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CIFF 2014: Wrapping Up

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 24, 2014 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)





So, that's it. The 50th Chicago International Film Festival has come to a close, and it was a mighty good one, if I may say so myself. Out of the twenty or so movies I saw (I regret it couldn't have been more), many of them are sure to stay with me for years to come, (most) because they had something about them that stood out as exemplary. Even movies I had somewhat mixed feelings about - Speed Walking, for instance - had elements that left a distinct impression. I wasn't able to write blurbs for all of the movies I screened, so I will post the outstanding films here with some brief comments, in general order of preference. (Longer review blurbs can be found elsewhere on the site.)


Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz) ***1/2

A justifiably incensed look at the hidebound Israeli legal system and its refusal to recognize the individuality of women, Gett is like a barely concealed scream, a courtroom drama that doubles as polemical chamber piece. Never leaving the confines of the courthouse, its depiction of its embattled lead character's struggle with the relentlessly patriarchal religious court is appropriately exhausting, but also plangently moving. There may be few performances this year better than Ronit Elkabetz's, who channels, with acute, aching gravity, both extraordinary dignity and the utterly consuming frustration of being victim to lawful injustice.

Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson) ***

A 2013 Icelandic release, Benedikt Erlingsson's delightfully odd and majestic dark comedy is a fable of frustrated sexuality, communal disunity, human folly, and the spiritual connections between man, horse, and land that illustrate our most primal urges. Crystalline cinematography and beautiful animals. Often startling and gruesome, but beguilingly balanced out by its droll, jovial tone.

In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland) ***

A prickly, mordant, increasingly clever genre exercise buoyed by slick Nordic humor. Like a cross between the Coen brothers and Sidney Lumet, with ample gangster posturing and reams of absurdist, self-aware dialogue. Rather disappointing visually, and the characters rarely register as more than cartoons, but it's a blast, with one highly effective narrative device.



Futuro Beach (Karim Aïnouz) **1/2

Undercooked in the narrative department and limp in emotion, but often evocatively moody and atmospheric. Good use of the elements - in particular water - as resonant motifs.

The Third One (Rodrigo Guerrero) **1/2

A movie that gets better as it goes, beginning fairly tediously but blossoming by the end into a disarming and very sweet portrait of acceptance and belonging. Sexually charged and explicit, but never without serving its compassionate message.

A Girl at My Door (July Jung) **1/2

Two fiercely moving performances from Bae Doona and Kim Sae-ron anchor this heavy-handed but affecting drama. Gauche handling of plot and social commentary. Human and relatable all the same.


Paris of the North (Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson) **1/2

Perfectly pleasant, wry character drama, also minor and not particularly memorable. Still, fine utilization of yawning Icelandic landscape with exuberant pop soundtrack.

Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf) **

Sweeping historical drama without much sweep, focused on a real-life ménage à trois that's far less interesting than the film thinks and disappointingly separated from its volatile historical context. Performances strong from two leading ladies, but Stetter miscast and directorial devices awkward.

Red Rose (Sepidah Farsi) **

Politically conscious and even, in the end, pleasingly adventurous in form and content, but it fails to come together through its stilted performances.

Low Down (Jeff Preiss) **

Fanning and Close powerful. Hawkes okay. Hazy, era-specific cinematography great. Script and direction diffuse. A musical biopic with the right mood but lacking severely in energy and biographic detail.



No Thank You (Samuli Valkama) **

Basically romance novel-level stuff, with some periodic insights into marriage and aging and a couple of well-earned laughs. Mostly banal.

Zurich (Frederik Steiner) *

Gratuitously manipulative and maudlin. Liv Lisa Fries committed and convincing, but movie around her alternately soggy, mendacious, and visually and thematically impaired.

CIFF 2014: Concrete Night

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 21, 2014 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)



CONCRETE NIGHT  ***

Pirjo Honkasalo

2014

 

 

IDEA:  The highly impressionable teenage Simo spends a night on the town with his noxious criminal brother. Still inchoate and finding his identity, he is influenced by the experience in ways that threaten to propel his mind into chaos.


