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A Brief And Not-Entirely-Complete Guide To The 45th Chicago International Film Festival: Week One
by Peter Sobczynski

For the next two weeks, this column will be listing some of the daily highlights screening at the 45th Chicago International Film Festival. This is not a complete guide by any means–I have neither the time nor energy to pull that off--but I will be making sure to highlight some of the more intriguing titles and events along with a few to avoid as well. Be sure to check every day or so as more titles are added.

This year, all of the events and screenings, unless otherwise noted, will be held at the AMC River East 21 (322 E. Illinois St.). For a complete and updated schedule of the films and events or to order tickets, you can contact the festival by calling at (312)332-3456 or by going online to www.chicagofilmfestival.com, Tickets are also available through Ticketmaster, either by calling (312) 902-1500 or going to their website at www.ticketmaster.com, the festival office (30 E. Adams. Suite 800) and at the River East box-office.



10/8

MOTHERHOOD (6:00 PM): This year’s Opening Night gala presentation stars Uma Thurman as a harried wife and mother who, over the course of one long Manhattan day, tries to do her regular errands, plan and stage her daughter’s sixth birthday party, deal with the complications caused by a local film crew, scribble pithy musings about the perils of motherhood for her blog that would make Erma Bombeck rise from the dead and slap her in the face, maintain relationships with her husband (Anthony Edwards) and best pal (Minnie Driver), flirt with an Indian messenger who appears to be the only ethnic person on display in this version of the Big Apple (at least Woody Allen used to bring in Bobby Short every once in a while) and compose a winning essay on what motherhood means to her for a contest that could help her revive her long-deferred writing career. However, as this cloying and desperately unfunny film unfolds, it becomes apparent that she is a lousy writer, a terrible mother and has absolutely no time management skills at all--since the screenplay never calls her on any of this (even when she tries fleeing the city the moment things go wrong), I guess we are supposed to find these qualities to be somehow admirable. The only reason I can assume that a work this puerile was given the coveted opening slot was because Thurman will be appearing to walk the red carpet, introduce the film and receive the fest’s Career Achievement Award in a pre-show program that will presumably include clips from films much better than this one, including “Pulp Fiction,” “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” “Mad Dog and Glory” and yes, even “Batman and Robin.”


10/9

PARTNERS (3:30 PM): The festival proper starts off with a bang with this French mystery-melodrama that opens up with the dead body of a young man (Cyril Descours) being fished out of the water and then splits into a dual narrative that follows a pair of detectives (Emmanuelle Devos and Gilbert Melki) as they doggedly investigate the case and offers flashbacks to the last couple of months of the guy’s life that begin with him meeting and falling in love with a fresh-faced teen girl (Nina Meurisse) and soon devolves into the sordid world of prostitution, blackmail and murder. The stuff involving the investigations and the personal problems of the detectives is old hat and fairly uninteresting (not to mention borderline homophobic) but the stuff involving the young lovers is okay for a while until it to begins to succumb to clichés. However, if you like your festival movies stuffed with kinky sex and brutal violence, this should be up your dark and dangerous alley.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (5:00 PM): In the latest effort from Andre Techine (“Strayed,” “The Witnesses”), Emilie Dequenne (who is also serving as a member of the Main Competition jury at this year’s festival) stars as a flighty young woman who responds to the unfortunate end to her relationship with a somewhat shady guy by telling a story that sets the entire country on edge and forces her mother (Catherine Deneuve) to reunite with an old friend (Michel Blanc) to help set things right. Although it isn’t one of Techine’s best films, it is a fairly engrossing drama that is aided immensely by the strong central performances from the two lead actresses.

BELLAMY (6:00 PM): It seems almost impossible to believe but during the courses of their respective long careers, renowned French filmmaker Claude Chabrol and international superstar Gerard Depardieu have never worked on a project together until this collaboration. Working in a lighter mode than usual , Chabrol (making his 58th film) tells the story of a Parisian police chief (Depardieu) on holiday with his wife who finds himself embroiled in a case involving a man who confesses to kinda, sorta killing someone, a bevy of beautiful women (including Vahina Giocante) and any number of unexpected twists and turns. This is one that I have yet to see but since even lesser Chabrol is usually more interesting than the better works of most filmmakers, I suspect that this one should have its redeeming values, especially for those of you with a pronounced taste for French filmmaking.

