CIFF Coverage: Belushi, The Columnist, and Days

North America’s oldest continuously running film festival has returned to us. No, it’s not NYFF or TIFF, it’s CIFF—the Chicago International Film Festival! Now in its 56th year, the next two weeks of the festival will offer a mix of films from around the world, highlighting new voices in cinema and celebrating established masters. I’ll be sharing my discoveries from this nonstop virtual movie party with you. 

Belushi

Comedian John Belushi was one of Chicago’s greatest children, and Showtime’s documentary (which served as the centerpiece for the festival’s opening night) is a tender and loving reminder as to why. Director R.J. Cutler brings together a disparate set of clips and audio recordings from both Belushi’s public career and private life to create a full depiction of his life, from the hilarious highs of Saturday Night Live and The Blues Brothers to the heartbreaking fall and drug problems that haunted him right to the very end. The film follows the cradle-to-grave story structure that a countless number of documentaries do, but the addition of animated segments that resemble a graphic novel liven things up a bit.

The most affecting material are the private letters that John sent to his wife Judy (which are brilliantly voiced out by Bill Hader). There’s a softness between the high school sweethearts that transcends the confines of the documentary and works its way into the heart of the viewer. Most importantly, though, you’ll be reminded why we loved him in the first place. The footage from his career in film and television and the interviews with his friends, coworkers, and fellow Hollywood creatives let his brilliance shine like a burning sun. It’s remarkable how much he was able to achieve in so little time. 

John Belushi was one of the comedy greats, and his legacy will outlast most of us. Belushi is as magnificent a tribute you could hope for. 

B


The Columnist

(Chicago Premiere)

We’re all hooked onto a social media platform, whether it be Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. If you’re not a straight white man, you’re also more likely to receive harassment and abuse from merely existing in those spaces. And if you dare to speak out about injustices in the world…never look at your mentions. Femke (a hilarious and equally unnerving Katja Herbers) is a feminist blogger who’s tired of the constant barrage of abuse from trolls due to her outspoken political status, but their anonymity keeps her annoyance tempered. When she realizes that some of the hate is coming from her otherwise friendly neighbor, something snaps in Femke’s mind…and so does her neighbor’s neck after she shoves him off the roof. 

Femke’s new solution to her problem? Kill every troll who ever harasses her. The Columnist is a biting and darkly hilarious comedy about what happens when online abuse goes just too far for someone to handle, and director Ivo Van Art balances the tone between comedy and horror like a knife on the tip of his finger. It’s a study of what happens when basic civility breaks down and animal instinct kicks in, and while Femke’s murderous rampage is a delight to watch, you can’t help but be concerned when she begins to lose sight of why she snapped in the first place. A Falling Down for the Internet Age, The Columnist is a wickedly funny comedy that brings the laughs and the bloodshed to anyone who’s ever been sick of online harassment.

B


Days

(Chicago Premiere)

Tsai Ming-Liang’s films are so glacially paced that they make the works of Béla Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky seem as fast paced as a Looney Tunes episode. Goodbye Dragon Inn established that, but Days takes it to the next level. Winner of the jury Teddy Award at 70th Berlinale, Days is a cinematic knockout.

Intentionally unsubtitled and with barely any dialogue, the film tells the story of two men: the older and upper class Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) and the younger, lower class Non (Anong Houngheuangsy). It’s a rainy and dour day in Bangkok, and we follow their daily routine. Kang suffers from neck pain in his mountainside dwelling, and Non cooks a small meal in his cramped downtown apartment. We hear the rain tapping on the windows, see the cold walls, and you can practically feel the dampness seeping through whichever screen you’re watching it on. When the action finally arrives, Kang meets Non in a hotel room for a squirm-inducing acupunture treatment that leads to a sensual and emotionally raw display of sex. It’s tender, soft, and hypnotizing to watch. It’s deeply erotic despite the stillness of the camera and the silence of the audio track besides the breathing of these two men, but it’s clear what Tsai wants to say: there is nothing more important than human connection. 

Days is yet another knockout from Tsai Ming-Liang, who has subtly assembled a magnificent filmography. As a heartfelt study of human connection and those soft quiet moments shared in a hookup, you’d be hard pressed to find a better film on those topics this year. 

A

Chicago International Film Festival

coleduffy View All →

21, born and raised in Boston. Mamma Mia wine mom personality. Jerry Gogosian of the film world.

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