Our guide to Chicago International Film Fest: The 5 movies and events not to miss so far

·4 min read

The 57th Chicago International Film Festival has left the building, at least in this respect: It’s returning to a handful of outdoor screenings this year at Pilsen’s ChiTown Movies drive-in. It’s also presenting screenings at the Music Box Theater — Kenneth Branagh will introduce his Oscar-buzzed “Belfast” this week in person — along with the Gene Siskel Film Center. Additionally, the festival makes an overdue entry into points south, in this case Bronzeville and the patio of the Parkway Ballroom on King Drive. I’ve seen one of the Parkway shorts programs and it’s really good.

We wrote about the venue menu earlier this week. Now: Time for more opinions! Here are some ripe and worthy offerings among a slate that includes dozens I’ve yet to see. Another round of recommendations next week as the festival continues through Oct. 24.

“Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter” (6 p.m. Oct. 18; 5 p.m. Oct. 22 at AMC River East): Finally, after several game but frustrating attempts, here’s the first fully successful documentary about a high-flying Chicago chef’s triumph and torment. Director Rebecca Halpern’s portrait of Trotter (who died in 2013) is neither hagiography nor smear job. It’s a clear-eyed account of Trotter’s path to fame, and his role in putting Chicago fine dining on the map — remaking the map, really — as well as what that cost him on the way up, and down. Astute contributions from, among others, Trotter mentee/rival Grant Achatz and longtime Chicago arts and culture writer Mark Caro flesh out the nuances. The man was a bully, and clearly Trotter lost track of what was an act and what wasn’t. It’s a relief to see a film about a famously tricky personality that, like its subject, isn’t afraid of contradictions. Also streaming virtually Tues. Oct. 19-Sun. Oct. 24.

“Bergman Island” (8 p.m. Oct. 14 at AMC River East; premieres Oct. 15 in theaters and online): A delicate, flowing charmer from Mia Hansen-Løve. Married screenwriters and filmmakers Chris (Vicky Krieps of “Phantom Thread”) and older, charismatically remote Tony (Tim Roth) visit Sweden’s Faro Island, wind-swept home of Ingmar Bergman, now the site of cultural destination tours and annual cinematic pilgrimages. What transpires turns into a gently moving depiction of Chris’s creative life (her script-in-progress takes over much of the film itself, with Mia Wasikowska playing a variation on Chris). A large autobiographical element emerges in the film, provided by writer-director Løve’s own 15-year marriage to filmmaker Olivier Assayas. Krieps is superb, and it’s a fine extension of the filmmaker’s previous work in “Eden” and other humane inquiries.

“For the Left Hand” (12 p.m. Oct. 17 at Gene Siskel Film Center; 5:45 p.m. Oct. 20 at AMC River East): This is a seriously inspiring Kartemquin Films documentary about the life, and performance flowering, of Chicago educator and pianist Norman Malone. He survived (as did two siblings) his own father’s assault with a hammer, which left Malone partially paralyzed with one functioning hand to play his chosen instrument. Howard Reich, until recently a stalwart Chicago Tribune jazz and classical critic, wrote about Malone often and beautifully. For this film he worked as producer and writer, for directors Gordon Quinn and Leslie Simmer. Former Tribune photographer Zbigniew Bzdak served as cinematographer. It’s relatively short, just over an hour, but a full emotional and musical experience. Malone will perform live at this weekend’s Oct. 17 screening. Also streaming virtually through Oct. 24.

Parkway Short Film Program (7 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Parkway Ballroom, 4455 S. King Drive): Festival programmer Amir George has pulled together selections from this year’s 10 short film programs for a special presentation on the patio of the Parkway Ballroom (indoors if the weather gets fussy). Among the highlights: “Cupids,” directed by Zoey Martinson in which children riding their school bus home engage in some speculative matchmaking on behalf of their driver; Amrita Singh’s Hyde Park-set “Winning in America,” about a spelling bee champ’s contentious relationship with a proud but difficult father; and “Cracked,” a Spike Lee-sponsored short by Lin Que Ayoung, in which a teenage romance runs headlong into the harsh realities of one kid’s home life.

Rebecca Hall and Kenneth Branagh: Not together, though; that’d be too much starry fabulousness for one event. Hall, a superb actor, makes her feature directorial debut with “Passing” and will introduce the film (and pick up a festival award) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at the AMC River East. The following night, 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Music Box, Branagh likewise picks up a festival award and presents his autobiographical film “Belfast,” recent winner of the Toronto festival’s top prize. More on the films later; meantime, grab a ticket (the Hall and Branagh screenings start at $25-$30) for a little red carpet action.

For the full Chicago International Film Festival calendar, go to chicagofilmfestival.org.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

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