The Chicago Film Festival is sadly not New York, Cannes, Toronto, Telluride or Sundance. It doesn’t take place in a quaint mountain town but in the heart of Streeterville where the film fest has taken over a local AMC multiplex. It doesn’t get world premieres of the biggest auteur debuts or Oscar bait like Inherent Vice, Gone Girl or The Theory of Everything. Special screenings like Birdman, Wild, St. Vincent, The Imitation Game, Clouds of Sils Maria and Two Days, One Night are all leftovers that the blogs and other festivals have already absorbed and spit back out.
What that leaves are the under-the-radar gems, the local Chicago color that never makes it past the Mississippi and the early looks at darlings that didn’t get the due attention the first time around the festival circuit. Last year, Chicagoans got a look at Le Week-end, Like Father, Like Son, and Blue Ruin, along with some fascinating films like Romania’s Domestic, Kazakhstan’s My Sweet Pepper Land and Chicago’s own The Motel Life.
This year’s lineup, its 50th anniversary, was especially deep, and you’re encouraged to watch trailers for nearly all of the films at this year’s festival, helpfully assembled by our own Jae Renfrow. We hope to have a lot of coverage from this year’s festival, including reviews and some interviews of festival talent. Jae’s top five picks for the festival can be found here, and I’ve picked out my diamonds in the rough below prior to its opening night screening of Miss Julie tonight.
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared (Sweden)
The terrifically absurd title aside, this Swedish comedy is the biggest box office smash in Sweden since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and like that film, is one of the few to have success across Scandinavian borders. The title says much of it, but the film is being described as a more screwball Forrest Gump. Allan Karlsson started his life as a demolition expert and eventually helped build the atomic bomb. Now at 100-years-old, he finds a sack of money and goes gallivanting around the world.
The Way He Looks (Brazil)
This Brazilian romance won the Best First Feature award for Daniel Ribeiro at the Berlin Film Festival and already has a November release date. It’s the story of a blind and gay teenager who finds his life changing with the arrival of a new student, one who attracts the attention of both him and his best friend. The film has darling indie classic written all over it, and it has been sweeping LGBTQ awards left and right. The festival is championing a number of gay/lesbian dramas this year as part of their “Out-Look” series, including The Circle and The Third One, and this might just be the highlight.
Algren/Red Army (USA)
Here are two documentaries, conveniently playing back to back on Tuesday October 14, that also both share Chicago ties. The first, Algren, tells the life story and influence of Chicago writer Nelson Algren, who wrote The Man With the Golden Arm and other essays about the Windy City. He inspired the work of William Friedkin, Philip Kaufman and Billy Corgan, and all three are featured in the documentary. The second recounts the history of the infamous Soviet Union hockey team through the perspective of their former captain. Red Army is directed by Gabe Polsky, a Chicago director who directed last year’s The Motel Life.
Winter Sleep (Turkey)
This year’s Palme D’Or winner is a must see, if you can spare the 196 minutes it takes to watch it. Getting its US debut ahead of a limited release in December, Winter Sleep is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest talkative, naturalistic and atmospheric entry into the slow cinema genre. A caretaker of an Anatolian hotel in the mountains contends with a difficult tenant and his fracturing relationship with his wife and sister as he sinks deeper into isolated tendencies. Despite its length, it’s the most profound, intelligent and engaging character drama you’re likely to watch at the festival or this year.
1001 Grams (Norway)
After getting its World Premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Bent Hamer’s (O’Horten) latest is a deadpan dramedy about a woman tasked with transporting the official global standard for a kilogram to Paris. The title alone suggests the film is largely a metaphor for the weight on the woman’s shoulders and how love and life weigh us down in unexpected ways. It’s a quietly understated film with a respect for the goofy job on display but also a cutely visual way of poking fun at this stuffy occupation.
The Chicago Film Fest runs from October 9 to 23.