By Sean Boelman
For its 59th edition, the Chicago International Film Festival is bringing Chicago moviegoers a lineup that is nothing short of stacked. Thanks to a focus on indie productions, the festival has still been able to attract plenty of A-list talent to present their movies despite the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike (many films have secured an interim agreement).
From some of the most anticipated awards contenders of the fall, hot off of their festival debuts, to Chicago-based productions that will undeniably be of interest to homegrown audiences, there’s no shortage of great films to see at this year’s festival. Here are a few recommendations of movies we think you should check out:
CIFF has always had a focus on showcasing international cinema, including many films that have been submitted by their respective countries for the Best International Feature Oscar. Kaouther Ben Hania’s latest movie, Four Daughters, is her second to represent her country of Tunisia in the awards race, and this blend of documentary and drama is absolutely fascinating and often harrowing. Although the film feels a bit too convoluted for its story for much of its first hour, it quickly becomes clear that there are more sinister forces afoot, and when they do take over, the result is crushing.
Tatiana Huezo’s documentary The Echo is another fascinating documentary about a matriarchy, but on the opposite side of the world, taking place in a rural village in Mexico. The hero of this film is undeniably its cinematography, which is exquisite and beautiful. However, it is also impressive how much Huezo is able to get viewers invested into the characters’ lives, allowing the movie to play out like a real-life coming-of-age tale.
Bas Devos’s Here is a restrained, quiet film, but it’s quite successful as a lovely little romance. Following a construction worker and a byrologist who form an unexpected connection after a chance encounter, it’s a rumination on connection, but it never feels the need to wax poetic in a way that feels pretentious. Instead, we simply spend time with these characters — and in some gorgeous environments captured with stunning 16mm cinematography, no less — making this an utterly splendid watch.
Raging Grace won the jury prize in the narrative competition at this year’s SXSW, and given how rare of an accomplishment it is for a genre movie to take home a top award like that, it should be immediately intriguing. While the first act of the film is compelling, the last two-thirds of Paris Zarcilla’s debut go off the rails in a way that will have you on the edge of your seat, and maybe even screaming at the screen in disbelief and anticipation.
Pablo Berger’s Robot Dreams is not just one of the best animated movies of the year, but one of the best movies of the year, period. Based on the graphic novel by Chicago-born artist Sarah Varon (who will be in attendance for the festival screening), the film follows an anthropomorphic dog who purchases a robot to be his best friend. Completely without dialogue, the movie nonetheless manages to be undeniably moving — and just as adorable as you could possibly hope.
The 2023 Chicago International Film Festival runs October 11-22, 2023.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.