Lovison reviews two ‘Robust’ movies at Chicago International Film Festival

 

'Robust' at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
‘Robust’ at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars

“Robust”

In “Robust,” Gerard Depardieu portrays a lonely, bored, aging actor, Georges, unwilling or uninterested in going through the same old motions.

When his regular driver/security guard is temporarily called out of town, Georges creates a new alliance with his replacement, Aissa, brilliantly played by Déborah Lukumuena. She turns out to be the equal of both the character, Georges, and Depardieu, himself. Every scene between the two is a mesmerizing lesson in restraint and underlying tension.

The film is not a thriller with over the top special effects or chase sequences. There is no great plot or cinematic triumph. “Robust” is basically a quiet character study directed by Constance Meyer and written by Meyer with Marcia Romano providing very believable situations.

The tension is created between the male/female and employer/employee relationship specifically since Georges has personal boundary issues.

But this is not a “me too” theme. Instead, though there is an underlying subtle desire, this is more of a paternal relationship between two people trying to deal with their loneliness in spite of their busy professional lives.

In the end, as with any intense relationship between people in close proximity over a period of time, they learn something about each other and about themselves.

“Robust” is produced by Isabelle Madelaine. She apparently has produced a number of short subjects which explains her attraction to this piece that is a kind of expanded short subject.

Kudos to casting director Judith Chalier for putting together such an interesting and talented team. Even the performances of the secondary characters, regardless of the size of their roles, were delivered with sincere perfection.

Cinematographer Simon Beaufils treated us to a number of beautiful close-up portraits that amplified the inner tensions and intimacy. Likewise production designer Julia Lemaire provided an array of interesting, mostly interior, settings that provided subtle insight into the characters and their situations.

“Robust” is much like a warm bath. Just sit back and soak it in. Then when it is over feel refreshed and satisfied.

I highly recommend this film because you will be happy to see Depardieu work his magic. But more importantly, you will be very glad that you got to see an interesting performance by rising star Lukumuena.

This is a North American premiere as part of the Chicago International Film Festival with two live screenings at the AMC River East 10/18 and 10/22 and limited online streaming Oct 14, 2021 to Oct 24, 2021 in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. For detailed information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com

Language: French with English subtitles. Running time:  95 minutes.

 

Hit the Road at Chicago International Film Festival. 'Robust' at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
Hit the Road at Chicago International Film Festival. ‘Robust’ at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars

“Hit the Road”

“Hit the Road” by director Panah Panahi is a story of an Iranian family road trip with overtones of “Little Miss Sunshine” or “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Lest you think Iranian families are very different than yours, this family will dispel that myth.

It is an odd sort of setup that begins with the father,  (Hassan Madjouni) sitting in the back seat with a cast on his leg that is being decorated by his younger 6 year-old son (Rayan Sarlak).

Mom (Pantea Panahiha), a rather attractive forty something wearing a hijab that fashionably reveals her stylish gray hair, is in the front seat, while the elder, twenty-something son (Amin Simiar), is the driver.

You can’t help but to ask, “Who are these people, where are they going and why does he have a broken leg?” For most of the trip the purpose of the journey is unclear.

In the first half of the film, we get to know the quirky characters as they quibble and banter back and forth. Most of the action is directed by the younger son referred to as “the kid” who is full of non-stop energy, curiosity and downright obnoxious silliness.  The Spiderman and Batman obsessed “kid” restlessly tumbles and falls relentlessly next to, and on the lap of, the father who willingly partakes in all of the activity, even encouraging him.  Mom does little to intercede and indeed encourages him while the older son silently keeps his eyes on the road.

Through the course of their day-long travel they make a few rest stops and we begin to get a better, but still fairly unclear, idea of their destination. This is best described as a dramedy with the characters using the antics of “the kid” to interject some humor and provide distraction for their more serious task at hand.

If you’ve been cooped up due to COVID, “Hit the Road” will give you a chance to take a little family adventure while enjoying the beautiful rugged Iranian landscape. Much like one of those 500 piece picture puzzles you might have been working on this past year, the film’s director doles out small colorful pieces that fit together and begin to make sense amid the chaos of “the kid’s” antics.

