Thursday, November 16, 2017

2017 Chicago Film Festival Wrap-Up

Once the lights finally dimmed for the last time, with the realization that the Chicago Film Festival was finally over, it’s clear that this year’s screenings surpassed all expectations.  In what I thought was a very weak year for movies overall, this surge of quality films was indeed a surprise, like a plethora of goodies that had been hidden and kept out of sight, as there were plenty of good films without many of the name directors that populate the bigger festivals occurring earlier in the year.  Fewer films from Cannes, fewer films with reputations that preceded them, but a marked improvement over last year, with some of the best films coming out of nowhere, and that likely occurred with a majority of festival goers, as some were premier screenings, some more recent, like the Toronto Film Festival that occurs mid-September, with only a few scant reviews available, and very few were viewed as must-see’s due to the buzz that occurs at Cannes.  Someone asked what film I was most looking forward to seeing “before” the fest began, and that would have to be Let the Sun Shine In (Un Beau Soleil Intérieur), a new film by Claire Denis, arguably the greatest female director that ever lived (that’s right, I said it), yet her film premiered at Director’s Fortnight at Cannes with most of us hearing next to nothing about it, so we had no idea what to expect.  My favorite of all the films seen was Joachim Trier’s Thelma, which only premiered at Toronto a few weeks earlier, and again most viewers knew next to nothing about it.  It is this possibility of not knowing what to expect, and then being blown away, that is a cinema lover’s dream.  In year’s past, this has rarely happened, with the exception being 2015 when the Chicago Fest screened 10 of the 21 Cannes films in competition, making that among the best festivals ever.  But this would have to rival that year, with quality really on an upsurge, though one other thought is that after experiencing such utter mediocrity in films earlier in the year that perhaps we might be overrating these films slightly, simply by being so grateful for finally seeing some quality films.  That is indeed a possibility, as these films aren’t just slightly better, but much better than anything we’ve seen for months, as this has really been a drought year for cinema.  Or perhaps we might attribute this to the addition of Alissa Simon to the programming team, as she was like a breath of fresh air at the festival, bringing revitalized new energy, where her introductions and post-screening interviews were terrific.  Among her more memorable moments was getting the actor (Terry Notary) in The Square to recreate the animalistic cries that led to his most audacious scene, which he more than happily recreated before a live audience, where absolute joy could be seen written all over Ms. Simon’s face, thrilled that this moment could be shared publicly, as that’s so different from the tired voices we’re used to hearing that repeat the same introductory message word for word or read from prepared scripts. 

For the second year in a row, fellow cinephile Kirk Madsen was unable to attend due to medical issues, where the festival is simply not the same without him, as we all value his views and recommendations, not to mention his appreciation for quality films and an acute ability to spot them.  I can’t tell you how many times his last minute recommendations have ended up on a Best Films of the year list.  Besides that, he’s simply fun to watch movies with, as he’s watched way more than we have.  A longtime projectionist at Facets, including back in the day when they regularly screened 35mm and 16 mm films, breaking them down ahead of time, getting them ready for screenings.  I recall during a screening of Fassbinder’s epic Berlin Alexanderplatz, a 15-hour film broken down into segments over several days, where the projector bulb burned out in mid-screening, where he had to go in the back rooms somewhere to find an old projector and set it up, respooling the reels, which took about fifteen minutes or so, and not a single customer complained or expressed any impatience whatsoever, but were perfectly patient with the process, as Kirk was among the best in the business.  Hope to see him back next year.    

The real problem of the Chicago Fest is that it rents space from a 21-screen movie theater that continues to show the latest releases, where festival films are screened side by side with their usual fare, with both audiences intermingling, but most festival films are shown on smaller screens in less than optimal circumstances, which is the biggest disappointment of the entire festival, as they easily fill-up, either selling out altogether or leaving only the worst seats in the front row directly under the screen.  Regular festival aficionados understand that if you want the better seats, you have to wait in line to get them, which means planning ahead, leaving time between screenings.  Only one full-sized theater is utilized (Theater 11, 312 seats), and one medium-sized theater (Theater 7, 240 seats), with two around 150 seats (Theaters 20, 21), while the rest are smaller than your average movie house, closer to 100 seats (Theaters 2, 3, and 4).  Occasionally they utilize other theaters, but only for special circumstances.  Sometimes at the end, when they re-screen Best of the Fest films, they again put them in these smaller theaters which simply defeats the purpose of a film festival, where audiences want to see the best films on as large a screen as possible.  One year, the outlandish Léos Carax film 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #4 Holy Motors, basically a love letter to cinema itself, was initially screened in the largest theater, but when it played again at the Best of the Fest, it was relegated to a theater half the size, which simply diminishes the overall experience.  The result is, instead of having the best cinema experience, Chicago audiences routinely have to settle for what’s available. 

