Too Late to Die Young

There are two overwhelmingly positive developments to this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. One is that the fest will present a program of experimental cinema for the first time in decades; that screens on Monday, October 15, at 8:30 PM and features short works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and local filmmakers Melika Bass and Deborah Stratman. The second is that the festival will screen more features directed by women than ever before, most of them first- or second-time filmmakers. The festival is also trying out a new virtual reality sidebar, with five “immersive cinema” experiences that attendees can engage with for free (admission is on a first-come, first-served basis). I’ve never experienced VR myself, so I can’t speak to its quality as a storytelling medium, but its inclusion in the festival speaks to the programmers’ willingness to explore new ideas.

Chicago International Film Festival

10/10 through 10/21: screening dates and times vary; see website, AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois, 312-332-3456, chicago​film​festival​.com, individual screenings $15, $12 students and seniors; $8 Mon-Fri before 5 PM; $20 special presentations; $140 10-admission pass; $265 20-admission pass.

As usual, the Chicago International is defined as much by the movies that aren’t showing as by the movies the programmers have selected. Reports from this year’s festivals at Cannes, Locarno, Venice, and Toronto have created the impression that 2018 is an especially exciting year for world cinema. Alas, many of the movies that have generated this excitement—Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II, Federico Veiroj’s Belmonte, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, Wang Bing’s Dead Souls, Hong Sang-soo’s Grass and Hotel by the River, Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, Claire Denis’s High Life, Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book, Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Frederick Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana, Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, Lav Diaz’s Season of the Devil, and Jafar Panahi’s Three Faces—are not in Chicago’s lineup. Thankfully our town has no shortage of great film programmers; between Facets Multimedia, the Nightingale, the Music Box, Block Cinema, Doc Films, Asian Pop-Up Cinema, the U. of C. Film Studies Center, and the Gene Siskel Film Center, I’m confident that most (if not all) of these titles will arrive here eventually. —Ben Sachs



At War

French writer-director Stéphane Brizé’s fourth collaboration with actor Vincent Lindon, the follow-up to their thematically similar 2015 film The Measure of a Man, feels like a combination of a Kartemquin documentary and a Bertrand Bonello film. Lindon stars as a blue-collar worker who leads the charge when corporate executives shut down the factory where he works, laying off 1,100 people. Brizé plops the viewer into the midst of the struggle and never lets up, going from the boardroom to the streets, from peaceful mediations to violent demonstrations. Intercut between the straightforward narrative sections, shot with a handheld camera to give the effect of a docudrama, are news reports of the action and atmospheric vignettes over which lamenting synth-rock grouses. Its ending is almost surprisingly apoplectic—the key word being almost. The melding of clear-sighted and insurrectionary modes doesn’t quite cohere, but the film is still an ambitious effort worthy of its title. In French with subtitles. 113 min. —Kathleen Sachs Sat 10/13, 4:15 PM, and Fri 10/19, 5 PM

R Becoming Astrid

Children’s books can take their unconventional heroes to some dark places, frequently inspired by the authors’ own hard lives. This absorbing Swedish-German-Danish biopic of Pippi Longstocking creator Astrid Lindgren presents her turbulent, formative teen years without any sugarcoating. An internship on her Småland village newspaper leads to an affair with the editor and an unplanned pregnancy, followed by heartbreaking choices as she clashes with her loving but religiously observant family, farmers that work land owned by a nearby church. Under Pernille Fischer Christensen’s astute direction, the actors never descend into bathos. As Astrid, Alba August is high-spirited, rebellious, and resourceful; Maria Bonnevie as her strict mother shows where the writer got her backbone; and Henrik Rafaelsen as Astrid’s undeserving lover delineates a seducer whose urbanity masks a woeful ineptitude. In Swedish and Danish with subtitles. 123 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 10/20 5:30 PM, and Sun 10/21, 7 PM

