The Chicago International Film Festival has a long history of presenting films selected to represent their country as submissions for the Academy Awards’ Best International Feature Film category. These past two years have been no exception, with many contenders for their country’s official submission presented at the 56th and 55th editions of the Chicago International Film Festival.
This International Contenders Round Table, presented in partnership with IndieWire, features directors from around the world discussing their work, from past nominees (Agnieszka Holland, Gianfranco Rosi) to acclaimed international auteurs (Pedro Costa, Andrei Konchalovsky) to the directors of award-winning second features (Philippe Lacôte, whose film won two prizes at the 56th Festival, and Lili Horvát, winner of the Gold Hugo in the New Director’s Competition).Watch Now on IndieWire
Where to Watch The Contenders
Now that you’ve heard from the directors of some of this year’s International Feature Film contenders, it’s time to watch the films! Below are details on how you can watch each of the films represented in our round table along with recordings of virtual Q&As hosted at this year’s Festival.
Dir. Agnieszka Holland
Czech Republic Submission
Masters, 56th Chicago International Film Festival
In this richly drawn portrait, celebrated Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa, Spoor) manifests the riveting life and work of Czech herbalist and faith healer Jan Mikolášek, who cured hundreds with natural remedies. Magnanimous with his abilities, he treated the poor and wealthy alike, never turning away a patient—including the occupying Nazis forces and the president of the country. Yet, it was this last relationship that led to Mikolášek’s downfall, as he was prosecuted for charlatanism by the subsequent Communist government. In yet another incisive historical tale, Holland shines a light on a singular, extraordinary figure and reveals the complexity of—and human susceptibility to—the political machinations of the times.
Available later this year through Strand Releasing.
Dir. Andrei Konchalovsky
Winner – Silver Hugo for Best Director in the International Feature Film Competition, 56th Chicago International Film Festival
Novocherkassk, USSR. June 1962. Lyudmila, a devout Communist Party official, is a scourge of anything she perceives as anti-Soviet sentiment. After a strike at the local factory, in which her own daughter is participating, catches her and other local Party officials off guard, Moscow decides to step in with force. As the situation spirals out of control, Lyudmila begins a desperate search for her missing daughter in the face of curfews, mass arrests, and the authorities’ ruthless attempts to cover up state violence. Her once unquestioning faith in the Party line is shaken by her growing awareness of its human toll, completely unraveling the world she thought she knew. Filmed in arresting black and white, this historic tale bristles with immediacy—and its current resonances are astonishing.
Available in virtual cinemas through NEON.
Livestream Q&A with director Andrei Konchalovsky
Night of the Kings
Dir. Philippe Lacôte
Côte d’Ivoire Submission
Winner – Silver Hugos for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Design in the International Feature Film Competition, 56th Chicago International Film Festival
A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.
Available in select theaters and virtual cinema on Feburary 26 from NEON.
Dir. Gianfranco Rosi
Documentary, 56th Chicago International Film Festival
From the Oscar-nominated director of Fire at Sea, this lyrical tour-de-force captures the peoples and places ravaged along the borders between Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon. The mournful dirges of mothers, plaintive patients enacting a play in a psychiatric hospital, the grace of female Peshmerga warriors, a lone boatman navigating waters against the backdrop of the blood-red dawn—the film’s beautifully composed vignettes capture the signs of violence and war, all the while celebrating the perseverance of its survivors. Notturno is both a vivid snapshot of the Middle East and humanity as it struggles to come out of the darkness.
Available in virtual cinemas and on Hulu.
Tribute to Gianfranco Rosi, in conversastion with fellow documentarian Robert Greene:
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Dir. Lili Horvát
Winner – Gold Hugo in New Directors Competition, 56th Chicago International Film Festival
To what lengths would you go in pursuit of true love? After building a successful career in the U.S., gifted neurosurgeon Márta impulsively returns home to Hungary, in pursuit of the man of her dreams. The two had a brief, impassioned affair at a medical conference, but when she finds and confronts him in Budapest, he claims that they’ve never met. Undaunted, she begins to establish a new life, working at the local hospital, renting a shabby apartment—and tracking her beloved’s movements online and in the real world. But then she begins to doubt her perception of reality. Is he spinning an elaborate deception or has her obsession trapped her in a world of illusions?
Available through the Music Box Theatre.
Livestream Q&A with director Lili Horvát:
Dir. Pedro Costa
Winner – Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize in International Feature Film Competition, 55th Chicago International Film Festival
After waiting 25 years for a plane ticket to join her husband in Lisbon, Cape Verde native Vitalina finally arrives in Lisbon upon the news of her spouse’s death, and she has just missed his funeral. Winner of the Locarno Film Festival, this quietly observed masterwork follows Vitalina as she comes to terms with the circumstances of her husband’s life and her own grief. Arresting mise-en-scène marked by dramatic chiaroscuro lighting reveals the dignity and pain of immigrants living on the margins of Portuguese society.