BLURB:  When does the queasy nihilism of a film’s characters become the queasy nihilism of the film itself? Such is (one) question implicitly posed by Concrete Night, a magnificent visual accomplishment that is also psychologically and morally muddled. Though its rejection of any standard narrative realism is made clear through its rich expressionistic images, the film still falls suspect to inconsistent logic, character motivations and actions often feeling contrived, unconvincing, or both. This is also largely what makes Honkasalo’s heavy, almost oppressive misanthropy hard to decipher: noir-influenced or not, there’s the creeping sense that, in her gorgeously aestheticized gloom, she has actually bought into the story’s fatalism and is espousing it as much as revealing it. Such reservations are not to be taken lightly, but in many respects they also belie the raw power of the film, which is derived from a visceral fugue of dreamlike images, sensuous, shadowy black and white tableau that marvelously submerge us in a precarious mental state. As a piece of storytelling it may be problematic, but as a purely sensory experience it is everything the visual medium of cinema should be and more.




CIFF 2014: Foreign Body

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 20, 2014 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)



FOREIGN BODY  *1/2

Krzysztof Zanussi

2014



BLURB:  The Italian Angelo loves the novice Polish nun Kasia, but when he is hired by a successful new company, he becomes dangerously caught up in the corporate capitalistic mind games of his ruthless boss, Kris.


IDEA:  When confronted with a film as stilted and ham-handed as Foreign Body, there are two options to consider. 1. Its director is a total novice, accounting for the amateurish acting, flat staging, and clumsy handling of narrative or, 2. The director is actually a veteran in his twilight years, who has amassed a prolific body of work but whose sharpness and dexterity have considerably dulled with age. Though it’s generally not wise to make assumptions pertaining to seniority and adeptness (or lack thereof), it’s hard to imagine this isn’t a case of the latter. For whatever insight or keenness of vision Zanussi may have once had, none of it is in evidence in this inane soap opera masquerading as social critique. From the blunt, schematic binaries of the script (past versus present, religion versus capitalism) to the canned music cues, tin-eared dialogue, and distinct lack of visual identity, the film is a slipshod affair only occasionally sparked to life by the stray incisive moment. To be fair, there are nuances to some of Zanussi’s ideas: spirituality isn’t simply painted as the halcyon antidote to the ills of modern capitalism, and while his vision of corporate vice is often laughably simple-minded, he still makes allowances for human gradation within it. But the ideas deserve better than being trapped in this soapy mess.

CIFF 2014: Speed Walking

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 18, 2014 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)



SPEED WALKING  **1/2

Niels Arden Oplev

2014


IDEA:  After the sudden death of his mother, 14-year-old Martin must fend for himself when he is thrust out into the wild, unpredictable world of sex and attraction.


BLURB:  Speed Walking is an odd bird, a potpourri of moods and ideas jostling uncertainly for the same space. There are ebullient, “My Sharona”-scored late night motorcycle rides, and then there is mournful family drama; there are moments seemingly befitting a sex romp, and then there are ones that prompt Freudian analysis; jocularity sits uncomfortably atop melancholy, while warm, dulcet appeals to the emotions are disrupted by streaks of caustic weirdness. If Oplev’s film wasn’t about a boy’s chaotic, cockeyed coming of age, the wonky plotting and bizarrely inconsistent patchwork of tones might seem haphazard. But it is about that, so its discursiveness, if not by design, at least seems somewhat fitting. At its best, it turns that quality into an astute correlative to its young protagonist’s whirlwind existence. At other times, it’s just frustrating. Thankfully, Villads Bøye, with his angelic gold locks and soft blue eyes, anchors the film in nearly every frame, ensuring that its most digressive moments never wander too far out of his tenderly curious purview. In a movie with more threads than it knows what to do with, it is the relationship between him and his best friend – a sensitive and beautiful depiction of early adolescent sexual exploration and possibly burgeoning gay love – that proves its reliable bedrock.

CIFF 2014: Something Must Break

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 15, 2014 at 10:30 PM Comments comments (0)



SOMETHING MUST BREAK  ***

Ester Martin Bergsmark

2014



IDEA:  The gender ambiguous Sebastian falls head-over-heels for Andreas. A relationship begins. But Andreas identifies as straight, and as Sebastian increasingly embraces his female identity, a rift is created that forces both individuals on their own paths of self-discovery.