Before the Frost

Greed vies with parental duty as the key motivating force in this grim drama set in 19th-century rural Denmark. The first act is sluggish, as a poor but stubborn elderly farmer (Jesper Christensen of Spectre and Melancholia) haggles with neighbors over the price of everything from livestock to his comely daughter (Clara Rosager), whom he will not allow to wed unless her marriage contract provides for the rest of the family. Intrigue unfolds when a dashing, prosperous Swedish widower (Magnus Krepper of Becoming Astrid and The Bridge) offers to buy a marshy plot of the farmer’s land for a cash crop of sugar beets, the next big thing. The prospect of feeding his family, as well as rising in the eyes of the community, nearly blinds the old man; to the movie’s credit, writer-director Michael Noer and his cowriter, Jesper Fink, provide enough plot twists to upend viewer expectations about the nature of evil in this study of human savagery. In Danish and Swedish with subtitles. 104 min. —AG Tue 10/16, 6:15 PM; Wed 10/17, 8:30 PM; and Thu 10/18, 1 PM

Ben is Back

Conspicuously sterile, this opportunistic drama tackles the opioid crisis in white middle-class suburbia. Ben (Lucas Hedges) visits home from rehab; his mother, Holly (a compelling Julia Roberts), is overjoyed, while his sister and stepfather are rightfully suspicious. After Ben’s former associates steal the family’s beloved pup, he and his mom embark on a journey through his nefarious past to rescue it. Writer-director Peter Hedges (Pieces of April, Dan in Real Life) seems to grasp the seriousness of the crisis, but only insofar as it affects people who look and live like him—a throwaway comment from Holly’s black husband about how Ben would be in jail if he weren’t white doesn’t count for much. The film’s didacticism, evidenced in a scene where Holly learns how to use the overdose reversal drug naloxone, is artless if well-intentioned. Anxious handheld camera work presents the illusion of realism, but the film’s sentiment is contrived. With Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton. 103 min. —KS Director Peter Hedges will attend the screening. Sun 10/14, 7:30 PM

  v The City That Sold America

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a daily glass of OJ, and regular toothbrushing (though not just before drinking the juice) are ubiquitous in American life—and they’re all inventions of Chicago admen. The City That Sold America explores Chicago as the quintessential expression of “New World” living during the early 20th century, and how, as an epicenter of shipping, processing, and broadcasting, it spawned an industry that forever shaped how we view and interact with the world. Today we’re endlessly inundated with ads, and many of us harbor misgivings toward the industry for past evils—such as pimping cigarettes and sugar to kids—and ongoing concerns, including the perpetuation of consumerism, falsehoods, and stereotypes. So it’s interesting to consider a time before modern advertising, and how some ingenious thinkers from a single city helped promote public education (see above: dental hygiene), break taboos, fuel art, and importantly, provide people with a positive image of themselves and their communities. 67 min. —Jamie Ludwig Director Ky Dickens, producer Mary Warlick, and subject Bob Scarpelli will attend both screenings. Thu 10/11, 5:45 PM, and Sat 10/13, 11:30 AM

Core of the World

This gloomy Russian character study follows a young veterinarian who works at a training center for hunting dogs in a remote wooded area. He lives a monkish existence, thinking almost exclusively of his work and keeping at arm’s length the family who own the facility, despite their efforts to forge a deeper relationship with him. Director Natalya Meshchaninova aspires to the look and feel of a direct-cinema documentary—there’s no music, every shot is handheld, and the narrative (at least for the first hour or so) emphasizes everyday behavior over dramatic incident. Only after a while does it become clear that the veterinarian is an emotionally disturbed sociopath who devotes himself to animals to avoid getting close to people. Meshchaninova doesn’t have much to say about the character apart from this; once she reveals his true nature, the film doesn’t really have anywhere to go. In Russian with subtitles. 125 min. —BS Sun 10/14, 7:15 PM, and Mon 10/15, 8:45 PM

