54th Chicago International Film Festival Initial Lineup

Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank star as Ruth and Bridget Keller in WHAT THEY HAD, a Bleecker Street release. Courtesy of TIFF.

The first wave of films was announced this afternoon for this October’s 54th Chicago International Film Festival.  The festival runs October 10-21, 2018 at AMC River East 21.

“We are very excited to be showcasing new films from some of the most impressive directors in the world, whether returning veterans, such as past Gold Hugo-winners Mike Leigh and Hirokazu Kore-eda, or up-and-coming filmmakers with distinctive visions,” said Mimi Plauché, the festival’s artistic director. “For the last several years, the Festival has been proud to present Best Picture winners The Shape of Water (2017), Moonlight (2016), and Spotlight (2015), and we look forward to sharing this year’s incredible slate of movies with our audiences.”

A number of these films will premiere during the fall film festivals as Awards Season officially gets underway.

Birds of Passage (Pájaros de verano)
Directors: Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra
Colombia, Mexico, Denmark

A Colombian Mean Streets, this gripping drama chronicles the rise of the drug trade and its cataclysmic impact on the local indigenous community. The Wayuu people had long held tight onto their traditions, living in close-knit tribes. When two friends begin selling marijuana to visiting Americans, however, their actions set in motion a series of events that pit factions against each other, inciting a cycle of avarice-inspired vengeance. Wayuunaiki, Spanish, and English with subtitles.  

Border (Gräns)
Director: Ali Abbasi
Sweden

Fantastic in every sense of the word, this idiosyncratic thriller centers on a Swedish customs officer with a special talent for detecting contraband who must ultimately choose between good and evil. This exciting, intelligent mix of romance, Nordic noir, social realism, and supernatural horror defies and subverts genre conventions and is destined to be a cult classic. Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival. Swedish with subtitles.

Boy Erased
Director: Joel Edgerton
U.S.

Boy Erased tells the story of Jared (Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town, who is outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) at age 19. Jared is faced with an ultimatum: attend a conversion therapy program—or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith. Boy Erased is the true story of one young man’s struggle to find himself while being forced to question every aspect of his identity.

Cold War (Zimna wojna)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Poland

A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the film depicts an impossible love story in impossible times. Polish with subtitles.

Dogman
Director: Matteo Garrone
Italy

In a run-down Italian coastal town, Marcello, a gentle dog groomer, sees his life turned upside down when Simone, a brutish former boxer and ex-con, bullies him into becoming his criminal accomplice. But for how long can the “dogman” be subservient to his master before he bites back? From the acclaimed director of Gomorrah comes another unflinching urban western treading the fine line between civility and savagery. Italian with subtitles.

Friedkin Uncut
Director: Francesco Zippel
Italy

Oscar-winning, Chicago-born director William Friedkin achieved fame with his 1973 horror blockbuster The Exorcist. But this illuminating documentary shows the director’s unwavering commitment to rawness and realism across his entire career, from The French Connection(1972) to Killer Joe (2011). Featuring interviews with Ellen Burstyn, Willem Dafoe, and Quentin Tarantino, among others, Friedkin Uncut reveals a savvy craftsman who is unapologetic about his no-nonsense approach to moviemaking.

Jumpman (Podbrosy)
Director: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
Russia, Ireland, Lithuania, France

An abandoned infant grows into a likeable lad with a rare disorder—he can feel no physical pain. When he becomes a teen, his feckless mother returns to his life to exploit his condition by enlisting him in an insurance fraud scam. A taut thriller, Jumpman puts an outsider at the center of a harsh indictment of corruption and hypocrisy in contemporary Russia. Russian with subtitles.

Mr. Soul!
Director: Melissa Haizlip
U.S.

The brainchild of pioneering producer Ellis Haizlip, SOUL!  was the first ever national TV series made by and for African-Americans. The groundbreaking program aired from 1968 to 1973 and featured a dazzling array of guests from Stevie Wonder to Maya Angelou. Mr. Soul! takes viewers behind the scenes of the show, chronicling its inception and its struggles to stay on the air. It turns out the revolution really was televised.

Olympia
Director: Gregory Dixon
U.S.

Chicago writer-actor McKenzie Chinn stars as a struggling artist, navigating work and romance in the Windy City. When her boyfriend asks her to drop everything and move cross-country, she soon discovers that she might be the biggest obstacle to her own happiness. Featuring quirky animation and a revelatory central performance, Olympia is a sensitive and humorous look at the challenges of embracing adulthood.

The Other Story
Director: Avi Nesher
Israel

Family disputes and conspiracies take center stage in this lively drama, which even-handedly explores the divide between Israel’s secular Jews and the ultra-Orthodox from director Avi Nesher (The Matchmaker). Sasson Gabai (The Band’s Visit) plays a renowned psychologist and rationalist who falls out with his strong-willed granddaughter when she enters a Haredi community and plans to marry a musician previously known for his wild ways. Hebrew with subtitles.