HIPSTERS (6:30 PM): The program notes for this boisterous Russian musical-comedy (you heard me) suggests that it could be this year’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and while that may be stretching things just a bit, this tale of hip Russian kids trying to liven up life in Moscow circa 1955 by donning outrageous clothes and hairdos in order to dance and drink the nights away, much to the consternation of their fellow comrades, does possess some of the same irrepressible feel-good spirit. Besides, how often do you get the chance to see a Russian-made musical comedy these days? I thought so.

RICKY (6:45 PM): Fans of Francois Ozon’s more overtly stylized films, such as the murder-mystery-musical “8 Women” and the erotically-charged mindbender “Swimming Pool,” may find themselves startled at first by his latest work, which starts off as an uncharacteristically straightforward domestic drama about a single mother (Alexandra Lamy) whose relationships with her new lover (Sergi Lopez) and her adoring young daughter are challenged when she gives birth to a son. However, just at the point when you think that you are in for a slice of kitchen-sink realism in the vein of Ken Loach, it takes a wild turn that I will say nothing about--partly because it would ruin the surprise and partly because you wouldn’t believe me even if I did. (Alas, the festival program cheerfully blows the twist, so be wary.) Whether you find the shift to be fascinating or ridiculous (I lean towards the former), it reconfirms Ozon’s reputation as one of the most audacious directors working today.

RED CLIFF (7:30 PM): After spending more than a decade working in the American film industry with gradually diminishing results, John Woo, the man behind such cult classics as “The Killer” and “Hard-Boiled” returned home to his native Hong Kong to direct an epic-length film (running nearly five hours and spread over the course of two separate features) about the legendary third-century Battle of Red Cliffs that helped bring an end to the Han Dynasty while ushering in the period of the Three Kingdoms. Although highly regarded in Asia, such a thing was deemed to be commercially unacceptable outside of its homeland and as a result, the rest of the world is getting a 146-minute mash-up of the two films that devotes most of its time to the action set pieces. While the battle scenes range from the good to the amazing (harmed only by some occasionally dodgy CGI work here and there), so much of the narrative and the character development has been removed from this version that it is virtually impossible to figure out what is going on at any given time or why. As a result, this reduced version can’t be considered anything other than a disappointment, though I would love to see Woo’s full vision of this story at some point. Woo will be on hand to do a Q&A after the screening.

MOTHER (9:30 PM): In this film, which is South Korea’s entry for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, a little girl is found dead and a young man who is on the slow side is arrested for her murder. After getting nowhere with the police and being let down by a lazy lawyer, the man’s loyal and determined mother decides that it is up to her to bring the right people to justice and save her son. Yes, I realize that this may sound a little bit trite and familiar on the surface but when you consider that it was written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho, the cult filmmaker who goosed up the serial killer and monster movie genres with “Memories of Murder” and “The Host,” I think it is safe to say that the unexpected should be expected.

CROPSEY (11:00 PM): In this creepy and undeniably effective documentary that actually plays more like a horror film at times, co-directors Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman return to their Staten Island hometown to explore how a local urban legend about a child-snatching escapee from a mental institution seemed to come to life when a former attendant at the infamous Willowbrook School (a children’s institution whose harrowing conditions were exposed by an ambitious reporter named Geraldo Rivera) was implicated in the disappearances of a number of local kids over the years. What they discover along the way makes for a fascinating journey that works as straightforward reportage, as an expose of a possible miscarriage of justice (there was no physical evidence linking the accused to the crimes) and as a treatise on why we feel the need to create boogeymen of this type as a way of avoiding the possibility that a seemingly normal person could be capable of such monstrous acts.

HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (11:00 PM): In desperate need on money and with nowhere else to go, a sweet college girl (Jocelin Donahue) answers an ad for a babysitting gig in a remote house in the woods on the night of a lunar eclipse. Even after she discovers that the couple hiring her is played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov and that there isn’t actually a baby, she still agrees to stay and needless to say, the evening doesn’t go quite as planned. (Without going into detail, consider the title to be a spoiler.) Although described by most people as a throwback to the horror films of the 1980’s, the latest work from up-and-coming filmmaker Ti West is actually closer in spirit to the genre films from the Seventies. Alas, while the film does have its assets--a nicely unsettling turn by Noonan, a spunky performance from Donahue as the heroine and the greatest scene to ever feature mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig--West’s slow-burn approach to building suspense eventually flames out by taking too long to reach a conclusion that isn’t really worth it in the end. West will be on hand to introduce this screening.


