Birds Are Singing in Kigali – Mutafukaz – The Line – Call Me By Your Name – The Experimental City – Sea Sorrow – Paris Square

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Chicago Film Festival 2017
Main Competition Jury: Anne Zohra Berrached, Nick Davis (!), Leticia Dolera, Daniel Dubiecki, Tzi Ma


Gold Hugo of the Festival:A Sort of Family, Argentina, dir. Diego Lerman
Silver Hugo:Félicité, Senegal/France/Belgium, dir. Alain Gomis
Best Director:Birds Are Singing in Kigali, Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze
Best Actress:Birds are Singing in Kigali, Jowita Budnik and Eliane Umuhire
Best Actor:Arrhythmia, Aleksandr Yatsenko
Best Screenplay:A Man of Integrity, Mohammad Rasoulof
Best Cinematography:Hannah, Chayse Irvin
Best Art Direction:The Line, Václav Novak
 
DocuFest Gold Hugo*:
 
The Other Side of the Wall, Spain/Mexico, dir. Pau Ortiz
Docufest Silver Hugo*:Mr. Gay Syria, France/Germany/Turkey, dir. Ayse Toprak
 
New Directors Gold Hugo*:
 
No Date, No Signature, Iran, dir. Vahid Jalilvand
New Directors Silver Hugo*:The Charmer, Denmark, dir. Milad Alami
 
Q Hugo Award*:
 
BPM (Beats Per Minute), France, dir. Robin Campillo
Q Hugo Silver Hugo*:God's Own Country, UK, dir. Francis Lee
 
Founder's Award:
 
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro
Roger Ebert Award:Killing Jesús, Colombia, dir. Laura Mora
Audience Choice Award (Narrative)**: 
TBA
Audience Choice Award (DocuFest)**:TBA
 
* These awards are determined by separately constituted juries
** Voted by the public, and announced later than the other awards


Features I Saw at CIFF:
Ranked in order of preference
 
My Golden Hugo
Western (World Cinema; Germany/Bulgaria/Austria, dir. Valeska Grisebach) - Genius intervention into its titular genre—narratively, spatially, and politically—but sublimely achieves its own identity.

Life and Nothing More (U.S. Indies; Spain, dir. Antonio Méndez Esparza) - Quietly astonishing, beat after beat. Rich, round portraits. Non-professionals beat every other cast at TIFF.

Birds Are Singing in Kigali (International Competition; Poland, dirs. Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze) - Rwandan genocide drama holds specifics and universals in taut, careful balance. Innovative direction.

A Ciambra (World Cinema; Italy/U.S./France/Germany, dir. Jonas Carpignano) - The tactile throb of Arnold, the steel-cable tension of Audiard. Coming of age and into crime, messily but so memorably.

A Man of Integrity (International Competition; Iran, dir. Mohammad Rasoulof) - Haunting crime story about a guy trying to say no to crime. Sharp on corruption that can't or won't see itself.

A Sort of Family (International Competition; Argentina, dir. Diego Lerman) - Well-shot black-market adoption drama as tense as any thriller. Complex analyses of region, characters, politics.

Félicité (International Competition; Senegal/France/Belgium, dir. Alain Gomis) - Ripe premise for maternal melodrama, complicated by stubbornly opaque heroine. Unusual structure. Vivid Congolese milieu.

The Charmer (New Directors Competition; Denmark, dir. Milad Alami) - Iranian in Denmark must find a wife or be deported back home. Tense, handsome beat-the-clock drama, craftily layered.

Mr. Gay Syria (Documentary Competition; Turkey/Germany/France, dir. Ayşe Toprak) - Pageant build-up is delicious, inspiring, and complex, and that's not even half the film. Deeply humane document.

Call Me By Your Name (Special Presentations; Italy/France/Brazil/USA, dir. Luca Guadagnino) - Starts out gawky and rushed but hits its stride in the second half, and it's a very difficult stride to hit.

Arrhythmia (International Competition; Russia, dir. Boris Khlebnikov) - Bringing Out the Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Ace cast in colorful, chaotic portrait of erratic EMT in crisis-prone Russia.

They (New Directors/OutLook/City & State; USA, dir. Anahita Ghazvinizadeh) - Equally bold and delicate—itself a feat. Young trans protagonist retains watchful reserve but is very much part of the world.

Closeness (World Cinema; Russia, dir. Kantemir Balagov) - Tough drama that touches raw nerves around patriarchy, sexuality, and cultural identity. Powerfully shot and structured.

The Line (International Competition/Spotlight: Film Noir; Slovakia/Ukraine, dir. Peter Bebjak) - Tautly plotted, deftly directed noir, like Animal Kingdom in Eastern Europe. Visuals, actors keep old tropes fresh.

Princess Cyd (City & State/OutLook; USA, dir. Stephen Cone) - Another Cone film that loves its characters—even the light loves them—without diluting their ideas or contradictions.

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (World Cinema/OutLook; France, dir. Robin Campillo) - Loving, detailed tribute to ACT-UP Paris in early 90s. Narrows focus over time; short on style. Still, moving.

12 Days (Documentary Competition; France, dir. Raymond Depardon) - Depardon retains his clinically observational style, capturing some haunting patient-judge exchanges. Might he offer more?

The Square (Special Presentations; Sweden, dir. Ruben Östlund) - I prefer Östlund's scene-building to his image-making or storytelling. Fits and starts, but flashes of wit and lucidity.

