I was fortunate enough to spend a day covering this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, and can share with you my capsule reviews below!
God’s Own Country
Francis Lee’s coming-of-age coming-out feature debut has been labelled as the UK’s answer to Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed romance Brokeback Mountain; Britback Mountain if you will, but it replaces sentimentality with bleak, bruising reality. Set in the beautifully sprawling Yorkshire countryside, the progressive plot centres around Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a young farmer who works tirelessly all day and binge drinks at night to avoid acceptance of his sexuality. When his family hire Romanian farmhand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a simmering romance ensues, and his passion is unleashed. The power of Lee’s filmmaking comes from the effective simplicity. He slowly builds atmosphere as Johnny’s feelings rise within him, and this pent-up tension is portrayed immaculately. There are questionable character traits as the story develops that don’t always ring true, but minor problems aside, this is a refreshing and compelling exploration of LGBT issues on the big screen.
Rhys Fehrenbacher stars as J in They, the feature debut by writer-director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh which tackles gender identity. Born as a boy but identifying as a girl, J takes hormone blocking medication to postpone puberty while they embark on a journey of self-discovery. When J’s parents are away for the weekend, older sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her boyfriend Araz (Koohyar Hosseini) arrive to look after her. Unfortunately, the acting comes across as amateurish and this in turn makes J’s interactions with those around her feel stilted and unnatural. What begins as an intriguing premise loses its way around halfway through when a dinner scene at Araz’s Iranian parent’s house is dragged out so long that you’d think they’d changed the reel and put a different movie on.
A character study is the focal point in steamy Chilean drama Los Perros, written and directed by Marcela Said who began her filmmaking career in documentaries. The central character is Mariana (Antonia Zegers), a bored and restless kept woman who wants to break out of the caged life she’s found herself in. Controlled by both her husband Pedro (Rafael Spregelburd) and her father Francisco (Alejandro Sieveking), she seeks solace from her horse-riding instructor Juan (Alfredo Castro), an ex-colonel with a dark and mysterious past. Visually the film is very impressive and cinematographer Georges Lechaptois takes full advantage of the stunning backdrop it unfolds against. Zegers gives a strong lead performance as Mariana’s unpredictable nature drives the story forward. However, once the initial metaphor is established and Mariana is seen to be the titular ‘dog’, the narrative treads water through the final act.