Mini Reviews of 16 Films that I saw at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival (rated from zero stars to four)

by Vittorio Carli (longer versions of some of these reviews may appear in other publications)

The Age of Ignorance **** (Canada)

Denys Arcand’s devilishly clever follow-up to his Oscar winning, “The Barbarian Invasions” is much lighter than his previous feature. It depicts a man who races through rush hour traffic jams every day in order to get to his demoralizing job. His main duty is to find legal reasons for turning down catastrophe victims that justly ask for government money. His ultra ambitious wife is so busy selling real estate that she has no time to give her husband love, affection, or sex. He deals tolerates his meaningless life by having elaborate fantasies—many of which deal with model-thin, sexually available women or murder. This witty film takes aim at some of the most absurd aspects of modern life and hits almost all of its bullesyes. The script is a hilarious blend of Kafka, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and Don DeLilo’s “White Noise (The satirical novel not the horror film.) One of the best existential comedies ever. 109 minutes. French with English sub-titles


Charm School **1/2 (Mexico)

Film about a rebellious teen performance artist who must allow herself to be domesticated is brash and amusing in its first half. But it loses its momentum and way in the last half. This “My Fair Lady Like” plot wouldn’t worked better with more of a feminist twist, but the classic performance art scene and Martha Higareda’s gutsy performance almost redeems it. 100 minutes, Spanish with English sub-titles


Chicago 10 *1/2 (USA)

This movie combines decent documentary footage of the ’68 Democratic Convention with cartoon reenactments of the Chicago 7 trial which serve to trivialize the events. This undercooked stew does not go down very well. 103 minutes


Control ***1/2 (UK)

Sam Riley (Samantha Morton is almost as good as his suffering wife) provides the festival’s best performance as the tragic ill fated singer, Ian Curtis, who struggled against his epilepsy and his inner demons, and a crumbling marriage. The stylized black and white photography works perfectly, and the film haunted me for weeks after I saw it. Based on a biography by Curtis’s widow titled “Touching from a Distance.” 121 minutes


Honeydripper *** (USA)

Warm hearted and humanistic drama about a down on his luck bar owner (Danny Glover) who must make a huge sum of money in one weekend in order to save his club. He has books Guitar Sam, (a star with a chart hit) to play a set on Saturday. But the singer is in the hospital and can’t make it, so the owner prays for a quick miracle. A wise blind seer guides him in the right direction. This quasi mystical John Sayles film is talky and it starts out slow, but the marvelous pay-off at the end is worth the wait. Charming and ultimately hard to resist. 123 minutes


Irina Palm zero (Belgium/Germany/Luxemberg/UK/France)

Marianne (“Broken English”) Faithfull masturbates anonymous men in a sex club in order to pay for her uninsured grandson’s medical bills. This demoralizing, repellant, unsavory film made me want to vomit and fall asleep at the same time. It might be the worst film I have ever seen at the Chicago International Film Festival, and it helped ruin my whole evening. 103 minutes


The Last Mistress ***1/2 (France/Italy)b>

Director Catherine Breilat is mostly known for doing sex heavy movies that straddle the line between art and porn (like “Fat Girl”). Here, she tackles a traditional costume drama and succeeds gloriously. The story deals with a seasoned and somewhat sadistic mistress who competes with a younger and less interesting woman for her lover’s affection. Former scream queen, Asia Argento. finally comes into her own as a dramatic actress in the lead and gives a glorious performance that is more tough than tender (we feel more sympathy for her once we see the flashbacks of her tragic past). Filled with witty dialogue, sumptuous scenery, some class commentary, great looking women, and stunning period costumes. 114 minutes. French with English sub-titles


Look ***1/2 (United States)

(United States) Highly compelling and somewhat disturbing drama includes little vignettes that are shot on surveillance cameras which often capture neighborhood people at there worse. The three main stories include a flirtatious high school girl plotting to seduce her teacher, a socially dysfunctional insurance salesman who is constantly teased by his co-workers, and two “Clerks” like slackers who encounter a pair of killers at a convenience store. The film uses film technology well and is almost as paranoia inducing as Coppola's classic “The Conversation.” It shows that the prophetic bathroom scene in “Modern Times” may have come true. The film would have rated even higher except it sometimes betrays its own concept and includes sound with the wordless footage. 121 minutes


Lovesickness ***1/2 (Puerto Rico)

Charming and moving film follows three love experienced by people in different stages in life. The best one involves a love triangle between a three senior citizens: a woman, and her two ex husbands. There other tales involve a boy’s crush and a middle aged man who tries to force a female bus driver to marry him. 85 minutes, In Spanish with English sub-titles

Opium: Diary of a Madwoman *** (Hungary)

A morphine addicted doctor treats a disturbed patient by dunking her in water and giving her shock treatment. She obsessively writes and part of the film comes from her diary observations. Occasionally self indulgent but absorbing look into the brutality of early 20th century psychiatric care reinforces everything Foucault wrote about in his new historicist classic, “Birth of the Clinic.” 110 minutes. Hungarian with English sub-titles Pudor ** (Spain) Tedious, sleep inducing melodrama about a dysfunctional family and the immeasurable distance between them. 113 minutes, In Spanish with English subtitles The Signal ** (USA) Film about a signal that makes people go insane owes something to George Romero’s “The Crazies,” but it never equals that film. “The Signal” lacks any twisted wit or over the top gore, and its blander plus more mainstream than the somewhat similar “28 Days Later.”

Stuck ***(USA)

Fairly predictable but well executed black comedy/thriller by former horror film master and homegrown Chicago native, Stuart Gordon. The film depicts the real life case of a drugged up nurse who hit a pedestrian. She actually drove home with him in his windshield and kept him a prisoner because she didn’t want to risk losing a promotion. Mena (“American Beauty”) Suvari shines as the utterly ruthless woman and Stephen(“The Crying Game”) Rea is fine as the victim. At times the story strains credibility event though its allegedly based on a true story. 94 minutes

Taxi to the Dark Side ***1/2 (United States)

Riveting documentary takes aim at the USA’s current torture policies and hits the bullesye. The plot deals with an Afghan man taxi driver who is arrested with flimsy evidence and brutalized in an off shore American Gulag. 106 minutes, in English and Pashtu with English sub-titles

We Are Together **(UK) A noble, well intentioned but artless documentary about the Agape Orphanage, a place that teaches orphans to sing. Paul Simon does an obligatory cameo, but the style of the film never rises to the level of the content. Although this was the shortest film I saw so far in the festival, it seemed the longest. 86 minutes, English and Zulu with English sub-tiles

You the Living ***(Sweden)

Roy Andersson’s surreal black comedy is not quite as strong or inventive as his previous “Songs from the Ocean Floor” but it has some great moments. The hilarious prayer sequence and funeral scene are two of the most irreverent and hilarious moments of the year. It might take another viewing for me to fully digest it. Parts of it are as good as anything else at the festival. 94 minutes, Swedish with English subtitles

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Vittorio Carli teaches at Moraine Valley Community College,  Richard J. Daley College, and Morton College.  E-mail him at

© 2007

Photography by Richard Wilson

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