Incidentally, this is a debut film by Panah Panahi whose father’s directorial feature film debut was the Iranian classic “White Balloon” (Jafar Panahi 1995). It is the humanistic style of both of these films with their subtle criticisms that somehow manages to exist within the country’s authoritarian regime that I find very interesting.

“Hit the Road,” presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival, is available to stream Oct 14 to Oct 24, 2021 in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

LANGUAGE : Farsi with English subtitles. Running time: 94 minutes

 

Reno Lovison

 

‘The Last Shelter’ a must see at Chicago International Film Festival

 

The Last Shelter at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
The Last Shelter at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars

A group of random migrants from West Africa destined for Europe stop at “The Last Shelter” on the edge of the Sahel Desert (that transitions into the Sahara) before continuing their journey toward a better life.

Here at “La Maison du Migrants” in Mali they are confronted by a kindly social worker who urges them to return home, explaining that it is admirable that they had gotten this far but many die in the harsh desert conditions beyond. His agency promises them a bus ride back home.

While counseling two sixteen year-old girls from Burkina Faso he pleads with them to reconsider by explaining that even if they do get to Algeria they will likely find no employment and will be forced into prostitution. In a meeting with the others he tells them of his own experience of being cheated of his wages and treated with contempt.

One of the girls reveals how Facebook (and certainly other social media) fuel discontent and spur the hopes of young migrants who see friends and acquaintances who have successfully made the journey. For fifteen or twenty year-olds who hate their life, hardship and even death are abstract ideas that do little to dissuade them.

This is an all too common tale taking place around the world as young people seek a better life, freedom and more opportunity. This story could be told not only in Africa but in nearly any country throughout the Middle-East and South or Central America as well as Mexico.  For many, Europe is a fine destination, but their hope is the ultimate lottery win of reaching the United States.

“The Last Shelter” focuses primarily on the two young girls. Ester says she had hopes of acting, singing or boxing. She chose the latter because she admits having a lot of anger and feels boxing would be a way to release her frustrations.  Her friend expresses hopes of being a teacher or doctor because she wants to help people. During their respite in the shelter she is the one who encourages Ester to study English as they work on simple phrases.

The film is sensitively photographed by director/cinematographer Ousmane Samassekou and Amath Niane. It shines with intimate close-ups and beautiful b-roll of the desert sunrise and evocative cutaways of the shelter’s inspiring blue painted interior. The shots are reminiscent of a beach cabana that belies otherwise minimal accommodations and the hot, dry reality outside its doors.

The story is expertly constructed by Samassekou with editor Céline Ducreux to tell a compelling, important and compassionate human story that sheds light on the motivations and desires of migrating individuals.

The Last Shelter is a U.S. Premier presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival. Online viewing is available. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.

LANGUAGE : Bambara, French, Fula, Hausa, Mooré, Susu, Waama with English subtitles

Reno Lovison

A look at more Chicago International Film Festival offerings

Reviewer Reno Lovison picks two more shows currently offered by the Chicago International Film Festival worthy of three star ratings. They are either based in Chicago or have Chicago themes or subjects.

The films have limited in-person options but can be viewed virtually  October 14 through October 24, 2021. Check back at CTAA for more International Film Fest reviews. For specific information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com.

 

'On the Edge of Victory' showing at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
‘On the Edge of Victory’ showing at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

3 stars

On the Edge of Victory

How soon we forget. This intimate behind the scenes documentary “Mayor Pete,” follows his bootstrap campaign for the presidency from its nascent beginnings to the edge of victory.

Sure Pete Buttigieg, (pronounced boot-edge-edge)  mayor of a small Midwestern city, speaks eight languages, is a Rhode Scholar and retired lieutenant in the Navy Reserves who served in Afghanistan; but that didn’t stop this over achiever from being the first openly gay presidential candidate, with an odd name, from soaring from unknown candidate to winner of the Iowa caucuses, primarily by being extremely intelligent and being his authentic self.

Like many documentaries, “Mayor Pete” by Jesse Moss simply follows the action. Since it starts at the beginning of the campaign the filmmaker has no idea how it will end. Very often in these situations you know you have an interesting subject but you don’t really know what the story will be.

