The Housemaid

The 46th Chicago International Film Festival continues through Thursday, October 21, at River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $13 ($10 for students, seniors, or Cinema/Chicago members) or $5 for matinees Monday through Friday until 5 PM. Passes are $110 (ten admissions) and $210 (20 admissions). Tickets can be purchased in person at Cinema/Chicago, 30 E. Adams, suite 800, Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM; and at River East 21 from noon until the last screening has begun. Tickets can also be purchased by phone or online through Ticketmaster (800-982-2787 or or Cinema/Chicago (312-332-3456; passes only at

Following are reviews of selected films screening this week; for more information and a complete schedule visit

Besouro African ancestral gods and some fancy dancing help a young black man protect his people from evil white plantation owners in this 2009 Brazilian drama, which is set in the 1920s and based on the exploits of a real-life folk hero. The title character, troubled that he didn’t prevent the murder of his mentor, contacts him through the spirit world and thereby gains new powers—like flying—that enhance his skill at the forbidden art of capoeira (dance plus martial arts). The visuals are colorful and the music seductive, but director Joao Daniel Tikhomiroff skimps on character development: the hero lacks depth, and the villains swagger and sneer like heavies in a bad western. In Portuguese with subtitles. 95 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Sat 10/16, 12:20 PM.

Blame A high school music teacher is taken hostage in his remote home by five teenagers clad in their Sunday finest; they’ve just come from the funeral of their friend, who committed suicide after being seduced and then rejected by the teacher, and they’ve resolved to kill him with an overdose and make the death look like a suicide. This Australian nail-biter by Michael Henry suffers from the fact that the kids’ supposedly perfect crime is so dumb: they leave fingerprints all over the place, their pills are easily traceable, and they bind the victim’s hands and feet, the bruises from which would tip off any investigator. Those distractions recede, however, as their plot falls apart anyway, leaving the teacher to plead for his life and his captors to bicker and turn on each other. Part of the recent wave of low-budget Aussie thrillers, this hardly ranks with such predecessors as Coffin Rock, The Square, and Animal Kingdom, but it’s a solid effort with a few nice twists. 89 min. —J.R. Jones  Sun 10/17, 9:45 PM.

Carancho A disbarred attorney (Ricardo Darin of The Secret in Their Eyes) and a drug-addicted medic (Martina Gusman) get in over their heads in the underbelly of Buenos Aires. Director Pablo Trapero filters the bleakness and inevitability of a cynical film noir (think Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross or Christmas Holiday) through a utilitarian style that emphasizes the nuanced acting. Aside from a few startlingly violent shots, Trapero’s long takes are unshowy, allowing the excellent leads to deepen roles that are little more than genre types. Unambitious but not slight, this is the kind of genre filmmaking that once defined American cinema; needless to say, a film like this probably couldn’t be made here nowadays. In Spanish with subtitles. 107 min. —Ignatiy Vishnevetsky  Sat 10/16, 9:30 PM, and Tue 10/19, 6 PM.

Come Undone This Italian tale of infidelity owes its appeal to the charming lead actors, who hold one’s attention even during some unlikely plot turns. A wispy blond insurance agent (Alba Rohrwacher of I Am Love) lives with her sweet, rotund boyfriend, but at an office party she meets a handsome married caterer (Pierfrancesco Favino of Angels & Demons), and before long the two are sneaking off for weekly motel rendezvous. Director Sylvio Soldini (Bread & Tulips) suggests that the lovers are bound by their common restlessness and their great sex, but because their liaison doesn’t prompt any significant growth, change, or consequences, the film is more memorable for its eroticism than its drama. In Italian with subtitles. 126 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Sat 10/16, 2:15 PM.

Erratum In this nuanced and atmospheric Polish drama, an accountant (Tomasz Kot, excellent) returns to his hometown to pick up his boss’s imported car and on the way back accidentally kills a drunken vagrant. Stuck in the small village while he cooperates with the police and waits for the vehicle to be repaired, the hero resumes contact with his estranged father (Ryszard Kotys) and tries to uncover the dead man’s identity. Encounters that seem sinister at first take on different hues as he gets closer to the truth about both men. Director Marek Lechki achieves a subtle elegance through still moments and small gestures, drawing grace and hope from the least likely situations. In Polish with subtitles. 95 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Sat 10/15, 6:05 PM, and Sun 10/17, noon. Lechki will attend the 10/15 screening.

