Chicago International Film Festival, Final Entry

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revanche-austrian-film.jpgThe Film Festival closes this Wednesday, October 29, with the Viggo Mortensen-starrer Good. The divine Viggo is gracing the closing night festivities at the Harris Theater, but despite the temptation of seeing out-of-this-world yumminess in the flesh, I think I’ll be back at the River East or 600 N. Michigan for the Best of the Fest screenings.  Hunger (which won the Festival top prize, the Golden Hugo) and Terribly Happy, two of my top viewing experiences during this year’s Festival will be given return screenings, but so will that piece of sheep turd, Dead Girl’s Feast (roll eyes).   Check out all the Best of the Fest selections on the website.  To close this year’s coverage of the Chicago Film Festival, here are my impressions on the last three films of my viewing schedule:

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Film Festival Focus: Serbis

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serbis-from-the-philippines.jpgI had really low expectations for Serbis, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s film about a day in the life of a family who both run and live in a decrepit theater which is also a hotbed of gay male prostitution, set in the city of Angeles (where the US military bases used to be located), right outside Manila. It was shown at the Chicago International Film Festival over the weekend.  First, the reports and reviews from Cannes, where it was part of the Main Competition, the first Filipino film to be invited in 25 years, were disheartening – it was a highly divisive movie that received both ecstatic acclaim (including raves from Jury President Sean Penn) and withering, verging on the disgusted, negative notices (and quite a number of walkouts during its festival screening).   Second, I’m pretty cynical about the quality of Filipino films that had been shown at the Chicago Film Festival over the past several years.  I grew up in Manila in the 1980s, during a “Golden Age” of Philippine cinema and know the brilliant heights that Filipino directors (such as the late Lino Brocka, the only Filipino director until Mendoza, who had shown a film in the prestigious Main Competition section at Cannes) can achieve, if they put their minds to it, and if they get the right amount of funding and artistic support.  The Filipino movies that have rotated through the Festival in the past had been trashy, exploitative, and badly-constructed, including Mendoza’s one-dimensional bore, The Masseur.  Oddly, too, they were all focused on the sleazy side of gay sex and life in the Philippines (it almost seems like the Film Festival organizers kept on thinking- oh, we have this slot for a film about male prostitutes, their gay patrons, and the slums that they are all desperately trying to escape from, preferably with lots of gratuitous male-on-male sex and nudity, why don’t we go to the Philippines?  Despite what Saturday nights at Roscoe’s might suggest, NOT everyone in the Philippines is gay).  Serbis, which refers to the colloquial Tagalog for paid sex, seems to fit this bill quite nicely.  Well, Serbis proves that pre-conceptions are meant to be shattered, and expectations exceeded, because it is one of the most astonishing and memorable movies I saw at the Film Festival this year.  Imperfect, maddeningly self-indulgent at times, and yes, packed with gratuitous sex scenes and sensationalism, it also has searing social commentary, surprisingly detailed and incisive vignettes about Filipino culture, and the chutzpah to be an uncompromising, no-holds-barred, uniquely gutsy film that you won’t see anywhere else.

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Chicago International Film Festival, Part III

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terribly-happy-danish-film.jpgOne of the things that differentiates going to the Film Festival from going to the multiplex on an ordinary day is the need to line up prior to getting into the screening. I’m probably crazy-weird (because there are many folks, whom one can easily tag as film festival newbies, who are infuriated about lining up to see a film when they already have their tickets with them), but I love the lines. It’s so fascinating to see what types of folks line up for the quirky American independent film versus the obscure Hungarian film about incestuous shepherds versus the short film collection of, ahem, “intimate”-themed short films. And I think it’s really cool to be asked by random strangers how many festival films have you already gone to, sort of like a shared badge of honor among battle-scarred warriors. Yes, the lines can be a madhouse (as it was for The Wrestler last week and Quiet Chaos this weekend), but it’s an essential film festival experience, sort of like getting jumbotroned is essential at a baseball game! Here are three more films I’ve seen this past week:

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F for False

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I will never pay to see a Sarah Ruhl play ever again. There, I said it. After a lot of ambivalence in the past, I decided that Eurydice, the latest Ruhl play to be staged in Chicago (Victory Gardens joins the ranks of its peers, the Goodman, which produced Clean House and Passion Play, and Steppenwolf, which mounted Dead Man’s Cellphone) would determine which Ruhl camp I’ll be pushed into. Eurydice, a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, but from her (instead of his) point of view, and with lots of other extraneous factors thrown in (like her father, who wasn’t in the original Greek myth, and a trio of curmudgeonly Stones straight out of a retirement home, who guard the entrance to the underworld) is insufferably precious, annoyingly dishonest, an intellectual’s abstract concept of the emotion of loss which doesn’t resemble reality at all. I lost my mom two years ago, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of what tremendous loss and grieving feels, and this play does everything in its power to subvert the evocation of those emotions in the audience. It’s quite simply the worst play I’ve seen this year, anywhere.

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Chicago International Film Festival, Part II

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hunger-steve-mcqueen-film.jpgMore film festival watching this week.  I really like the thought of having festival “hotspots” around the two theaters where festival goers can stop in and refuel in between screenings (and I, of course, had quite the re-fuelling at Pops for Champagne one evening), but I’m not really sure it’s working.  I think downtown is too spread out with too many options for people to go to, plus I don’t think JBar or Le Passage are top-of-mind when one thinks of places which encourage esoteric, cerebral, film-history referencing conversations.  Duh! Good try, Film Festival organizers, but better luck next year with your choice of hotspot venues.  Here’s some more of the films I’ve seen the past several days:

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Chicago International Film Festival, Part I

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sparrow-johnny-to.jpgOver the next week and a half or so, I’ll be posting on the films that I’m seeing at the Chicago International Film Festival. I miss the Landmark Century, the venue of many a memorable film festival evening in the past, but I do understand the economic and practical advantages of situating the screenings between two downtown theaters, the River East 21 in Streeterville and 600 N. Michigan in River North. Hey, with the number of sold-out screenings during the first weekend, it seems that Chicago’s devoted film aficionados will not be deterred by downtown’s astronomical parking rates, so-so food, and touristy environs.

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