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Chicago International Film Festival Reviews | Part 1

The 56th Chicago International Film Festival is underway and we here at MR could not be happier. I mean, how lucky am I that two of my favorite seasons land at around the same time of year? Film Festival season AND football season! ‘Tis the season to be a cinephile! Along with the MASSIVE and heartbreaking complication that COVID has been this year, film festivals have been among the businesses impacted. Two difficult choices were on the table: Cancel or the three “R”s. Reduce, reformat, restructure! Much to our benefit, Chicago was one of the ones that went with the latter.

We have been watching this year’s film selection with delight as it feature an incredible and diverse slate of films from around the world. ChiFF does a great job with inclusion and representation including a category called Black Perpectives which makes a point to highlight Black stories and Black filmmakers, something the industry has failed to do for far too long. Some of these films include the highly anticipated feature directorial debut from Regina King One Night in Miami, a documentary about the racially biased justice system of America: 40 Years a Prisoner, and Farewell Amor a beautifully conceived film that captures the immigrant experience with complexity and nuance. Some of the other categories include New Directors Competition, Women in Cinema, After Dark, & International Competition.

We wanted to launch our review series for ChiFF with reviews for some of the standout films we’ve had the opportunity to catch. This is just the first of many to come so make sure you keep an eye out for all the content as we continue to cover this year’s monumental edition of the festival.

Belushi

John Belushi in Belushi

A heartfelt account of the life of comedy legend John Belushi, from his rise to stardom all the way to his untimely passing. Never before heard interviews with friends, family and colleagues, recorded past the tragic events of his demise, guide us through key moments that help shed more light onto the figure who spent so much time already illuminated by the brightest of spotlights. Admittedly, I was not any more familiar with Belushi than I was with his name and image but I found a certain endearing quality in him while watching this doc. No, not with his performances or with his humor but rather with his apparent kindness towards others. A dreamer through and through but one who understood his impact on those around him, in particular his influence on the youth. “America’s Neighbor”, as they refer to him, he had a presence that made him seem familiar though you know him no more than you know anyone on the tube. I tend to lean towards more narrative docs but I appreciate this one because of its rawness. I appreciate openness and vulnerability and this one had it in spades. A definite must watch for anyone familiar with this legend or for any SNL lover who wonders about the impact of the lime light on seemingly stable geniuses. (7/10)

Gaza Mon Amour

Salim Dau & Hiam Abbass in Gaza Mon Amour

A quaint little film out of Palestine that depicts a sixty year old fisherman, Issa, who is struggling to muster up the courage to profess his love for a dressmaker in the market where he sells his daily catch. While on one of his trips he manages to net an ancient statue of the Greek god Apollo, who is all too happy to see him. This puts him at odds with the corrupt and overreaching local police. A fun and heartfelt little watch starring Salim Dau and Hiam Abbass that manages to thoroughly amuse you with its characters and, often, absurd situations. Though entertaining throughout, the film fails to take advantage of any of the plots it presents, ultimately causing the film to fall flat, much like the hatch on Issa’s boat, as it heads into the credits. No regrets watching it though, I just hate that it set up a rich world, people, and culture just to let them drift away unexplored. (6/10)

Little Girl

Sasha in Little Girl

One of the most delightful documentaries I have seen in a long time. At the heart of this story is seven-year old Sasha, who is battling to gain acceptance as a girl from the world she knows. A powerful film about struggling with the truth so many refuse to accept– your truth. Fair warning, this film is a tear jerker! I fell in love with the filmmaker’s ability to capture a family’s bravery; allowing cameras to capture their story down to the most vulnerable moments. I’m not an emotional individual at all but I found myself having to remove something that was “stuck” in my eye more than once… You can’t help but be moved by the depiction of Sasha, wanting acceptance so desperately she often followed the moves of the other girls in her ballet class but, the beauty is that, eventually, we get to see her on her own, embracing herself & her truth while dancing to the rhythm of her own drum. (8/10)

And Tomorrow the Entire World

Mala Emde in And Tomorrow the Entire World

A thought provoking look at the Anti-Fascist movement in Germany through the eyes of a scarred young lawyer-to-be. This film had me questioning everything I though I knew about the world outside the US. Of course my American ignorance was blind to the hatred and racism running rampant in other countries and of the people protesting and battling against it as many are here. Of course I am well aware of white supremacist groups in other countries but to know is different than to see it be given a face, a chant, and an anthem. Great performances, good writing, & a strong vision by the director who widens the scope of this film with the incredible themes it addresses: PTSD, depression, assault, self confidence, & morality, among others. A film worth putting on your radar. (7/10)

The Columnist

Katja Herbers in The Columnist

A surprising film about a columnist and author who finally snaps after a barrage of hateful messages and death threats push her over the edge. The Columnist was nothing if not fun but that’s not all it has going for it. Our actors showed up fully committed and performed with inspiring conviction. Though straight forward, the film does find a way to turn everything on its head just as it gets ready to wrap. If you can get passed the small degree of absurdity I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. I won’t lie though, I had accepted it and there was still a montage that had me nearly rolling my eyes but the film is much more so if you’re into crime dramas a la Dexter this will be right up your alley. (7/10)

Of Fish and Men

Sarah Spale in Of Fish and Men

An emotionally charged film that tackles themes of loss, guilt, grief, loyalty, and the inability to escape ones past. A beautifully encapsulated film that takes place, mostly, on a fish farm in the Swiss countryside whose setting serves as a stunning contrast to the dark and heartbreaking tale it holds within its borders. I went into this completely in the dark and found myself unable to look away. Our actors deliver outstanding performances and our director guides us through this story with thoughtful elegance. (7/10)

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By Raul Navedo

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