Chicago International Film Festival 2023 – Dispatch #2

Festival fever has taken over me. What does that mean? I refer to an overwhelming tiredness, along with a palpable excitement for every movie on the docket. It’s a strange cocktail I’ve only experienced in this setting, the passion driving me forward, the fatigue pulling me down like dumbbells tied around a swimmer’s ankles. And yes, while you’ll see I only took in a couple of films yesterday, there is so much else to discuss today. Let’s get into it.

We begin with the standout of the festival so far, Nikolaj Arcel’s glorious historical epic The Promised Land starring Mads Mikkelson. It feels like an epic in every sense of the word, though it just clears the 2-hour mark. Mads plays Ludvig Kahlen, who in 1755 arrives before German royalty and presents his intention to cultivate the Jutland heath and erect a settlement. When he gets started, he quickly learns he will have forces of will pushing against him even stronger than nature itself. Simon Bennebjerg plays the best villain of the year in Frederik de Schinkel, a local landowner who shrinks at the idea of someone taking control of what he believes to be his land and he retaliates with extreme brutality. The story and how it’s presented actually reminds me a bit of RRR (2022), though we don’t have any action scenes with men flying around on horses and doing backflips here. This really might be the crowning performance of Mads Mikkelson’s career, a suggestion I don’t make lightly. If this were more widely seen, I do think this is the kind of movie that could have a sizeable presence at the Academy Awards. Nonetheless, it is Denmark’s official entry for the Best International Feature category, so hopefully, it will at least be represented there. It is being released in the U.S. in February by Magnolia Pictures.

The Promised Land. Dir. Nikolaj Arcel.

Upon walking out of the theater, the Gene Siskel Film Center, the third and final theater of the festival, I walked a few blocks downtown towards the lake where I arrived at Chicago’s Free Palestine rally and marched for freedom. A worthy break from our regular scheduled programming. You must engage with a protest to know just how passionate and inspiring they can be. It rained hard on us. Nobody cared. Palestine must be free.

People march for the freedom of Palestinians.

After we wrapped, I soldiered onto my next screening, not before stopping to snarf down a Philly brisket sandwich and a tall stein of beer. With my blood still spiked from the energy of the afternoon, I walked into the Music Box once again to take in Dream Scenario, the latest film starring everyone’s favorite madman, Nicholas Cage. It comes from Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli, but he was in person to represent the film. Immediately, I got a taste for his dry sense of humor when the programmer asked if he would like to say anything to present the film, to which he replied, “No.” What followed was the most I have laughed in a movie theater all year, I think even surpassing Barbie. I would have never expected that, but this is a truly hysterical version of Tár (2022), think of it as the dark comedy version, starring Nicholas Cage. The audience just ate this up, we were dying. The story goes into some strange places in the final act that I didn’t totally jive with, but nonetheless this is an absolute blast. Some of the cameos will have people in stitches too, perfectly placed. You’ll want to see this with an audience if at all possible, the laughter beaming from the auditorium was just infectious. You should be able to do so soon enough, as A24 has this slated for release in early November.

Dream Scenario. Dir. Kristoffer Borgli.

Walking out of the theater, I took a few steps, turned to my right to head down the street, and immediately to my right posted up against the wall was Malia Obama taking an exaggerated pull off a cigarette. We made eye contact and she shed me back a look something akin to “keep on walking.” So I did. I have seen the memes online with street photographs of her taking drags off cigarettes as fashion, and now having seen it in person I can confirm, she has set the new standard for cool.

Frantically, I grabbed an e-bike and booked it over to the Aragon Ballroom, where saw indie icon James Blake perform live. It was an audiovisual experience like no other, to say the least. I was running on fumes by this point but I rallied and vibed like nobody has ever vibed before.

James Blake at the Aragon Ballroom.

Alright, I think that’s about enough for one day. Keep it locked in here on the site for my ongoing coverage out of the festival, where I promise going forward our focus will be on the truly exciting slate of films. Stay tuned!

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