Dispatch: A Riotous Whodunit, an Eat-the-Rich Satire and More Continue Screenings at 59th Chicago Int’l Film Festival
Weekday screenings continue at the Chicago International Film Festival, and while some of the event's most anticipated film screenings have passed, there's still plenty to see and do.
In the first 45 minutes of Alien Island, you begin to suspect that director Cristóbal Valenzuela Berríos is pulling your leg. Why is this story of UFO obsessives in the Pinochet era so important? Is he trivializing Chile’s darkest chapter, one with which filmmakers like Patricio Guzmán, Maite Alberdi and Pablo Larraín are still helping Chileans come to terms? But then Valenzuela shows his cards, for Alien Island may involve UFO sightings and conversations with aliens over shortwave radio, but it truly is about the civilian population’s complicity in the disappearance and execution of thousands at the hands of the Pinochet regime.
It starts, innocently enough, with two shortwave radio operators, Cristina Muñoz and Octavio Ortiz, who establish contact with Ariel who claims to be an alien living with other fellow aliens on Friendship Island in the Los Choros Archipelago at the southern tip of Chile. He also claims to be capable of curing any disease and of being interested in humans with a specific genetic configuration. Other shortwave radio operators join Cristina and Octavio in their communications with Ariel who soon tells them to get in contact with their human intermediary, one Ernesto de la Fuente, who used to be a film and TV soundman who worked with Raúl Ruiz in some of his early '70s films (I swear to God, if Ruiz’ mention in this documentary and in Alberdi’s The Eternal Memory doesn’t get him a retrospective at some festival or film center, I don’t know what will). Any resemblance between de la Fuente and the character played by Alfredo Castro in Larraín’s Postmortem (2011) may be pure coincidence.
Shot in black and white, its aesthetic recalling the cheapest of 1950s science-fiction B movies (Valenzuela Berríos makes copious use of footage from those American films), Alien Island sometimes walks a thin line between cheekiness and earnestness. Valenzuela Berríos lays a couple of landmines in the form of propagandistic newscasts featuring Pinochet and even clips from Don Francisco’s show in the '80s addressing the UFO phenomenon. Disinformation at its best. To this day, people around the world still believe that there is a fictional island in Chile inhabited by aliens. (Alejandro Riera)
Alien Island is participating in the Documentary Competition.
The Crime Is Mine
François Ozon is one of France's most prolific filmmakers working today, and unlike some of his contemporaries around the world, he seems to enjoy bouncing around from genre to genre, time period to time period. In his latest to find a U.S. release (coming Christmas Day from Music Box Films), The Crime is Mine (Mon Crime) is a riotous whodunit set in late-1930s Paris based on a play by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil. Madeleine (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) and Pauline (Rebecca Marder) are two best friends scraping by in a dingy flat in the city, months behind on their rent; the former is a down-on-her-luck actor, the latter a new (and not terribly talented) lawyer. After a meeting with a potential benefactor who asks too much in exchange for his support, Madeleine returns home only to have the police arrive quickly behind her; Monsieur Montferrand (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) has been found dead, and she's the prime suspect.
What unspools from there is a clever throwback of a caper, with the two friends deciding to lean into the accusation, milking the trial and surprise acquittal (not a spoiler!) for all the free publicity they can. All seems to be going according to plan until one Odette Chaumette appears en personne, the unrivaled Isabelle Huppert, whose very presence turns this spark of a film into a bonfire of hilarity and wit. With this added complication to their best laid plans, Madeleine and Pauline have to think quickly and act quicker to save themselves from returning to the poorhouse. There's no shortage of bumbling male egos at every turn, but these three women smartly (and entertainingly) outwit them all, and it's a laugh-out-loud ride to watch them at it. (Lisa Trifone)
The Crime is Mine screens Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 8pm at the Siskel Film Center and Thursday, Oct. 19, at 5:15pm at AMC NewCity.