R Diane

For decades Kent Jones has been one of the most eloquent and perceptive film critics in the U.S.; with this devastating chamber drama (his first narrative feature as writer-director), he also proves himself to be a keen observer of psychology and American social mores. Mary Kay Place, in a heartbreaking performance, plays the title character, a single, 60ish woman in upstate New York who devotes herself to helping the homeless and the terminally ill but can’t help her resentful grown son beat his addiction to drugs. Jones doesn’t exploit the scenario for simple dramatic irony—Diane is no saint, and her son is to some extent justified in his resentment of her—nor does he steer the story toward predictable emotional payoffs. What he wants to explore is ultimately harder to define—call it the longing for transcendence that’s always underpinned American life. His handling of time’s passing is subtle and mysterious as well. 96 min. —BS Jones will attend the Monday screening. Mon 10/15, 9 PM, and Tue 10/16, 6 PM


Directors Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke shot this offbeat documentary in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheik, where the tourism industry has been decimated in recent years due to social upheaval. The movie profiles several men and women who work at a luxury hotel; they go through elaborate routines to keep the place attractive, even though tourists are never seen. Declining to touch on Egypt’s political climate, Omara and Domke mine the situation for cutesiness, and the whimsy gets stale pretty quickly. In one recurring scene, employees lead dance exercises in front of an empty swimming pool; in another, various subjects converse with a large inflatable monkey on the back of a moving truck. Some of the images are arresting, but the film lacks insight. In English and subtitled Arabic. 86 min. —BS Omara will attend both screenings. Sun 10/14, 5:15 PM, and Mon 10/15, 3:30 PM


Hearing is a metaphor that plays throughout this somber Israeli marital drama from its earliest scenes. The first depicts a traffic tunnel explosion in Haifa and workers on walkie-talkies summoning their construction boss, Avner (Yoram Toledano), to the site; the second shows Avner, against the protests of his wife (Yaël Abecassis), dislodging a cotton swab from her ear. Later, after he suspects she may have a lover, Avner taps the family phone to monitor her calls, and his angst spirals into obsession. Writer-directors Amikam Kovner and Assaf Snir rely on the soulful intensity of Toledano (star of the Israeli TV hit Prisoners of War, on which Showtime’s Homeland is based) to carry the slender plot, but even his considerable magnetism can’t drum up a rooting interest in a character who wouldn’t listen to what was said, and what was left unsaid, until the damage was done. In Hebrew with subtitles. 92 min. —AG Kovner will attend the Monday and Tuesday screenings. Mon 10/15, 5:45 PM; Tue 10/16, 8 PM; and Fri 10/19, 2:45 PM

R The Etruscan Smile

Based on José Luis Sampedro’s best-selling novel, The Etruscan Smile is the heart-wrenching directorial debut of Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun. The film follows Rory MacNeil (Brian Cox) as he moves from the Scottish Hebrides to San Francisco to live with his estranged son and seek medical treatment for a terminal illness. During his stay, despite his declining condition, he finds new life through a bond with his infant grandson. This bond, in turn, helps repair old familial wounds between him and his son. It’s a quiet film, full of pain, love, life, and death that highlights generational divides. Brezis and Binnun offer little camera movement, making for simple shots that show the characters’ emotional complexity. In English and Scottish Gaelic. 107 min. —Marissa De La Cerda Sun 10/14, 7:45 PM, and Mon 10/15, 5:45 PM

R Facing the Wind

Meritxell Colell Aparicio’s directorial debut honors the village of her grandparents and the way its culture disappears with their passing. After 20 years away, choreographer Mónica (Mónica García) must return to the Spanish village where she was born to visit her father on his deathbed and help her grieving mother (Concha Canal) sell their family home. Throughout this visit, Mónica must face her own feelings of grief and remorse over leaving behind her roots to pursue her passion for dancing. The film considers the issue of uprooting in all its complexity. Mónica feels a huge sense of liberation when she leaves her village behind, but also a disconnect from her family and culture that leaves a void. With minimal dialogue, Aparicio uses silence and movement to illustrate the tension between mother and daughter who are now strangers seeking to reconcile but lacking the words to do so. In Spanish with subtitles. 108 min. —MD Aparicio will attend both screenings. Wed 10/17, 8 PM, and Thu 10/18, 6 PM