BLURB:  Occasionally spotty direction and gauche metaphors can’t suppress the infectious spirit of Something Must Break, an absorbing and energetic love story and a deeply compassionate portrait of young people coming to terms with their ambiguous sexual and gender identities. With its unpolished, handheld camerawork and low-key lighting, one might be tempted at first to dismiss the film as just another gritty and overly affected slice of modern day realism, but before long it reveals its blazing heart, bringing together its two fervent protagonists and igniting a cathartic and candid dialogue. The chemistry between actors Saga Becker and Iggy Malmborg is phenomenal: their characters’ romance can melt a room, and so can the tensions that arise, inevitably, when their uncertain self-concepts begin chafing. Directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark, a transgendered woman herself, the film feels intimately and sensitively attuned to the struggles of trying to love when you’re not even sure of who you are or who you should be loving. Still evidently finding her own way as a director, Something Must Break is rough around the edges, but it’s also a vital representation of queer identity, and a refreshingly hopeful one.

CIFF 2014: Refugiado

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 14, 2014 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)



REFUGIADO  ***

Diego Lerman

2014

 

 

IDEA:  A woman flees her abusive husband with her young son in tow. Never far from his psychological grip, they travel perilously through the Buenos Aires nights seeking refuge - and a new life.


BLURB:  Making up in emotional texture and visual acuity what it lacks in scope or complexity, Refugiado is slender but hugely affecting, a story of abuse and domestic upheaval that deftly avoids crassness at every turn. This is in large part due to director Diego Lerman and his savvy crafts team, who elegantly conjure feverish immediacy without making it feel false or exploitative, and who display both sensitivity and sharp visual logic when limning the dual emotional and geographical journeys of our mother and son protagonists. It is a keen representation of a child’s burgeoning awareness of his unstable domestic circumstances that, finally, gives the film its plangent power. Credit here goes to both Sebastián Molinaro, who, with his round, unassuming face and mop of brown curls, moves and behaves like a real seven-year-old boy, and to DP Wojciech Staron, who subtly and beautifully shoots large portions of the film from his eye level, aligning us equally well with his childish diversions and his simmering unrest. Small and assured, Lerman’s film may be a tad attenuated, but it’s also unusually, even evocatively, artful.

CIFF 2014: The Way He Looks

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 12, 2014 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)



THE WAY HE LOOKS  ***

Daniel Ribeiro

2014



IDEA:  Leonardo, a blind teenager yearning for independence and love, becomes smitten with the new kid in his class, Gabriel - upsetting his close relationship with best friend Giovana.


BLURB:  The Way He Looks is so big-hearted, so irresistible in its queer coming-of-age charms, it’s often easy to overlook just how familiar much of it is. Certainly the film stands out for its depiction of teenage sexual discovery: empathic and gentle to the touch, director Daniel Ribeiro has a particular knack for understanding the hesitancy and uncertainty in recognizing one’s own desires, as well as the confusion, both sweet and sour, born from attraction. He’s also well attuned to the jealousies and petty relational entanglements of youth, and does a fine job at portraying insecurity without straining for poignancy; the emotions come rather naturally here. Still, it’s difficult to escape the general predictability of the story, or the occasional contrived moment that seems just a mite too tidy for such inherently messy material. If we don’t terribly mind in the end it’s only because Ribeiro and his talented young actors have captured our hearts, made a simple tale of blossoming gay love into an affectionate, necessary ode to acceptance and understanding.

CIFF 2014: Nabat

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 11, 2014 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)



NABAT  ****

Elchin Musaoglu

2014

 

 

IDEA:  Nabat, an elderly woman, refuses to leave her village when war has forced everyone to evacuate. As she continues to labor on, looking after her ailing husband and tending to her daily routines, circumstances grow increasingly dire.


BLURB:  Nabat announces with its opening shot – an astonishing crane-and-pan along the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan – both its preoccupation with environment and its formal mastery. From this point on the film will be in complete, almost uncanny control of the elements, organically incorporating weather and landscape in its rigorous mise-en-scène. Musaoglu’s film is utterly transfixing, and even better, visually and aurally accomplished to such a degree that every mellifluous pan and track, every methodical composition, carries with it a weight and purpose that speaks volumes. Without much dialogue, image and sound must communicate everything, and thankfully Musaoglu has both covered and then some. DP Abdulrahim Besharat’s visuals emphasize the yawning majesty of mist-shrouded mountains and sepulchral weather, while his often elaborate camerawork – replete with slow dollies and traveling shots – manages to capture every nook of rooms and foothills with tremendous tactility. The sound design is equally as immersive, making startling use of off-screen space while building imposing atmosphere. Musaoglu’s aesthetic proficiency is entirely in service of his profoundly moving story, a portrait of a woman and a land braving the spiritual ravages of war; an intertwined suffering here rendered with grace and grave beauty.