In this case you have someone who many might consider a nontraditional candidate with a same-sex partner running for the highest office in the land. But the mundaneness of his relationship with husband Chasten and the “regular guy” laid back attitude of Pete himself kinda shouts, “There’s nothing to see here folks,” illustrating that those who we might consider as being “other” really have more in common with us than our perceived differences suggest.

“Mayor Pete,” will certainly appeal to political wonks and historians, though it doesn’t really offer much strategic insight other than some interesting preparation for his debates and appearances. At its core it is an inspirational story of authenticity, personal growth, love and victory; even if that victory is not exactly what you had expected.

Running time: 96 minutes. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.

 

Harlem Renaissance Man (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
Harlem Renaissance Man (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

3 stars

A Harlem Renaissance Man

The small city of Metropolis sits on the southern-most border of Illinois and is best known for its self-described claim to fame as being the “birthplace” of the fictional comic book hero Superman. However the town’s real life native son is author and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

Oscar was born in 1884 to former slaves Calvin and Belle Michaux who travelled out of Kentucky over the Ohio River establishing a homestead where the boy spent his early years farming. Eventually he made his way to Chicago getting a very prestigious job as a Pullman porter. This experience no doubt contributed to a wider understanding of the world and introduced him to a more diverse social strata.

Within a short period of time Micheaux was able to obtain a small piece of land in South Dakota. However the harsh winters put his mind to other interests and after a few years he wrote a book about his life experiences and escapades that he self-published then sold door-to-door apparently rather successfully within Black communities.

After gaining some notoriety Micheaux turned down an offer to make one of his stories into a moving picture. Instead in 1919 he opted to buy some equipment, gather some people and do it himself, putting him on the road that would ultimately establish him as the first major Black filmmaker, going on to produce 42 feature films.

Micheaux’s filmmaking business brought him to Harlem, the undisputed Black Capitol of segregated America, at the very dawn of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance no doubt putting him in contact with some of the most notable cultural icons of that era.  Micheaux is in fact credited with hiring Paul Robeson before the actor became an international superstar.

It seems that aside from promoting his own written works Micheaux had a desire to use his early silent films and later talkies to project a more wholesome and authentic view of African-American life presumably to counteract the negative stereotypes that were being portrayed in  White cinema, most notably in films like D.W. Griffith’s (1915) “Birth of a Nation.”

At least from my perspective Micheaux’s story is as much about his entrepreneurial spirit as it is about his filmmaking. Not only did he write and produce film but often appeared in small roles and set up his own distribution scheme to insure that his films would be screened and seen in African American communities nationwide. It seems he was one of those people who was  going to create a place for himself in this world somehow.

“Oscar Micheaux – The Superhero of Black Cinema” had its North American premiere as part of the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival.  Directed by Francesco Zippel, it is a sort of meandering biographical documentary that gets this important story told through a number of expert interviews and original film clips.

The importance of this documentary is perhaps to illustrate to younger generations that in the early nineteen hundreds there were a number of African American entrepreneurs who stepped in to fill a void created by segregation.

They operated their professions and crafts parallel to the more influential white power structure by exploiting opportunities to serve a market that was otherwise being neglected.

As a result of America’s unofficial apartheid system these early industrial pioneers rarely were recognized by the wider society for the contributions they made.

“Oscar Micheaux -The Superhero of Black Film Making” is a useful contribution to the library of Black History subjects placing Micheaux into the pantheon of individuals who contributed to the rise of twentieth century African American culture and ultimately, in a more “woke” sense, to the fabric of American culture as a whole.

Running time: 80 minutes. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.

Reno Lovison

 

 

Chicago related films now showing at the Chicago Film Festival

 

Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

A resounding political battle

4 stars

Before Obama there was Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor who in 1983 challenged the status quo, took on “The Machine,” and ultimately won the hearts of the majority of the city to build the first truly diverse political coalition in the history of Chicago.

A brutal racially divided campaign culminated in what came to be dubbed “council wars” as the majority white opposition maintained control of the city’s legislative body even after Washington’s election.

Strategies employed in this era of Chicago politics would write the playbook for political opposition that continues to resound on the national scene to this day. Alternately the strategies employed by Harold Washington have written the playbook for many successful minority campaigns nationwide for nearly 40 years and likely well into the future.