Friedkin Uncut

William Friedkin has made some of the most thrilling, unconventional films in Hollywood history. He’s also known for voicing blunt, often controversial opinions. Unfortunately, Francesco Zippel’s fawning, cookie-cutter tribute is nothing more than an add-on for a DVD box set, were they still making those. A parade of notables sings the man’s praises, interspersed with clips from his greatest hits, then, every now and again, the man himself appears to pronounce some important-sounding aphorism. Perhaps for someone who’s never seen The Exorcist or The French Connection, this might be a useful entry point to the director’s work; everyone else would be better off just watching or rewatching his movies. —Dmitry Samarov Friedkin will attend the Monday screening; Zippel will attend both screenings. Mon 10/15, 6 PM, and Tue 10/16, noon

The Good Girls

With this subtle drama about high-society social maneuvering, writer-director Alejandra Márquez Abella essentially transplants Edith Wharton’s thematic concerns to Mexico City in 1982. The heroine is a callous socialite who gets taken down a notch after her businessman husband, a self-important drunk, loses one too many deals in the midst of Mexico’s currency crisis. Márquez Abella employs a supple visual style, rooted in Ophülsian camera movements, to convey the seductive charm of the characters’ ostentatious milieu and the graceful flexibility they need to navigate it; art director Claudio Ramirez Castelli and costume designer Annai Ramos clearly have fun re-creating the tacky styles of the early 1980s. This isn’t bad, but I wish the film’s bitter humor were more pronounced, as the social observations, when presented straight, don’t feel particularly fresh. In Spanish with subtitles. 101 min. —BS Márquez Abella will attend both screenings. Wed 10/17, 6 PM, and Thu 10/18, 8:15 PM

R The Great Buster: A Celebration

Writer-director Peter Bogdanovich brings his formidable knowledge of movies to bear in this incisive portrait of Buster Keaton, a giant of American cinema, who along with Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin was one of the top comedians of the silent era. As a child in vaudeville, Keaton earned the nickname “Buster” because he took pratfalls so well; scenes from his two-reelers show how this very physical actor refined his technique, but the documentary gives pride of place to the ten independent features Keaton directed before his disastrous move to MGM. A trove of clips from many of his newly restored classics—including his masterpiece, The General—are augmented by archival materials and interviews with comedy pros Dick Van Dyke, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, Johnny Knoxville, Richard Lewis, and Mel Brooks, who either knew him or his widow, Eleanor, or simply make the case for why Keaton matters. 102 min. —AG Fri 10/19, 1 PM, and Sun 10/21, 3:15 PM

  v Hard Paint

Pedro is a painfully introverted young man living in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He’s also awaiting trial for accidentally maiming a school bully in a nightclub attack. Thankfully there’s one thing he enjoys—smearing his body in neon paint and giving sexually charged performances and one-on-one sessions for patrons on a gay video site. Pedro’s loneliness and alienation are palpable, and they only intensity when his sister and only friend, Luiza, leaves town for a new job. But things turn when he meets Leo, a dance student who’s pilfered his Day-Glo shtick and his fan base. Leo’s a ray of sunshine, and his easygoing warmth contrasts with Pedro’s tight-wound awkwardness. Still, the spark between them is brighter than any color in Pedro’s collection. Hard Paint explores what makes a true human connection in an era when emotional and sexual gratification can be obtained with a click, and when, for some people, exposing themselves to faceless strangers (literally and figuratively here) can seem less scary than opening up to someone in real life. 117 min. —JL Codirectors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon will attend both screenings. Fri 10/19, 8 PM, and Sat 10/20, 9:15 PM.