10/10

WOMEN IN TROUBLE (1:45 PM): In this comedy-drama that has received much acclaim on the festival circuit, a group of disparate women--including a pregnant porn star (Carla Gugino), a pair of call girls (Adrienne Palacki and Emmanuelle Chriqui), a flight attendant (Marley Shelton), a desperate neurotic (Connie Britton) and a therapist on the edge (Sarah Clarke)--find themselves bouncing in and out of each others lives in unexpected ways. Speaking of unexpected, this female-driven film was written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, best known to some of you as the screenwriter of such things as “Gothika” and “Snakes on a Plane.” Gutierrez is current scheduled to appear at this screening.

RED CLIFF (2:30 PM): See 10/9 listing.

RICKY (3:30 PM): See 10/9 listing.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (5:30 PM): See 10/9 listing.

VINCERE (5:45 PM): “Bombastic” doesn’t even begin to describe Marco Bellocchio’s account of the life of Ida Dalser (Giovanno Mezzogiorno) Benito Mussolini’s secret lover and the mother of his son, and of Il Douchebag’s cruel attempts to deny their existences by first ignoring them and then throwing them into separate asylums--the film is so noisy and over-the-top that it makes “Pink Floyd the Wall” seem like mumblecore by comparison. And yet, while this approach is certainly an unusual one for this type of film to take, it doesn’t really help matters much--outside of a strong and fearless performance from Mezzogiorno, Bellocchio’s touch is so heavy-handed here that it makes one long for the comparatively restrained biopics that Ken Russell used to make back in the day. On the other hand, if you do go to see this one, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t fall asleep during it.

PARTNERS (6:45 PM): See 10/9 listing.

CHICAGO OVERCOAT (7:30 PM): Veteran mob-movie second banana Frank Vincent (the guy who told Joe Pesci to go home and get his shinebox in “Goodfellas”) gets the rare chance to play a lead role in--surprise--a locally-made gangster drama about an aging hitman for the Chicago mob who hasn’t whacked a guy for over two decades. When his jailed boss (Armand Assante) needs a bunch of people who know too much whacked, he sees the job as a way of simultaneously reliving the good old days and earning enough money to finance his retirement--of course, the good old days are long gone and in carrying out his assignments, he steps on enough toes to make himself the target of both the cops and his fellow mobsters. Not a single cliché of the genre has been left behind here and the only remotely surprising thing about it is that it required four screenwriters to compose a script that contains not a single original thought. What little pleasure that there is to be derived from this otherwise forgettable work is Vincent, who somehow manages to bring a certain quiet authenticity to a film that otherwise seems to have been made by and for people who consider “The Boondock Saints” to be one of the crowing glories of the American cinema experience. Vincent, co-star Mike Starr and other members of the cast and crew are scheduled to attend this screening.

THE MESSENGER (8:00 PM): After returning from Iraq as a hero and with three months left to serve on his tour of duty, a tightly wound soldier (Ben Foster) is paired up with an older by-the-book type (Woody Harrelson, in a bit of decidedly off-beat casting) to perform the wrenching job of informing total strangers that their loved ones have died in combat. The performances by Foster and Harrelson are quite good but the rest of Oren Moverman’s directorial debut is a little too familiar for its own good, right down to the last detail, and the subplot in which Foster’s character finds himself gradually growing attracted to a new widow (a wildly miscast Samantha Morton) while trying to get over his old girlfriend (Jena Malone) belongs in a soap opera instead of an ostensibly serious film of this type. Foster and Moverman are both currently scheduled to attend this screening.

LOVE AND SAVAGERY (8:30 PM): In this deadly dull bit of blarney that somehow managed to earn a spot in the main competition, a hunky geologist/poet with a zest for life (Michael McCarthy) arrives in a sleepy and remote Irish village and immediately falls for a winsome and charming local waitress (Sarah Greene). Alas, she is an orphan who made a childhood vow to enter the convent to honor her mother and as a result, most of the local townspeople will do anything to prevent him from causing her to stray from that path. This film is so painfully bland and uneventful that you keep expecting that it is just setting things up for some outrageous twist but no, it starts off boring and predictable and ends in much the same way. Director John N. Smith is currently scheduled to attend this screening.

