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The 2009 Chicago International Film Festival Preview

by Erik Childress & Peter Sobczynski

The 45th Annual Chicago International Film Festival kicks off of on Thursday, Oct. 8. Just over 100 films, many of which have been making their way around the festival circuit, will be playing over a two-week period. But they are all premieres for the film lovers of Chicago who will have the opportunity to see all the eggs they wish to crack in one convenient basket at the AMC River East theater downtown on Illinois St. No walking, taxis or shuttles necessary. Just plant yourself there with a schedule and make a day or 14 of it. Show up this Thursday and you can catch a glimpse of Uma Thurman walking the red carpet with director Katherine Dieckmann for their new film, Motherhood, which opens the festival. And could very well close it. No, we're not doing that here. Myself and Peter Sobczynski have been scouring through hours and hours of DVDs trying to give you a jumping off point into making your own schedule.

AN EDUCATION: One of the most acclaimed films from Sundance this year is also one of the few from this year's Chicago fest that you may be hearing a bit about during awards season. Based on the memoir from Lynn Barber and adapted by acclaimed novelist, Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy) the film tells the story of 17 year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) on the cusp of a bright Oxford future in the 1960s when she's charmed by a man twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard). Getting a taste for life outside of all the societal and socio-political tangents of her closeted life, Jenny's story is not all that different from most teenage tales of rebellion and growing up except within the performances (Alfred Molina is also very good as her disapproving father) and the classy treatment by Hornby. The first two acts are the best with the radiance of Mulligan's performance putting all eyes on her and subsequently seducing us into her discoveries just as she is. The story goes to familiar territory as barriers are broken down around Sarsgaard's intentions, but there's no doubting Mulligan as a face to watch and an almost certain Best Actress candidate. (Childress)

Sunday, Oct. 11 at 6:00 pm at the AMC River East.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN: 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. (Sobczynski)

Friday, Oct. 9 at 5:00 pm at the AMC River East.
Saturday, Oct. 10 at 5:30 pm at the AMC River East.
Sunday, Oct. 11 at 12:45 pm at the AMC River East.

HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT’S INFERNO: 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.) (Sobczynski)

Sunday, Oct. 11 at 1:00 pm at the AMC River East.
Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6:00 pm at the AMC River East.

THE LAST DAYS OF EMMA BLANK: Larry David might have had the right idea when he managed to get his Cancer-stricken girlfriend out of the house before things got worse on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Who knows how he would have handled Emma Blank, the terminally ill center of Alex von Warmerdam's dark comedy. To call her servants put-upon is an understatement. How many out there would be willing to play the part of the family dog (other than von Warmerdam himself) and go method with it, humping anything he can? Slowly the staff, which includes her daughter (the ever fetching Eva van de Wijdeven), ex-husband, sister and nephew begin to rebel against Emma's off-beat demands and an environment already rife with affairs and unrequited love is about to guarantee Emma doesn't shuffle off easily into that good night. Quietly seditious and brimming with dark turns, von Warmerdam's film is a sick delight. (Childress)

Sunday, Oct. 11 at 8:30 pm at the AMC River East.
Monday, Oct. 12 at 5:30 pm at the AMC River East.
Thursday, Oct. 15 at 3:15 pm at the AMC River East.

LOVELY, STILL: One of the few memorable segments of the forthcoming New York, I Love You involved the pleasure of seeing Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as an older couple arguing lovingly on their anniversary. One of the great pleasures of Lovely, Still is the mere sight of Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn on screen together and watching them blossom into true love in their twilight years. Some movies fall within the "eternal smile" category where you just can't help smiling through it no matter what. Landau plays Robert Malone, a lonely old man who works at the local supermarket. He's not a widower. He appears to have never had anyone except for the unusually friendly boss (Adam Scott) who may see a little of his own future in Robert's. Then one day he finds new neighbor, Mary (Burstyn) in his home. Shock and anger quickly turns into friendship and soon into a relationship. The early scenes in many ways play like a Hallmark commercial brought to life, but in Lovely, Still they become a virtue rather than a cringe-worthy technique. The chemistry between the two of them is so beautiful that our cynical hearts keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Potential crises are hinted at throughout but the way things play out is unconscionably heartfelt and a bit unexpected which is a major credit to debuting writer/director Nicholas Fackler. The astonishing poignancy of the final scene, done with all of just one line of dialogue is applause-worthy in and of itself. And if the film can reduce this critical skeptic to reach for the kleenex, you may want to go to Costco and stock up if you don't get shut out of what deserves to be a sold-out screening where Martin Landau will be in attendance. If the perennially evil Nicholas Sparks can get people to come out to see his theatrical adaptations, it's astounding that this beautiful film (around since the 2008 Toronto festival) hasn't found its way into theaters yet. (Childress)

Saturday, Oct. 17 at 5:00 pm at the AMC River East.

MARY AND MAX: The film that served as the opening night film at this year's Sundance was also one of the best the fest had to offer and Chicagoans should jump at the chance to experience it. Created by Adam Elliot who won a 2003 Oscar for his short animated film, Harvie Krumpet, Mary and Max is the Claymation story of a young Australian girl who becomes pen-pals with a middle-aged, overweight New Yorker. Nothing nefarious going on here as both characters are withdrawn from their own surroundings due to various quirks and the more "normal" people who ridicule them. Mary grills Max on a variety of life questions which he does his best to answer through the years while she grows up. Wonderfully voiced by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary and Max has the look of a kids picture but is another chapter in the growing evolution of animation for grown-ups. Older kids may respond to the film, but it's the adults in the audience who are really going to latch on to its brand of humor and themes of isolation and anxiety. Its much funnier than it all sounds, but also satisfyingly poignant and daring in its execution. Why this film hasn't been snatched up for a theatrical release is beyond me as it would seem a shoo-in for a nomination in the feature animated category. See it for yourself and tell me I'm wrong. And let me know how long it takes for you to put Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Perpetuum Mobile into your iPod. (Childress)

Sunday, Oct. 18 at 6:15 pm at the AMC River East.
Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6:00 pm at the AMC River East.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST: To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved comedy-thriller about an ordinary man (well, as ordinary as you can get when you are played by Cary Grant) who finds himself caught up in a bizarre web of mystery and intrigue that finds himself being chased cross-country by the authorities and a group of no-goodniks (led by James Mason) and into the arms of the lovely-but-secretive Eva Marie Saint, the festival will be screening a newly restored print (done as part of its Blu-ray debut next month, the first such release for a Hitchcock film) as part of a special presentation that will also include a post-screening conversation between Hitchcock biographer John Russell Taylor and co-star Martin Landau. Considering just how utterly perplexing the film is from a narrative perspective (if you doubt me, trying recounting the plot details for yourself and tell me if they all add up), perhaps they can help explain what is going on at any given point. (Sobczynski)

Sunday, Oct. 18 at 5:00 pm at the AMC River East

RED RIDING: Based on a quartet of novels from author David Peace, this highly impressive and always engrossing trilogy of overlapping films (originally produced for British television and each done by a different director) tells a sprawling tale of murder and corruption in Yorkshire over the course of a decade inspired by real-life events. Julian Jarrold’s “1974” follows an ambitious young journalist (Andrew Garfield) whose investigation into the disappearance of a little girl uncovers some shocking connections between a local businessman (Sean Bean) and some local police that involve big development plans and a string of other girls who have vanished as well. James Marsh’s “1980” features Paddy Considine as a detective who is sent to town to investigate the local police for their inability to capture the infamous Yorkshire Ripper and who finds himself in danger when he uncovers more sinister than mere laziness and incompetence. Finally, Anand Tucker’s “1983” concludes the trilogy when a new child murder similar in style to the ones from nine years earlier inspire a veteran Yorkshire cop to come to terms with his past and come clean about the activities perpetrated by himself and his cohorts. Although each film can stand on its own (my favorite being the “1980” segment), they make the biggest impact when see together. Alas, while the festival was kind enough to program them back-to-back-to-back, they are making viewers buy the tickets for each one separately instead of coming up with some kind of group pass that might have made things easier for everyone. (Sobczynski)

Red Riding: 1974 Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:30 pm at the AMC River East.
Red Riding: 1980 Sunday, Oct. 18 at 3:45 pm at the AMC River East.
Red Riding: 1983 Sunday, Oct. 18 at 5:45 pm at the AMC River East.

RICKY: 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 repuation as one of the most audacious directors working today. (Sobczynski)

Friday, Oct. 9 at 6:45 pm at the AMC River East.
Saturday, Oct. 10 at 3:30 pm at the AMC River East.

WOMEN IN TROUBLE: Guys may remember this film as the finest collection of ladies who almost take it off ever assembled. But in-between all the underwear and fetish outfits is a rather amusing collection of stories described by its very title. Carla Gugino is a porn star. Emmanuelle Chriqui and Adrianne Palicki are call girls. Caitlin Keats is a cuckold and Marley Shelton is a horned-up stewardess about to make her entrance into the mile-high club. But in-between all the almost skin, you begin to get caught up (some more than others) with some really funny actresses just conversing about the fine messes they keep getting caught up in. They range from being on the other end of adultery to the anxiety of having your first "girl-on-girl" experience. It's not all just titiliation though. Despite Gugino and Connie Britton spending the bulk of their screen time trapped in an elevator sweating in their underwear, it's a credit to them that we're choosing to listen to their problems rather than just staring the entire time. Best of all may be Palicki taking the role of the dumb blonde to a grand comic level and a brief turn by Josh Brolin as a foreign rocker that instantly makes one yearn for a pairing with Russell Brand's Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The first of a planned trilogy, Women In Trouble opens in limited release in November, but Chicago is fortunate enough to get an early look. (Childress)

Saturday, Oct. 10 at 1:45 pm at the AMC River East.
Friday, Oct. 16 at 8:00 pm at the AMC River East.
Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7:00 pm at the AMC River East.

Peter Sobczynski will be giving you a day-by-day guide to the festival and I'll be helping out as well, so check back for more recommendations. Or you can get started with reviews here from our fellow writers on films to see at the festival over the next two weeks.

The Eclipse
Mary and Max
Paranormal Activity
Plastic City
Racing Dreams
Women In Trouble

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originally posted: 10/09/09 02:37:54
last updated: 10/09/09 02:44:33
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