From strange sci-fi experimental films to intimate portraits of female sexuality, the 55th Chicago International Film Festival had something for everyone. The 14 East staff chose the best and most interesting films they saw at the festival as a part of our Film Issue.
Outside of her review of And Then We Danced, Associate Editor Marissa De La Cerda also watched:
Hala, dir. Minhal Baig.
Female coming-of-age films are always great to watch, but it’s even more refreshing to me when teenagers of color are given the same nuance as their white counterparts. Minhal Baig’s Hala is a boldly sensitive film about Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) trying to connect both sides of her Pakistani and American identity. Like other teenagers, she is trying to navigate the complexities of hormones and relationships, but as the only daughter of immigrants, she must also grapple with letting go of tradition in a culture and a household that make it hard to do so. Though the film had its flaws (some minor storytelling inconsistency and odd camera framing), it was a great look at a Muslim teenager finding her own sexual agency. It was an even greater look at the reality that first-generation Americans are always negotiating their identities, attempting to discover which one, if any, is worth being abandoned.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, dir. Miguel Llanso.
Sometimes all a film needs to be is a bizarre amount of fun for me to think it’s good and, well, bizarre is one word to describe Jesus Shows You The Way to the Highway. Described as a “WTF thriller” by the film’s marketing team, the film follows CIA agents DT Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldtrich (Agustín Matéo) as they fight off a computer virus nicknamed “Soviet Union,” capable of controlling the supercomputer the country is run by. Throughout their mission, the two wear paper Robert Redford and Richard Pryor masks. To make things wackier, the film enters alternate dimensions and virtual reality as our heroes fight off masked politicians through stop-motion and lo-fi aesthetics. It’s a wild adventure that pushes its own boundaries sometimes, but one thing is for certain — a new cult film has been born.
Outside of their reviews of Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Knives and Skin, Staff Illustrator Jenni Holtz watched:
Carmilla, dir. Emily Harris.
Carmilla is a wildly entertaining film based on the classic gothic vampire novella of the same name written by Sheridan Le Fanu. The film is set in an isolated home in late eighteenth century England where Lara (Hannah Rae) lives with her father (Greg Wise) and Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine), a guardian who stepped in after Lara’s mother died. One night, a mysterious carriage crash leaves an injured young woman, referred to as Carmilla, stranded at the home. As she recovers, things get increasingly ominous and mystical. Carmilla and Lara develop a special bond that threatens to ruin both of their lives. The film explores themes of budding sexuality through this twisted tale of a young girl’s life. Carmilla doesn’t fit neatly into any particular genre. It contains elements of horror, drama, thriller and period pieces. Ultimately, it is a character study of Lara during a pivotal moment in her adolescence. The film makes the audience feel what Lara’s experiencing by slowly increasing tension through the use of sound and macro shots of worms, beetles and all sorts of other creepy crawly creatures. The sound, especially during these macro shots, is amplified, creating an ASMR-like sensation. The slightest movement can cause the audience to gasp and jolt, taking Carmilla from being a run-of-the-mill period piece to a unique historical thriller.
Multimedia Editor Natalie Wade Picks:
Clemency, dir. by Chinonye Chukwu.
In no way is Clemency a feel-good movie. It’s devastating, heart-wrenching and sometimes hard to watch, but it tells a powerful story. Clemency exposes the toll capital punishment takes on all who are involved, as warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) and death row inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) are both completely powerless and plagued by depression and insomnia as the date of Woods’ lethal injection grows closer. It’s a film that shows us the harsh reality of modern day execution and it doesn’t pull any punches, tugging at heartstrings thanks to its powerhouse cast. A slow burn, the film forces its audience to question a grim reality as two heavily burdened characters lose all hope. It leaves you with just as many questions are you’re given answers.
Header gif by Natalie Wade