Week two of the Chicago International Film Festival | Movie Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Week two of the Chicago International Film Festival 

New films by Alexander Payne, Lynne Ramsay, Mia Hansen-Love, and Jay and Mark Duplass

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click to enlarge We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin

Presented by Cinema/Chicago, the Chicago International Film Festival continues Friday through Thursday, October 14 through 20. Unless otherwise noted, all tickets are $13 ($10 for students, seniors, and Cinema/Chicago members). A ten-admission pass is $120 ($90 for members), and a 20-admission pass is $230 ($170 for members). Weekday matinees through 5 PM are $5. Advance tickets can be purchased at Cinema/Chicago, 30 E. Adams, suite 800 (weekdays 10 AM-6 PM) and River East 21, 322 E. Illinois (one hour before the first show until the last film has begun); online at ticketmaster.com/chicagofilmfestival (individual tickets only) and chicagofilmfestival.com; and by phone, 24 hours in advance, at 312-332-3456, weekdays 10 AM-6 PM. Following are selected screenings, all at River East 21; for a complete schedule see chicagofilmfestival.com.

[Recommended] All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert Winfred Rembert, who narrates this moving documentary, is a snaggletoothed character whose youth in Cuthbert, Georgia, during the jim crow era inspires the art he makes now, vivid scenes carved and dyed on leather sheets. Rembert's good nature belies the horrors he suffered as a young man: after police attacked a civil rights protest in which he was participating, he stole a car to escape, nearly got lynched, and drew a seven-year prison sentence that included time on a chain gang. Such struggles, Rembert says, "make you feel like you need to be more than one person in yourself," an idea he applies to his work: in one piece, dozens of toiling men in prison garb serve as multiple stand-ins for the artist. Director Vivian Ducat measures Rembert's success in odd ways—shots of gallery-scene hoi polloi viewing his work are intercut with listings of how much it sells for—but mostly she lets the artist do the talking, and his charisma makes the film. —Sam Worley 90 min. Mon 10/17, 4:30 PM, and Tue 10/18, 5:50 PM.

Andrew Bird: Fever Year Toward the end of this concert documentary, singer-songwriter Andrew Bird says, "Music swallowed me whole. I am what I do." Indeed, amid beautifully shot, almost lyric footage from a two-night stand at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater in December 2009, video maker Xan Aranda shows Bird writing, rehearsing, and talking about music. The performances are consistently lovely and inventive, and Aranda gives a sense of Bird's solitary creative process. Yet aside from revealing how physically frail Bird is, the documentary doesn't reveal much of him personally, which could be the point. As he says himself, there's no difference between who is onstage and off. —Peter Margasak 80 min. Sat 10/15, 8:50 PM, and Sun 10/16, 8:30 PM.

[Recommended] The Artist French director Michel Hazanavicius takes a break from his OSS 117 spy spoofs to pay loving tribute to the silent cinema, re-creating its luminous black-and-white photography and consigning all the dialogue to intertitles. The story is a variation on that timeless movieland myth A Star Is Born: Jean Dujardin plays a Hollywood matinee idol whose career unravels with the advent of the sound era, and Berenice Bejo is a bit player who ascends into the stratosphere once actors become prized for their gab. No big-time commercial filmmaker has tried anything like this since Mel Brooks made his appropriately titled Silent Movie (1976), but that had a contemporary setting and favored Brooks's vulgar shtick over the physical grace of the silent clowns. By contrast, this effort often manages to duplicate the magical pantomime of the era; a lovely scene in which Bejo drapes herself in the arms of a hung jacket as if it were a human lover could have come straight out of a Marion Davies picture. With John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller. —J.R. Jones 100 min. Screening as part of the closing-night program; tickets are $25. Thu 10/20, 7 PM.

The Descendants Alexander Payne has won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (Sideways), but you'd never guess that from this clumsily written drama: characters keep explaining things that their listeners would already know, and the first couple reels are so thick with expository voice-over that you may think you're listening to a museum tour on a set of headphones. George Clooney stars as a wealthy heir in Honolulu who's forced to step up his parenting of his two young daughters after his wife suffers a water-skiing accident that leaves her on life support (she can't hear anyone, the doctors explain, but that doesn't stop people from soliloquizing endlessly at her bedside). The story improves markedly after the Clooney character, having learned that his wife planned to leave him for another man, resolves to track the guy down and give him what for; as Payne demonstrated with Sideways and About Schmidt (2002), he knows how to milk a road trip for both comedy and dramatic revelation. With Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges, and Robert Forster. —J.R. Jones 115 min. Tue 10/18, 8:45 PM.

