The Chicago International Film Festival is the oldest competitive cinema event in North America and shows no signs of slowing down in its 51st year. This year’s schedule promises 150 documentary, narrative feature, and short films from over 50 countries, including entries from our compas in Belize, Cuba, and Venezuela. Mexico leads the way with 10 films, including Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles. We’ve got a few recommendations for CIFF attendees, which cinephiles might recognize from such Class A gatherings as Cannes and the Berlin International Film Festival. These movies have traveled the globe at the world’s fanciest festivals and are now making a stop in Chicago for your viewing pleasure.
The Chicago International Film Festival runs October 15 – 29, 2015.
In Chronic, Tim Roth stars as David, a sympathetic hospice nurse who does more than provide palliative care — he’s a friend and a surrogate child to his patients. But this outward devotion masks a loss that David doesn’t appear to want to deal with. Director Michel Franco sticks with the documentarian approach he established in After Lucia: his latest film is an austere production, lacking a score and alternating scenes between hospital rooms and a home that’s hardly lived in. The film was selected for (but lost) the Palme d’Or at Cannes, where Franco took home the Best Screenplay award.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato
Sergei Eisenstein was a Soviet filmmaker who revolutionized silent (and propaganda) films with 1925’s Battleship Potemkin, and whose brief stay in Mexico is the inspiration for Peter Greenaway’s biopic. It’s a sexy and hilarious tribute to the legendary director, who fell in love with Mexico — and a few handsome Mexicans in particular — while attempting to film a movie. Greenaway mixes palettes, taking Eisenstein from quiet, black-and-white moments to color-soaked epiphanies. Eisenstein’s boundless lust ultimately proved to be his movie’s undoing, but here he (mostly) just has a great time. Eisenstein in Guanajuato screened in the main competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.
The U.S.-Mexico border has provided the setting (and conflict) for many a drama, but in Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles, it’s just one of many lines that are crossed. Arnulfo (Kristyan Ferrer) is a young Mexican gunrunner, which lands him on ATF Agent Hank Harris’ (Tim Roth) radar. But instead of getting his man, Hank is taken hostage by Arnulfo, who wants to hand him over to his cartel bosses to curry favor. The two men get chummy on the trip south, which makes Arnulfo’s subsequent actions all the more tragic. 600 Miles won the Best First Feature award at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.
Director Pablo Larraín’s previous films examined life in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, and here he takes aim at another oppressive force: the Catholic Church. The Club has four members, all priests, who live together in a Church-sponsored home to “purge” themselves of their sins, which include child molestation and kidnapping. With a retired nun to look after them, the men seem willing to live out their days in contrite seclusion. But their penitence is interrupted with the arrival of a crisis counselor, Father Garcia. The Club took home the Jury Grand Prix at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, and was selected to represent Chile for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars, but did not receive a nomination.
It’s telling that Santiago Mitre’s film is alternately known as La patota and Paulina — one title underscores the group of assailants and therefore the crime (gang rape), while the other focuses on the victim, a schoolteacher played by Dolores Fonzi. Instead of seeking revenge or court-provided justice, Paulina seemingly wants to understand her attackers. This infuriates her father, who is actually a judge and would love nothing more than to see the rapists’ heads on a platter, or at least to throw their asses in jail. Mitre struggles a bit with his subject matter, but Fonzi’s strong performance holds the film together. Paulina screened at the Munich Film Festival, and won the Nespresso Grand Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
El abrazo de la serpiente
There’s no reason to think things will end well for the natives of the pristine Amazon in this Colombian drama from Ciro Guerra (La Sombra del Caminante). The movie comprises two stories of two journeys along one river, in search of a healing plant, and centers on an age-old theme: nothing gold can stay. Colonialism finds its way into even the most remote places on this planet, and leaves catastrophe in its wake. The film was even shot in black and white, leaving no room for shades of gray, moral or otherwise. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards.