INSTANT 3: The Chicago International Film Festival

The Chicago International Film Festival begins today, so I thought I would recommend some Netflix films from the "Watch Instantly" section that coincide with some of the filmmakers who will be premiering films at the festival, as well as give you a short preview of some of what I hope to see at the fest.  Starting tomorrow, I will be attending the CIFF over twelve days and giving day-to-day reports on everything I can catch. Among the most anticipated Chicago premieres I am hoping to catch:  Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre (Finland), Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey), Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse (Hungary), and Lars Von Trier's Melancholia (Denmark/Sweden).

Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia
Aside from the above lineup of heavy hitters, the CIFF will feature a number of  Panel Presentations, as well as special engagements with Chicago actors and film makers, including John C. Reilly and Haskell Wexler.  The competion includes a pretty hefty sampling of world cinema, dedicating an entire section of this year's fest to the films of South East Asia, as well as a number of thematically specific categories of programming, which include a focus on women in film making and screen writing, LGBT-themed films, Illinois-based films, black perspectives, and a midnight program of shock cinema.

L.A. Raeven:  Beyond the Image
American Translation
Andrew Bird:  Fever Year
I will be trying to sample a bit of everything, but of course some of the most anticipated screenings are the new works from film makers we have a history with.  I want to briefly recommend the work of three directors who have certainly occupied both ends of the spectrum of failure and success, but, for my money, are more interesting to watch in their failures than many directors are in their successes.

1)  David Cronenberg
Upcoming Chicago Premiere:  A Dangerous Method featuring Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung from the director of Naked Lunch (1991) and A History of Violence (2005).  

Viggo Mortensen as Freud in A Dangerous Method
My "Watch Instantly" recommendation is a toss up between Cronenberg's brilliant adaptation/exploration/fantasia of the ultimate un-film-able novel, William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, and the film that introduced me to the Candadian master, Videodrome (1983).  I go with Videodrome for a number of reasons, even though I think Naked Lunch is a greater achievement, from the script to the technical execution.

Naked Lunch
But, Videodrome hit me at an age when the images and ideas presented really spun my head around, from Debbie Harry burning her boob with a cigarette to James Woods' whole head and shoulders being sucked off by a giant, malleable TV set of ruby red lips.  The effects are some of the wildest hand-made stuff Cronenberg ever executed, and even though the performances are not exactly the work of seasoned actors, it somehow wouldn't fit the picture if they were any more polished.  The film still carries that perfect balance of humor, shock, and philosophy that defines the best of Cronenberg's catalog.  Videodrome is essential viewing for those interested in cinema-as-media studies, and should be double-billed with it's sister-film, which takes Cronenberg's media theory tendencies out of the 80's and into the new millennium, the under-seen eXistenZ. Long live the New Flesh!

James Woods and Debbie Harry in Videodrome

2) Wim Wenders
Upcoming Chicago Premiere:  Pina (3D), a film for the recently deceased, German-born dancer/choreographer, Pina Bausch, from the director of Paris,Texas (1984), Wings of Desire (1987), and Until the End of the World (1991).

We should give thanks that Wenders is joining the likes of Werner Herzog in the production of 3D films these days; if all the medium has to offer is the likes of the recent Clash of the Titans and Fright Night remakes, then why shouldn't directors who actually know how to use a camera be aggressively seizing the whole trend?  Sadly, while audiences flock to these lame spectacles, Wenders has a number of films on the books that are either largely under-appreciated (Lisbon Story, '94;  A Trick of Light, '95;  The End of Violence, '97;  Don't Come a Knockin', '05) or have never even received a proper American dvd release (two of my favorites:  Kings of the Road (In the Course of Time), '76 and The State of Things, '82).  

Hans Zischler in Kings of the Road
The film I want to recommend falls into the former category:  Land of Plenty (2004), which features Michelle Williams, who most recently appeared in the outstanding Oscilloscope release, Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff (2010), and John Diehl, who showed up in the meta-cinematic Monte Hellman comeback picture, Road to Nowhere (2010).  Land of Plenty is an important post-9-11 meditation that doesn't seem hopelessly mired by...well, being a post-9-11 meditation.  Diehl captures a uniquely American sense of paranoia and bigotry, while Williams is once again precise and understated in her role as Diehl's neice, who works at a mission where the two witness the death of a young Pakistani, and travel together to deliver the corpse to the family.  The film also features appearances by two always-welcome supporting actors, Richard Edson and Burt Young.

John Diehl and Michelle Williams in Land of Plenty

3)  Werner Herzog
Upcoming Chicago Premeire:  Into the Abyss.  This time around, the master of "ecstatic truth" in cinema interviews Texas Death Row inmate Michael Perry eight days before his execution.  The CIFF website says the film is "not intended as a plea to abolish the death penalty, but rather as an entry into the philosophical underpinnings of death and violence in a country that has not yet done away with state sanctioned executions."

Into the Abyss
I am a sucker for underwater photography, so my "Watch Instantly" Herzog recommendation is definitely his 2007 documentary antidote to March of the PenguinsEncounters at the End of the World.  Keep in mind, you can also stream two of his most daring fiction films to date, the David Lynch produced My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, and the delightfully inexplicable and bat-shit crazy Ferara follow-up, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, both from 2009.  But, Herzog is best when he is dealing with the discovery of the unseen, as with his last film Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  The passages in Encounters that take us under the ice are effectively scored in typical Herzog fashion, and the life we encounter under there reveals some truly ecstatic visions.  Herzog dabbles in fictional invention along the way, as he always does, but coming face to face with the cathedral of ice is as real as it gets.

Encounters at the End of the World



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