“Punch 9 for Harold Washington” a Chicago International Film Festival 2021 world premiere  documentary by director Joe Winston, comprised largely of archival footage and interviews, is a sober reminder to those of us who lived through the era and a fitting tribute to one of Chicago’s unique and transformative political figures.

“Punch 9 for Harold Washington”  Run time: 104 minutes

 

Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars

“SHORTS 1” is an eclectic showcase of eight short subjects from a variety of filmmakers with ties to Chicago.  Each film runs about 10 minutes or less and one ticket at the festival will provide access to the entire collection.

Four of the shorts have immigrant related themes and four have generational or age related themes. Though they each are very personal stories I would describe only one of them as being specifically documentary. Two are essentially art films, one of which is specifically in the genre of horror.

There is a little bit here for everyone, but clearly these folks know how to tell stories and make them look beautiful.

“Sink” is a brilliantly disturbing film shot entirely as an overhead shot of a bathroom sink with the only character a pair of hands and the occasional top of the head of a man, written, performed, and edited by Curtis Matzke with interesting music and great sound effects that really heightened the experience.

In “Close Ties to Home Country,” written, directed and outstandingly performed by Akanksha Cruczynski, an immigrant dog walker pines for home while having a weird connection to the animal she cares for.

“Winning in America,” produced by Amrita Singh, explores the relationship of an immigrant father and daughter as they prepare for the state regional competition of the National Spelling Bee.

“Get well soon” is another terrifically performed visually attractive vignette piece that focuses on the emotions of a young woman dealing with the illness of her father, written and directed by Ashley Thompson.

Similarly, “By the time I reach him” by Meg Walsh, uses black and white imagery with voiceover to portray an intimate voyeuristic conversation between a daughter and her Alzheimer afflicted father.

“Speck of Dust” is also a voiceover driven, introspective narrative film. Produced by Moroccan-American, Chicago-based filmmaker Simo Ezoubeiri, it has a vintage vibe that speaks to themes of loneliness and existence from the point-of-view of an elderly man.

“The Year I Went Looking for Birds” is kind of a video gallery of Danny Carroll that illustrates his ability to find interesting images, but it is more of a demo reel than a fully conceived production.

Virginia R. Matos produced “Monochromatic Dreams” which has a lovely musical score by Natalia Perez. It is the most straightforward documentary in the group offering insight into the work of Latinx media installation artist Yvette Mayorga.

“Shorts 1”  – Run time 76 minutes

Reno Lovison

Chicago themed movies from the Chicago International Film Festival

 

Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago)
Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago)

Here are three capsule reviews of films at the Chicago International Film Festival that are based in Chicago or that have Chicago themes or subjects.  Each of these films has limited in-person theater viewing options during the festival as well as virtual viewing between October 14, 2021 through October 24, 2021. Check back at CTAA for more International Film Fest reviews. For specific information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com.

 

A compassionate look at the challenges of mental illness

3 stars

Producer/director Margaret Byrne bravely reveals her own story of mental illness while following three other individuals as they each battle their inner demons and indeed struggle day-by-day just to function. With any luck they may ultimately succeed even though on “Any Given Day” their illness might take hold and set them back.

Byrne lets her camera do a lot of the speaking through aerial shots, cutaways of urban landscapes and close-up glimpses of nature, using artful imagery to convey personal thought processes where words might fail.

“Any Given Day” a Chicago International Film Festival 2021 U.S. premiere should remind us to consider that some human beings have extraordinary challenges beyond their control and important stories to share.

“Any Given Day” Run Time: 94 minutes

 

Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago)
Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago)

An appealing thrill ride to nowhere

2.5 stars

“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” a visually appealing thriller by a talented production team with a great musical score is inspired by a true Chicago mystery.

Based in 1999, video editor James believably portrayed by (Crazy Rich Asians) Harry Shum Jr. sets out to find who is behind the interruptions of local TV broadcast signals that occurred ten years earlier featuring a weird masked figure, speaking some garbled message, through a haze of static which may be connected to the disappearance of several women.