In the Aisles

The German film In the Aisles could be a workplace drama, if only there were any drama. Instead, it tries to be a kind of understated, slice-of-life offering that follows workers at a grocery superstore. However, it’s a view of blue-collar life from a privileged perspective, which assumes said workers are too trapped to truly effect any kind of change in their lives. Director Thomas Stuber does capture the minute details that make and break their world to some extent. There’s the emotional investment in minute tasks, the gatherings where everyone bonds and gossips. But Stuber refuses to allow any action his protagonist Christian (Franz Rogowski) takes to truly go anywhere. It’s less a portrait of modern malaise than of the filmmakers’ longing for meaning in an increasingly corporate world. Such assumptions amount to little more than yet another casual dismissal of those who are often deemed unworthy of notice. 125 min. —Andrea Thompson Rogowski will attend both screenings. Thu 10/11, 8:30 PM, and Sat 10/13, 1 PM

R Non-Fiction

Like Jean-Luc Godard, Olivier Assayas often uses cinema to interrogate the zeitgeist; here, he employs a romantic roundelay narrative to contemplate the future of written communication and the Internet’s strong hold on many people’s lives. The film takes place around France’s literary world—the setting of Assayas’s Late August, Early September (1998)—and snakes elegantly through the lives of a publishing executive (Guillaume Canet), his actress wife (Juliette Binoche), a writer of autobiographical novels (Vincent Macaigne), and the writer’s political-adviser girlfriend (Christa Théret). In terms of surface tone, this is one of the airiest things the director has made, though what it has to say about the Internet is as unsettling as Demonlover (2002), perhaps his darkest film. Assayas suggests that the Internet has trained us to dissociate ourselves from our behavior, as revealed by the ease with which most of the characters lie to their romantic partners (tellingly, the original title translates to “double lives”). In French with subtitles. 107 min. —BS Thu 10/11, 8:15 PM, and Sat 10/13, 3:30 PM


Lively but a little too on the nose, this Kenyan drama delivers a straightforward lesson about antigay bigotry in Africa. It concerns the romance between two teenage girls in Nairobi whose fathers are running against each other in a local election. They try to keep their love a secret, knowing they would harm their fathers’ careers (and bring untold punishment upon themselves) if they were to be exposed; after a short period of happiness, their worst expectations come true. Cowriter-director Wanuri Kahiu elicits sensitive performances from the cast, and her use of color is attractive as well. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that the film is basically an extended public service announcement; Kahiu has few discernible goals apart from drawing attention to an important subject. In English and subtitled Swahili. 82 min. —BS Thu 10/11, 6 PM; Sat 10/13, 1:30 PM; and Thu 10/18, noon

R Retablo

The Andes form the rugged backdrop for this stark coming-of-age tale about a sensitive Peruvian teen (Junior Bejar) who, with his artisan father (Amiel Cayo), constructs vibrant altarpieces and commemorative story boxes, folk art that sells well at the town market. One day they hitch a ride from their farm, and the son sees his father pleasuring the male driver. In their hardscrabble rural area of Ayacucho, which was plagued by terrorism decades ago, the macho locals practice vigilante justice; fearful, the boy keeps what he observed a secret, one that festers and threatens to tear his family apart. Making his feature directorial debut, Alvaro Delgado Aparicio examines societal notions of masculinity, and how an artistic temperament can be both a vulnerability and a lifeline in a harsh world. In Quechua and Spanish with subtitles. 95 min. —AG Fri 10/19, 5:45 PM, and Sun 10/21, 6:30 PM


Moroccan-born writer-director Meryem Benm’Barek’s feature debut is a strained drama dealing in issues of reproductive rights and class-bound tensions. The film begins when the 20-year-old title character—emotionally detached and a victim of her middle-class social status—gives birth out of wedlock after months of denying her pregnancy. Sex outside of marriage is illegal in Morocco, so Sofia and her family rush to find the father and plan a wedding before both parties are sentenced to at least a year in prison. Compelling by virtue of its insight into the struggles faced by women and impoverished people in other parts of the world, the film is also a sad reminder that those same people are often the ones responsible for drawing attention to the injustices they face. Here’s to hoping we’ll someday live in a world where previously marginalized artists can explore other subjects. In subtitled Arabic and French. 80 min. —KS Fri 10/12, 3:45 PM; Tue 10/16, 8:30 PM; and Sat 10/20, noon