2014 Chicago International Film Festival

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 10, 2014 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)





The 50th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is underway, and with it comes an invigorating plethora of films from all around the world. If you're in the Chicago area, strongly consider going: this year's schedule is particularly rich and satisfying, a wonderfully diverse selection that taps into the exciting multitude of visions finding purchase in our current global film landscape. I'll be posting review blurbs of select Festival films in the next couple of weeks, so make sure to watch this space for those. Enjoy the films!


The 2014 Chicago International Film Festival runs from Oct. 9 - Oct. 23.

Gone Girl

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 9, 2014 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)



GONE GIRL  ***1/2

David Fincher

2014

 

 

IDEA:  Nick Dunne returns home on his anniversary to find his wife mysteriously missing, commencing a police investigation and a media circus that implicate him in her murder.


BLURB:  Gone Girl is a deliriously trashy psychological thriller with lacerating sociological implications, a funhouse mirror whose distortions endeavor to cut right through reality. In other words, it’s satire, but a particularly smart and deceptive one: Fincher and Flynn have effectively turned the framework for a B-grade pulp story into the fulcrum upon which layers of irony and social commentary pivot. Their often abrasive employment of tropes, their alternate reveling in and upending of gender stereotypes, and their increasing unraveling of narrative logic, in which credulity is forcefully and unapologetically strained, serve the dual purposes of galvanizing audiences’ attentions and making them vividly cognizant of the representations – in the media or otherwise – they are so ready to accept and reinforce. Despite its slight bloat and disappointing lack of visual ideas, Gone Girl is absolutely ripe with subtext, a sneakily self-aware examination of false appearances and culturally perpetuated representations that is constantly presenting itself one way and then defying itself the next. How we react to it corresponds with what it says about us, as a society seemingly always posing questions and absorbing images, but rarely actually seeing.


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About the Author


Jonathan Leithold-Patt is a 23-year-old film student at Columbia College Chicago. Besides watching lots and lots of films and writing about them, he is an avid painter.

Contact at cinematiclife@yahoo.com.

Devoted to the Movies

Selected Reviews

A Prophet

A Separation

An Education

The American Soldier

Amour

The Apu Trilogy

Badlands

The Battle of Algiers

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Birth

Black Swan

Brave

Broadway Danny Rose

Broken Flowers

Les Carabiniers

Caché

Certified Copy

The Children Are Watching Us

Chungking Express

Claire's Knee

The Class

Close-Up

Cloud Atlas

C.R.A.Z.Y.

The Cremator

Deconstructing Harry

Dersu Uzala

The Descendants

Django Unchained

Drive

The Earrings of Madame de...

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The Exterminating Angel

Fata Morgana

The Fighter

Frances Ha

Fury

The General

Holy Motors

Hugo

The Hurt Locker

I Was Born, But...

The Ides of March

In a Year with 13 Moons

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

La Jetée

Juliet of the Spirits

Kes

The Kids Are All Right

The Lady Eve

Late Spring

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Little Fugitive

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

The Long Day Closes

Louisiana Story

Mamma Roma

Man with a Movie Camera

Martha Marcy May Marlene

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Melancholia

Miller's Crossing

Mon Oncle

Mon Oncle d'Amérique

My Life as a Dog

Naked

Nebraska

The Night of the Hunter

Ninotchka

Oliver Twist

Once Upon a Time in the West

Paisan

Persona

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Il Posto

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Ratcatcher

The Red Balloon

The Right Stuff

Sátántangó

Seven Chances

Shame

Sister

The Social Network

Solaris

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

The Straight Story

Take Shelter

Ten

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

El Topo

Toy Story 3

The Tree of Life

Tropical Malady

Trouble in Paradise

Ugetsu

Under the Skin

Viridiana

Walkabout

What Did the Lady Forget?

Where is the Friend's Home?

The White Ribbon

Zazie dans le Métro