Chicago International Film Festival 2021: 10 films to watch

Revealing and resilient, the Chicago International Film Festival brings back theatrical screenings, as well as less expensive virtual screenings. Last year almost the entire festival took place online. Either way, the cinema is the venerably virtual way to expand our horizons limited by COVID-19.

“The French Dispatch” – another ensemble treat from the inventive and entertaining Wes Anderson – kicks off the festival Wednesday at 7 pm at the Music Box Theater, a partner venue added this year. Tickets cost $ 40. This UK / France / Germany co-production kicks off on October 21 in Chicago.

The 57th annual festival attracts co-produced cinema in 57 different countries, by coincidence. The program includes 89 feature films and 10 short film programs. Documentaries include world premieres of works on Mayor Harold Washington, Chef Charlie Trotter and US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“Accessibility” is the watchword for 2021. “Everyone misses the face-to-face aspect,” admits artistic director Mimi Plauché, now in her 16th year at the Cinema / Chicago association which presents the festival. “You cannot reproduce this experience indoors. But she likes the way audience members now connect through chat boxes during live question-and-answer sessions. “I think there is a new ease in communication.”

To attend indoor screenings in person, you need proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 PCR results. More details on

Notable works by renowned authors include “Belfast” by Kenneth Branagh, “Dune” by Denis Villeneuve and “Spencer” by Pablo Larrain. Other directors on the international festival circuit are Jane Campion, Zhang Yimou and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Here are 10 recommended movies to watch on the big screen or stream at home (tickets for both in-person and streaming options available at


“Amira” (Egypt / Jordan / UAE / Saudi Arabia) Egyptian filmmaker Mohammed Diab creates a moving thriller about a 17-year-old Palestinian woman who searches for truths about her birth. Imprisoned by Israelis, his father had nevertheless impregnated his mother. DNA testing now creates a tragic identity conflict. (5:45 p.m. Oct. 19, AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St.)


“Bergman’s Island” (France / Belgium / Germany / Sweden) Two screenwriters are working on new scenarios on the island that Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman has made famous. Their problems resonate with Bergman’s marital and artistic problems. Mia Hansen-Love seamlessly transforms their own movie into one or two in the making. (8 p.m. October 14, AMC River East 21)

“A hero” (Iran) Asghar Farhadi offers a masterful drama of a man struggling with a debt to his ex-father-in-law who took him to prison. During a two-day release, he involves the director and a charity of prisoners in a welfare story that backfires. One lie inspires others, all in defense of reputations. Farhadi criticizes the media and social networks for treating virtue as a spectacle. “A hero” won the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival. His previous “Fireworks Wednesday” and “The Salesman” won Hugos at the Chicago International Film Festival. (7:45 p.m. on October 19 and 8:15 p.m. on October 22, AMC River East 21)

“The last execution” (Germany) Franziska Stünkel recreates the Kafkaesque fate of an East Berlin scholar forced by state security agents to destroy a football star who has defected to the West. As in other politically acute entries this year, men appeal to women in power games. The title refers to the performance on June 26, 1981, of Werner Teske, whose story inspired the screenplay. (8:45 p.m. on October 16 and 5:15 p.m. on October 21 AMC River East 21)

“The last execution”

“Paris, 13th arrondissement” (France) Three young Parisians are in turn roommates, work colleagues, lovers, ex-lovers and lovers once again. Turning in black and white, Jacques Audiard serves up a wonderful slice of Parisian romance. Yes, it’s familiar French cuisine, but these characters and actors really are a winner. (8:30 p.m. on October 16 and 8:15 p.m. on October 19, AMC River East 21)

“Tsugua’s Diaries” (Portugal) Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes co-direct a playful film about three young Portuguese people spending time in a big house in the countryside doing little. It starts on day 22 and counts until day 1. We will learn who they are and how they got there. Spoiler: A camera crew appears and COVID-19 rules are laid out. (5:15 p.m. on October 14 and 8:30 p.m. on October 22, AMC River East 21)


“Babi Yar. The Context” (Netherlands / Ukraine) Sergei Loznitsa puts together a striking montage that contextualizes Germans and Ukrainians shooting 33,771 Jews near Kiev on September 29-30, 1941. The addition of natural sounds and actors expressing real words, transcribed and broadcast at the time, gives a strange impact to the initially silent images. Some were family films of German soldiers. (12:15 p.m. Oct. 17, AMC River East 21)

A poster of Stalin is demolished in an image of “Babi Yar. The context.”

“Cow” (UK) In her press notes, Andrea Arnold (“American Honey”) cites the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness as the backdrop to this intimate and intriguing chronicle of a cow in a barn. Luma looks enslaved but enjoys some nice episodes of outdoor mobility, if not freedom. Interspecific empathy ensues. And a little mischievous humor. The heartbreaking end is a blind man. (6 p.m. October 19, AMC River East 21)

“The last forest” (Brazil) Luiz Bolognesi won a Silver Hugo for “Ex-Shaman” at the 2018 festival. He returns to the rainforest to further document the later struggles of ex-shaman Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, credited here as co -author. He plays the role of himself. Their common views defend an endangered way of life against invading miners and water-destroying mercury. (6 p.m. October 20, AMC River East 21)

“The last forest”

“The velvet metro” (United States) In 2007, Todd Haynes directed “I’m Not There”, a strange biopic with six actors playing Bob Dylan. Now he’s portraying the late Lou Reed, his band The Velvet Underground, and the surrounding Andy Warhol scene. This artistically composed portrait of New York musicians generously samples experimental filmmakers, including Stan Brakhage. (7 p.m. October 13, ChiTown Movies Drive-In, 2343 S. Throop St.)

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