By the way, in the event viewers are unable to read all of the reviews, if you view anything, please watch Claude Lelouch’s masterful eight-minute short C’ÉTAIT UN RENDEZ-VOUS (1976), C'était un rendez vous - Claude Lelouch (HD) 8'24'' - YouTube (8:24), one of the more remarkable sequences in cinema, which is included at the end of the review for  Racer and the Jailbird (Le Fidèle), as that film ends with a very similar shot, though not nearly as legendary.   
AMC River East Theater sizes

1 – 107
2 – 107
3 – 107
4 – 114
5 – 150
6 – 96
7 – 240
8 – 61
9 – 256
10 – 410
11 – 312
12 – 397
13 – 174
14 – 62
15 – 88
16 – 174
17 – 88
18 – 62
19 – 96
20 – 165
21 – 149
Total seats: 3,415   

From Robert Kennedy, cranesareflying site

Ratings of films seen:


Thelma                                                                        95
Custody (Jusqu'à la garde)                                          95


In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts)                                    94
12 Days (12 Jours)                                                     94
Miami                                                                         93
Sammy Davis Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me                           93


Gemini                                                                        92
Rogers Park                                                                 91
Samui Song                                                                 90


Faces Places (Visages Villages)                                  88
Closeness (Tesnota)                                                    87
A Moon of Nickel and Ice                                          87
Wind Traces (Restos de viento)                                  86
Racer and the Jailbird (Le Fidèle)                              85
Arrhythmia (Aritmiya)                                               85
The Line (Čiara)                                                         84
Scaffolding (Pigumim)                                               83


The Square                                                                  82
Life Guidance                                                             81


The Workshop (L’Atelier)                                          77


Golden Years (Nos années folles)                              68


Hannah                                                                        59

From Frank Biletz, college history professor:

The list of all the films that I saw during the festival roughly in my order of preference follows below. I have adjusted a few grades slightly (downward), with two of the A grades now at  A- and one B+ reduced to B. A lot of the B+ films are very close together and every time that I look at the list I make some changes based on mood. In any case, you may find it useful. Note again that I saw two of the four highest rated films on the last day of the festival.

It was also a noteworthy year for terrific performances, especially by actresses. The best of these were (again, more or less in order, though the top three are virtually tied):

Diane Kruger (Aus dem Nichts) (In the Fade)

Darya Zhovner (Closeness).

Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In).

Eliane Umuhire (Birds Are Singing in Kigali).

Jowita Budnik (Birds Are Singing in Kigali).

Overall, I thought that it was a very good year at CIFF.

Here is my list of films seen:

Aus dem Nichts (In the Fade) (Germany, Fatih Akin)                                                A

1945 (Hungary, Ferenc Török)                                                                                   A-

Birds Are Singing in Kigali (Poland, Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze)     A-

Sammy Davis, Jr: I've Gotta Be Me (US, Sam Pollard)                                              A-

The Cakemaker (Israel/Germany, Ofir Raul Graizier)                                                B+

Faces Places (France, Agnès Varda and JR)                                                              B+

Miami (Finland, Zaida Bergroth)                                                                                B+

Un Beau Soleil Interieur (Let the Sunshine In) (France, Claire Denis)                      B+

Life Guidance (Austria, Ruth Mader)                                                                         B+

Thelma (Norway/Sweden/France, Joachim Trier)                                                      B+

The Square (Sweden/Germany/France, Ruben Óstlund)                                           B+

Gemini (US, Aaron Katz)                                                                                           B+

Spoor (Poland/Germany/Czech Republic, Agnieszka Holland)                                 B+

Men Don't Cry (Bosnia and Herzegovina/Slovenia/Germany/Croatia,
                        Alen Drljevic)                                                                                     B+

Rogers Park (US, Kyle Henry)                                                                                   B+

Budapest Noir (Hungary, Éva Gárdos)                                                                       B+

Wind Traces (Mexico, Jimena Montemayor)                                                              B

Arrhythmia (Russia/Finland/Germany, Boris Khlebnikov)                                        B

Wormwood (US, Errol Morris)                                                                                   B

A Man of Integrity (Iran, Mohammad Rasouof)                                                         B

Closeness (Russia, Kantemir Balagov)                                                                       B

Hannah (Italy/France/Belgium, Andrea Pallaoro)                                                      B

God's Own Country (UK, Francis Lee)                                                                      B-

Nos Années Folles (Golden Years) (France, André Techiné)                                     B-

Before We Vanish (Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)                                                           B-

Sea Sorrow (UK, Vanessa Redgrave)                                                                        B-

Additional scores from:
Evan Wang, Masters in Biology from IIT and grad student at Northwestern Documentary Films program
Ivan Albertson, perennial Film Center volunteer

Combined ratings of festival films seen by all 5 viewers, including listed grades, which may be viewed on a Google Spreadsheet here:

From Jonathan Dabian, freelance software informer (who created the spreadsheet):

Several of you have likely noticed, but I've been playing around with the spreadsheet a bit.  Trying to clean up the data and perhaps do a bit of analysis.

