The AMC River East 21, right in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast and the Magnificent Mile, provided a perfect home and showcase for the entire Film Festival, under one roof. If I had the time and resources, I could have reveled in as many as five films.
I did manage to attend two screenings, in between meeting staff and volunteers, walking in unseasonably warm sunshine all the way to Navy Pier, snapping photos of the light on the lakefront, and cooling off in the peaceful formality of a small art gallery.
And now, mini-reviews of the two screenings I attended, both from France: "American Translation", and "What Love May Bring."
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"What Love May Bring" demonstrates the possibility of crafting a deeply personal film on a grand, epic scale. Veteran Director Claude Lelouch (Oscar-winner for "A Man and a Woman", 1966) has given us his 47th film, a love poem to the cinema, and a tapestry of five stories told in a single narrative, all of them true.
Lelouch tells these stories in the style of the movies he loved as a child. So, his WWII tales of Nazi intrigue, ill-fated romance, resistance, cabaret singers, nightclub dancers, treacherous lovers, and a little Jewish boy in hiding, take on the style of melodrama, musical comedy, battle epic, and silent film. The movies, and their partner, music, are the substance of "What Love May Bring".
It is a lovely film, a feast of sorts. While it can be seen as self-indulgent, I accepted it as Lelouch's expression of gratitude for the art and the industry that sustained him, and a "thank you" to those before his camera and behind it for almost 50 years.
The plot is convoluted and would take too much time to recount it all here. Much of it is fanciful and gruesome in equal measure, running the gamut from musical fantasy to wartime realism. It attempts to contain the sweep of history, beginning with a WWI newsreel filmmaker, his widow, and his orphaned son. The son grows up to survive the death camps, becomes a musician, and then a lawyer.
The stories are told in flashback as the lawyer defends in court the central character, a young woman who is charged with murdering her husband, who in turn may have shot his army buddy over her. She hides a Jewish friend's son in her father's cinema every day. The backstories involve the woman's affair with a Nazi Officer to save her father, a projectionist, from the firing squad, and the origin of her husband's fortune, won by his grandfather (a Native American) in a land-race. The film wants to embrace all of this history, stylized to the movies that filtered the world for the character who emerges as the rightful narrator.
To keep up with the plotlines and characters is exhilarating and a bit exhausting, but finally rewarding, as it becomes clear that Lelouch is celebrating an art form that had saved his life and became a life's passion. By the time we are looking at a montage of shots, the faces from Lelouch's previous films, we come to realize that the Jewish boy hiding from Nazis every day in the movie theater is Lelouch himself. I was terribly moved by this realization, as the images and the music washed over me. The music, by the way, is by long-time collaborator Francis Lai ("Love Story").
Sure, it is sentimental. But I think Lelouch has a right to feel emotional, and to want to enthusiastically share his love of the cinema with all of us, as well as his family, who all carry the mantle of the performing arts.
Lelouch became friends with Chicago Film Festival founder Michael Kutza back during Kutza's college days when he discovered Lelouch's liberating style of filmmaking. The screening was followed by a wonderful Q & A with Lelouch afterward. Those of us who attended felt the electricity of a magical film experience, presided over by its creator.
Note: IMDB lists this film under the title "What War may Bring". That certainly lends the whole film a different kind of gravity. Not sure when, or why, the title changed.