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:

Brutus, the Journey (Philippines) – this probably takes the (dis)honor of being the worst  film I saw in the festival this year.  And it’s hugely disappointing that a Filipino movie takes that spot.  Director Tara Illenberger seems to be working from the “How to get invited to as many artsy film festivals” playbook.  BIG and IMPORTANT theme?  Check – the movie is about illegal logging in the central Philippines and the destruction it’s bringing, not only to the country’s environment, but also to the way of life of the indigenous tribes who live in the area.  Oh, and there’s LOTS of important, preachy, smug speeches about these issues by the film’s characters.  Scenes of exotic, very foreign cultural rituals and habits?  Check – there are many colorful details about the lives of the Mangyan tribe, interspersed with breathtaking, picturesque shots of the land and waters, scenes that won’t feel out of place in a National Geographic documentary. There’s also an evocative musical score which uses native Filipino musical techniques and instruments.  Cutting-edge film techniques?  Check again – Illenberger shot the film in digital format, so there’s a rough, gritty, but very pretentiously artsy and studied visual look and feel.  This film has a lot of bellow and bark, but very little soul.

Be Like Others (USA/UK/Canada/Iran) – This is a harrowing, unflinchingly honest, and compassionately non-judgmental documentary about transsexuals in Iran.  This is, again, the kinds of movies that make film festivals such an important element of a city’s cultural life – films like this provide Chicago audiences with a window into cultures and lifestyles in other parts of the world that we can’t imagine exist.  Homosexuality is illegal in Iran and punishable by stoning and other dreadful methods, but sex change operations are legal and government sanctioned, because the clerics and government officials have taken the position that transsexuals have dual natures, and therefore don’t go against “nature” and “God’s will”, like gays do.  It’s fascinatingly, disturbingly illogical and the double-standard incomprehensible; for a gay person, Be Like Others is like a shocking splash of freezing water on the face.  We complain about how we’re treated here in the West, but this film humbles us by showing the extent that Iranian gay men go to have a promise of living a kind of life that acknowledges, to some degree, their sexual orientation. The procedure is painful, ghastly, and emotionally and physically brutalizing, and post-surgery, they’re still treated like outcasts by society and disowned by those closest to them, but as transsexuals, these gay men can at least have relationships with other men, and express themselves more fully, than if they didn’t go through the operation.  Several of the interviewees say that if they didn’t live in Iran, they would never have chosen to go through the operation.  Insightful, intelligent, emotionally direct, this is a memorable film (and I’m surprised it failed to win any of the festival’s documentary awards).

Revanche (Austria) – After a winning streak of terrific movies in the first week and a half of the Festival, it seems like the awful movies popped up one after the other at the tailend of my viewing schedule.  Austria’s entry to the Oscar’s Foreign-Language Film category, Revanche is tedious and annoying, full of people who are too dumb for you to care about, and laughable coincidences and twists of fate. The lead character stupidly agrees to have his girlfriend wait in the car while he commits a bank robbery… what a loser!  Of course, the bank robbery goes awry, and she gets shot in the back and dies.  The police officer who accidentally shoots her incessantly broods and agonizes over the incident…another loser!  Of course, he’s put on leave because his superiors decide that he is not mentally stable to be a police officer, and also drives away his long-suffering wife into the arms of…the bank robber! Jeez…except that no one knows in the small village that they all live in that he is the bank robber since he’s been hiding out on his accordion-playing grandfather’s farm, chopping firewood for weeks…and weeks…and weeks on end.  How many forests has he cut down already???  Then the bank robber wants to avenge his girlfriend’s death but never does, and instead just has sex with the police officer’s wife continuously.  By the way, where did all the money go?  This snoozer is just incomprehensible, uninteresting, and bipolar (it jumps from social commentary to revenge thriller to domestic drama – make up your mind, director Gotz Spielman!)

See you at next year’s Festival!

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