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50th Chicago International Film Festival Preview, Pt. 2

Below is part two of my 50th Chicago International Film Festival preview. The full schedule, with ticket info and showtimes, can be found on the CIFF website here.

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania)
Rating: 9.5

timbuktu

Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako follows up Bamako, his great 2006 indictment of the World Bank and western capitalism, with an equally damning indictment of third-world religious extremism. This lightning-in-a-bottle masterpiece, based on real events that occurred in 2012 but which seem even more prescient following the rise of ISIS, concerns the occupation of the Malian city of Timbuktu by militant Islamist rebels. Sissako’s eye-opening film intertwines several narratives, all of which dramatize the clash between foreign “jihadists” and the moderate Muslim natives of Mali, most prominent among them the story of a cattle farmer (Ibrahim Ahmed) whose wife is coveted by the region’s new extremist ruler. Like last year’s A Touch of Sin, this vital movie offers a keyhole through which viewers can peer into an authentic dramatization of pressing global issues that goes way beyond mere news headlines. What really elevates Timbuktu to the status of essential viewing, however, is the way Sissako brings to his story the point of view of poetry — most evident in a stunningly composed scene of conflict between the cattle farmer and a fisherman, and an exquisitely lovely montage sequence involving a soccer match played without a ball.

Timbuktu screens on Wednesday, October 15 and Thursday, October 16.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia)
Rating: 9.2

babadook

Amelia (Essie Davis), a young nursing-home employee, is tragically widowed in a car accident when her husband drives her to the hospital so she can give birth to their first child. Six years later, she can’t help but associate her troubled son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) with her beloved husband’s death. Amelia is frustrated by Samuel’s seemingly delusional belief that their household is being menaced by a shadowy monster named “Mr. Babadook,” a belief that is given credence by the mysterious arrival in their home of a children’s book of the same title (one of the most terrifying props in film history). This debut feature by Jennifer Kent is the best horror film I’ve seen in ages, not only because it manages to be scary without resorting to cliche — in itself a hugely impressive feat for this genre — but also because its story and characters are so believably rooted in primal, real-world psychological fears. Exceedingly well acted and art-directed (the disturbing intrusion of a red book into a home that is otherwise color-coded blue-gray is but one of the nice touches), The Babadook is already well on its way to achieving deserved cult-classic status.

The Babadook screens on Tuesday, October 21.

Baby Mary (Kris Swanberg, USA)
Rating: 9.0

BabyMary

If you are considering attending one of CIFF’s various shorts programs, you might want to check out “Shorts 1: City and State — Locally Sourced,” which features the work of local Chicago filmmakers. Among the nine mini-movies being offered is Baby Mary, writer/director Kris Swanberg’s follow-up to her criminally underrated feature Empire Builder. In an African-American neighborhood on the city’s west side, an 8-year-old girl attempts to rescue a neighbor’s baby from neglect — taking her home, renaming her “Baby Mary,” and feeding her applesauce. It is lightly hinted that the protagonist’s maternal altruism is a byproduct of neglect at the hands of her own mother but Swanberg’s approach is thankfully more observational than editorial. Like Empire Builder, an otherwise very different film, this poignant but unsentimental short is more interested in raising questions than providing answers. What’s not in doubt is the wealth of feeling packed into its compact nine minutes, making it a far more rewarding experience than most contemporary American features.

Baby Mary screens on Tuesday, October 14, Friday, October 17 and Sunday, October 19. Swanberg will be in attendance for the first and last of these shows.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Sabine Lubbe Bakker/Niels van Koevorden, Holland/Belgium)
Rating: 7.4

nemequittepas

With each passing year, I become more and more interested in non-traditional documentaries. This Belgian/Dutch co-production, accurately described in the CIFF program as a “breakout dark comedy alcoholic bromance,” fits the bill nicely. Eschewing direct-to-camera interviews, co-directors Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden follow the curious and intimate friendship between two rural middle-age men over a span of several months, resulting in an impressive verite doc that unfolds like art-house fiction. The men in question are Bob, a self-styled cowboy with occasional suicidal thoughts, and Marcel, a newly divorced alcoholic father of two, who are depicted as constantly commiserating with one other before, during and after the latter’s stint in rehab. I’m not sure how much the unusually unguarded behavior of the protagonists has to do with their copious alcohol consumption but most of this sad, funny and strange little movie rings true.

