At Cine-File Chicago, I have capsule reviews of Alain Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical and Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams, both of which screen during the first week of the Chicago International Film Festival. Both reviews are reprinted in their entirety below:
Alain Guiraudie’s STAYING VERTICAL (New French)
Alain Guiraudie’s unique brand of pansexual Surrealism has accrued a steady cinephile following since 2001 when his second feature, THAT OLD DREAM THAT MOVES, drew praise from no less a luminary than Jean-Luc Godard. The transgressive director’s international breakthrough didn’t come until 2013, however, when his sexually explicit serial-killer thriller STRANGER BY THE LAKE took Cannes by storm. STAYING VERTICAL, Guiraudie’s darkly comedic follow-up, is as narratively loose and shaggy as STRANGER is tight and compressed, and is likely to puzzle viewers unfamiliar with his non-narrative earlier work. The digressive plot follows the misadventures of Leo (Damien Bonnard), a creatively blocked screenwriter who traverses the French countryside in search of inspiration. After fathering a child with a shepherdess (India Hair) who abandons him to raise the baby alone, Leo encounters a menagerie of male caretakers and father figures of ambiguous sexuality in a series of dreamlike scenes that increasingly gain power in both hilarity and allegorical resonance. Although Guiraudie is more of a poet than a polemicist, this delightfully off-the-wall oddity is perhaps best understood as a provocative defense of gay parenthood in a country where such a notion remains a lightning rod for controversy. (2016, 100 min, DCP Digital) MGS
Marco Bellocchio’s SWEET DREAMS (New Italian)
Even if his films no longer make as big of a splash on these shores as those of younger contemporaries like Paolo Sorrentino or Matteo Garrone, Marco Bellocchio (FISTS IN THE POCKET) remains Italy’s greatest living director. Eschewing the controversial subject matter of recent works like VINCERE and DORMANT BEAUTY, the maestro’s latest feature is a bittersweet drama about the lifelong attempts of journalist Massimo (Valeria Mastrandrea) to come to terms with his mother’s death. By examining how childhood trauma can cast a shadow over an individual’s entire life, this adaptation of Massimo Gramellini’s novel seems both quintessentially Italian (the theme of the cult of “mamma”) and specific to Bellocchio (shuttling between multiple characters and timelines and featuring gorgeous “Rembrandt lighting” throughout). While the sentimentality inherent in the source material will not be for all tastes, I would gladly trade most of the movies I’ve seen in the 2010s for one sequence, a blast of pure cinema, in which the adult Massimo cuts loose on a dance floor to the tune of the Trashmen’s immortal “Surfin’ Bird.” Not a masterwork, perhaps, but certainly the work of a master. (2016, 134 min, DCP Digital) MGS
Check the festival’s website for the most up-to-date showtime information: www.chicagofilmfestival.com.