47th Chicago International Film Festival Overview

The Last Rites of Joe May
dir. Joe Maggio

This film takes place in Chicago after what we assume to be an aging crook (there’s really no proof of this, we are just non-verbally told by his bad-boy leather jacket) gets out of the hospital after having pneumonia for two months.  When he is released, he finds his apartment inhabited by a young mother and her elementary age daughter after his landlord gives his apartment away during his hospital stint.  When the female lead sees Joe sitting in the cold at a bus stop, she invites him to live with her and her daughter for a hundred bucks a week.  And why wouldn’t a single mother with a young daughter invite a strange man to live with her?  Because, it’s Chicago.  My problem with this movie is that it relies heavily upon stereotypes of Chicago and the Midwest at large–that all Chicagoians are blue-collar, live in a perpetual gray and freezing city that is economically depressed, the police officers are corrupt, and the women are poor and uneducated.  Fuel for the latter is that the mother is dating a cop (big surprise, huh?) who beats her, but she can’t leave him because he’s just really, really stressed out.  Watching this movie as an educated, Midwestern woman who hails from a single-mother household, it seems to me that the director pigeonholes Chicago women based on his wide-sweeping assumptions.

Grade: C

Rabies
dir. Aharon Keshales

This movie was a first for many—the first time that I had ever seen an Israeli movie, and also the first time an Israeli horror flick has ever come out of the country.  Initially, the plot appears fairly formulaic, four teens—two boys and two girls—are driving and get sidetracked by a  bloody person in need in the woods.  However, as the story unfolds, we are given a giant onion, if you will, of layers upon layers of gruesome, complicated, bloody, loud, terrifying and yes, even loving and beautiful story lines that sets this film apart from your run of the mill horror film.  Another unique facet is that it doesn’t rely on predictable film and horror conventions, such as implying a sexual relationship between siblings, the good guy getting punished, the juxtaposition of a truly good cop and a truly bad cop, and a psychotic killer having a sense of humor.  To add to the film’s intrigue, there are some rocking female characters, especially one of the young cheerleaders who we meet in the beginning of the film whose backbone and morals are as tough as the Hoover Dam.

Grade: B+

Le Havre
dir. Aki Kaurismäki

This film tells the tale of a French shoeshine who takes in a young African immigrant on the lam from French authorities.  Marcel (Andre Wilms) hides young Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) so that he may be reunited with family, but all the while he is being sought in order to extradite him back to his native country.  Just as Idrissa is discovered hiding amongst the boats at the local harbor, cold, homeless and hungry, Marcel’s wife is admitted to the hospital for several weeks.  Over that time, Marcel and Idrissa take on a father/son relationship of sorts and the townspeople all come together to help hide him.  What can I say, it’s a heart warming story and with a slight touch of whimsy as only French movies can do (though the director is Finnish).  Director Kaurismäki shines a light on the plight of the immigrant–homelessness, hunger, broken families and loneliness and how young children are amongst the casualties of immigration.

Grade: B+

A Lonely Place to Die
dir. Julian Gilbey

Though listed as a part of their horror/After Dark program at the CIFF, I don’t know if I would stick this movie in the horror section at my local video store.  Like the aforementioned Rabies, when this film begins it seems very formulaic and you think that you have it all figured out–woods, cabin, creepy killers.  And though while some of this true during the first half of the film, the second half blind sides us and turns into a thriller/action/adventure.  The story takes place in Scotland where a group of friends go mountain climbing and along the way, they happen upon a young girl who is buried in a box in the ground.  One by one, each of the group begins to get knocked off by two men with rifles, though we have no idea why until the end of the movie.  The main character of this film becomes the mother figure/savior to the young girl and while it is slightly predictable and relies on the supposed nurturing nature of women, I bought it.  Not only was she willing to put her neck out for some girl that she didn’t know, but she kicked butt and stood by her guns, and the little girl.

Grade: B+

Turn Me On, Dammit!
dir. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

What can I say about Turn Me on, Dammit! besides if you’re a woman of any age, watch it.  I was shocked at moments by this movie’s brutal honesty in telling the tale of young women discovering their own sexuality, and yet it was done in an incredibly quirky, cute and down to earth way.  Essentially, it is the story of three young friends living in a small town in Norway, all experiencing high school and relationships in very different ways: one who inflicts torment and is filled with jealously, another having big dreams of moving to Texas to help abolish capital punishment, and the last discovering and exploring her own sexual urges while being labeled an outcast.  And so, so many more coming of age issues are up for discussion including mother/daughter relationships, single-parent households, mean girls in high school, small town life and collective small town mentality, young women’s bodies, self-discovery…I could go on and on but trust me, it’s all good stuff!

Grade: A

This film also wins Exploring Feminisms Audience Choice Award for 2011!  Congrats!

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One thought on “47th Chicago International Film Festival Overview

  1. michaelgloversmith says:

    Great recap! I have to say that we are largely in agreement though I think you liked A Lonely Place to Die more than I did and I think my opinion of Le Havre has gone up a few notches since we saw it. Reading your review of Turn Me On, Dammit! really makes me want to see it again. Just reading your description of the Norwegian girl who wants to move to Texas to help abolish the death penalty made me laugh.

    My report card is coming next week!

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