LOOKING FOR ERIC (8:30 PM): Considering that most of his previous efforts have been dark and brooding kitchen-sink dramas like “Kes,” “Ladybird, Ladybird” and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” the last words that most cineastes would expect to be used to describe a new film from Ken Loach would probably be “gentle” and “whimsical.” And yet, that is exactly how the program guide describes his latest work, a comedy about an average guy who uses his devotion to the Manchester United as a form of escape from his problems until one of the team’s former star players mysteriously pops up in his bedroom one night and inspires him to change his life around. Yes, this sounds dodgy enough to have the potential to be Loach’s own version of “Jack” but since he has yet to deliver a completely useless movie, I for one am willing to give it a chance.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (10:30 PM): In this low-budget horror item that has been touted by many as the next “Blair Witch Project,” a young couple move into a house in suburban San Diego and begin to suspect that a mysterious spirit is there with them and making strange noises in the night while they sleep. To prove their claims, they set up a video camera in their bedroom and over the next few weeks, they capture increasingly violent and bizarre incidents that seem to prove that they are indeed not alone. Because of the absurd level of hype that has developed around this film in recent weeks, it will no doubt become a decent-sized box-office hit but those going into it expecting to see the most terrifying movie ever made are likely to come away from it feeling mighty disappointed--the notion of a horror film intentionally blurring the line between fact and fiction in its stylistic approach is old hat, the two characters are too annoying for anyone to develop any interest in their situation and while some are nicely staged, the big scare moments simply aren’t that frightening unless you are a really easy scare. Although debuting director Oren Pell demonstrates some flashes of filmmaking talent here and there, this is, for the most part, just another middling horror film in which the hard-sell publicity campaign turns out to be far more fascinating and compelling than the movie that it was designed to promote--William Castle would have loved this thing, provided that he didn’t actually have to sit through it, of course.

REVENANT (11:00 PM): If there is some kind of booby prize for the festival’s worst film, this absolutely pathetic horror-comedy is a sure front-runner for the award. After being killed in the line of duty, an American soldier comes back to life after his funeral as a sort of vampire-zombie hybrid and, with the aid of his exceptionally obnoxious stoner buddy, spends his evenings cruising the streets of L.A. and killing off criminals and creeps (nearly all of whom appear to be minorities) in order to feed off of them. I am not sure what the initial idea behind this project was, outside of wondering what “The Big Lebowski” might have been like if it had been made by Lloyd Kaufman instead of the Coen Brothers, but whatever it might be, director Kerry Prior has certainly blown it--the film isn’t funny, it isn’t creatively gross and the only vaguely terrifying thing about it is that it runs for nearly two solid and unendurable hours. Kerry Prior is scheduled to appear at this screening--feel free to slap him for me.

HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (11:15 PM): See 10/9 listing.

10/11

PARTNERS (12:00 PM): See 10/9 listing.

HIPSTERS (12:30 PM): See 10/9 listing.

CHICAGO OVERCOAT (1:00 PM): Se3 10/10 listing.

THE GIRLON THE TRAIN (12:45 PM): See 10/9 listing.

HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT’S INFERNO (1:00 PM): In 1964, the acclaimed filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot (the man behind such masterpieces as “Le Corbeau,” “The Wages of Fear” and “Diabolique”) set off with sexy actress Romy Schneider and a virtually unlimited budget to film “L’enfer,” a bizarre psychodrama about jealousy that would utilize a wild and ambitious cinematic approach in order to approximate the mindset of its tormented lead character. Despite the considerable efforts of all involved, the project eventually fell apart in the middle of shooting and, using recollections from those who worked on it (including future director Costa-Gavras), readings from the screenplay and previously unseen and unfinished footage from the ill-fated shoot, this fascinating documentary from Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea Annonier pieces together the story of what happened to what could have been, based on the clips shown, one of the most dazzling and audacious thrillers of the Sixties. (Although the film was never finished, Clouzot’s widow would sell the screenplay to Claude Chabrol, who would make his own version of it in 1994 starring Emmanuelle Beart.)

LOVE AND SAVAGERY (3:00 PM): See 10/10 listing.

LOOKING FOR ERIC (3:15 PM): See 10/10 listing.

