And just like that, another year of the Chicago International Film Festival is behind us. Marking its 55th edition, the festival concluded over the weekend with a few more special events and an awards ceremony where all the various juries named some of the most noteworthy films of the competition. As the last few films screened, your Third Coast film writers caught just a few more titles worth included in our recap here, too.
Best of the Fest
With several film categories qualified for awards recognition, the fest’s top honors were bestowed on diverse group of titles. At the very top of the top, Celine Sciamma’s highly anticipated Portrait of a Lady on Fire was named winner of the International Features group (narratives from around the world); runner-up: Vitalina Varela from Portugal. Meanwhile, the best documentary of the festival was determined to be Love Child (from Chile) with Ringside, about aspiring boxers here in Chicago, taking second-best honors. And the festival always honors one film with Chicago ties with its aptly named Chicago Award; this year, that award was presented to Tour Manager, a short film about a pregnant band manager wrangling her two unruly musicians toward their next gig.
Many of the festival’s films won’t be seen in these parts again, as these foreign and independent films don’t often find their way back to theaters. Others, including Portait of a Lady on Fire, will come back around for theatrical openings, so keep an eye out. (Lisa Trifone)
The story’s in the silence in Flemish director Bas Devos’ third feature, Ghost Tropic. Following an elderly woman navigating her way home after falling asleep and missing her metro stop late at night, the film utilizes long takes and largely dialogue free scenes to paint a picture of urban loneliness and happenstance that’s both challenging and thoughtful. Saadia Bentaieb’s Khadija is a blank slate of a protagonist, registering little reaction to each of the night’s mundane setbacks, inviting the audience in as a dreamy surrogate. Many will find the intentional, meandering art house vibe frustrating on a practical level—and the film does feel, at times, stylistically committed to a fault. But there is plenty of beauty to offset the thin narrative, like the opening long-take of a living room darkening at sunset, or the shot of a mangy dog alone on a city street, his leash tied to a pole and slowly loosening. A patient viewing of Ghost Tropic reveals meditative musings on aging, legacy, and the secret lives of those who live in our cities and even our own homes. (Matthew Nerber)
Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo has been in films before (Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale), but Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet marks the first time she’ll carry a film as its star; in this case, she’s American heroine and someday face of the $20 bill Harriet Tubman. Though it revolves mainly around Tubman’s experience escaping slavery and becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad, the film’s title is slightly misleading, as it diverges from Tubman’s life story more than once and only gets to about a quarter of it to begin with. Tubman’s courage and heroism is uncontested, and Erivo certainly channels the fierce determination and unwavering faith it must have taken to lead such an impactful life. But the film loses its way when the focus shifts away from its central character, trying to do too much to remind us of the universal evils of slavery and all the horrors contained within. Perhaps worse, it closes with an epilogue that is perhaps the most interesting moment of the whole film, as we’re reminded of all that Tubman would go on to accomplish with her life. I’d like to see that movie. (Lisa Trifone)
Harriet opens in theaters Friday, November 1
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