I've added two new worksheets (though one of them will likely go through some big revisions).  Sheet 2 now has an alphabetical list of all films (attended and otherwise) with everyone's scores on a single line.  Now you don't have to hunt to see what everyone else thought of the same film when they saw it at a different showtime than you did.

I started working on a Pivot table, based on the collapsed info in sheet 2, where I hope to do a bit of analysis regarding country of origin (I did this manually for the last year or two.  Hoping to make it a little easier.)  Right now, the "pivot" sheet only has a count of Attended = Yes / No.  This tells me that we saw a total of 85 features as a group (it says 86, but that includes the single shorts program Ivan watched and didn't care for); while 58 features were unseen by any of us.  That's a total of 143 features.  I could swear I heard one of the program coordinators say 145 at some point.  And I've even gone back and added the couple of films they added to the festival, like The Ballad of Lefty Brown (though I did leave-off the Swanberg program they did of his Netflix series).  Maybe they were counting the industry days or architecture panels and such.  Or the 8 short programs.  Probably something like that.

Anyway, I intend to add country of origin to sheet 2 and switching the pivot over to displaying that information.  Just guessing though...we are HEAVILY over-represented in Europe and US Indies this year.  Latin America is down a little.  And Africa and Asia are FAR down (if it's even possible to go "far" down from the less than a dozen Asian films they program every year).  I may be a little pessimistic on Asia though.  We only had one feature from China this year, whereas we usually get three or four; however, we got two from Korea (zero last year, as I recall), two from Thailand, and five from Japan. Add one each from Taiwan and India (also both zero last year, as I recall), and I guess the totals there aren't as bad as I thought.

Anyway, at the least, I think the new alphabetical view is helpful.  The original data is still on sheet 1.  They are not linked, so, if you revise scores, you may wish to do it in both locations.  I'll continue massaging this and see if I find anything interesting.

I revised quite a bit just now, actually.  Bumped a bunch of films from an 8 to a 7.  Bumped Closeness up from a 6 (I believe) to a 7.  I think that's the only one I changed.  The more I think about that film, the more I think about the lead actress' performance.  Frank was right to call her out in his last email.  She was fantastic.  The whole film rested on her performance.  While I still have issues with the film itself, her performance was superlative.

As an aside....I was looking at the list of films submitted for consideration for Best Foreign Film.

I saw all six films in CIFF 2016 listed as their country's nominee that year.  However, I've seen eight of the seventeen that played at CIFF this year. Nearly a 3:1 ratio more.  One showed in EUFF 2017, and one showed in the Iranian Film Festival; both earlier in the year.  One just got a limited release and played at the Siskel just last week.

Original Title
Слава (Slava)
Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov
CIFF 2016
Ana Cristina Barragán
CIFF 2016
Amerika Square[37]
Πλατεία Αμερικής (Plateia Amerikis)
Yannis Sakardis
CIFF 2016
Kati Kati[50]
Kati Kati
Mbithi Masya
CIFF 2016
Layla M.[62]
Layla M.
Mijke de Jong
CIFF 2016
Saint George[72]
São Jorge
Marco Martins
CIFF 2016
Racer and the Jailbird[17]
Le Fidèle
Michaël R. Roskam
CIFF 2017
 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Men Don't Cry[19]
Muškarci ne plaču
Alen Drljević
CIFF 2017
Rainer Sarnet
CIFF 2017
BPM (Beats per Minute)[34]
120 battements par minute
Robin Campillo
CIFF 2017
Scary Mother[35]
საშიში დედა (Sashishi Deda)
Ana Urushadze
CIFF 2017
In the Fade[36]
Aus dem Nichts
Fatih Akin
CIFF 2017
Under the Tree[40]
Undir trénu
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
CIFF 2017
A Ciambra[47]
A Ciambra
Jonas Carpignano
CIFF 2017
The Insult[55]
قضية رقم ٢٣ (L'insulte)
Ziad Doueiri
CIFF 2017
Laura Schroeder
CIFF 2017
Joachim Trier
CIFF 2017
Agnieszka Holland
CIFF 2017
Alain Gomis
CIFF 2017
The Line[77]
Peter Bebjak
CIFF 2017
Summer 1993[81]
Estiu 1993
Carla Simón
CIFF 2017
The Square[82]
The Square
Ruben Östlund
CIFF 2017
The Divine Order[83]
Die göttliche Ordnung
Petra Biondina Volpe
CIFF 2017
Adrian Sitaru
EUFF 2017
نفس (Nafas)
Narges Abyar
Iranian Film Fest / Siskel
 Dominican Republic
José María Cabral

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