The 45th Chicago International Film Festival continues through Thursday, October 22, at River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $12 ($9 for students, seniors, or Cinema/Chicago members), and $5 for matinees Monday through Friday (before 5:05 PM). Passes are $110 (10 admissions) and $210 (20 admissions). Tickets can be purchased at Cinema/Chicago, 30 E. Adams, suite 800, Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM; at River East 21 from noon until the last screening has begun; or from Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or ticketmaster.com) 48 hours in advance.
Following are new reviews of selected films screening this week, plus a list of films reviewed in our week-one roundup; you can find these reviews at chicagoreader.com. For more information and a complete schedule, visit chicagofilmfestival.org.
Effi Briest Julia Jentsch (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days) plays the title character in this fifth screen adaptation of the German novel by Theodor Fontane. After marrying an aristocrat in his 30s (Sebastian Koch of The Lives of Others), teenaged Effi leaves the comfort of her family’s Prussian estate for a gloomy manor in a provincial backwater on the Baltic coast. Bored and lonely, she imagines ghosts, but a more corporeal threat exists in the jealous housekeeper (Barbara Auer). In the novel, Effi’s attachment to a callow army officer leads to her demise; by contrast, director Hermine Huntgeburth uses it to add a feminist gloss to a handsome but inconsequential fin de siecle drama. In German with subtitles. 113 min. —Andrea Gronvall
Eyes Wide Open Like The Secrets, another in the spate of recent Israeli films about strictly observant Jews, this melancholy drama explores the near impossibility of reconciling religious community life and same-sex love. An ultra-Orthodox butcher (Zohar Strauss), bereaved over the death of his father, reopens the old man’s shop in Jerusalem and charitably hires a down-at-heels yeshiva student (Ran Danker) as his assistant. Ignoring rumors about the young man’s moral iniquities, the butcher brings him home to his wife and children and into his Torah circle, and gradually the bond between the two men becomes more than spiritual. Strauss and Danker give finely calibrated performances, but this directorial debut by Haim Tabakman is unadventurous, borrowing from the gay-cinema canon but adding nothing new. In Hebrew and Yiddish with subtitles. 90 min. —Andrea Gronvall
Made in Hungaria It seems as if every former Soviet satellite will eventually produce its own American Graffiti, and this colorful, cartoonish Hungarian musical is pretty good fun. A cocky greaser (Tamas Szabo Kimmel) reluctantly returns to Budapest in 1963 after three privileged years of pop-cultural immersion in America; the communist power structure, recognizing that teenagers are weary of the state-controlled “Pol-Beat” music, coerces the hero into fronting a talent contest designed to contain the rising influence of Jerry Lee Lewis. The equation of rock and revolution will make lefties happy, though maybe not the rumpy-pumpy chauvinism and idolatory of American consumer goods. Gergely Fonyo directed. In Hungarian with subtitles. 109 min. —Cliff Doerksen
Mammoth In this somber drama by Lukas Moodysson (Together, Lilya 4-Ever), two different families are nearly destroyed by their pursuit of cash across the globe. Video-game entrepreneur Gael Garcia Bernal jets from New York to Bangkok to close a lucrative deal, leaving wife Michelle Williams, a stressed-out surgeon, to cope with their daughter’s growing attachment to their devoutly Christian Filipino nanny. In a heavily ironic parallel, the nanny’s two sons in the Philippines miss her so badly that the ten-year-old takes drastic steps to earn money he thinks will speed her return. Moodysson’s meticulous attention to surfaces allows him to draw a stark contrast between the Americans’ affluence and the Asians’ poverty, but his final observation—that somehow the rich will muddle through—is hardly a bold statement. In English and subtitled Tagalog and Thai. 125 min. —Andrea Gronvall
Mary and Max Adam Elliot, an Australian clay-animation whiz who picked up an Oscar for his short Harvie Krumpet (2003), created this dour but visually exquisite epistolary drama about a friendless, neglected Australian girl (given sympathetic voice by Bethany Whitmore and, later, Toni Collette) who strikes up an unlikely but sustaining pen-pal relationship with an obese, middle-aged New York Jew who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome (superbly realized by Philip Seymour Hoffman). Too twee for adults but too profane, worldly, and grim for kids, the film suffers especially from Elliot’s unfortunate comic obsession with feces. 92 min. —Cliff Doerksen
