/22 at 3:15pm. Director Kristof Bilsen is scheduled to attend both screenings.
Once Upon a River
Chicago singer/songwriter Haroula Rose’s debut feature, Once Upon a River adapts Bonnie Jo Campbell’s novel about Margo, a 16 year old Native American girl living in Michigan in the late 1970s. Margo (Kenadi DelaCerna) and her father are outsiders in their small community, seen as the enemy by their mostly white neighbors—but they get along fine together; they hunt, and fish, and try to move on after Margo’s mother ditched town, only occasionally sending letters. But after Margo’s father is shot to death by a young local, she sets out by boat, tracing her mother’s whereabouts and running from police suspicion.
The autumn Michigan landscapes provide a stunning backdrop for Margo’s trek, and the filmmakers get much mileage from poetic frames of rushing water and rustling trees. And the performances are quietly convincing throughout, from DelaCerna’s warm, resilient Margo, to John Ashton’s gruff, no-nonsense Smoke, an old woodsman she meets along the way. And director Rose steers the film with a steady hand, balancing a tender coming of age drama with a slice of rural period piece that is both chilling and earnestly moving. (Matthew Nerber)
Once Upon a River screens Monday 10/21 at 2pm; Friday, 10/25 at 8:15pm and Saturday, 10/26 at 12pm. Filmmaker Haroula Rose, author Bonnie Jo Campbell and star Kenadi DelaCerna will be in attendance.
One of the more talked about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Scott Z. Burns’ The Report is based on the real events that began when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) asked for an investigation from Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) looking into the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program (the resulting document is know by some as “The Torture Report”). In a deliberately dry but still incredibly hard-hitting way, the film follows Jones through his dogged pursuit of the truth, which led to findings that were simply too embarrassing for the nation’s top intelligence agency to let go public, so they systematically began destroying evidence and working around the law, all to keep the truth about the effectiveness of torture from the American people.
The Report is Burns’ directing debut, although he is one of Hollywood’s most impressive screenwriters, primarily working with Steven Soderbergh on such works as The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, and his latest, The Laundromat. Between this film and Marriage Story (as well as that little Star Wars movie in December), Adam Driver is having his best year ever as an actor, and his portrayal as an idealist who has his love for his government ripped out of his chest during this process is devastating. With a cast that includes Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll, and Maura Tierney, The Report allows the facts to drive the drama and deliver truth-driven body blows that any unnecessary amping up of the facts would only destroy. It’s an exceptional and pure piece of filmmaking, and also quite draining as your faith in humanity is certainly (and repeatedly) tested. (Steve Prokopy)
The Report screens on Thursday, 10/24 at 8:15pm.
Marking his first time working outside of his native Japan, master filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) shifts the action to France to tell the multi-generational tale of aging, legendary actress Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve), who has just put out a memoir called “The Truth” that her screenwriter daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) has some real issues with, since she sees most of the book’s most poignant moments as complete fiction. She travels from America with her actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their young daughter to visit Fabienne as she is shooting a new film, Memories of My Mother, which Fabienne is having trouble getting through, to the point where she’s having difficulty distinguishing between the world of the movie and her real life.
There’s often stinging and darkly funny banter between the two leads, arguing about how the younger was raised and mistreated, with Fabienne claiming that without such an unorthodox upbringing, Lumir wouldn’t have become the success she is. There’s also an endless supply of insight into how French filmmaking works (Fabienne’s takedown of some of the country’s most famous actresses is extraordinary), as well as a great number of nice flourishes given to the characters (Hank has given up drinking for unexplained reasons, but naturally Fabienne pressures him into falling off the wagon for a spell). Certainly, Kore-eda’s unique touches are felt throughout, with meditations on family, forgiveness, and the facades we all wear in certain circumstances. A truly great foray for the filmmaker that embraces the best cinematic elements of two cultures. (Steve Prokopy)
The Truth screens on Thursday, 10/24 at 8pm.
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