Chicago Critics Film Festival – Day Three Report
The Chicago Critics Film Festival Runs May 17th – 23rd. Stephen Tronicek is covering the event for We Are Movie Geeeks
My entire Day Three of the Chicago Critics Film Festival could be defined as me watching a movie, calling it the best film I’ve seen at the festival so far, watching another movie, and rethinking the previous statement.
Yesterday’s line up was one great work after the other and the first feature of the day, Our Time Machine, was no exception. While the film follows the creation of a puppet play written and co-directed by Chinese artist Maleonn, the focus of the piece is not on the play. It is rather on the relationship that created that play: the one between Maleonn and his father. Our Time Machine is a wondrous blend of beautiful puppet imagery and even more beautiful family drama. On top of that, the artistic choices of directors S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun create an excellent amount of dramatic weight. Our Time Machine is currently seeking distribution and should absolutely be picked up. It’s one of the best films of the year.
After this came Olympic Dreams (Jeremy Teicher, 2019), a heartwarming story of budding love that takes place in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Village between a dentist (Nick Kroll) and a cross country skier (Alexi Pappas). Olympic Dreams uses the familiar thematic device of creating a closed environment for love to rise within. There’s an energy about the Olympic Games that makes everything seem heightened and the fact that all of this takes place within an enclosed area only increases the intensity. Kroll and Pappas (an actual Olympic long-distance runner) are both engaging figures but Pappas runs away (pun intended) with the movie with the amount of empathy she can show. Shout out to the crew that shot in the actual Olympic Village too. That must have been difficult.
Speaking of difficult films, this brings us to Riley Stearns’ quite good The Art of Self Defense, which focuses on Jesse Eisenberg’s Casey, a young man who gets sucked into the hierarchy of a local karate dojo. Nothing explored in The Art of Self Defense wasn’t better explored in David Fincher’s Fight Club, but what becomes obvious quickly is that Stearns has a devious ear for dialogue and a sense for salacious setups and payoffs. As the film gets closer and closer to its conclusion it gets better and better, ending on a perfect scene.
The main event of the day was the new Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) film, The Nightingale, a brutal subversion of the revenge genre. After her husband and baby are killed and she is sexually assaulted, Clare (a revelatory Aisling Franciosi) decides to venture into the Australian wilderness in pursuit of the man who did it (Sam Claflin, in a performance far from what he typically plays). The Nightingale has no qualms giving horrifying answers to different revenge questions, but might actually be more interesting when it is exploring the way that the continuing violence creates a mindset where evil can exist. Kent may be shaping up to be a new Claire Denis in her exploration of violence.
Franciosi spoke after the show about the close friendship she had with Sam Claflin and the “detail-oriented” director. When the audience was allowed to ask questions, I decided to do so asking about the use of makeup and prosthetics in the film. Franciosi commenced to more than answering the question, spinning a hilarious yarn about eating lunch around a particularly gory prosthetic. For all the horror of the film, it seems to have been a respectful time on set.
The last film of the night is the best that I’ve seen throughout the festival and quite possibly the best I’ve seen all year. A gut-wrenching story of innocence lost and child soldiers by director Alejandro Landes, Monos stands as an infectious mix of every story of its kind over the last decade paired with moments of transcendentalism. It’s a film that makes you remember the loving hold over the audience a film can provide, drenching you in close-ups. Even better, it seems effortless in doing so.
Day Three of the Chicago Critics Film Festival was close to a perfect day. Not one of the five films I saw was bad, nor did they ever truly drop in quality as each film went on. There was great drama, romance, satire, revenge, and insanity today and I’m all the better for it.