|by Peter Sobczynski
The 43rd annual edition of the Chicago International Film Festival kicks off on October 4 and over the following two weeks, it will screen over 160 films from 44 different countries. There will be high-profile titles that will be making Oscar runs in the next couple of months as well as films that may never be seen theatrically outside of the festival circuit. There will be the latest works from world-renowned directors and the debut works of beginning filmmakers hoping that they will get the kind of big break that a newcomer named Martin Scorsese did back in 1967 when his debut film, “Who’s That Knocking On My Door?,” came out of nowhere to take the top prize. There will be films covering the gamut from experimental shorts to revivals of Hollywood classic and from esoteric foreign fare to icky genre items. There will even be plenty of opportunities to meet the people responsible for many of the films screening in events ranging from gala tributes to informal Q&A’s. No matter where your cinematic tastes run, it is all cut certain that there will be at least a few films screening this year that will be right up your alley.
This year, the festival begins at the historic Chicago Theatre on Oct.5 with the United States premiere of “The Kite Runner,” Marc Forster’s eagerly anticipated adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel about a pair of young Afghani boys whose friendship is torn apart by an act of violence and betrayal and how one of them returns to Afghanistan 20 years later, now under the rule of the Taliban, in an attempt to finally make things right. Forster, whose “Stranger Than Fiction” kicked off last year’s festival, is scheduled to attend the screening along with Khaled Hosseini and co-star Khaled Abdalla. Preceding the screening of the film will be a Bill Kurtis-hosted tribute to the man to whom this year’s festival is being dedicated, celebrated film critic and longtime festival supporter Roger Ebert.
The Ebert tribute will be the first of several career celebrations that will occur during the span of the festival. On October 12, Hungarian director Istvan Szabo will appear at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema for a program dedicated to his career, which has included such celebrated films as “Mephisto,” “Hanussen,” “Meeting Venus,” “Sunshine” and “Being Julia.” The next day, the Black Perspectives program–a sidebar dedicated to black filmmaking that was organized in 1997 with the participation of Spike Lee–will honor acclaimed actor Jeffrey Wright with their Career Achievement Award. Perhaps most excitingly, October 15 will see the arrival of legendary actor Malcolm McDowell, who will screen “Never Apologize,” a film version of his one-man stage show, and participate in a post-screening discussion–this is an especially timely event since three of his most talked -about films, “O Lucky Man,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Caligula,” are all being released as special-edition DVDs in the next few weeks.
A number of familiar names are also scheduled to be on hand for the screenings of their respective films. Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter of the Jason Bourne films, will be on hand October 8 to screen his highly impressive directorial debut, the taut legal thriller “Michael Clayton. Ben and Casey Affleck will appear on October 10 for the screening of “Gone Baby Gone,” an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel that the former wrote and directed and the latter stars in along with Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Michelle Monaghan.
Celebrated actor and fava bean enthusiast Anthony Hopkins will appear on October 14 to promote his own directorial debut, “Slipstream,” a surreal drama in which he co-stars with Christian Slater, Jeffrey Tambor and John Turturro. Indie film icon John Sayles will arrive on October 15 to screen his latest effort, “Honeydripper,” a 1950's-set drama in which Danny Glover plays a juke joint owner who hires a hot guitar player for a show that he hopes will save his club from his creditors.
On the festival’s closing night, actress Laura Linney and director Tamara Jenkins will be on hand to introduce “The Savages,” an acclaimed comedy-drama in which Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play a pair of estranged siblings who are brought back together in order to care for their elderly father.
As for the films themselves, they are, as I have said, an eclectic mix of films that have been hailed at other festivals as well as newcomers looking for that first bit of buzz. Of the 14 films featured in the main competition, two of the most eagerly awaited titles are “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days,” a wrenching Romanian film about abortion that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and “Control,” a British biopic on the short life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division who contributed one tune to the list of all-time classics (the mix tape perennial “Love Will Tear Us Apart”) before he left the group hanging. That said, I am more intrigued by “You, The Living,” a film about which I know nothing other than the fact that it was directed by Roy Andersson, whose previous film, “Songs From the Second Floor,” remains one of the strangest things that I have ever seen.
Outside of the competition, there is the chance to see the latest films from such directors as Sidney Lumet (the acclaimed crime drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Bela Tarr (“The Man From London”), Suzanne Bier (“Things We Lost In the Fire”), Carlos Reygadas (“Silent Light”) and Paul Schrader (“The Walker”). There will also be revival screenings of a restored version of “Becky Sharp,” a 1935 adaptation of Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” that was the first film shot in three-strip Technicolor, the long-lost Colleen Moore silent comedy “Her Wild Oat” and Jean Renoir’s haunting 1951 masterpiece “The River,” a screening which should be mandatory for anyone planning on seeing Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” a film that owes a great debt to this earlier classic.
I am still in the process of screening films that will be playing and I will be offering updates and capsule commentary on what is playing every day or two for the duration of the festival. That said, there are a couple of titles that immediately stand out as must-sees. The first is “Lars and the Real Girl,” a bizarre yet strangely sweet romantic comedy-drama in which Ryan Gosling (in the best performance of his still-young career) as a likable introvert who begins an emotional breakthrough when he acquires a life-size doll named Bianca and treats her like a real person–while it may sound like the premise of either a kinky sex movie or an especially lame “SNL” sketch, I assure you that it avoids those pitfalls and instead becomes one of the funniest and most genuinely moving films that you will see this year. I also really liked “Stuck,” the latest film from Chicago native Stuart Gordon, the director best known for his gory Lovecraft adaptations “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond”–this is a bloody and brutal black comedy, inspired by real-life events, in which the paths of an ambitious nursing home aide (Mena Suvari) and a downtrodden middle-aged man (Stephen Rea) violently cross when she hits him with her car and he becomes stuck in her windshield. And while I haven’t seen it yet, I also feel confident in recommending that you check out “The Last Mistress,” a costume drama in which a hot-blooded Spanish woman seduces a French aristocrat into a tempestuous affair, on the basis that the combination of director Catherine Breillat (the creator of such audacious works as “Romance,” “Fat Girl” and “Anatomy of Hell”) and star Asia Argento (who presumably needs no further introduction) is such an inspired pairing that regardless of whether the film itself is good or bad, it will most certainly be very interesting.
Aside from a couple of special events, the screenings this year will be held at three different venues–the AMC River East (322 E. Illinois), the landmark Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport) and the Landmark Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark). Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased via phone–through Ticketmaster at (312)902-1500 or the festival at (312)332-FILM–over the Internet by going to www.ticketmaster.com or in person at the theater box-offices on the day of the show or in advance at one of the festival stores (located inside the Borders Books at 830 N. Michigan and 2817 N. Clark) or at the festival offices at 30 E. Adams. For a full list of films, tickets and daily updates, go to the festival website
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2264
originally posted: 10/01/07 09:33:27
last updated: 10/01/07 10:06:44