Daniel Nava catches up on post-CIFF capsule reviews for “Moonlight,” “Little Sister,” and “Aquarius”

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No rest for the weary as the end of the Chicago International Film Festival signals a time to catch up on the numerous films that have made their way to theaters during the fest’s two week run.

“MOONLIGHT”

Utilizing a triptych narrative, we follow a young boy’s passage from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Each chapter is acutely realized as a careful self-examination of identity, whereupon Jenkins provides insight on the modes in which black, gay males confront the cultural backlash of their sexuality within their community. Perhaps not the rigid political study that it could have been, Moonlight is primarily a visceral exercise accentuated by Jenkins’ stunning formalism; informed by filmmakers like Harmony Korine, Hou Hsaio-hsien, and Wong Kar-wai (among others), it’s one of the most visually lush and evocative films I’ve seen in some time. Given its media notoriety as an Oscar-contender, Moonlight operates in stark contrast to the largely white, male hegemony that dominates the conversation at this time –it’s a film that I’ll gladly champion to win all the awards.

“LITTLE SISTER”

Little Sister’s peculiarities pile on quickly, with its 2008 setting – specifically highlighting Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency – functioning as an integral component to its wry vision on the dualities of spirituality and liberalism. Timlin as Colleen Lunsford is a novitiate, on her way to becoming a nun, living as a North Carolina transplant in New York City. Colleen is summoned by her mother to return home, as Jacob (Keith Poulson), her brother, has returned from service from the Iraq War. He returns with significant battle wounds, suffering from burns all throughout his body, and remains at home as a hermit. What follows could have been a banal modulation on every other Sundance coming-of-age narrative that sees its protagonists revisit their past. Instead, Clark’s study on nostalgia is periphery to how his study on the cumulative contradictions that shape and define our worldviews. To borrow from LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”, Little Sister ends up being the cinematic equivalent of the lyrics, “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another five years of life”.

“AQUARIUS”

For non-Chicago residents, imagine your local arthouse theater projecting a Brazilian film for just a few screenings a day for a week, only to see it pop up at your local multiplex among films like Boo! A Madea Halloween and Ron Howard’s latest. For a film that largely deals with the encroachment of large corporate entities on modes of tradition in one of Brazil’s larger metropolises, this move unexpectedly feeds into the thematic totems that make Aquarius such a vital piece of work.

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