Chicago International Film Festival awards top prize to French love story ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Jury says period piece expresses “the beauty of women’s solidarity … in a world that rarely seems to be made for them.”

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“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

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The Chicago International Film Festival awarded its big prize, a Gold Hugo, to “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” by French director Céline Sciamma. 

Seven different juries announced winners in various categories on Friday night at Chez, 247 E. Ontario St. Presented by the nonprofit Cinema/Chicago, the 55th annual festival wraps up on Sunday at AMC River East 21.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” was lauded by the International Feature Film jury for expressing “the beauty of women’s solidarity … in a world that rarely seems to be made for them.” The film also won the Silver Q-Hugo from the Out-Look jury. This section of the festival honors “superbly crafted perspectives on sexuality and identity from across the globe.”

Last May, Sciamma’s 1770 love story won the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. An added screening is 7:30 p.m. Sunday. It is scheduled for theatrical release in December.

Other awards by the five-member International Competition Jury include:

• Jury Award Silver Hugo to “Vitalina Varela” (Portugal) by Pedro Costa.

• Best Director Silver Hugo to “The Fever” (Brazil/France/Germany) by Maya Da-Rin. Accepting the award was producer Leonardo Mecchi, who commented: “Every film coming out of Brazil now is an act of resistance.”

• Best Actress Silver Hugo to Debbie Honeywood in “Sorry We Missed You” (UK/France/Belgium).

• Silver Hugo Best Actor to Bartosz Bielenia in “Corpus Christi” (Poland/France).

• Best Screenplay to Pema Tseden for “Balloon” (China).

• Best Sound Design to “Fire Will Come” (Spain/France/Luxembourg). This awardee is nameless since director Oliver Laxe does not list a sound designer. 

• Best Cinematography to Vladimir Smutny for “The Painted Bird” (Czech Republic/Ukraine/Slovak Republic). The cinematographer, who shot on black-and-white film, sent his thanks to the ceremony via a video. Shot in black-and-white, of course.

The New Directors Competition recognizes directors entering their first or second feature. The jury gave a Gold Hugo to Franco Lolli for “Litigante” (France/Colombia), which gets an extra screening at 8:45 p.m. Oct. 27.

Two new directors shared a Silver Hugo: César Díaz for “Our Mothers” (Guatemala/Belgium/France) and Gitanjali Rao for “Bombay Rose” (India/UK/Qatar/France).

The New Directors jury also grants the Roger Ebert Award to “emerging filmmakers with innovative and forward-looking perspectives.” This year’s pick is Maryam Touzani, who directed “Adam” (Morocco/France/Belgium).

The International Documentary Competition gave a Gold Hugo to Eva Mulvad for “Love Child” (Denmark), which screens at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 27. A Silver Hugo went to André Hörmann’s “Ringside” (Germany/U.S.). “ ‘Hoop Dreams’ for boxing” is how festival programmer Anthony Kaufman listed this South Side chronicle.

“And Then We Danced” (Georgia/Sweden/France), directed by Levan Akin, won the Gold Q-Hugo in the Out-Look Competition. Distributed by Music Box Films in Chicago, this coming-out drama set in the Georgian dance scene is Sweden’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars this year.

The Chicago Award for shorts made in Chicago or Illinois went to “Tour Manager” by Ed Flynn.

Michael Kutza, the festival’s retired founder and emeritus CEO, selected Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” for his annual Founder’s Award. Kutza’s criterion is the film that best captures “the spirit of the festival.” In 1967 Kutza gave Scorsese’s first feature, “I Call First”later retitled to Who’s That Knocking at My Door? its world premiere.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago freelance writer.

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