Scary Mother (New Directors Competition; Georgia/Estonia, dir. Ana Urushadze) - Sharp study of an artist whose surreal genius is lost on her family. Or is she actually mad? Lots here—maybe too much.

God's Own Country (World Cinema/OutLook; UK, dir. Francis Lee) - Men's bodies and souls as loamy, thistly, hardscrabble terrains to tend and touch. Sweeter than you may guess.

Gemini (International Competition/Spotlight: Film Noir; USA, dir. Aaron Katz) - Clever plotting, cool score, good jokes, and a Lola Kirke-Zoë Kravitz bond that keeps showing new layers. Tiny but skillful.

Let the Sun Shine In (World Cinema; France, dir. Claire Denis) - Fun to see actress and director loosen up and Godard shoot with casual elegance. I still prefer tougher Denis.

Hannah (Main Competition; Italy/France/Belgium, dir. Andrea Pallaoro) - Split. Ended up impressed, albeit coldly. There's a reason ads aren't foregrounding plot. Seems broad, reveals specificity.

In the Fade (World Cinema; Germany, dir. Fatih Akin) - If it feels sterner, tighter, and less hopeful than The Edge of Heaven, so does the world. Kruger rewards Akin's trust.

The Other Side of the Wall (Documentary Competition/Cinemas of the Americas; Spain/Mexico, dir. Pau Ortiz) - Compact, prize-winning documentary more distinguished by moving tale than formal finesse. Enough for me!

Golden Years (World Cinema/OutLook; France, dir. André Téchiné) - Téchiné's deceptively subdued style still yields Louvre-ready images. Story not always served by a fussy structure.

Thelma (Main Competition; Norway/Sweden/France, dir. Joachim Trier) - Think Carrie, refashioned as anomic poetry rather than pyro-pubescent delirium...at first. Not always coherent, which is fine.

The Other Side of Hope (International Competition; Finland, dir. Aki Kaurismäki) - Hats off to Kaurismäki for applying his style to more political subjects, even if it exposes his weaknesses.

The Workshop (International Competition; France, dir. Laurent Cantet) - First hour repeats The Class's feat of nimbly managing a vibrant non-professional ensemble but second half stalls out.

November (World Cinema; Estonia/The Netherlands/Poland, dir. Rainer Sarnet) - Starts with a monster made of axes and skulls lifting a cow high in the sky. Stays vigorously weird. Delicious monochrome.

Rogers Park (City & State/U.S. Indies; USA, dir. Kyle Henry) - Loved its observant modesty. I preferred tone, tempo of first half to those of second. Strong cast, especially Sevigny.

Beauty and the Dogs (World Cinema; Tunisia/France/Sweden/Norway, dir. Kaouther Ben Hania) - Beat by beat, could use more polish; cast a mixed bag. But core story is powerful and the staging is ambitious.

Blueprint (Black Perspectives/City & State/U.S. Indies; USA, dir. Daryl Wein) - Psychologically and communally insightful local indie. Rough around some edges; story could use more room. Strong leads.

The Shape of Water (Closing Night; USA, dir. Guillermo del Toro) - Del Toro's worlds feel both lushly and thinly imagined; his dreams are unique but I am squarely outside them.

Wind Traces (International Competition; Mexico, dir. Jimena Montemayor Loyo) - Portrait of family grief shows technical and atmospheric promise but feels pretty underdeveloped on the story front.

The Rape of Recy Taylor (Documentary Competition/Black Perspectives; USA, dir. Nancy Buirski) - Distills an important story. More effective as a short? Very moving interviews. Fresh takes on Rosa Parks.

Mudbound (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Dee Rees) - Ambition, theme, logic all clear—maybe too clear? Lensing, acting can be thin, structure episodic. Still worth your time.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Special Presentations; USA/UK, dir. Martin McDonagh) - Fierce moral premise diluted and distorted by compulsive, "comic" flippancy. Badly shot.

Sea Sorrow (Documentary; UK, dir. Vanessa Redgrave) - Impassioned and urgent, at times disheveled. Paradoxes of high-born radicalism are evident but so is true conviction.

To be clear, I'd recommend buying tickets to all movies above this line.

Barrage (World Cinema; Luxembourg/Belgium/France, dir. Laura Schroeder) - Occasionally exposes interesting mother-daughter tensions but Lolita Chammah is much too vague as the lead. Visually flat.

Paris Square (International Competition; Brazil, dir. Lúcia Murat) - Passô's performance is strong, but little else jells in this fragmented film. Critiques racism; at times commits it.

Sicilian Ghost Story (International Competition/Spotlight: Film Noir; Italy, dirs. Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza) - Starts in a heightened, folkloric style, overdone but unique. Steadily more mismanaged in look, sound, story.

Marshall (Opening Night; USA, dir. Reginald Hudlin) - Disheartening that this is the case Hollywood chose to commemorate. Thurgood muted. Bad lensing. Boseman, Brown stranded.

The Confession (International Competition; Georgia/Estonia, dir. Zaza Urushadze) - Dully picturesque for ages, blowing vague kisses at The Movies. Undermotivated freakout in last act. Bad on gender.

Samui Song (International Competition/Spotlight: Film Noir; Thailand, dir. Pen-ek Ratanaruang) - Sometimes the postman don't ring at all. No excuse for this lurid, literal retread; awkward and off-putting throughout.


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