The 2019 Chicago International Film Festival, beginning Wednesday, entertains and enlightens with 132 features, 51 shorts and five VR experiences of immersive cinema. Now in its 55th year, this 11-day showcase of world cinema offers lessons of humanity and inhumanity.
Opening night presents “Motherless Brooklyn” (6:30 p.m. Wednesday). Edward Norton writes and directs a 144-minute thriller about seamy politics of New York City based on Jonathan Lethem’s 1994 novel. Norton plays a private detective with Tourette Syndrome. VIP $100 tickets include an after-party in Union Station.
Closing night is “The Torch” (6 p.m. Oct. 27). Jim Farrell documents Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Both are slated to attend the after-party for VIP $75 tickets.
In between come new works directed by Gael García Bernal, Pedro Costa, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Rian Johnson, Yorgos Lanthimos, Kasi Lemmons, Ken Loach, François Ozon, Elia Suleiman and Agnès Varda. Subtitled dialogue includes Azerbaijani, Bambara, Galician, Mayan Ixil, Tukano and even Slavic Esparanto.
Movie theaters deliver communal experiences that online streaming and personal screens never can. “Festivals create an exciting electric atmosphere to see a film,” says Mimi Plauché, artistic director of the annual event by the nonprofit Cinema/Chicago.
Amazon Studios will put four new features on big screens at AMC River East 21. Bob Berney, former head of marketing and distribution at Amazon Studios, will speak at an Industry Days sidebar titled “Keynote Conversation: Theatrical Campaigns and Streaming Wars” (4:30 p.m. Oct. 18). A Netflix release screens too: “The Irishman” by Martin Scorsese.
Five ad writers at Ogilvy composed 55 answers to the question “What Role Will You Play?” for a clever demographic of moviegoers. One “casting call” reads: “Looking for new parents who want to go on a life-altering cinematic journey but only have the sitter until 10 p.m.” The outreach of this pro bono partnership is appearing on 27 bus stops and 800 posters.
Ten recommended programs follow.
‘The Whistlers’ (Romania/France/Germany) Bird-like whistling from the Canary Islands equips crooks with a code for evading dirty cops. A nifty noir by Corneliu Porumboiu, who made “Police, Adjectif.” 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17; 5:45 p.m. Oct. 18.
‘The New Bauhaus’ (U.S.) Alysa Nahmias designs an aptly stylish documentary on the life, ideas and impact of Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy, who taught design in Chicago. 5:45 p.m. Oct. 17; 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago.
‘Just 6.5’ (Iran) Saeed Roustaee examines the corrosive drug crisis in this arresting police saga about professionally compromised cops. A rare fest entry that was big at the box office back in its country of origin. 8:30 p.m. Oct. 17; 11:45 p.m. Oct. 19; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 22.
‘The Kingmaker’ (U.S./Denmark) Lauren Greenfield lets Imelda Marcos enact her self-caricature as the self-professed mother of The Philippines. Devious and oblivious, she envisions a family dynasty. Of course, there’s a blink-and-miss-it photo of her and Donald Trump. 8:15 p.m. Oct. 18; 1:45 p.m. Oct. 19.
‘Knives and Skin’ (U.S.) Chicago filmmaker Jennifer Reeder uses Lemont, Illinois, locations for an entrancing twist on teen film tropes. A drum major is missing and her classmates handle the aftermath with parents (and one pervy principal). 9 p.m. Oct. 18 (at Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago); 9:45 p.m. Oct. 19.
‘Forman vs Forman’ (Czech Republic) Jakub Hejna and Helena Třeštíková portray Holocaust orphan Milos Forman and his lifelong pursuit of cultural freedom. Includes clips of his early films, long before “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus.” 11:30 a.m. Oct. 19; 2:45 p.m. Oct. 21.
‘Extracurricular’ (Croatia) Ivan-Goran Vitez’s acidic take on a corrupt mayoral campaign depicts a dad with anger and custody issues who brings a Barbie doll and a hunting rifle to his daughter’s third grade classroom. A blackly comic take down of a town’s moral rot. 8:45 p.m. Oct. 19; 3:30 p.m. Oct 20.
‘Les Miserables’ (France) Ladj Ly returns to the neighborhood where he once videotaped police brutality to illuminate ongoing tensions with residents. A very French “Do the Right Thing” redux. 2 p.m. Oct. 20; 5:45 p.m. Oct. 21.
‘Balloon’ (China) Tibetan boys blow up a condom to improvise a balloon. Pregnancy ensues. Pema Tseden sensitively weighs official family policy, reincarnation and female liberty. 5:45 p.m. Oct. 20; 8:15 p.m. Oct. 21.
‘A Hidden Life’ (U.S./Germany) Terrence Malick dramatizes the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to serve Nazis. Expansive yet intimate wide-angle vistas frame an epic of anti-state ethics. 8:30 p.m. Oct 23.
Bill Stamets is a Chicago freelance writer.