The 58th Chicago International f=Film Festival continues through Sunday, October 23, and we have capsule reviews of half a dozen films you’ll want to consider for the next few days. Some of them are films everyone is talking about, such as The Banshees of Inisherin and Women Talking and King of Kings: Chasing Edward Jones, a bit of unknown Chicago history. :We’ll have another post on Friday to provide more coverage of the festival.
Films are screening at two Chicago Park District locations this week. Movie fans can see Shorts 7: Sudden Waves, part of the festival’s Black Perspectives program, at 6:30pm on Thursday, October 20, at the Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St. King of Kings: Chasing Edward Jones will be screened at the Hamilton Park Cultural Center, 513 W. 72nd St. in Englewood, at 6:30pm on Friday, October 21. Both films are free and open to the public, space permitting. You can find brief descriptions of the films here. See our review of King of Kings below.
The festival has many great films coming up, including some that will be country entries in the Best International Feature category at the 2023 Oscars. Our review of Corsage below is an example. Here are more brief reviews to pique your moviegoing taste.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Tender and tough, plain spoken and lyrical, the latest from playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) re-teams his lead actors from his debut, In Bruges, for this story set on Inisherin, a fictional remote island off the coast of Ireland. In this remote location, we follow two lifelong best friends, the surface-level Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and the more artistic soul, fiddle player Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who has decided to suddenly put an end to their friendship and daily routine of getting together every afternoon at the local pub, getting drunk, and talking about essentially nothing day after day. Pádraic is stunned and attempts to take solace with his sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), and a somewhat simple younger lad Dominic (Barry Keoghan). Since Colm doesn’t initially explain his decision, the town seems to sympathize with Pádraic’s soul-crushing plight, but when Colm threatens to cut off his fingers, one at a time, every time Pádraic attempts to talk to him, everyone realizes he’s serious and possibly slightly mad.
The film is set in 1923 and the metaphor of the film is clearly the Irish Civil War, which followed the Irish War of Independence—playing out on the mainland; the firefight can sometimes be heard in the distance. But taken at face value, The Banshees of Inisherin is also simply about a man in overwhelming need of change because he’s getting older and has nothing to show for his life. It’s a legitimate fear for Colm, and drastic measures must be taken, in his eyes. More than one character in the film is desperate to change their lot in life, and Condon’s performance as the sister longing for anything but the solitary life this island offers her is heartbreaking. It’s a visually bleak and melancholy work that also manages to find many ways to accentuate the beauty of the place and people, but it’s also a story about desperation and pain. It’s so many wonderful things, making it one of the finest films of the year. (Steve Prokopy)
The film will screen Wednesday, October 19, at 8:15pm at AMC River East.
Shot by cinematographer Luc Montpellier in muted tones that almost make the film look like it was shot in black-and-white and then tinted to match the mood of each moment, writer/director Sarah Polley’s Women Talking (based on the book by Miriam Toews) centers on a religious community whose normally powerless women are tasked with finding a solution to a rampant problem within the colony. Several of the men have been committing sexual assaults in the night. Once the perpetrators were identified, the men left the community for a time, and the women had to decide whether they wanted to forgive the offending men and carry on with life as normal or whether they want to leave the colony and start a new one somewhere else, taking only the children with them. Most of the film is set in a barn where a few of the women rise to the surface as natural leaders, although with a variety of opinions on their next steps. The embarrassment-of-riches cast includes Rooney Mara as Ona, who sees no choice but to leave or risk repeat offenses; Claire Foy as Salome, who seems torn by what steps to take next; and Jessie Buckley as Mariche, the tough contrarian who is abused by her husband, but still seems inclined to stay put. Rounding out the ensemble are Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand (who also produced the film), and Ben Whishaw, as local school teacher August Epp, who is tasked with writing down what is said in this meeting, since none of the women know how to write, but he also has strong feelings for the unwed but pregnant Ona.
Women Talking is deliberately vague (at first) about when in history it is set. Is it a period piece or is it alarmingly more modern than that? And the reveal on the exact year comes in waves of information, parceled out throughout the conversation. The film is an impressive collection of ideas and performances, all culminating in a reckoning and reconciling with faith that is fiercely debated and emotionally realized. The film shook me profoundly, and the discussion took turns and made arguments that I was not expecting. Every second of Women Talking is gripping and an essential part of a greater conversation about gender and power roles in any society. (Steve Prokopy)
The film screens Thursday, October 20, at 6:30pm at the Music Box Theatre, with special guests director Sarah Polley and cinematographer Luc Montpellier.
By the end of this film, about the only thing I was sure of was that there were no bears involved. Director Jafar Panihi’s film-within-a-film features him as a director helming a film being shot in Turkey while he’s stationed across the Iran border in a tiny village with poor internet connections. His efforts to get a signal involve holding his pocket wifi out of windows and getting someone to clamber up a ladder to take it to a rooftop.
Why such complex filmmaking? Panihi (The White Balloon, 3 Faces) is a skilled director who has offended the rigid Iranian government over and over again and has been imprisoned and banned from filmmaking in Iran for years while he persists in making films. His 2011 film This Is Not a Film was famously smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive hidden inside a cake and shown at the Cannes Film Festival. (Panihi was arrested again in July and is serving a six-year prison sentence.)