ROGER EBERT PRESENTS. . .(5:00 PM): A fixture at the festival virtually since its inception, the renowned film critic has been asked to present a film that was previously featured Ebertfest, his own film festival dedicated to bringing attention to films new and old that slipped past many viewers. His choice, and an excellent one indeed, is “The Castle,” a charming and absolutely hilarious Australian comedy about a quirky patriarch () who launches a bizarre court battle to save his ramshackle family home when his next-door neighbor--the Melbourne airport--wants to buy up the neighborhood as part of a planned expansion. Yes, I am fully aware of how annoying quirky Australian comedies can be but I assure you that this is one that is not to be missed.

CROPSEY (5:30 PM): See 10/9 listing.

TOMORROW AT DAWN (5:45 PM): In this odd (though not entirely uninteresting) sort-of thriller from Denis Dercourt, whose previous effort was the gripping “The Page Turner,” a young man (Jeremie Renier) with a couple of quirks becomes involved in the world of historical battle reenactments (complete with duels to settle questions of honor amongst the players) and allows it to take over his life. When his more level-headed pianist brother (Vincent Perez) arrives in order to help him, he quickly learns that the line between reality and role-play has blurred for everyone involved and when he inadvertently insults a rival, it sets off a chain of events that could cost him his life.

AN EDUCATION (6:00 PM): Critically hailed from the moment that it debuted earlier this year at Sundance, the latest film from Danish director Lone Scherfig is a coming-of-age story (adapted from the memoir from Lynn Barber by Nick Hornby) starring newcomer Carey Mulligan as a bored schoolgirl in early-Sixties London who finds herself distracted from her plans to study at Oxford when she attracts the attentions of an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who promises her an exciting life filled with parties, travel and hip jazz concerts. The film itself is okay--it is relatively well-done but it isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before--but the performance by Mulligan is an extraordinary bit of work that is fully deserving of all the accolades that it has been receiving over the last few months and will continue to earn throughout the upcoming Oscar season.

THE MESSENGER (7:30 PM): See 10/10 listing.

MOTHER (8:45 PM): See 10/9 listing.

10/12

ABOUT ELLY (2:30 PM): Having won the festival’s Gold Hugo in 2006 for his previous film, “Fireworks Wednesday,” Iranian filmmaker Asghar FarhadI returns with this mystery that starts off as a woman brings a friend of hers along to a reunion of her college friends with the thought that she might hit it off with one of her old classmates, a recently divorced man in search of an Iranian bride. However, things soon take a dark turn when the friend mysteriously disappears, an event that inspires an ever-growing chain of events that pretty much ends up bad for everybody.

GIGANTE (5:30 PM): In this romantic comedy from Uruguay (and without a festival like this, would you even know that such a thing even exists?), a shy supermarket security guard falls hopelessly in love with a co-worker that he notices on his monitor but cannot bring himself to actually talk to in person. However, when rumors of mass layoffs at the store begin to circulate, he realizes that he has to nut up before he loses the chance to ever see her again.

VINCERE (6:00 PM): See 10/10 listing.

ANTICHRIST (7:00 PM): Every film festival worth its salt needs at least one ultra-controversial title guaranteed to spark long and intensive arguments among viewers and that slot has been filled this year with the latest effort from provocative Danish director Lars von Trier, the man behind such light and frothy entertainments as “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville.” In this one, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performance) play a couple who, in an admittedly stunning opening sequence, lose their infant child in a horrible accident that occurs while they are making love. She understandably goes to pieces and he, a psychologist, decides that only he can help and they set off to their isolated cabin in the woods (called Eden, in a typically subtle touch) to try to repair their lives and marriage. It all goes wrong, of course, and before long, the psychological cruelties turn physical in some of the most grisly imagery (including graphic genital mutilations for both of them) ever seen in an ostensibly serious-minded film. Although it has its partisans and will no doubt inspire many interesting articles from people on both sides of the argument (mine will be forthcoming in a couple of weeks), the simple truth is that this is a bad and boring movie that really has nothing to offer viewers outside of the carnage that dominates both the final reel and most of the post-screening discussions--in other words, it is essentially an art-house version of “Hostel” sans the subtlety and whimsy. Dafoe is scheduled to appear at this screening to introduce the film.

TOMORROW AT DAWN (8:30 PM): See 10/11 listing.

