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HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick McDonald on the 'best' of the Chicago International Film Festival's final night

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CHICAGO – The last night of the Chicago International Film Festival is the traditional showing of the Best of the Festival and instead of going for the award-winning films I decided to take in an “audience favorite.”

After perusing the selections here is what I saw on last night’s final showing…

Tokyo! (2008)

Chicago International Film Festival  Toyko  Michael Gondry  Leos Carax  Joon-ho Bong  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is an anthology film, with three directors offering short pieces under the umbrella of the wild and weird city of Toyko. Since there are three films, they are reviewed below separately…

Interior Design

Written and directed by Michael Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), this strange bit of symbolistic filmmaking regarding youth and purpose never goes in any direction that is expected.

A young boy and girl couple descend upon Toyko and take up residence in the tiny apartment of a friend. Their intention is to find an apartment of their own in the city (no small feat, it’s expensive and difficult) and jump start the boy’s career as a filmmaker.

Difficulties arise and it is the girl that take the brunt of it. One fellow traveler whispers to her at the boyfriend’s film premiere that she understands how hard it is for her to support an “artist.” This realization begins a nightmare for the girl, who literally transforms into a symbol for what she is.

Clean and well-acted, with the fantasy element never overwhelming, the film focuses on the trials of starting out, understanding a place in the world and establishing those small resignations in life that form the process of the life cycle.This films sticks in the spotless mind and never panders.

**** out of five

Merde

Weird, weirder, weirdest. Leos Carax wrote and directed this story of a sewer dweller, who appears randomly on the Toyko streets, stealing cigarettes and flowers, frightening the residents with his red beard and milky eye. When he goes too far, the Japanese legal system must find a way to punish him.

Enter a French lawyer. With the same beard and forbearance, he is the only person who can communicate with the creature (through a series of spastic tics, sounds and gestures). Justice, through a roundabout process, is served.

I liked the strange radicalism of the sewer dweller. There was an aspect within the relationship of the lawyer and his client that tipped them to be aliens or immortals. Why does he do what he does? He hates the Japanese people, he gestures back. The shocked indignation of the courtroom was telling.

***1/2 out of five

Shaking Toyko

Incomplete but intriguing, this is written/directed by Joon-ho Bong, a South Korean director.

This deals with the Japanese phenomenon of “hikikomori,” describing a segment of society that never leaves a room or house. The male character is one such person, reveling his lifestyle with explanations of his rituals and obsessive/complusive order.

His weekly ordering of pizza ritual is suddenly interrupted one day by a beguiling female deliverer. She admires his hermited existence, and he grows more attached after an earthquake suddenly renders his only contact with unconsciousness. His revival of her signals a new era in his life.

Withdrawal from society is a relatable circumstance. It’s so easy to stay inside. In fact, Joon-ho Bong puts a vital spin on the experiment, with the main male character finding EVERYONE to have gone inside. The symptomatic results of this particular fear is nicely symbolized.

Shake it up, baby.

*** out of five

Another festival comes to an end. Visit the website here to get a complete listing of the films shown and watch for them at art houses, video stores and a Netflix activated mailbox near you.

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