This vintage homage to ’70s paranoid cinema falls short compared to the classics on which it is based with more loose ends then your grandma’s shag carpet. A local odyssey full of intriguing characters is at best a pleasurable buggy ride to nowhere that leaves you mildly exhilarated but ultimately unfulfilled.

“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” Run Time 104 minutes

 

Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago)
Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago)

This film hits all the right notes

4 stars

An African American senior, physically debilitated due to a childhood injury purposely inflicted by his mentally impaired father, is virtually paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to use his right hand.

“For the left hand” is an inspiring documentary by Leslie Simmer and Gordon Quinn based on a feature story by Chicago Tribune music critic Howard Reich about Lincoln Park High School choral director Norman Malone who in spite of his challenges followed his passion to teach music and in retirement fulfills a lifelong dream to master Ravel’s “Concerto for left hand” then play it in front of an audience with a full orchestra for the first time at age 79.

“For the left hand”  Run time: 74 minutes

Reno Lovison

 

 

Chicago International Film Festival now through mid October

 

Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021.m (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago
Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 13-24, 2021.m (Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago

Begun in 1964 by filmmaker and graphic artist Michael Kutza, the Chicago International Film Festival  opens today, Oct. 13, and continues through Oct. 24, 2021.

The 7 p.m. showing of the French Dispatch maybe sold out but try for Halloween Kills at 10 p.m. They are at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, Chicago.  Oh, and wear a costume for the 10 p.m. show.

Or at 7 p.m. go to ChiTown Movies, a drive-in  at 2343 S. Throop St., to see The Velvet Underground.

For more film-fest showings visit the presenting organization’s Cinema Chicago – Upcoming Events Calendar and look at the Filmfest Guide for festival kickoff ideas.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Enjoy A World of Cinema

 

'Motherless' a film to see at the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)
‘Motherless’ a film to see at the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)

4 stars

The 55th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is running through Oct. 27, 2019 at the AMC River East Theaters.

The world renowned festival includes films from more than 100 countries representing virtually every genre.

Some special categories offered are Women in Cinema, Cinemas of the Americas, and Immersive Cinema exploring virtual reality storytelling in all dimensions.

The week’s festivities kicked off with a red carpet featuring Chicago Producer Gigi Pritzker and Chicago Director Jennifer Reeder talking about the film festival overall as well as their respective films, “Motherless Brooklyn” and “Knives and Skin.”

“Motherless Brooklyn” features the film’s director Edward Norton as a lonely private detective working to solve the murder of his friend played by Bruce Willis.

“Knives and Skin.” is a horror movie that takes place somewhere in a small Illinois town and champions female empowerment.

My second day began with an early morning 10:00 AM special press viewing of “Hogar,” an Argentinian and Italian collaboration the tile of which means house or residence similar to the word “casa,” but the film has been translated with the English title “Maternal” which is appropriate as it deals with teen mothers struggling to bond with their children and overcome the special challenges related to teen pregnancy.

My second press screening that day was “Twentieth Century,” a very odd but thoroughly enjoyable film described as “an outrageously weird and funny faux-historical drama about the rise of Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in the 1920s, re-imagined as some kind of Dali-esque fever-dream by way of Monty Python.”

There are a number of films at the festival that either have Chicago themes or were produced in Chicago.

These include the world premier documentary “The First Rainbow Coalition” about Chicago’s mulit-ethnic street gangs in the 1960s primarily led by activist Fred Hampton and the “Black Panthers” who endeavored to affect social change by recognizing their shared struggle.

Having lived through this era in Chicago I found this film which is primarily old television news footage to have a kind of home-movie quality but full of insight that was not generally shared at the time.

Some other Chicago movies are “Girl on the Third Floor,” “Hala,” “The New Bauhaus” and another world premiere, The Torch,” directed by Jim Ferrell about Chicago Blues legend Buddy Guy.

Keep in mind that many of these films will be available in theaters soon, on Netflix, Roku and wherever you like to view films. So even if you missed them at the festival you can still find most of them someplace soon.

DETAILS:  The 55th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is running through October 27, 2019 at the AMC River East Theaters at 322 E. Illinois Street, Chicago. For tickets and information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.

Reno Lovison

Reno Lovison is a frequent theater reviewer here and Executive Producer at ChicagoBroadcastingNetwork.com where you can find additional video and podcast coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.