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2023 Chicago film festival: 10 movies to see

Fest brings 12 days of opportunity to see entertaining works tackling topics from the Ukraine invasion to Iranian bureaucracy to 19th century French cuisine.

“Critics Welcome” is the new tagline for the 59th Chicago International Film Festival. Everybody’s a critic, goes the saying, so that means everyone is welcome to appreciate and critique 104 features and 57 shorts over the 12-day run of the cinema extravaganza. 

Also new is festival venue Newcity 14, formerly the ArcLight Cinemas, in Lincoln Park. And for the first time, the Gene Siskel Film Center is devoting its two screens exclusively to festival screenings. The Music Box Theatre once again hosts much fest fare, including opener “We Grown Now” at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Reprising last year’s free street fair celebration, the festival takes over Southport Avenue between Grace and Waveland on opening night from 5 to 10 p.m. 

Over 70 filmmakers will appear in person at various screenings.

The non-profit Cinema/Chicago, founded by Michael Kutza, presents the festival, continuing through Oct. 22.

Here are 10 recommended films picked from what I could preview by press time.

Dramas

“Goodbye Julia” (Sudan) Mohamed Kordofani portrays a Christian maid and her Muslim employer in Khartoum over five years. Damnable and damaging lies are observed with empathy. The backdrop is the political violence as the country of Sudan splits in two. North American Premiere (Oct. 12, 5:15 p.m. AMC; Oct. 14, 12:30 p.m., Siskel)

“Joram” (India) A young couple flee a tribal rebellion against a mining company. Five years later in faraway Mumbai they are targeted as terrorists. After seeing the final scene of Devashish Makhija’s expertly crafted political thriller, you will know a sequel is coming. North American Premiere (Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. AMC; Oct. 13, 8:15 p.m. AMC)

“The Taste of Things” (France) Tran Anh Hung directs Juliette Binoche playing a genius chef in the 19th century French countryside. Her relationships with her companionate employer and a young girl seeking a mentor make this drama more compelling than mere “food porn.” (Oct. 13, 7:45 p.m. AMC; Oct. 14, 5:15 p.m. AMC; Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m. AMC)

“Family Portrait” (U.S) Lucy Kerr offers an allusive album of interchanges among members of a Texas family who assemble for their annual portrait. A virtuoso moving camera frames this concise 73-minute exercise set in spring 2020. An unnamed pandemic looms. North American Premiere (Oct. 14, 3:15 p.m., AMC; Oct. 16, 6:15 p.m. Siskel)

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World” (Romania/ Luxembourg/ France/ Croatia) Writer-director Radu Jude is the auteur-provocateur du jour. In this rude 163-minute saga, a production assistant shoots videos of injured workers for a Bucharest ad agency. An executive Zooms from Chicago with a giant Trump Tower photo in the background. From the cheeky cynic who made “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.”(Oct. 15, 7:45 p.m. AMC; Oct. 21, 8 p.m. Siskel)

Terrestrial Verses” (Iran) Co-directors Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami skewer the theocratic logic of bureaucrats in a series of 10 encounters, most of them between an Iranian citizen and an off-camera official. A filmmaker seeking a permit is told: “We are trying to stop Western cultural hegemony.” (Oct. 19, 6 p.m. AMC; Oct. 20, 2:45 p.m. AMC)

Documentaries

“Alien Island” (Chile/ Italy) Cristóbal Valenzuela stages several knowing re-enactments that mix with archival footage and interviews to deconstruct a UFO-obsessed cult in the Pinochet era. Wonderfully weird. Spoiler: It’s deemed a documentary. U.S. Premiere (Oct. 17, 5:15 p.m. AMC; Oct. 18, 2 p.m. Siskel)

“Anselm” (Germany) Wim Wenders profiles the prolific German artist Anselm Kiefer in this masterful 3-D documentary. In style and insight he far surpasses his earlier portrait of an avant-garde choreographer in “Pina.” (Oct. 19, 6 p.m., Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.)

“After Work” (Sweden/ Italy/ Norway) Erik Gandini (“Videocracy”) dazzles with this disquieting essay on the meaninglessness of working — and not working. The camera travels from Kuwait to South Korea and analyzes the work ethic gone awry. North American Premiere (Oct. 15, 3:45 p.m. AMC; Oct. 16, 8:15 p.m. AMC)

“In the Rearview” (Poland/ France/ Ukraine) Shooting from the front seat of a minivan, Maciek Hamela mostly shows the passengers in the back seat as they head away from the Ukraine/ Russia front. The faces are as indelible as the tales told. (Oct. 15, 2:45 p.m. AMC; Oct. 16, 5 p.m. AMC)

Bill Stamets, chicago.suntimes.com (10/10/2023)