Monday, October 12, 2015

Chicago International Film Festival 51 - Initial Thoughts

Chicago International Film Festival 51 - opens this week!

The longest running international competitive film festival in the United States returns for its 51st edition, starting this week in Chicago. Opening night is Thursday, October 15 with the screening of the Italian film Mia Madre, directed by Nanni Moretti. 

I have seen this film and will review it soon. Here are notes on the first three films I have seen from this year's festival:

Breakfast at Ina's - directed by Mercedes Kane. This is an uncomplicated documentary about a lovely woman, Ina Pinkney, who managed Ina's, a breakfast restaurant in Chicago's West Loop, that became a local institution. The film covers the action of the final month - December 2013 - of the restaurant, which Pinkney was forced to close due to her health; she contracted polio in her youth and still suffers today from post-polio, as she has trouble walking. 

If this film is not as gripping as it should be, it is a very good and even-keeled look at Pinkney's life, which has had many ups and downs. The most engrossing part of this documentary has to do with Pinkney recalling her marriage in the 1960s to a black man; interracial marriage of course, being somewhat of a taboo at that time. Clearly, Pinkney's experience with this matter, both in Brooklyn where she lived at the time and soon after, when she moved to Chicago, shaped some of her outlook on life. 

This is a film with a good heart, as it keeps things simple, offering us Pinkney talking about her management style, the everyday travails of running a breakfast restaurant and her future. She comes across as one of the most genuine people you'll ever meet. 

Breakfast at Ina's will be shown on Sunday, October 18 at 3:30 PM; Thursday, October 22 at 12:00 PM and on Friday, October 23 at 4:00 PM


How to Win Enemies - directed by Gabriel Lichtmann. The less said about this film, the better. This is a movie for the Facebook crowd, as the characters are two-dimensional at best, the actors are all young and look beautiful, the lighting is bright, with saturated images, and worst of all, a silly story with a puzzle. The puzzle has to do with one of the main characters being robbed of a good deal of money, but we never believe for a second that his life will be all that difficult. While the dialogue isn't embarrassing, neither is it particularly clever and it adds up to very little. This isn't a disaster, as it's moderately watchable, but there isn't much substance, style or wit to this very short (78 minutes only, thankfully) film from Argentina.

How to Win Enemies will be shown on Wednesday, October 21 at 5:45; Thursday, October 22 at 9:30 PM and Monday, October 26 at 2:45 PM.


Other Madnesses - directed by Jeremy Carr. Much more ambitious than the previous two films I discussed, this is a harrowing look at an everyday citizen of New York City and how he views the horrors of the city. That makes Other Madnesses sort of an alternative version of Taxi Driver; clearly Carr was influenced by that seminal film when he made this work. A bus tour guide named Ed Zimmer (played by a somewhat gaunt and ghoulish-looking James Moles) charms tourists with his knowledge of Manhattan during the day (he is asked several times by tourists to have his picture taken with them - a nice touch), but is haunted by his nightmares, once he is back in his dingy apartment. The question the film raises on the surface level has to do with whether his visions are real or merely extensions of his fevered imagination. The film also asks us if we would do what Zimmer sets out to do - to right these wrongs. This is the first film directed by Carr and his imagery is often haunting - the first shot in the dark sets the proper tone for this film - and he takes time to slow the story down to give us an unusual relationship between Zimmer and a female tourist he meets on the bus named Lucya (nicely played by Natia Dune). While the film does not totally come to a full resolution, it is a fascinating journey into the hellish vision of one lonely man. 

Other Madnesses will be shown on Saturday, October 17 at 9:30 PM and on Monday, October 19 at 9:15 PM.

Note that all films will be shown at the AMC River East Theatres at 322 E. Illinois Street

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