Fair Game You’d have to go back to All the President’s Men (1976) for a better example of fresh American political scandal being turned into slam-bang, star-powered drama. Sean Penn plays Joseph Wilson, the U.S. diplomat who publicly disputed the Bush administration’s evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Naomi Watts is his wife, Valerie Plame, who was outed as a CIA agent in retaliation. The screenplay is adapted from Plame’s and Wilson’s respective memoirs, and their relationship in the movie—like the one between Woodward and Bernstein in the earlier one—is so compelling that it generates an emotional force quite apart from the political skulduggery. Scrupulous with the facts, the movie arrives at the same impasse that the media and justice system did when vice presidential aide Scooter Libby was thrown to the wolves. But it does a real service in showing how important Plame was to the agency’s counterproliferation efforts in Iraq and how screwed her foreign sources were when the story broke. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) directed; with Sam Shepard and Noah Emmerich. PG-13, 108 min. —J.R. Jones  Sun 10/17, 5 PM.

Heartbeats All lipstick and no kiss, this romantic drama by French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan is filled with candy-colored, cello-scored studies of the beautiful young characters and their 1950s fashions. Marie (played with impressive hauteur by Monia Chokri) is one of those women with an Audrey Hepburn problem, whereas gay Francis (Dolan) worships at the altar of James Dean; these two pals eventually turn against each other when the tousle-haired Nicolas (Niels Schneider) becomes the apex of their bisexual love triangle. Intercut with this narrative are pointless interview segments featuring another assortment of young lovers apparently unrelated to the main characters. The movie got a standing ovation at the Cannes film festival, and one can see why: Dolan’s vibrant use of color can be irresistible. But many of his other effects are insufferably precious (like the jerk zooms dominating the interviews), and the gender-bent Jules and Jim story lacks depth. In French with subtitles. 95 min. —J.R. Jones  Fri 10/15, 8:45 PM.

Hereafter Epic filmmaking is not Clint Eastwood’s thing: his masterpieces have all been small-scale dramas with profound moral implications (Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby), while his more ambitious projects (Flags of Our Fathers, Invictus) can seem like anonymous Oscar bait. One couldn’t ask for a more epic subject than the afterlife, and this jumbo drama weaves together three different stories from as many continents, but it lacks the toughness of Eastwood’s best work. The movie does begin with an astounding special effects sequence: a British TV reporter (Cecile de France) visiting a South Asian beachfront community is engulfed by a devastating tsunami. The second story line, set in San Francisco, is held aloft by Matt Damon’s moody performance as a reluctant psychic. The third, about a British orphan searching for his dead twin, succumbs to sentimentality, and screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) labors mightily to land all three protagonists in the same frame by the end. PG-13, 129 min. —J.R. Jones  Thu 10/14, 6:15 PM. De France is scheduled to attend the screening.

The Housemaid South Korean director Im Sang-soo (The President’s Last Bang) remakes a 1960 cult favorite by his countryman Kim Ki-young. I’ve never seen the original, but I’m guessing the setup wasn’t quite as predictable 50 years ago: an innocent young woman (Jeon Do-yeon) hires on as housemaid for a hard, wealthy couple, and before long she’s carrying the husband’s child. That’s only the beginning, though, and as the situation continues to fester, the balance of power shifts back and forth among some wonderfully defined characters: the wronged wife is backed up by her poisonous and vindictive mother, the housemaid by the steely old cook (Yun Yeo-jong) who’s been with the family for ages and knows their depths. The movie’s stylish look and caustic tone have drawn comparison to the late Claude Chabrol, but there’s nothing French about the crazed and fiery finale. In Korean with subtitles. 106 min. —J.R. Jones  Sun 10/17, 7:15 PM.

Louder Than a Bomb This potent, fast-paced documentary about Louder Than a Bomb, the annual Chicago-area high school poetry slam, showcases a range of stellar teen poets as they progress through the semifinals into the final competition for 2008. Nova Venerable, a poised senior from Oak Park/River Forest, turns memories of her hellish childhood into hypnotic confessionals, while Adam Gottlieb of Northside College Prep exudes a humor, generosity, and verbal firepower that recall the young Allen Ginsberg. The Steinmetz team are cast as the underdogs, despite the fact that they triumphed the previous year; they struggle with their writing and clash with their coach, but when they reach the finals they deliver an electrifying group performance. Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel directed. 100 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Sat 10/16, 1:30 PM, and Mon 10/18, 3:30 PM. Jacobs, Siskel, and featured poets are scheduled to attend the screenings.

The Minutemen Documentary maker Corey Wascinski looks at illegal immigration, focusing on the title activists who guard the U.S.-Mexico border. The opening passages suggest field notes for an unwritten Cormac McCarthy novel, as self-proclaimed “crusty old men” describe the rigors of their unsolicited patrols. Cowboys misplaced in time, they speak proudly of their self-imposed isolation and peril, which Wascinski reflects in some fine images of the Arizona desert. Unfortunately he undermines this material with amateurishly shot scenes of migrant rights rallies and of middle-class racists taunting Mexicans in San Diego; these episodes do little but reaffirm how polarizing the issue is. What begins in the vicinity of cinema soon descends to the level of local TV coverage, though the Minutemen themselves stand tall in the imagination. 83 min. —Ben Sachs  Fri 10/15, 6:40 PM, and Sat 10/16, 2:20 PM. Wascinski, producer Nicholas Weissman, and Robert ‘Lil Dog’ Crooks of the Mountain Minutemen are scheduled to attend.

