Chicago International Film Festival

CIFF 2014: ‘The Alley Cat’ is an existential drama on the dreamy streets of Chicago

The bicycle is by far the most existential vehicular choice when making a road film about a character in a state of mental cross roads. Unlike the car, the bike is solely powered by the human and it’s capabilities are dictated by the rider’s. Anyone can press a pedal and go 100 mph, but with a bicycle the wheels are only an extension of the human drive to move forward. In Marie Ullrich’s The Alley Cat, this sense of propulsion collides with the main character’s struggle to move forward mentally. Jasper was a mother but gave her child up to her sister, with the deal that her little girl can never know who her real mom is. It’s during a wild, late-night bike race through Chicago’s south loop that she reassesses her priorities and just what she’s supposed to be doing with her life.

CIFF 2014: ‘Buzzard’ is slacker cinema at its ugliest and most honest

During a post-film Q&A, director Joel Potrykus was asked by young man in the audience what one could do to live a life like Martin Jackitansky, the protagonist, if you could call him that, of Potrykus’ film Buzzard. Jackitansky, played by a volatile Joshua Burge, has a crappy job that he slacks on and steals from but never gets in trouble. He spends his time playing video games, and executing low level scams for free junk food. The inquiring audience member just had to know if he too could live the dream life for the realistically unambitious cog, grinding away in the corporate consumerist badlands of middle America. Though Potrykus gave an honest answer that most of Jackitansky’s traits and scams were autobiographical, it’s probably a safer bet that most of us are already living the Buzzard life, we’re just not on film so it’s not nearly as exciting.

CIFF 2014: Young Girls Killing Themselves in ‘Zurich’ and ‘Stations of the Cross’

Frederik Steiner’s film Zurich is possibly the nicest film you’ll ever see about someone deciding to enlist the aid euthanasia clinic. Young Lea, played by Lisa Liv Fries, is only 20 years old, but with cystic fibrosis limiting her days and the knowledge that whatever days she has left will be pretty miserable, she decides for the ultimate “opt out.” If ever there were a film to fall into the sticky, saccharine clutches of mawkishness it would be this movie, where the pre-deceased is a such plucky youngster with so much zeal for life that you can’t imagine her even considering killing herself. But somehow Steiner and his group of actors toe the line quite gracefully, supplying the right levels of honest comedy and drama without feeling exploitative of the tough subject matter, though it does have its missteps. Crying is practically unavoidable in Zurich, both for the actors and the audience. At the end of the film, the woman sitting next to me just couldn’t stop weeping and looked at her male companion in between sobs exclaimed “You chose this one!” before they quickly left the room.

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