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41st Chicago International Film Festival Preview

by Peter Sobczynski

For the 41st, the Chicago International Film Festival is coming our way to give us a glimpse of what is going on in the cinema throughout the world. From October 6-20, the festival will be showing dozens of entries from 32 countries that include feature films, documentaries, short subjects, beloved classics, hot-ticket premieres and works that you may never get a chance to see again on a local commercial screen. For film buffs looking for get an early look at the next big thing, to see the latest efforts from some of the world’s most renowned filmmakers or simply to watch something different from the standard multiplex fare, a festival such as this is an event worth looking forward to each and every year and the current lineup promises a fair share of delights

The festivities kick off of October 6 at the landmark Chicago Theatre with the local premiere of “Elizabethtown,” the wonderful romantic comedy from writer-director Cameron Crowe. In this one, a failed businessman on the verge of suicide (Orlando Bloom) gets a new lease on life when he encounters a sprightly flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) while journeying home to arrange the funeral of his father. Although I haven’t seen the longer version that received decidedly mixed-to-negative reviews when it played at the Venice and Toronto festivals, I have seen the new edit (which comes in at about 18 minutes shorter) and it is, despite a couple of bumpy narrative bits, a sheer delight that I will delve into more deeply when it is released on Oct. 14. This premiere will also serve as a mini-tribute to another one of the film’s stars, Susan Sarandon, who will be on hand (along with Crowe) to receive the festival’s Career Achievement Award.

Other big-name stars will be dropping in throughout the festival. On October 11, Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman are tentatively scheduled to appear to present “Shopgirl,” a low-key comedy-drama (based on Martin’s novella) about a romantic triangle involving a rich but reticent businessman, a weirdo slacker and the pretty glove salesperson that they both become enamored with. Terrence Howard, the local actor who made quite good this past summer with high-profile roles in “Crash,” “Hustle & Flow” and “Four Brothers,” will be on hand for an on-stage Q&A on the 14th at the Bank One Auditorium. For the Closing Night ceremonies, Nicolas Cage will be on hand at the Harris Theatre to introduce his latest work, the quirky, locally-shot comedy-drama “The Weather Man,” in which he co-stars with Michael Caine and Hope Davis.

Even some local critics will get a shot at the spotlight with the latest installment of the Critics Choice sidebar, in which some local scribes screen a favorite film and lead a discussion afterwards. This year, Roger Ebert will be showing Errol Morris’s unforgettable 1978 pet cemetery documentary “Gates of Heaven,” Michael Wilmington will screen Max Ophuls’s gorgeous 1955 period drama “Lola Montes” and Jonathan Rosenbaum will offer a look at Jia Zhang-ke’s “Platform,” a epic study of the Chinese Cultural Revolution seen through the eyes of members of a small performance troupe. (Once again, I was not asked to select a film–feel free to contact the festival and voice either your displeasure or relief at being denied my dog-and-pony show for the immortal “Megaforce.”)

This year, there are nineteen films in competition for the festival’s major awards. Among the titles competing this year are Israel’s “Free Zone,” in which Natalie Portman stars as a young woman who decides to flee Jerusalem after breaking off her engagement and becomes involved in the emotional drama of the cab driver (Hannah Laszlo, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes) who is driving her to the Free Zone in Jordan. Hungary’s “Johanna” promises to be one of the more controversial titles–a modern-day riff of the Joan of Arc story that utilizes the techniques of cinema and opera to tell the story of a former drug addict who comes back after an overdose with the power to heal through decidedly unconventional methods. Fans of the Rolling Stones may be intrigued by “Stoned,” a British film that depicts the sordid and controversial final days in the life of former member Brian Jones (Leo Gregory), who passed away under mysterious circumstances only a few weeks after being fired from the group.

Other eagerly anticipated titles will get a preview before their eventual commercial runs. “North County” features Charlize Theron, in her follow-up to her award-winning performance in “Monster,” in the true story of a woman who pursued a landmark sexual-harassment case against the iron mine that employed her. “Bee Season,” based on the Myla Goldberg novel, tells the tale of a family, headed by Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche, in conflict set against the world of spelling bees. Binoche also pops up in “Cache,” the prize-winning psychodrama from festival favorite Michael Haneke, whose “Funny Games” remains one of the most blood-curdling things that I have ever seen. Those with a taste for heavy-handed metaphorical melodrama, Danish style, will be thrilled to encounter “Manderlay,” Lars von Trier’s second installment of a trilogy that began with “Dogville” and which deals with the question of racism. Fans of the last “Project Greenlight” series, which chronicled the crazy behind-the-scenes activities during the shooting of a gory low-budget horror film will be treated to the world premiere of that work, the Wes Craven-produced “Feast.” Finally, horn-dogs will thrill to the sight of Anne Hathaway exposing her inner skank (among other things) in Barbara Kopple's "Havoc," one of the few chances to see it on the big screen before it hits DVD in late November

Aside from a couple of special events, the screenings this year will be held at two venues–the AMC River East (322 E. Illinois) 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 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 at

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originally posted: 09/30/05 11:32:50
last updated: 10/14/05 13:44:16
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