CASE UNKNOWN (8:45 PM): Proving that bringing your work home with you is rarely a good idea, this Polish thriller tells the story of a work-obsessed psychologist who literally brings a patient of his to his home as part of his treatment. Unfortunately, while doing so, he uncovers some secrets from his patient’s past that wind up endangering himself and his entire family in the process.

10/13

ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLONDE HAIR GIRL (3:15 PM): Still going strong at the age of 100 (not a typo), acclaimed director Manoel de Oliveira gives us a small-scale tale of a lonely and repressed accountant working for his uncle who looks outside his window one day and sees a gorgeous young woman standing in her window across the street. Mesmerized by the sight of her (and you can hardly blame her), he begins a desperate pursuit that, as you can probably imagine, doesn’t go very well for him. Admittedly slight in both size (it clocks in at only 63 minutes) and tone, this is still a pleasant enough film and proves that even a minor effort from a master like de Oliveria can effortlessly yield the kind of treasures (such as its gorgeous visual style) that most ordinary filmmakers spend their lives trying to achieve.

PLASTIC CITY (3:30 PM): In this Brazilian/Chinese crime film mash-up from Yu Lik Wai, a legendary Chinese gangster and his adopted son rule a rough Sao Paulo neighborhood until the old man winds up in jail on conspiracy charges. Of course, everyone expects the son to take over the reins of his dad’s criminal empire and fight off his enemies but, as we soon discover, it seems that the younger man may have some different ideas about what to do.

LOVE AND SAVAGERY (3:45 PM): See 10/10 listing.

I KNOW A WOMAN LIKE THAT (5:00 PM): Perhaps explaining why she has recently been appearing in such low-grade junk as “The Number 23” and “The Haunting in Connecticut,” Virginia Madsen produced this documentary, directed by her mother Elaine, centering on a dozen women--including Rita Moreno, Eartha Kitt and Evanston mayor Lorraine Morton--and the accomplishments that they have achieved after hitting retirement age. Both Madsens will be attending this screening, a special free presentation that will be held at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema. (1104 S. Wabash. 8th floor).

THE ATHLETE (7:00 PM): Part documentary and part biopic, this unusual film tells the story of Abebe Bikila, an Ethiopian marathon runner who entered the history books when he became the first African to win a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics. However, that event turns out to have been only the beginning of his story--without going into much detail (on the off-chance that you don’t know his story), his life took a number of unexpected turns that results in a film that manages to be reasonably inspiring without succumbing to too many of the typical clches found in most inspirational sports movies.

GIGANTE (8:40 PM): See 10/12 listing


10/14

GIGANTE (3:45 PM): See 10/12 listing.

THE MAID (4:15 PM): In this offbeat and intriguing comedy-drama from Chile, a maid who has spent more than half her life working for the same family and who is beginning to run down physically learns that her well-meaning employers are going to hire a secondd servant to help her with the chores and reduce the stress that has begun to make her increasingly tense and snappish. Of course, this doesn’t set with her very well and she does her best to drive the interlopers away until one of them inspires profound and unexpected changes in her life.

MAMMOTH (6:00 PM): For his (mostly) English-language debut, Swedish director Lukas Moodysson offers us a painfully banal multi-cultural drama in the vein of “Babel” in which a number of disparate people from all over the world--including a well-to-do New York workaholic couple, the Filipino nanny who essentially raises their child in order to earn money to send back home to her own kids and a sweet-faced Thai woman working as a hooker in order to provide for her child--influence each others lives in unforeseen ways. As one of the New Yorkers, Michelle Williams once again shows herself to be one of the strongest young actresses working these days but beyond that, this fairly excruciating melodrama has nothing new to offer viewers except a reminder that if you are a young boy in need of an explanation of the intricacies of the flesh trade in the Philippines, don’t get it from your grandmother