Evil Does Not Exist
Following his 2021 Oscar-winning Drive My Car, writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi (whose also excellent Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy was released stateside the same year) takes a more oblique but no less potent and far more lyrical direction with Evil Does Not Exist, the tale of handyman Takumi (newcomer Hitoshi Omika, who has worked on previous Hamaguchi movies as an assistant director), living in the quiet Japanese village of Harasawa (not far from Tokyo) with his young daughter Hana. Takumi seems to make a living gathering fresh water from the local streams and selling it to local businesses, as well as chopping firewood. His knowledge of the natural world in this area is impressive and he hopes to hand this down to his daughter. The film takes its time revealing its drama, instead choosing to spend long stretches just observing the ecology of this community and its surroundings.
Eventually, we discover that this peaceful life and pure environment is in danger when a Tokyo-based developer buys up property and announces plans to build a “glamping” (glamorous camping for high-end clients) site. The townspeople reject parts of the plan and make their protests known at a tense town meeting with two representatives from the developer, who turn out to be talent agents. Their arguments are sound, especially ones about the impact on their pristine water supply, which is the source of much of the town’s very existence. But the two representatives end up falling in love with the town and attempt to work with the locals, especially Takumi, to whom they offer the job of their project’s caretaker, to make the project less environmentally impactful. But the film also zeroes in on the relationship between Takumi and his daughter, and how her natural curiosity and awareness that her father can be forgetful leads her into a storyline that takes over the narrative and leads to a climax that is both symbolic of the divide between humans and nature, and quite literal as a cautionary tale about the dangers of nature when you mess with it. Evil Does Not Exist is a deliberately paced, stunningly shot, and frequently tense work as it considers why humans seem so eager to mess with and even destroy perfection. (Steve Prokopy)
The film screens on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 6pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and Friday, Oct 20, at 8pm at AMC NEWCITY.
Even if I wasn’t an admirer of Oscar-winning (for Promising Young Woman) writer/director Emerald Fennel’s two feature films (and I very much am), I’d be thrilled that a filmmaker like her even existed and was actively making movies that push buttons, divide audiences, and just generally make people uncomfortable with their naked aggression as they stare into the eyes of those who get away with shit due to their status in society and enter into a life-or-death staring contest. With her latest, Saltburn, Barry Keoghan (The Banshees of Inisherin) plays middle-class student Oliver Quick in an upper-class university (Oxford), who struggles to fit in and frequently fails. He ends up falling into the inner circle of wildly popular and handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi, Euphoria) through an act of seemingly selfless kindness, much to the dismay of many of Felix’s other friends, especially his cousin Farleigh Start (Archie Madekwe, Gran Turismo, Midsommar). The two become so close, in fact, that when Oliver reveals that he has no place to go for the summer holiday because his dad is dead and his mom is a raging drunk, Felix invites him to his family estate, Saltburn.
Oliver is all too eager to fall in with this overly privileged crowd—including father Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant), mother Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), and a guest who has overstayed her welcome, Poor Dear Pamela (a wonderful extended cameo by Carey Mulligan)—that he begins to ingratiate himself into their lives and become their confidante to a degree that they reveal to him long-buried secrets. It also seems like Oliver is falling in love with Felix, but he is equally keen on the idea of being seduced by Venetia, and soon it becomes clear that Oliver isn’t just reacting to what’s being thrown at him by the family; he may have gone to Saltburn with a plan.
Filmmaker Fennell seems intent on making this family pay for simply having money and spending it like buffoons and their treating outside visitors like pets or freak-show oddities. Whether he means to or not, Oliver even ends up pitting family members against each other, and the constant presence of Farleigh, who immediately suspects Oliver of being deceitful and manipulative, doesn’t discourage him from seeing how far he can push things. Saltburn is a deliciously wicked exercise and among the darkest of dark comedies in recent memory. In the ever-growing sub-genre of “Eat the Rich,” this film ranks as one of the nastier and funniest entries in the field. Bring me whatever Emerald Fennell has next. (Steve Prokopy)
The film screens Thursday, Oct. 19, at 6:30pm at Music Box Theatre. This screening includes an in-person tribute to director Emerald Fennell and presentation of the Chicago International Film Festival’s Visionary Award. The film opens theatrically on November 17.
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