The film-within-a-film involves Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiyar (Bakhtiyar Panjeei), who are trying to get new fake passports so they can leave Iran together. Their film story sometimes bleeds into the director’s story so it’s not always clear what is film/film and what is No Bears. Panihi’s story of the filmmaking effort revolves around his navigation of the traditional village culture and mollifying the village elders and a hotheaded villager (Javad Siyahi). As a stranger in a village of less than 200 people, Panihi is suspect because he takes a lot of photos and spends hours at his computer in his rented room. One photo he’s accused of taking causes a break in a marriage contract, thus enraging the hothead (the birthright bridegroom) and putting Panihi on trial by the village elders. (Nancy Bishop)
No Bears will screen at 8:30 pm Thursday, October 20, at AMC River East.
The Empress Elisabeth of Austria was probably the first celebrity royal, a century before Princess Diana, celebrated for her beauty, her elegant figure and her athletic prowess. The exquisite new film, Corsage, starring Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) as Elisabeth, is part of this year’s Chicago International Film Festival and will be nominated as Austria’s official Oscars entry in the Best International Feature category. Corsage is a co-production by Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and France.
Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer, Corsage is a fictionalized account of one year in Elisabeth’s life, as she turns 40 in December 1877 and is officially declared an old woman. You know, her doctor tells her, that 40 is the average life span of women in your country. Elisabeth is determined to maintain her public image; she’s obsessive about her weight, diet and exercise regimen and every day, she is laced into her “corsage,” a form of corset, which takes inches off her waist. She fences, swims, shoots and loves to ride; she has an affectionate affair with her riding coach, Bay Middleton (Colin Morgan). Her relationship with her husband, Franz Joseph I (Florian Teichtmeister) is not always loving or cordial; she’s an intelligent woman and wants a role in affairs of state, but FJ (as she calls him) will have none of that. “Your only role is to represent,” he tells her during a heated dinner table conversation.
Elisabeth reigned as empress from 1954 to 1998; she married Franz Joseph at the age of 16 and was never comfortable in the rigidly formal Habsburg court. Her life has been immortalized in many forms in theater, ballet, film, television and literature. (Nancy Bishop)
Corsage was screened last weekend at the Chicago International Film Festival; it will be released theatrically in the US in December.
A co-production of Mexico and Peru from director Michelle Garza Cervera, this haunting film tells the story of Valeria (Natalia Solon) and her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), who have been trying for years to conceive a child. But when she finally does become pregnant, she begins to have horrifying nightmares, and begins to lose her appetite, leading her to believe the she has been cursed by an evil entity know as La Huesera, which she believes is the result of her dabbling in dark magic when she was a rebellious teen. Her ideal lifestyle begins to crumble around her, and she turns back to the occult as a means to rid herself of this dark presence and protect her unborn child from this sinister force. Huesera does moves from eerie to downright terrifying at times, but it does so with the protective heart of a mother, who would be facing anxieties even without a possible demon to cope with. Using culturally specific folklore and with a gripping lead performance by Solon, the filmmaker makes a worthy and gripping tale of motherhood under attack, certainly making it one of the more effective and deeply felt horror offerings of the year. (Steve Prokopy)
The film will screen Thursday, October 20, at 9:30pm at Music Box Theatre, and Sunday, October 23 at 7:15pm at AMC River East.
King of Kings: Chasing Edward Jones
From director Harriet Marin Jones, the granddaughter of the film’s subject, the documentary King of Kings tracks the largely unknown history of one of the most powerful Chicagoans of the 20th century and perhaps the wealthiest Black man of his generation, Edward Jones, who built a multi-million-dollar empire running an illegal racketeering operation in the 1930s known as Policy (it was your basic numbers game, spread across the entire city). This operation was a direct competitor to Al Capone’s “Outfit” (if you saw the excellent film The Outfit earlier this year, you got a taste of this head-to-head battle), but Jones mostly kept his nose clean while keeping company with the most celebrated artists of his day (Josephine Baker, Frida Kahlo, and Duke Ellington). Some of the best testimonial about “Policy King” Jones and his operation comes from Quincy Jones (no relation), who grew up in Chicago and knew Jones and his family well. Director Jones gathers a great number of her family members, hoping to piece together as much of her family’s unspoken history as possible, filled with twists, turns, mystery, violence, and pride. Jones became a huge political and business influencer in Chicago, and his rise to power was met with all the racism and inequality that one might expect African-Americans to endure at the time. Watching King of Kings felt like filling in so many pieces of Chicago and American history and in a truly satisfying way. (Steve Prokopy)
The film has its world premiere on Wednesday, October 19, at 6pm at the Chicago History Museum, followed by a free community screening on Friday, October 21, at 6:30pm at the Hamilton Park Cultural Center, 513 W. 72nd Street.
It’s Iceland and Alfrun, Saga and Hrefna are members of the Post Performance Blues Band. They met in art school and now all three (formerly four) are moms, still trying to find a way to get their band to catch on and build an audience. The film might be compared to the cult classic Spinal Tap, with its mockumentary style and colorful performances. Alfrun Ornolfsdóttir directs and performs as Alfrun in this debut documentary film. Hrefna Lind Heimisdóttir and Saga Sigurðardóttir play Hrefna and Saga.
The three band members, in frustration, agree they’ll work hard for one year to build their audience, culminating in a concert at a major venue 12 months from now. If they don’t make that a success, they agree to disband. To help them get some traction, they invite Petur, a music producer and performer, to join them. They feel that things are going well—although they still play to half-empty rooms—and they costume up for a photo shoot to create a concert poster. Then one after the other, the three women become uneasy with the idea of having a male band member. After all, we have always been a women band; how can we now have a man on stage with us? The film ends as concert ticket sales founder and one more band member leaves. The final scene is a lively music video featuring all four original band members. (Nancy Bishop)
The film screens at 1pm on Thursday, October 20, at AMC River East.
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