Ending Note: Death of a Japanese Salesman Shortly after retiring, Japanese businessman Tomoaki Sunada learned that he had late-stage abdominal cancer and started to plan for his death. This depressing documentary by his daughter, Mami, tracks the brutal progression of the disease and his touching journey from stoicism to overt emotionality; he's warmer and funnier as the film goes on. But she mucks up the story with a bad conceit: in voice-over she reads notes and reminiscences on her father's behalf, including a bucket list that ranges from the practical ("Inspect funeral venues") to the whimsical ("Vote for opposition party"). I couldn't be sure where his voice ended and her imagination began—one segment includes a posthumous conversation between them—which had the effect of pulling many of the film's punches. In Japanese with subtitles. —Sam Worley 90 min. Mon 10/17, 6:30 PM, and Tue 10/18, 4 PM.

[Recommended] George the Hedgehog The Polish cartoon character Jet Jerzy was created for children, but in the mid-90s he was promoted to adult comics, where he's become a down-and-dirty cult hero. Now enshrined in this wild animated feature as George the Hedgehog, he rides around in a limo flanked by gorgeous women who stand up through the skylight and flash their breasts. The plot involves a mad scientist who steals a few quills from George's back and generates an evil clone that's inclined to vomit and hump blow-up sex dolls; the art involves computer-animated cutouts that might have been drawn by Lynda Barry; and the humor involves a lot of things your mother probably wouldn't laugh at (but I sure did). The movie deftly satirizes some of Poland's social problems, often with a double-edged blade: in one scene, George, chased by a hulking neo-Nazi skinhead, hurls a rose at the guy—and the thorns rip his face open. In Polish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 80 min. Fri 10/14 and Sat 10/15, 10:45 PM.

Goodbye First Love The young lover and lucky protégé of French director Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Summer Hours), Mia Hansen-Love first distinguished herself as a filmmaker with Father of My Children (2009), which won a special jury prize at the Cannes film festival. This follow-up centers on a beautiful 15-year-old (Lola Creton of Bluebeard) who's so in love with her devil-may-care boyfriend (Sebastian Urzendowsky) that she threatens to throw herself into the Seine if he ever leaves. After he ditches her for a prolonged tour of South America and eventually stops writing, she takes up with a middle-aged architect (Magne-Havard Brekke), only to be torn romantically when her free-spirited young beau turns up again. On paper this may sound like soap opera, but the movie shares with Father of My Children a gentle tone and credible, unforced acting. In French with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 110 min. Mon 10/10, 6 PM.

Valley of the Forgotten I couldn't tell who exactly was being forgotten in this documentary about a land battle in the Brazilian Amazon; each aggrieved party seems acutely aware of the others' presence. Director Maria Raduan lets us hear all the disputants—the indigenous Xavante people, squatters, members of the Landless Workers' Movement, property owners, a cowboyish American rancher—but in the resulting cacophony their respective interests and motivations are hard to discern. The most cogently presented history is that of the natives, who were removed in the 1970s to make way for the world's largest cattle ranch. After a measles epidemic struck the relocated tribes, they decided to make their way back to the original land, where they continue their struggle to reassert their claim. In Portuguese with subtitles. —Sam Worley 72 min. Sat 10/15, 4:15 PM, and Mon 10/17, 2:15 PM.

We Need to Talk About Kevin Shawn Ku's fine debut feature, Beautiful Boy, mapped the treacherous emotional terrain of a married couple after their teenage son goes on a collegiate shooting rampage; this British drama by Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) tells a similar story but replaces the other movie's careful psychological detail with art-house flourishes and horror-movie dread. The mother (Tilda Swinton, in a typically arresting performance) lives alone in a crummy house and fends off the rage of parents whose children died in the attack; chronological flashbacks recount her torturous upbringing of her son, an utterly malevolent boy from the day he leaves the womb. Ramsay seems to be seriously intent on probing the outer limits of a mother's love and forgiveness, but the boy (played by a trio of child actors) is so unremittingly evil that the movie begins to feel like a grotesque remake of that old John Ritter comedy Problem Child (1990). With John C. Reilly and Siobhan Fallon. —J.R. Jones 112 min. Tue 10/18, 7:45 PM.

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