2019 Chicago Critics Film Festival Preview



In the history of mumblecore films, Olympic Dreams might be the most ambitious of the genre.  Filmed on location at the 2018 winter olympics in PyeongChang, director Jeremy Teicher, along with stars and co-writers Alexi Pappas & Nick Kroll, decided to make a movie in the moment, about two people, both confused about where they are going in life, and falling in love during the massive athletic event. Surprisingly, Olympic Dreams is not as funny as one would expect, but it is never lacking in sweetness. The pair of actors, specifically Pappas (who is an actual long-distance running athlete), have a nice balance of kindness and emotional anxiety together. Pappas is Penelope, competing in the long-distance skiing event, and Kross is Ezra, a volunteer dentist helping out any athlete who might need it.  They meet cute, have a bit of a connection, and can’t find the courage to express how they really feel. As many of the mumblecore films tend to do, there is not enough direction to drive the story home, but I loved the can-do spirit of the people involved. Olympic Dreams may not win the race, but they’re certainly in the competition. 



Saint Frances is the movie of now. I say that because I can’t remember a time where a movie felt more current than this? It comes from the brilliant mind of Kelly O’Sullivan, the writer, and star of the film. She plays Bridget, a 32-year old woman in Chicago, jobless, till she takes on the role of a nanny, hoping to figure out what she wants in life. The family is Maya (Charin Alvarez), Annie (Lily Mojekwu), and their adorable daughter Frances (Scene stealing- Ramona Edith Williams). With a second baby on the way, Bridget is given the task of taking care of the handful known as Frances, but at the same time she is knocked up by a guy who she didn’t see much potential in. Bridget must face the most difficult choice of her life, to keep the baby or have an abortion, all while trying to be the best caretaker that young Frances could have. This film is not only emotional, but extremely honest. O’Sullivan is not afraid to tell us the real issues that women face today, create a character that has her own voice, and willing to have the audience thinking about what it means to make difficult decisions. 



The teenagers are running the streets in Claudio Giovannesi’s Piranhas. The leader of the group is the baby faced Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli), fearless in his pursuit to achieve a position of street cred. To get there he is willing to sell drugs, guns, and take a cut from the hard working people in their small town of Naples. As the father of a 1-year old, Piranhas was terrifying to me. It is also a very real look at young men today, in constant pursuit of life’s riches. Woman at clubs, finer clothes, and the constant pressure of someone below you waiting to take you out. It’s a haunting look at gun culture, how desperately boys need a father figure, where the fun eventually catches up to young Nicola.    



Fans of documentaries will find an emotionally surprising film in S. Leo Chiang’s Our Time Machine. Chinese artist Ma Liang a.k.a Maleonn discovers that his father is slowly slipping into Alzheimer’s. When he discovers this, he decides to do his best to produce a show with puppetry, based on the themes of Pinocchio, the first book his father ever gave him. Our Time Machine becomes a gentle, beautiful journey about what it means to get older, heal through music & art, and see the people we love struggle with time. Things are not all sad, as Maleonn displays gorgeous craftsmanship in the design and creation of his beautiful show. It is a perfect expression of love and family.  



One of my favorite movies at SXSW, one that I didn’t talk about enough of, was writer/director Josephine Mackerras’ Alice. This is a film that captures the hypocritical world we live in, especially in the way women are treated. Alice (played magnificently by Emilie Piponnier) is the mother of little Jules, and comes home to the unexpected disappearance of her husband Francois (Martin Swabey), with no response to her calls, she discovers that Francois has been blowing all their assets on prostitutes, leaving Alice to hold the bag and figure out a way to save their home. In an ironic twist, she takes to being a prostitute, and in her efforts to make instant cash, she will become judged wrongfully, and find a freedom she never knew she wanted. Alice has fantastic direction and one of the best lead performances you will see at the Chicago Critics Film Festival

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