Ne Me Quitte Pas screens on Friday, Ocotber 17 and Tuesday, October 21.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

29 responses to “50th Chicago International Film Festival Preview, Pt. 2

  • John Charet

    I have to see all these. Anyway, I am excited about Wednesday. Will you be showing Lady from Shanghai? The reason I ask is because I feel it is a very instructive film to show considering the mirror sequence. Anyway, I am working on a list of great horror films for Halloween. 🙂

  • John Charet

    Kiss Me Deadly is fantastic as well (* * * * out of * * * * stars). In fact, the plot about the suitcase influenced Alex Cox’s Repo Man and some of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

  • John Charet

    Oh yeah, I forgot to add a smile 🙂

  • 50th Chicago International Film Festival Report Card, pt. 1 | White City Cinema

    […] Timbuktu (Sissako, Mauritania/Mali) – Rating: 9.5. Review here. […]

  • Top Ten Films of 2014 | White City Cinema

    […] The Babadook has racked up praise ever since its Sundance debut at the beginning of the year, although much of that has been of the “faint praise” that damns variety. This is hardly surprising given that it belongs to the still-disreputable horror genre. I have no qualms, however, about calling it a bona fide masterpiece. Not only is Aussie writer/director Jennifer Kent’s chiller highly original in conception, genuinely scary and visually striking, it’s also very beautiful as a character study. The complex dynamics of the mother-son relationship at its core — and the way this relationship is so obviously and refreshingly sketched by a female hand — has made the film continue to resonate with me over the past couple months since I first saw it. I am particularly grateful for the enormously satisfying ending in this regard; without giving anything away, please consider how the central location of a cellar might function as a metaphor for a compartment of the human mind in which the protagonist has “locked” certain thoughts and feelings away. Like all of the best monster movies, this is really about monsters from the id. Both Essie Davis (who deserves to go on to Naomi Watts-like fame) as a grief-stricken mother and Daniel Henshall as her psychologically disturbed son give incredible performances. More here. […]

  • Athena Rodriguez

    I’m not a fan of horror films personally but this Australian film is an exception. Jennifer Kent as a female director did a marvelous job in how the relationship develops between Samuel and Amelia throughout the scenes. Kent’s directorial strategy is amazing. In the first half of the film, Kent tells the story through the increasingly bleary eyes of Amelia. Once the nonexistent Babadook starts making himself know everything shifts. In the scene where Amelia is driving, the image in the rearview mirror makes himself be present. This incident provides one of the film’s most jarring and vicious potent sequences. In this particular scenario it becomes Amelia’s turn to play the part of the monster. Sam begins to come off as vulnerable while Amelia’s behavior is vicious and harsh towards her son. She takes on what you might call supernatural proportions. A point made in the film where you can assume it was directed by a female director was all the emotion that Amelia went through. In male directed films there is almost no emotion involved in any scenes. Usually there is nothing but horror throughout the film.

  • Johnny Bear

    In regards to the Babadook, I find the movie’s details to be phenomenal. The underlying psychological motives of most of the movies horror is so much more potent than other horror movies I’ve seen. While I don’t watch horror movies all that often, and am generally not a huge fan of them, I genuinely am pleased that I watched this movie. I specify that I am pleased I watched it in the past tense as I was definitely terrified while watching the movie. Once I had processed it though, I really enjoyed it. I think the part that captivated me the most was the sound design and the timing of the audio within the movie. The audience will always know in the back of their head when the Babadook is present in the movie. From the quick cuts in the background music to the ominous noises throughout the house, the general atmosphere created is quite sinister and creepy. I think the way the music is handled helps to boost the psychological fears bolstered by the movie’s plot. The connections between the Babadook and Amelia’s own denial helps to create a well developed plot that I really think is hard to accomplish in this genre.

  • Madeline Morse

    After watching The Babadook for a second time, and through a more analytical lens, I am far more impressed and equally as distrubed as the first time. Kent’s use of a horror film to illustrate the real struggle of motherhood, compounded with the loss of a spouse, is a genius approach to the genre. The choice in actors makes the film far more terrifying as well as believable. As if children aren’t horrifying enough, the choice in casting Noah Wiseman I feel elevated the film to another level. Additionally, horror films (as well as all genres) usually end in a some what predictable manner, but The Babadook was far from predictable. The idea that grief is being symbolized through the character of the Babadook, and Ameila has to learn to live with it, while creating a healthy relationship with her son is something many families could probably relate to but don’t expect to find it in a horror film.

