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CIFF at 49: Highlights of the Chicago Film Festival

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“Blue Is the Warmest Color”

The Chicago International Film Festival is ripe, as always, with the first public showings of movies that will be highlights of the lurching-toward-Oscar adult movie season, including Alexander Payne’s black-and-white generational road movie, “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern, and the latest from the Coen brothers, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a beloved-by-critics Cannes debut about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, a missing cat and the cost of an abortion. One of the most exciting, as well as unexpected attractions, is the Opening Night film, the sturdy and underrated filmmaker James Gray’s turn-of-the-twentieth century drama, “The Immigrant,” starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave” debuts, as well, the subject of fervent praise and an almost-as-fervent backlash after making its North American debut a couple weeks ago in Toronto. The Cannes Palme d’Or winner is also on hand, Abdellatif Kechiche’s 179-minute, NC-17 “Blue Is the Warmest Color: Adele Chapters 1 & 2,” with highly regarded performances by Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos in a romantic drama of teenage lesbian love. Last-minute additions: Jason Reitman’s latest, “Labor Day,” and Ti West’s try at found-footage horror, “The Sacrament.”

From other lands: Brit crits have been kind to Steve Coogan’s turn in “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa,” playing his media-maven foil with a new, middle-aged kindness. Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi’s  “Closed Curtain,” is Panahi’s second feature, after “This is Not A Film,” in defiance of his near-lifetime ban on directing by the Iranian regime.  Amat Escalante’s “Heli” also took a prize at Cannes, but reviews suggested that journalists couldn’t stomach episodes of extreme violence in the Mexican narco-terrorism tale, produced by Carlos Reygadas. Tsai Ming-Liang, a CIFF staple since the 1990s, brings “Stray Dogs” to town, about a family of squatters in Taipei and their daily struggle to survive: emotional intensity and visual beauty have been noted by admiring festivalgoers.

American documentaries of note: every doc-maker I know who’s seen “12 O’Clock Boys,” the chronicle of a Baltimore urban teen dirt-bike crew, is over the moon about its style. A more traditional stylist, Frederick Wiseman, brings his 244-minute “At Berkeley.” Errol Morris will appear at a tribute, along with his latest, “The Unknown Known,” his portrait of snowflake-man Donald Rumsfeld and his rafters-high rationalizations and fluent flimflammery.

Of local note: John McNaughton’s “The Harvest,” his first feature in far too many years, with Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton as overly protective parents whose bubble is burst by a new neighbor. Ninety-one-year-old Haskell Wexler will join Walter Jacobson on stage to discuss his 1968 classic “Medium Cool,” to be shown along with “Medium Cool Revisited” (2013), his short documentary about anti-NATO protests in Chicago.

The Chicago International Film Festival runs October 10-24 at AMC River East. Full schedule at

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