Preview: The Best of the 45th Chicago International Film Festival, Week One

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CHICAGO – We’ve been working our way through the schedule for the upcoming 45th Annual Chicago International Film Festival, kicking off tonight with the premiere of “Motherhood,” starring Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, and Minnie Driver. We’ve watched dozens of films from some that stand among the best of the year to a few that stand among the worst. We’re here to focus on the former and point out a few highlights for your movie-going weekend.

The best films of the first week of the fest include a spectacular coming-of-age story, an intense drama, a fascinating documentary, and a Russian musical. The lineup at this year’s fest may be a little light on true gems that instantly jump out from the printed schedule, but it just means you’ll have to dig a little harder. There are great films on there. Here are a few.

The top tier of film’s this weekend includes Lone Scherfig’s “An Education,” Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger,” Ruxandra Medrea Annonier and Serge Bromberg’s “Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno,” and Valery Todorovsky’s “Hipsters”. They stand among the best films of the year to unspool in Chicago, outside of the film festival or within it.

An Education
An Education
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“An Education”
October 11th, 6pm

Last year, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” played at the Chicago Film Festival before they became major Oscar contenders. “An Education” is one of the films from this year’s fest with Oscar written all over it. Carey Mulligan gives what will become an iconic debut performance (and possibly Oscar-winning) as a young, bright schoolgirl in London in the early ’60s. Much smarter and more mature than her age, she finds herself drawn in by a charismatic older man (Peter Sarsgaard), but “An Education” is not a traditional May-December coming-of-age tale. With a script by Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”), it’s funny, genuine, sweet, and incredibly moving. Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, Sally Hawkins, and Emma Thompson also star in one of the best films of the year. Director Lone Scherfig will be in attendance.

Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

October 9th, 6:30pm
October 10th, 6:00pm
October 11th, 12:30pm

From a film that will be a major part of the year-end conversation to one that probably won’t play again in Chicago (unless it has a quick Facets, Siskel, or possibly even Music Box run down the road). See “An Education” because it’s great. See “Hipsters” because it’s like nothing else you’ll see this year and you probably won’t get the chance again soon. Like a Russian version of “West Side Story” reimagined by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie”), “Hipsters” is a musical about Moscow life in 1955. Young Russians are infatuated with American culture, puffing up their pompadours, falling in love with jazz, and learning all the big band dance moves. A young KGB agent falls in love with someone on the other side of the counter-culture fence and a star-crossed romance ensues. The word I keep think of when it comes to “Hipsters” is vibrant. This movie is so alive that it’s bursting at the seams. The festival program asks if it could be this year’s “Slumdog Millionaire”. The answer is no because Russian musicals have much bigger hills to climb to popularity than Danny Boyle films, but after seeing it, the question doesn’t seem that ridiculous. Director Todorovsky will be in attendance.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno”
October 11th, 1pm
October 15th, 6pm

One of the best documentaries of the year is about the mid-’60s French masterpiece that was never meant to be. Henri-Georges Clouzot had already directed two of the most influential films of all time - “Diabolique,” “The Wages of Fear” - when he was basically given complete control and nearly unlimited budget on what would be his most ambitious film, “Inferno”. The story of an average-looking man and the jealousy that destroys his life with his stunning wife (the gorgeous Romy Schneider) would incorporate different film styles, require multiple camera teams, and take weeks. The film would never be completed and what was shot languishes in film cans, unfinished and unseen. Directors Ruxandra Medrea Annonier and Serge Bromberg not only unveil the footage that was shot but try and link it together with actors stage-reading from the screenplay to fill in the storytelling the gaps. At the same time, they tell the story behind the story - a man with his own demons of obsession making a movie about uncontrolled emotion. “Inferno” would be an amazing film if just to see what Clouzot was intending with his lost masterpiece but the documentary that details its fall is just as interesting. This is a must-see for film historians.

The Messenger
The Messenger
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“The Messenger”
October 10th, 8pm ($25)
October 11th, 7:30pm

It appears that 2009 was the year that enough time had passed that interesting films could be made about the Iraq War. After years of films that ranged from just bad to downright insufferable, 2009 has given us an amazing film about being in country (“The Hurt Locker”) and a great one about the return home in “The Messenger”. Ben Foster gives the best performance of his career as Will Montgomery, a troubled young man just returned from the front lines without much to hold on to in the States. With three months to serve, he is given one of the most emotionally devastating jobs imaginable, one of the two men who tell the “NOK” (next of kin) when their relative has died in combat. Co-starring Woody Harrelson, who also gives one of the best performances of his career,” The Messenger is a film that is hard to watch and even harder to shake. The sad eyes of its characters linger with you and the film serves as a better reminder of the true cost of war than any in a very long time. Star Ben Foster and director Oren Moverman will be in attendance at the screening on the 10th.

Check out page two for the second tier of week one highlights.

James Donovan's picture


I am a movie goer and I’m very happy to find these reviews from the Chicago International Film Festival. I have always felt that this is a great opportunity to hear what movie fans (that are not professional critics) have to say about new films and new ideas. I will certainly check these movies out myself and I will let you know if I agree with your comments. casino online

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