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October 14, 2008

For film buffs this month, Doc’s not the only game in town

Although it doesn’t have the beaches of Cannes, the mountains of Sundance, or even the clean streets of Toronto, the 44th annual Chicago International Film Festival packs a punch as deep as it is wide. The two-week event is screening some 175 movies from 47 countries, a count that outdoes the Sundance total by over 50 films.

The festival opens with The Brothers Bloom, a comedy starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz, about world-class con men on their last job. Good, the festival’s closing film, stars Viggo Mortensen as a German professor during World War II who writes a book endorsing euthanasia, leading to devastating consequences. In between these two films is a line-up that showcases the best of the world’s cinema.

International

There’s enough fare from abroad to satiate even the most virulent Hollywood studio-hater. From Europe comes Berlin—1st of May, an intriguing collaboration of four German filmmakers telling four intertwined stories that come together in the tumult of May Day celebrations in Berlin. Hailing from the opposite side of the world, The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, a noodle western from South Korea, tells the story of three outlaws and their hunt for a treasure in 1930s Manchuria.

Long Time Actors, First Time Directors

The festival also showcases the directorial debut of fan favorites Gael García Bernal and Jada Pinkett Smith. In Déficit, Bernal, a wealthy college boy, finds himself exploring the class tensions in Mexican society at a day-long summer party. Jada Pinkett Smith stars in The Human Contract, a psychological study of sex about a relationship between a successful advertising executive and a free-wheeling woman in a world rife with sexual prohibitions.

Documentaries

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight is Wendy Key’s look at Milton Glaser, the co-founder of New York Magazine who revolutionized the design world with his iconic I Love New York logo and the famous silhouette of Bob Dylan with kaleidoscope hair. The Garden revolves around the controversy over a 14-acre garden in South Central Los Angeles sprouting from the rubble of the race riots in the early ’90s. The documentary follows the gardeners’ struggle to preserve their urban oasis in the face of the backroom dealing between the city government and big business.

Animation

Chicago International Film Festival’s selection of animated films continues the movement in recent years to legitimize animation for adult audiences. Fear of the Dark, a French film that combines the talents of ten of the world’s best graphic artists, tells tales of pure fright ranging from a sadistic madman who wreaks terror with a pack of bloodthirsty hounds to a child held prisoner by her own dreams. Idiots and Angels is a dark comedy about a cruel businessman’s inability to free himself from the angel wings that mysteriously sprout from his back.

A Blast from the Past

The festival is also showing some films that have been newly restored to their full glory. Once Upon a Time in the West may never come close to some of Sergio Leone’s other works in the revisionist western genre—notably The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—but is worth seeing on the big screen. Once Upon a Time in the West stars Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, two outlaws vying over a wildly complicated land deal. The film is notable for Fonda’s turn as an evil gang leader—a rarity for an actor who was largely typecast as the Decent American. If for nothing else, the sight of his blue eyes set against the majestic western sky is worth the price of admission. Along with stunning locales, sets, and costumes, the film includes what is probably Ennio Morricone’s best score, which is so gripping that at times it drives the nonsensical plot. Gregory Nava’s El Norte is a cornerstone of independent cinema, so much so that Variety christened it the first indie epic. It addresses the problems of illegal immigration with a humanity and integrity that in 25 years after its release has yet to be matched.

The festival will take place in theaters across the city. Tickets are $12, and the $7 matinee screenings are free to the first 100 seniors and students. A full schedule is available at chicagofilmfestival.org