Peterloo
Director: Mike Leigh
U.K.

An epic portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre, which saw British forces charge into a crowd of over 60,000 that had gathered to protest rising levels of poverty and demand reform. Many were killed and hundreds more injured, sparking a nationwide outcry but also further government suppression. A defining moment in British democracy, the massacre also played a significant role in the founding of The Guardian newspaper.

Piercing
Director: Nicolas Pesce
U.S.

Pesce’s gleefully wicked S&M black comedy centers on Reed (Christopher Abbot), a new father looking to channel his homicidal impulses away from his infant daughter. He heads to a hotel, hires an escort (Mia Wasikowska), then begins to rehearse her murder. But once she arrives, the balance of power shifts. Based on the novel by Ryu Murukami, Piercing’s incredibly dark premise constantly surprises—it might just be taken for a wildly subversive love story.

A Private War
Director: Matthew Heineman
U.S.

In a world where journalism is under attack, Marie Colvin (Academy Award®-nominee Rosamund Pike) is one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time. Her mission to show the true cost of conflict leads her—along with renowned photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan)—to embark on the most dangerous assignment of their lives in the besieged Syrian city of Homs.

Rafiki
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Kenya

A tender tale of forbidden first love told in an electric, colorful Afropop style, Rafiki tells the story of the tender but illegal and taboo romance between Kena, a skateboarding tomboy blessed with great grades and soccer skills, and Ziki, the charismatic daughter of a conservative local politician. When rumors begin to swirl about the nature of their relationship, the young lovers find themselves in great jeopardy. Swahili, English with subtitles.

Ruben Brandt, Collector (Ruben Brandt, a gyüjtö)
Director: Milorad Krstic
Hungary

“Possess your problems to conquer them,” is the credo that psychotherapist Ruben Brandt preaches to his criminally-inclined clients in this stylish, animated thriller for adults. But when Brandt’s patients help him to apply his own advice, he becomes “Ruben Brandt, Collector,” ringleader of a gang responsible for the theft of 13 of the world’s most famous paintings. This entertaining romp literally puts the “art” into “arthouse.”

Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Japan

The winner of Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, centers on an eccentric troupe of miscreants who take in a neglected five-year-old. Despite their strained circumstances, the tight-knit unit of petty thieves and social outcasts comes together to raise the girl. But how long can this unconventional family survive against the normalizing forces around them? From the Japanese master of humanism comes another affecting and astute film about people living on the margins.Japanese with subtitles.

Sorry Angel (Plaire, aimer et courir vite)
Director: Christophe Honoré
France

It’s 1993. Jacques is a successful, novelist from Paris living with what was still a terminal diagnosis of HIV positive. Arthur is an open-minded student ready to embrace life. They meet in Rennes and fall in love, but navigating an intergenerational romance has its challenges. Honoré (Love Songs) chronicles their lives, together and apart, with nuance and subtlety, allowing their love story to unfold in patient, novelistic fashion. French with subtitles.

Transit
Director: Christian Petzold
Germany

In this Kafkaesque cinematic puzzle, a man is trapped in limbo as he tries to flee fascist-occupied France. Hoping to escape to Mexico, Georg poses as a dead author but becomes stuck in Marseilles. There, he encounters a woman searching for her missing husband—the man whose identity he has assumed. Petzold’s surreal film merges past, present and future in its trenchant exploration of the plight of refugees. German with subtitles.

United Skates
Directors: Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown
U.S.

A rousing chronicle of roller-skating’s pivotal role in African-American communities, United Skates careens around the country, offering an intimate look at a lively subculture that’s under threat. Facing discriminatory policies and building closures, committed skaters from around the country—including Chicago’s own Buddy Love—fight to preserve a space for people to come together and express themselves in sliding, bouncing, snapping glory.

What They Had
Director: Elizabeth Chomko
U.S.

From first-time writer/director Elizabeth Chomko, What They Had centers on a family in crisis. Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home to Chicago at her brother’s (Michael Shannon) urging to deal with her ailing mother (Blythe Danner) and her father’s (Robert Forster) reluctance to let go of their life together.

SHORTS
Accidence
Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson
Canada

A grisly murder on an apartment balcony becomes a small piece in a frenzied puzzle of strange occurrences.

Accident, MD
Director: Dan Rybicky
U.S.

A survey of attitudes about America’s healthcare crisis filmed in the small town of Accident, Maryland.

Optimism
Director: Deborah Stratman
U.S.

A portrait of Dawson City Canada’s far North that reveals a rich history of a town looking for gold while enveloped in shadow.

Solar Walk
Director: Réka Bucsi
Denmark

A sumptuously animated cosmic journey through space, time, and creation.

Tourneur
Director: Yalda Afsah
Germany

A foam-filled ring in the south of France becomes the site of an absurd spectacle as young men face off against a bull.

The Chicago International Film Festival runs October 10-21, 2018 at AMC River East 21.  For more information, please click here.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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