Review by Sean Boelman
The fall festival season is filled with so many great films that it would be impossible to find a regional fest that showcases all of the big contenders, but the Chicago International Film Festival comes pretty close. Featuring some of the best films you will see all year — with a large focus on international films — CIFF has something to see for every Chicagoan, and with this hybrid edition, will feature both in-person and virtual screenings.
We at disappointment media are again covering the Chicago International Film Festival, mostly via remote coverage (but we’ll be on the ground for one or two films). As we see more films, we will continue to update this article with our brief thoughts:
Manuela Martelli’s Chile ‘76 is a portrait of a family in crisis, both externally and internally. Martelli and her co-writer Alejandra Moffat attempt to blend family drama with political turmoil, and the result is interesting if not entirely compelling. There is no denying how gorgeous the film is from a visual standpoint, and lead actress Aline Küppenheim is extraordinary in her role, but the film leaves something to be desired in terms of creating a feeling of suspense.
Return to Seoul
Davy Chou’s identity crisis drama Return to Seoul is a film having an identity crisis of its own. A primarily French production largely set in South Korea, the film ended up being the Cambodian submission to the Oscars for Best International Feature. However, regardless of what is considered its country of origin, it’s pretty good. The film tells the story of a woman who returns to her homeland after being adopted by a foreign couple soon after she was born in the hopes of reconnecting with her birth family. It’s a story we’ve seen done before, but Chou’s exquisitely tender direction and Park Ji-Min’s extraordinary performance go a long way.
Alcarràs, the sophomore feature of filmmaker Carla Simón (Summer 1993), won the Golden Bear at Berlin earlier this year where it debuted to great acclaim. And while it is an all-around well-made film, it feels almost as if something was lost in translation. Following a family of Spanish peach farmers, the film is like pretty much any other slice-of-life film told from the perspective of a group of young children, with conflicts that we have seen dozens of times before. Simón’s direction is certainly very good — and the visuals are exquisite — but the narrative simply felt a bit too conventional to be impactful.
Lukas Dhont’s Close made quite a splash at its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, where it won the Grand Prix and scored a distribution deal from A24. This story of two inseparable young friends whose friendship is suddenly torn apart is absolutely devastating, perhaps one of the most heartbreaking films of the year. The biggest highlight of the film is young actor Eden Dambrine, whose performance is compelling and nuanced in a way that will leave very few audiences with dry eyes.
The Novelist's Film
South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo is known for his very prolific output, often putting out multiple films in a year. For 2022, he has two films — Walk Up, which premiered at TIFF and was not very good, and The Novelist’s Film, which debuted at Berlin earlier this year and is much better. Like the rest of Hong’s work, it is a very talky drama in which its characters chat about cinema, art, and literature while under the influence of soju. It may be slight, but Hong’s dialogue and character work are generally exquisite, and this is some of his best in both aspects.
The Woodcutter's Story
Finnish filmmaker is best known to this point as the co-writer of The Happiest Day in the Life Of Olli Maki, but now he makes his directorial debut with the satirical comedy The Woodcutter’s Story. The film follows a woodcutter as his idyllic, simple life begins to fall apart in a series of increasingly bizarre encounters. It’s quite an ambitious film, and for a directorial debut, it’s very accomplished and confident. While it would be impossible not to praise its gorgeous and often funny visuals, the film is an exercise in quirkiness without substance, often resulting in a film that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The 2022 Chicago International Film Festival runs October 12-23.
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