The 2015 Chicago International Film Festival – Part 2

It’s time once again for the Chicago International Film Festival. The 2015 edition is the 51st Annual, and, unless I indicate otherwise, all films will be shown at the AMC River East Theaters at 322 E. Illinois St. in Chicago.

Part 1 is here.

“Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories.” credit: Urban Distribution Intl.

Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories (Cha Và Con Và) (Vietnam, 2015) is another entry in the “ensemble cast of attractive post-adolescent urbanites solve the mysteries of their young lives” genre. It emulates dozens of similar films like Wong Kar Wei’s Chungking Express or Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Millennium Mambo, where characters and their interconnections aren’t driven so much by a particular story as they are by a number of tangential or intersecting smaller stories. The characters here are all pretty agreeable (which is rarer than you think in these films); they seem familiar without feeling stereotypical or cliché, and they’re contending with issues wrought by both Western influences (factory labor, the working poor, loan sharks, black markets) and traditional Vietnamese custom (arranged marriage). The surface elements of the loose plot – young photography student Vu (Le Cong Hoang) and his friends work, party and couple in Saigon until another of their friends, a musician / singer, runs violently afoul of a local loan shark and they flee to Vu’s father’s houseboat in the country, where they continue partying and coupling.

Written and directed by Phan Dang Di, I found the film to be pretty smart and well-structured for its languorous overall tone, and visually beautiful without showing it off or upstaging the action (Nguyen K’Linh is the cinematographer, and he does wonderful work here. That combination of tropical fecundity and uniquely beautiful Southeast Asian light that Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tran Anh Hung employ has been discovered and wrought by K’Linh as well). A good film, not a great one, but I’ll certainly keep an eye out for Phan’s subsequent work.

‘Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories’ will be shown on Friday, October 16th at 9:45 pm, Monday the 19th at 1:00 pm (an $8.00 matinee) and Saturday, October 24th at 12:15 pm.

Magaly Solier in

Magaly Solier in “Magallanes.” credit: ©2015 Tondero

There’s a fairly detailed scenario that led to the economic upheavals of 1990s Peru, as well as other Latin American countries – if you’re feeling curious, just look up the concept of “chronic inflation.” In Peru, the apparent solution was to create a new currency, the nueva sol, which was the equivalent of one billion old soles. GDP plunged, and the per capita income of average Peruvians fell to 1960 levels, leading to a fair amount of social upheaval (as you might imagine) and the rise of violent rebel militias in the outlying rural areas of the country. That things didn’t erupt into outright civil war in the ‘90s seems almost miraculous. But war there certainly was, and a sad number of ‘terrorist’ atrocities thereof on the insurgent side as well as from governmental forces.

Salvador del Solar is a well-known Peruvian actor making his directorial debut with the powerful and involving Magallanes (Mexico, 2014). Harvey Magallanes (veteran Mexican actor Damián Alcázar) was part of the Peruvian military years ago, and he still carries much of it with him. He’s a cab driver in Lima, but he also still serves as a part-time chauffeur to his former commanding colonel, who is now elderly and succumbing to Alzheimer’s. One day a woman assists a friend of hers by hailing his cab, and his surprising passenger summons dark and profound memories from his past. The mercenary in him wants to use this turn of events to his own advantage, but as the plot thickens, he starts vacillating between his own welfare and how he might help others as well. His intentions are, if not good, at least understandable, but each new bright idea carries more risks than the previous one.

This is all pretty familiar film-noir territory – a good-hearted mug leading a slightly soiled life sees an opportunity for redemption and riches, and must then calculate how much of his soul to cash in, and how many friends he may lose, to reap the desired benefits. The historical echoes of a wartime past are also a big issue here, just as they are in Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, also screening here at the Fest. I found this film to be intense and darkly thrilling in effective proportion; del Solar gets notably gracious and emotional performances from his entire cast (especially Magaly Solier and Christian Meier), and he collaborates well with cinematographer Diego Jiménez to differentiate Lima, and the characters’ world, from more typical urban thrillers. This is another film that may not get a lot of distribution after the Fest, and shouldn’t be missed while it’s here.

‘Magallanes’ screens on Sunday, October 18th at 2:00 pm, Monday the 19th at 8:30 pm and Tuesday the 20th at 11:30 am (an $8.00 matinee).

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