  • mariam saleem memon

    I really enjoy watching horror movies I know after that I might not sleep the whole night but I still watch it because of the curiosity I have of watching horror movies. by watching this movie “the babadook” directed by Jennifer Kent I never thought a women could direct such a brilliant film I got really scared when I watch this movie like I really couldn’t sleep the whole night thinking about the monster “the Babadook” and the FIRST Australian movie I ever watched I really enjoyed the movie the whole concept of the movie was really interesting it was really different from the rest of the horror movie I have ever watched. horror full of drama full of suspense and the background sound of the film made the film more scary like really scary and the house was also very scary . the movie starts with a women name Amelia who is having this weird dream she is a single mother lost her husband in a car accident on the way of her son name Samuel birth and faces alot of problem of raising the child plus Samuel is really not understanding child as he is seeing the monster The BABADOOK but her mother doesn’t believe until she sees it and there is a part where they put sit together at night and read this book named the babadook which makes all of the movie more interesting and more horror cause that is the part where AMELIA sees the monster the babadook she couldn’t sleep the whole night I really like the acting of the boy Samuel he is just a 6yr old boy doing such a great acting skills the way he is saving his mother and hands down to this little boy even though I got scared looking at the way his mother amelia was possessed it was really scary like way scary I was crying like when Samuel was trying to wake her mom up and trying to make her remind that she was her mother and I also got scared when she just kill the cute dog it was shocking it gave me goosebumps I think the plot would be between the babadooka and amelia’s story as a single mom ending part was amazing and encounter with the monster like screaming telling him to leave like she said you are trespassing her house and to leave her family alone and to just go away after that things were really better shown like an happy ending and shows us the relationship between the mom and son it was really nice which was really amazing so I guess I would recommend this movie to my friends who are a huge fan of horror films yup they should definitely watch this outstanding horror movie.

  • Mo Siddiqui

    I am a big horror movie fan and I really enjoy the ones with a meaning behind it. The Babadook was definitely that horror film for me as it took the struggles of a single mother, living a life as a widow and trying to love her only son, into an incredible horror film. By the end of the film, we see Amelia fight her struggles and fights of the demon to live her life and accept the fact her husband is dead and that she shouldn’t take her frustrations off her son Sam. It is really great to see a female director take on the stage of filming this film and it makes sense for Jennifer Kent to take on the duties as she would understand a woman’s struggle better than anyone. Overall The Babadook is a great film that really shows what a woman can go through and it shows how strong a woman can be.

  • John Kappos

    Babadook by Jennifer Kent is one of the better Horror movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Whenever I watch a paranormal horror movie I always worry that the revelation of the entity/monster is not going to live up to the hype that is built up throughout the film but Babadook did not disappoint. I feel like less is more when revealing the entity/monster and Babadook showed just enough to creep you out but not too much so it overpowers or spoils the creature you’ve built up in your mind. The dark lighting, expressionist visuals and creepy sounds help to build up the scary atmosphere and the performance by Noah Wiseman make this movie great. Little kids can be so creepy. The ending of the movie is different from the usual ending to a horror movie which was really cool too.

  • Jessica R

    I was not excited about watching a horror film so I prepared myself by thinking what the director wants portray through this film. I agree that this film touched on real-world psychological fears. The death of Amelia’s husband was very tragic. Though she was miraculously able to have a child after a car accident, the trauma of losing her husband was unbearable and she did not know how to cope with the idea of losing her husband. After many years of “torturing herself “ with the loss of her husband, it seemed like The Babadook forced her to face her fears and see her son as a child who needs her attention, love, and affection. I personally would not watch this film again but It was refreshing to see a horror film that is “sort of” life like with the storyline portraying the struggles of a grieving widow. I like how the movie ended. Amelia was able to cope with her husbands death but she will never forget him and he will always be a part of her( hence The Babadook locked in the basement).

  • Graeme McCrory

    I think what makes the Babadook particularly interesting as a horror film is that it walks a line between being supernatural horror and psychological horror. A shallow reading of the film has the main characters haunted in a rather typical monster movie, however the “monster” in this movie works much better as a metaphor for Amelia’s mental and emotional state. Her son Sam is a point of conflict in particular as he is not only a little terror of a child rather than a bundle of joy that a mother should love unconditionally, but he also to some extend represents the death of her husband as it was driving to driving to his birth that resulted in his death. The film is filled with instances of connecting the idea of the Babadook as a representation of metal anguish to Amelia’s mental state. One such example is how the book itself references ignoring the Babadook will only make it stronger. We see this idea mirrored in Amelia talking about how she never brings her loss up to her friends and how it has left her all the worse for it. Overall The Babadook is a frightening experience that also gives a very interesting commentary on humanity and the psychology of loss.

  • Ana J Montes

    The Babadook I see it as a psychological horror within the mind of the mom and kid. The Babadook book is fighting to see with how the pictures are drawn. I see the Babadook being a representation of the mothers emotions, specifically negative emotions. Throughout the movie I see the mother trying her best not to show the negative emotions towards her son Sam. The Babadook is manifestation of the negative emotions the mom is never acting out on from wanting to shout to her kid to not letting go of her husband’s death. The harder Amelia is rejecting those feelings the stronger the Babadook is gets. The movie had me really feeling for her as a struggling mother who didn’t know what to do with her son. Towards the end of the movie we see Amelia truly become close to her son when she tells the Babadook not to touch her son, meaning Amelia doesn’t dislike her son or blame him for the death of her husband. The Babadook never disappeared, since it lives in the house of Amelia, being fed by Amelia. When she goes down the basement I believe she lets her emotions out, which helps her mentally from not keeping everything in.

