Top five features from the Chicago International Film Festival

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In its 53rd year, the Chicago International Film Festival is still one of the strongest festivals running. Contributing writer Patrick Schaefer ranks his top five films from his two-day festival experience.

  1. “Wind Traces” directed by Jimena Montemayor
    This meditation on grief plays out like a great poem, with every frame defined by the emotion it can evoke. A mother (Dolores Fonzi) is struggling to care for her young daughter and son after the sudden loss of their father, which occurs before the events of the film, leaving his precise fate somewhat ambiguous until the ending and placing the narrative in as much denial as the characters. The mother has her own tragic arch, but Montemayor chooses to focus much of her attention on the two children and the ways in which they cope with tragedy while holding onto their innocence.
  2. “No Date, No Signature” directed by Vahid Jalilvand
    A doctor (Amir Agha’ee) accidentally bumps a motorcycle being ridden by a family of four, leaving most of the family relatively unharmed but giving the 8-year-old son a potential concussion. From there, we are able to sense the mounting frustrations and the internal and domestic turmoil introduced into these characters lives as they are forced to come to grips with a death and their respective culpabilities. The emotional tension subtly builds until the grief and guilt and trauma begin to overwhelm and the narrative is forced to release the tension in the form of carefully-framed outbursts.
  3. “November” directed by Rainer Sarnet
    Based on the Estonian novel “Rehepapp” by Andrus Kivirähk, Sarnet’s follow-up to 2011’s “The Idiot” is an utterly bizarre depiction of life in an old pagan Estonian village, filled with werewolves, ghosts, the devil, a talking snowman and an axe with legs. To go into any more detail on the oddities found here would be to take away the sense of discovery from which the film derives most of its pleasures, which is convenient for me, as describing it happens to be nearly impossible. Making sense of it all is pointless when it’s much more rewarding to simply bask in the gorgeous snowy cinematography and Bergman-infused atmosphere.
  4. “Offenders” directed by Dejan Zecevic
    Three students (Radovan Vujovic, Mladen Sovilj, Marta Bjelica) set out to prove the hypothesis that spatial destruction leads to social destruction through conducting experiments around the city of Belgrade involving observing people’s behavior as they are confronted with breakdowns in social order under the cover of anonymity. The social commentary misses the mark a bit, especially as it pertains to its depiction of young people. Eventually the project begins to take on ethically dubious turns and the inherent darkness becomes more manifest as more layers are revealed. It’s easy to wonder if the ultimate payoff is worth the more meandering patches in the middle, but as a thesis on urban decay it’s extremely effective.
  5. “Pre-Crime” directed by Matthias Heeder and Monika Hielscher
    This film documents the rise in “Minority Report”-style policing, wherein law enforcement seeks to predict, through a series of complex and oblique mathematical algorithms, who is most likely to commit a crime in the future. The emotional centerpiece of the film revolves around Chicago resident Robert McDaniel, who has been informed that despite his criminal record only involving misdemeanors, he has been determined to have a high potential to commit a violent crime. McDaniel provides the moral conscience of the film, as we are able to see the effect this oppressive surveillance state has on individuals. It is not immune to a temporary loss of focus or repetition of the same concepts rephrased from slightly differing perspectives, but the main points are still compellingly articulated and infectiously paranoid.
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