A Screaming Man The long history of civil war in Chad has provided ample material for writer-director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, and like his previous drama, Dry Season (2006), this one gauges the human damage as it plays out across generations. The premise is oddly similar to that of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic The Last Laugh: when a state-owned hotel is privatized, the 55-year-old swimming pool attendant is unceremoniously demoted to parking-lot gatekeeper, and the modesty of his original position only intensifies the bitterness of his fall. To make matters worse, his grown son inherits his poolside job, though the young man is safer at the hotel than in the army, whose commanders are conscripting young men to fight the rebel forces. The movie’s effectiveness lies in Haroun’s low-key dramatic development; he creates an emotional space where the slights of everyday life can hit like bullets. In French and Arabic with subtitles. 89 min. —J.R. Jones  Sat 10/16, 2 PM.

Tony & Janina’s American Wedding Tony and Janina Wasilewski were model immigrants: hardworking, law-abiding, and beaming with freshly minted patriotism for the U.S. Then Janina, who came to Illinois claiming refugee status during Poland’s communist regime, was abruptly deported in 2007, taking the couple’s six-year-old son back home with her. Coproduced by Chicago’s venerable Kartemquin Films, this moving documentary uses the Wasilewskis’ plight as a window onto our absurdly byzantine and arbitrary immigration controls, which tear apart hundreds of thousands of comparably blameless families every year. Director Ruth Leitman deftly balances heartbreaking drama and muckraking journalism. In English and subtitled Polish. 81 min. —Cliff Doerksen  Sun 10/17, 2:15 PM. Leitman and Tony Wasilewski are scheduled to attend the screening.

Trust “A Film by David Schwimmer” is not the sort of credit that fills me with anticipation, but I must admit he’s done a solid job with this queasy drama about the rape of a 12-year-old Wilmette girl. Lured to a downtown hotel by a middle-aged online predator, who violates her and then disappears, the lovestruck child (Liana Liberato) defends her assailant after a friend rats her out at school and the FBI is called in. The girl’s dumbfounded mother (Catherine Keener) and enraged father (Clive Owen) try to make her understand what’s happened to her, but they’re no match for her tangled shame, anger, and unreasoning schoolgirl crush. When dad takes the law into his own hands, this begins to suggest a millennial version of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979), with a vivid disgust for our hypersexualized society. But screenwriters Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger (the latter cowrote In the Bedroom) mostly avoid Schrader’s puritanical sensationalism by focusing tightly on the family’s private turmoil. With Viola Davis and Noah Emmerich. 104 min. —J.R. Jones  Sat 10/16, 5 PM, Mon 10/18, 8 PM, and Tue 10/19, 8 PM. Schwimmer will attend the 10/18 screening, a benefit for Cinema Chicago and Rape Victims Advocates; tickets are sold out.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives The dead speak with the living, animals speak to humans, and—thanks to a dense sound mix suggesting musique concrete—the northern Thai jungle just won’t shut up in this hypnotic feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady). The title character is a tranquil landowner in his mid-60s, attended to by an assistant and family members both living and dead as he slowly dies of kidney failure. In some previous films Weerasethakul used a two-part structure to convey his Buddhist belief in reincarnation; here he moves between worldly and spiritual realms with an eerie fluidity reminiscent of Alain Resnais. As is to be expected, Weerasethakul frequently abandons the story for trancelike contemplations of nature, but never before in his work has the device felt more purposeful. This isn’t likely to convert those who find his work boring, but others may find the movie’s spell comparable to prayer or peaceful dreaming. In Thai with subtitles. 108 min. —Ben Sachs  Fri 10/15, 6:30 PM. The screening is sold out; rush tickets only.

We Are What We Are Not graphic enough for gore-hounds or suspenseful enough for thriller fans, this moody Mexican drama about a family of cannibals aims for the art-house tone of Let the Right One In. When the philandering father suddenly dies, the eldest child (Francisco Barreiro) reluctantly becomes the clan’s provider, egged on by his sister (Paulina Gaitan of Sin Nombre) but belittled by his mother and brother, who may have figured out he’s a closeted homosexual. Coming out at a nightclub, the young man targets an attractive fellow to bring home for, uh, dinner. The story creeps along at a somnambulistic pace, unredeemed by the shallow social commentary or tepid black humor. Jorge Michel Grau directed. In Spanish with subtitles. 89 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Fri 10/15, 9:15 PM.