DANIEL & ANA (6:15 PM): In this dark and decidedly seamy Mexican drama, the charmed lives of a well-to-do brother and sister duo are changed forever when they are snatched off the streets of Mexico City by kidnappers. Unfortunately, their abductors are interested in something other than money from them and what they are forced to do to ensure their release pretty much destroys their lives forever. Well-made, but you are definitely going to want a shower after watching this one.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPHHIRE (6:30 PM): Arguably the year’s single most overrated movie, this melodrama follows the life of a 16-year-old girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who is offered a respite miserable and hopeless existence--she is essentially illiterate, is pregnant for the second time courtesy of her own father and is the focus of a torrent of physical and emotional abuse from her mother (Mo’nique)--when she is admitted into a special class dedicated to helping girls like her turn their lives around. I will save most of my criticisms for my full review when it opens commercially in a few weeks except to note that while watching its combination of overwrought drama, awkward performances, bizarre cameos (Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey pop up as, respectively, a hunky nurse and a dowdy social worker) and self-consciously lurid tone, all I could think of was the decidedly outre films that John Waters used to make in the 1970’s before becoming respectable. Of course, those films at least knew that they were ridiculous--this one is so solemn and self-important as its heroine overcomes her obstacles that it is no surprise that both Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry bravely signed on as co-producers after it was already made and showered with praise at its Sundance premiere. Needless to say, I appear to be in the minority on this one and to underscore that fact, both Sidibe and director Lee Daniels will be on hand to present the film and receive awards from the festival for, respectively, Breakthrough Performance and Artistic Achievement.

THE MOON INSIDE YOU (8:00 PM): Using cinematic techniques ranging from straightforward documentary interviews to the miracle of Claymation, this interesting period piece from Spain explores the subject of menstruation and the various myths and fears that it has inspired over the years. I can’t say that this film is for everyone (though it probably should be) but I would suggest that if you went to see “Antichrist,” you might want to check it out as well as a way of regaining your psychic balance.

FACE (8:30 PM): The great Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai-Min-Liang (who has already won prizes at the festival on four previous occasions) returns with this effort about a Taiwanese filmmaker struggling to complete his latest film, for which he casts French actors despite being unable to speak the language himself. In many ways, this film serves as a tribute to the late Francois Truffaut, whose “Day For Night” remains one of the key works of the cinema-about-cinema subgenre, and features several of the actors he worked with (including Fanny Ardant and Jean-Pierre Leaud) in supporting roles.

FISH TANK (8:40 PM): While “An Education” has been earning its share of accolades, allow me to make a counteroffer to that fine, if a bit oversold coming-of-age drama. Andrea Arnold, who won an Oscar for her short film, “Wasp,” and proved it was no fluke with the thriller, “Red Road,” has outdone even Nick Hornby with this tale of a young girl living day-to-day in the housing projects of England. The debuting Katie Jarvis deserves every bit of praise as Carey Mulligan in her portrayal of Mia who secretly dreams of being a professional dancer (none of that “Fame” remake B.S. here) but has little way of support from her boozing mother. When mom brings home a hunky new boyfriend (“Hunger” and “Inglourious Basterds'“ Michael Fassbender, excellent again here) Mia finally may have someone she can let her guard down with. Perhaps even a little too much. Both “Fish Tank” and “An Education” are about teenage girls with aspirations to break free of their all-too-familiar home lives. While Mulligan's Jenny had it pretty good, if a little boring, with mum and dad, Jarvis' Mia has the surroundings where glitz doesn't offer a holiday and most roads seem to be abandoned territory. Jarvis' performance alone is worth your attention and although it may seem like a grim journey, it's never a stale one and we're so with Mia's desires that it provides a glimmer of hope through to its emotional finale. (Erik Childress)

10/15

MOTHER (3:30 PM): See 10/9 listing.

I KNOW A WOMAN LIKE THAT (3:45 PM): See 10/13 listing.

THE MOON INSIDE YOU (3:45 PM): See 10/14 listing

CASE UNKNOWN (5:45 PM): See 10/12 listing

HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT’S INFERNO (6:00 PM): See 10/10 listing

FISH TANK (6:15 PM): See 10/14 listing

BACKYARD (6:30 PM): The story of the mysterious disappearances and deaths of hundreds of women over the last few years in the border town of Juarez, Mexico (which previously inspired direct-to-video vehicles for Jennifer Lopez and Minnie Driver) is given another go-around, this time in a Mexican-made effort courtesy of Carlos Carrera, whose “The Crime of Father Amaro” was an enormous hit in its home country. In this one, a new female police captain (Ana de la Reguera) arrives in town determined to bring the violence to a halt and become entangle in a web of savagery, corruption and Jimmy Smits.

FACE (8:15 PM): See 10/14 listing.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2850
originally posted: 10/09/09 03:39:45
last updated: 10/13/09 13:29:06
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