  • Nancy Patel

    I have never watched a horror film and watching Babadook for the first time as a horror film gave me an idea of what to accept in such films and maybe wanting to watch more horror films. I have watched a horror film that contains supernatural horror but I would not consider those film as a horror film because those never provoke a physical response from me specifically. But Babadook definitely provoke a reaction out of me, not only physical but also emotional. I am really impressed by the sound quality uses in the film. The way you hear sounds in the film I think it really helps bring the horror out. Most the sounds used for Babadook, sound like echoing. For example, someone going up the stairs, or the closet opening or lie. At the beginning of the film we see the trouble the kid is going through because of Babadook, and then later the mother going through it. I think that the action of the kid (Samuel) influence the mother’s behavior. She never interacts with anyone else but Samuel, and Samuel knowing what exactly Babadook is, and what its next action going to be, which I think influences Amelia’s behavior. At the end of the film, she learns to love her son and celebrates his birthday. All the psychological troubles she goes through results in her losing her son, the way he wants to be loved, which makes me think that all of this happened because of him. I also agree with the fact that it is just about her past, and she trying to get through her husband’s death. The film teaches a lesson to just accept the way things are rather than just denying it. “The more you deny, the stronger it will get”.

  • Nancy Patel

    I have never watched a horror film and watching Babadook for the first time as a horror film gave me an idea of what to accept in such films and maybe wanting me to watch more horror films. I have watched a horror film that contains supernatural horror but I would not consider those film as a horror film because those never provoke a physical response from me specifically. But Babadook definitely provoke a reaction out of me, not only physical but also emotional. I am really impressed by the sound quality uses in the film. And the way you hear sounds in the film I think it really helps bring the horror out. Most the sounds, sound like echoing. For example, someone going up the stairs, or the closet opening or lie. At the beginning of the film we see the trouble the kid is going through because of Babadook, and then later the mother going through it. I think that the action of the kid (Samuel) influence the mother’s behavior. She never interacts with anyone else but Samuel, and Samuel knowing what exactly Babadook is, or what its next action is going to be, I think he definitely influences Amelia’s behavior. At the end of the film, she learns to love her son and celebrates his birthday. All the psychological troubles she goes through results in her losing her son, the way he wants to be loved, which makes me think that all of this happened because of him. I also agree with the fact that it is just about her past, and she trying to get through her husband’s death. The film teaches a lesson to just accept the way things are rather than just denying it. “The more you deny, the stronger it will get”.

  • Walter Martos Cram

    Babadook by Jennifer Kent is a great psychological and supernatural horror movie. But I absolutely hated it, for no other reason that it’s a horror movie and that it was terrifying and I don’t enjoy being scared.I was so scared I couldn’t watch it till the end and had to leave after Amelia strangled her dog and was tearing something out of her mouth (it looked to me as if she was trying to tear out her tongue). The book that appeared in Samuel’s bedroom “Mr. Babadook” was really disturbing especially when it came back to Amelia after she tore the book apart and the blank pages it used to have were now filled with additional content. For most of the movie I felt sorry for Amelia as well as Samuel (although I thought that Samuel was also rather creepy in the movie) because it was obvious that even though Amelia loved Samuel (can be seen by how she acted in her meeting with the school teacher and the principal) the relationship between the two was strained, partly because of the behavioral problems of Samuel but also because Amelia’s husband died in a car accident when they were heading to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. Samuel on the other hand couldn’t fit in in either school or his family and he just seemed to be in such pain and so lonely.

  • Nancy Patel

    I have never watched a horror film and watching Babadook for the first time as a horror film gave me an idea of what to accept in such films. I have watched a horror film that contains supernatural horror but I would not consider those film as a horror film because those never provoke a physical response from me specifically. But Babadook definitely provoke a reaction out of me, not only physical but also emotional. I am really impressed by the sound quality uses in the film. And the way you hear sounds in the film I think it really helps bring the horror out. Most the sounds, sound like echoing. For example, someone going up the stairs, or the closet opening or lie. At the beginning of the film we see the trouble the kid is going through because of Babadook, and then later the mother going through it. I think that the action of the kid (Samuel) influence the mother’s behavior. She never interacts with anyone else but Samuel, and Samuel knowing what exactly Babadook is, or what the next action is going to be, I think he influences Amelia’s behavior. At the end of the film, she learns to love her son and celebrates his birthday. All the psychological troubles she goes through results in her losing her son, the way he wants to be loved, which makes me think that all of this happened because of him. I also agree with the fact that it is just about her past, and she trying to get through her husband’s death. The film teaches a lesson to just accept the way things are rather than just denying it. “The more you deny, the stronger it will get”.

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