Besides the shorts we and the Chicago International Film Festival are showing for free, there are more than 180 other films in the lineup from 50 countries, with more than 45 films by first-time directors. I'll be gathering notes and links here from coverage of CIFF 47, opening today and running through October 20.
"The festival shows off its Chicago cred with this year's opening-night movie, produced by Steppenwolf Films and shot entirely in our city," writes Ben Kenigsberg, kicking off Time Out Chicago's day-by-day guide to the first week (featuring capsule previews of 70 films). With The Last Rites of Joe May, Joe Maggio "does a credible job with this story of a small-time operator (Dennis Farina) so ineffectual that when he's hospitalized for pneumonia, everyone assumes he's dead. Predictably, he finds redemption caring for a battered single mother and her kid. The movie is watchable, but there's barely a scene in it that's not a cliché."
"Does any actor have a better, more natural Chicago accent than Dennis Farina?" asks Steven Pate at the Chicagoist. He agrees that the story is "undeniably cliched… but watching Farina stretch out to add the nuances to the typecast role he's had no room to flesh out over the years is the real joy here." Pate places Marius Holst's King of Devil's Island, which features Stellan Skarsgård and screens tomorrow, somewhere in "Lord of the Flies meets Cool Hand Luke territory."
Looking ahead to tomorrow, here's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on The Giants: "Left unsupervised by their parents, two teenage brothers spend their summer getting stoned and causing mischief with a friend their age. Short of spending money, the brothers decide to rent their late grandfather's house to a local drug ring whose members (among them the friend's zombielike older brother) are grotesque caricatures of grown-ups — terrifying, capricious, and bossy. The premise is wafer-thin, but director Bouli Lanners (Eldorado) keeps this Belgian feature funny and lively with his deadpan humor and eccentric sensibility."
Also in the Reader, Ben Sachs on Don't Go Breaking My Heart, screening Tuesday: "The vibrant color, fluid camera movement, and intricate production design in the films of Johnnie To (Exiled, Sparrow) mark the Hong Kong director as one of the few contemporary artists who merit comparison with Vincente Minnelli. This joyous romantic comedy, codirected by To's frequent collaborator Wai Ka-fai, particularly recalls Minnelli in the way decor reflects the characters' emotional states. The story is an old-fashioned love triangle about a businesswoman torn between a shy architect and her go-getter boss, and To uses Hong Kong's steel-and-glass skyscrapers to convey not only the characters' outsize desires but the public repercussions of their mistakes."
"If you had to name the number one film fan who ever lived, who would it be?" asks Marilyn Ferdiand. "Director/collector/ preservationist Martin Scorsese? A collector of commercials, industrial films, and other off-the-beaten-path ephemera like Rick Prelinger? After seeing Cinema Komunisto, my answer would have to be Marshall Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia from 1953 until his death in 1980." The first screening's on Sunday.
At Newcity Film, Ray Pride concentrates on previewing films that will likely "show up in commercial or art-house release," and the Tribune's Michael Phillips picks out several must-sees and highlights An Evening With Haskell Wexler, happening on October 13: "Part of the festival's Chicago Connection events, this Q&A session spotlights a genius of cinema, who served as cinematographer on a stunning variety of films and won one Oscar for his work in black and white (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and another for his subtle colorist's sense of the Depression era (Bound for Glory)."
Update, 10/7: Ben Sachs reviews eight titles in order of preference, beginning with the Dardennes' The Kid with a Bike. Also at Cine-File, Douglas McLaren: "Lo, by what feat of contrivance came this picture to us? Though Ralph Fiennes produced, directed, and stars in the film, 'vanity project' is not quite the phrase to describe Coriolanus, as a vain man would not willingly debase himself in this manner, covered in his own blood and spittle, eyes wild with rage, and then placed so damn close to the camera's lens. Nay, this is a Voldemort Project."
Updates, 10/9: Miss Bala's "underlying joke is that no matter what Laura does, she's always representing Mexican society," writes Ben Sachs. "[Gerardo] Naranjo doesn't force any of his ironies, however: The filmmaking is so virtuosic that you're always caught up in the rush of events, the implications emerging only gradually. Like his countryman Alfonso Cuarón, Naranjo works in complicated, movement-heavy long takes, particularly during the epic gun battles."
Also in Cine-File, Michael W Phillips Jr on Snowtown: "For all of you who were wondering when Lodge Kerrigan (Clean, Shaven) would make an Aussie serial-killer tone poem, well, first-time writer-director Justin Kurzel beat him to it."
Updates, 10/11: Nick Davis, Timothy Brayton and Kevin B Lee launch a week-long conversation about the films and the festival at Fandor.
"Claude Lelouch has been making films for 50 years," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "The hot tickets at the Chicago International Film Festival are not his two films From One Film to Another and What Love May Bring. That's a shame.... [T]here really is nothing like seeing the work of a master filmmaker completely in command of his form, not to mention a chance to see the man in the flesh and ask him questions. My experience of seeing What Love May Bring is one I will treasure forever. What Love May Bring compresses everything Claude Lelouch knows and wants to say about cinema through a series of true stories that he has fashioned into a single narrative — the life and loves of Ilva Lemoine (Audrey Dana), the daughter of a filmmaker who was killed in World War I and the stepdaughter of Maurice Lemoine (Dominique Pinon), the projectionist at the fictional Eden Palace Cinema in Paris."