Videocracy Those who consider U.S. television a soul-crushing wasteland and a blight on democracy should get a load of this documentary by Erik Gandini, which argues that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has leveraged his vast media empire to squelch dissent and distract the public from a corrupt government. A native Italian who moved to Sweden in the late 80s, Gandini looks on in horror at the glitzy, vulgar entertainment offered by Berlusconi’s numerous TV channels. Though the director hammers at his theme, there’s relatively little hard reporting on how Berlusconi has controlled the national discourse; instead Gandini focuses on the spiritual void of Italian media, giving over much of his screen time to profiles of fame-obsessed losers (a high-rolling paparazzi, an aspiring singer who wants to be the next Ricky Martin). 85 min. –J.R. Jones
Will Not Stop There A former Croatian sniper (Ivan Herceg) enlists a weedy, middle-aged porn stud (Predrag Vusovic) to help him track down one of the latter’s Serbian female costars (Nada Sargin). For motives known only to him (though suspected by her), the sniper ransoms the young woman from her brutal pimp and restores her to the house she lost in the war. What starts out as a gripping, witty, and offbeat noir (2008) declines precipitously in the second half, as subplots proliferate, chronology disintegrates, and the stud’s omniscient narration (larded with Romany aphorisms about women, life, war, etc) gets old. It’s a damned shame writer-director Vinko Bresan couldn’t keep it up for the full 110 minutes. In Serbo-Croatian with subtitles. —Cliff Doerksen
Berlin ’36 Loosely based on historical events, this engaging made-for-TV drama stars the lissome, intense Karoline Herfurth as a Jewish high-jump medalist who hopes to represent Nazi Germany in the 1936 Olympics. Obliged by international pressure to let her train, the Reich nonetheless conspires to knock her out of competition by pitting her against a cross-dressing male athlete (Sebastian Urzendowsky) who’s been raised as a woman by his psychotic mother. A chaste but profoundly emotional bond ensues after the two outsiders are assigned to bunk together in training camp. The movie’s production values fall well short of Leni Riefenstahl standards, but director Kaspar Heidelbach makes the most of an excellent cast and a crisp, unsentimental script. In German with subtitles. 100 min. —Cliff Doerksen
Chicago Overcoat Veteran character actor Frank Vincent (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Sopranos) gets top billing in this modest local production about an aging hit man’s last hurrah. Once the top trigger man for the Chicago outfit, Vincent comes out of retirement to eliminate various witnesses before they can testify against a mob boss (Armand Assante), but a series of missteps leads him into the crosshairs of both his colleagues and a grizzled detective (Danny Goldring). Despite the stock characters and well-trod material, this is an engaging tale, enhanced considerably by Vincent’s perfect mix of vulnerability and steely resolve. (For more see Our Town, page 16.) Brian Caunter directed. 95 min. —Reece Pendleton
Cropsey This disturbing true-crime documentary takes its name from a local bogeyman that video makers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio were warned about when they were growing up on Staten Island. Only later did they discover the factual basis for this urban legend: between 1971 and 1987, five children vanished from the community, all of them suffering from some sort of disability. According to the video, the key to this mystery is Andre Rand, once a staffer at the horrific Willowbrook State School for retarded children; though he insists he’s innocent, he’s been convicted on circumstantial evidence of having kidnapped two of the missing children, and a minister who briefly sheltered Rand recalls him saying that “people that had mental handicaps shouldn’t be alive.” Though Rand now seems likely to die in prison, interviews with the parents expose that as cold comfort. “You never get closure,” remarks one. “That’s just a bullshit word.” 84 min. —J.R. Jones
Nymph This supernatural chiller from Thailand has little dialogue but lots of creepy atmosphere. The bravura opening sequence is a long tracking shot in which two men chase a woman through the jungle before catching and raping her; it ends as the camera pulls up and out to reveal the men’s corpses floating in a stream. Some time later a photographer and his adulterous wife leave their city behind for a photo shoot in the rain forest; after the husband is abducted by a shadowy figure, the wife is haunted by guilt and begins to unravel. Writer-director Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Invisible Waves) skillfully escalates the tension but then squanders it with a prosaic conclusion. In Thai with subtitles. 96 min. —Andrea Gronvall