Chicago International Film Festival 2023 – Dispatch #3

In between bouts of dying phone battery and the despair of extreme hunger, some films were watched, too. Three films, to be exact. While waiting in line for the movie of the morning, I had my first lengthy conversation with a fellow festivalgoer. A kind middle-aged man, he talked about how he had been coming to the festival since 1996 and recalled seeing Slingblade. We discussed everything we were seeing at the festival this year, his schedule even more dense than my own. His friend of a similar age then came up in line and joined us in conversation. Talking with them got me thinking, maybe that will be me in twenty years. I would love that. Seeing generations older than me still out in the world exploring their passions makes me feel secure in cradling my own.

The film of the morning was Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves. I have to say, with things going on in the outside world and inside my own, I entered the morning in a bit of a funk, despite the lovely conversation. Quickly, this movie became my elixir. The 80-minute romantic dramedy filled me with so much warm joy, that I didn’t want to leave my seat and exit into the cold. The Finnish director even states, “It felt like this bloody world needed some love stories now.” I could not agree more. My friends are always teasing me about my passion for the romcom, which has become my favorite genre in the last few years, and this one is as sweet as any. Don’t mistake this for a slapstick and goofy American romcom, however. This is as patient and as meticulous as any I’ve seen. Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen nail the part of the two leads and have a really endearing chemistry. The very slow build of their relationship is perfectly realized with the short runtime. The movie was picked up by Mubi out of Cannes and will be released in the U.S. in November. It is Finland’s selection for International Feature at the Oscars. For me, I will be looking to pick this one up on physical when I can. I know a comfort watch when I see it.

Fallen Leaves. Dir. Aki Kaurismäki.

Next up we had what I imagine will end up being the most highly anticipated film of the festival, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. I shot over from the AMC directly to the Music Box, arriving an hour early. The line was already approaching a block long, and shortly after jumping in, did indeed wrap around the block. Never before have I seen a line for a movie so long, it was more akin to a concert. The buzz about the building was palpable. Was this the Studio Ghibli fan’s version of the Eras Tour? Were we all.. Ghiblies? Eventually, the doors opened and we stumbled into the cinema in a delirious fog. As you can imagine, Miyazaki swiftly swept me up into his luminously realized world. The animation is the same jaw-dropping work you expect from him, the colors and imagination laid before you in ways only he is capable of. The narrative didn’t quite fully connect for me to the extent of his best work, but nonetheless, the experience of the film is something everyone should have, and shouldn’t take for granted. With Miyazaki in his twilight years, it is possible this could be his final film. It would be a more than worthy swan song. The Boy and the Heron is slated to release in the U.S. in December and will surely be nominated for Animated Feature at the Oscars. Will Miyazaki get another statue?

The Boy and the Heron. Dir. Hayao Miyazaki.

After picking up a phone charger to quell my battery and a king’s salad to quell my crippling hunger, I shot back over to the AMC to take in the night’s film, Monster. Hirokazu Kore-eda is a staple of Chicago’s film festival scene at this point; this is the fourth film in a row of his I am seeing in its line-up, beginning with Shoplifters (2018). He has done it once again. I’ve loved all four films, and this one certainly not the least. Monster is a queer narrative that positions a story told from three different perspectives, finally converging at the end in what is a truly thrilling and wholly satisfying conclusion. Dare I say it is one of my favorite endings I’ve seen this year if not one of my favorite movies full stop. The story progresses being told first by a mother (Sakura Andō), then by a teacher (Eita Nagayama), and finally, we learn whose story we’re really watching, the boy (Sōya Kurokawa). Elite performances all around bring this story to life, and if you’ve ever loved even one of Kore-eda’s films, you will want to seek this out. Unfortunately, it does not yet have a U.S. release set, so let’s make that happen. Let’s also not forget this movie features the final score from the late Ryuichi Sakamoto. Get this out to the people.

Monster. Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Well that’s it, a wrap on my three-film day of the festival. I would call it a great success. Seeing films ranging from Finland to Japan, animated to live-action, about children and about adults, the wide breadth of experiences really resonated with me. I wonder if the man I engaged with had a similarly rewarding day. I’m sure I’ll see him again. If I do, I’ll ask him. I just want to share my passion.

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