R Too Late to Die Young

Set shortly after the fall of Chile’s dictatorship, this tantalizing art film centers on a 16-year-old girl living on a rural commune with her single father and several other families. Writer-director Dominga Sotomayor moves fluidly between the characters, advancing a ghostly, disembodied perspective that somehow manages to generate a subtly erotic sense of fascination. (Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga is a likely point of reference.) The girl’s discovery of liberty—in smoking cigarettes, kissing boys, and talking back to her father—suggests an intimate version of what the nation is experiencing as a whole, though Sotomayor’s storytelling is too nuanced and oblique to make the connection seem obvious. In fact the film is so commanding in its presentation of social rituals and the natural world that it takes a while for the story to come into focus, yet for all the loping camera movements and narrative digressions, this never feels meandering. In Spanish with subtitles. 110 min. —BS Mon 10/15, 5:45 PM; Tue 10/16, 8:45 PM; and Wed 10/17, 12:45 PM

R Transit

Films about Nazis may be common, but the German film Transit stands out. In the modern world it presents, Nazis are on the march through Europe (again), forcing everyman Georg (Franz Rogowski) to flee. Desperate, he impersonates a deceased author in order to gain the papers he needs to immigrate to safety before the “cleansing.” However, things get complicated when Georg encounters the author’s wife, who is desperately searching for the husband she’s unaware is dead. Even if Georg does escape, Transit never allows us to forget many won’t, and the characters’ very realistic reactions to the increasingly encroaching violence means their stories hit home. Everyone around Georg is trying to flee to some kind of safety, but the film’s warning that such horrific scenarios are in danger of repeating looms above all. The subsequent refusal to allow any kind of uplifting heroism becomes less a punishment than the natural consequences of our folly. 101 min. —AT Rogowski will attend both screenings. Thu 10/11, 6 PM, and Fri 10/12, 8:30 PM


A Ukrainian government worker inspecting military checkpoints on the Russian border gets stranded in the hinterlands after his car breaks down; one unfortunate circumstance follows another (he loses his cell phone, ID, and all his money) until he gives up hope of ever going home. Director Roman Bondarchuk plays the story for angry satire, scoring uncomfortable laughs off the brutishness and provincialism of rural Ukraine. (A few crucial scenes involve the hero getting the shit kicked out of him for no reason.) The narrative structure, organized around the hero’s increasingly bad luck, may remind you of Scorsese’s After Hours (1985), though this is much slower and more contemplative than that film. Unfortunately Bondarchuk doesn’t have as much to contemplate as he lets on; the movie often disintegrates into superficial art-film moodiness. In English and subtitled Ukrainian. 106 min. —BS Bondarchuk and producer Olena Yershova will attend the Thursday and Friday screenings. Thu 10/11, 8:15 PM; Fri 10/12, 8:45 PM; and Mon 10/15, 3:45 PM

Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into the Arms of a Shiksa

This Swiss-German romantic comedy delivers on its whimsical title as it charts a virginal Orthodox Jew’s picaresque, irreverent romp through the realm of women. Enduring yet another awkward shidduch (matchmaking attempt), a cutie-pie university student in Zürich (Joel Basman of Land of Mine and Hanna) breaks the fourth wall to complain to viewers about the chaste prospective brides picked for him; he much prefers his flirtatious non-Jewish German classmate (Noémie Schmidt), musing, “This is what is called, I think, a cognitive dissonance.” Further rebellions, like shaving his beard and getting hipper glasses, prompt his family to compare him to Woody Allen. Basman actually more closely resembles the movie’s screenwriter, comedic novelist Thomas Meyer (here adapting his own best seller), but the spirit of an earlier, more lighthearted Allen prevails in director Michael Steiner’s several nods to Annie Hall. In Yiddish, German, and Hebrew with subtitles. 92 min. —AG Wed 10/17, 5:45 PM; Thu 10/18, 8:30 PM; and Fri 10/19, noon   v