New Review from Jon Espino of Hollywood Chicago: Film News: Preview of 7th Chicago Critics Film Festival

CHICAGO – Tonight what heights we’ll hit. The 7th Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) begins on Friday, May 17th, 2019, and offers a week of 2019 film greatness, selected by Chicago Film Critics from the major festivals so far. This will be a whole week at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, Click here for the schedule.

7th Chicago Critics Film Festival
Photo credit: Ian Simmons for

Patrick McDonald (PM) and Jon Lennon Espino (JLE) of has previewed some films, and anticipate others. We’ve divided this overview into FILMS WEVE SEEN, FILMS WE WANT TO SEE (BASED ON TITLE OR DESCRIPTION) and FILMS WE MUST SEE. We hope to SEE YOU there.


Saint Frances

The Opening Night film is a statement of sorts … a statement regarding the pressures on women to manifest certain obligations within their lives in our current world. It is a beautiful and emotional sensibility that touches upon roles, expectations and internalized repression.

Kelly O’Sullivan wrote and is the lead actor in the film, and the title character is a magnificent six-year-old truth teller (Ramona Edith Smith). In a nanny-and-child relationship, they comfort and challenge each other through their trials. O’Sullivan, partnered with feature debut director Alex Thompson, create a pastiche of feelings that everyone will relate to, and and it results in a hopefulness that teaches us how to access our humanity. A must see. Friday, May 17th, 7pm. (PM) Click here for the interview with O’Sullivan and Thompson.

The Nightingale

But first, a warning … this film is not for the faint of heart. Trigger warnings will abound with all the carnage, violence, brutality, and rape in this film. None of it is used senselessly, but it is overused as literal overkill to get the film’s message across. A much different turn for Jennifer Kent’s sophomore film – her first was the well received “The Babadook” – but still just as effective. 

Where Kent’s debut film kept much of the true terror in the shadows and peripheries, “The Nightingale” splatters it all on the screen, while still maintaining the emotional complexity of the characters. That is one constant in both film – the unjust suffering of women. The way she uses her character in “The Babadook” was to take a look at loss, grief, and motherhood, and she similarly takes the same brush to the character of Clare (Aisling Franciosi) but weaves a tale of revenge in 1800’s Tasmania, at the peak of British colonialism. Kent crafts this epic with searing social commentary and a historical backdrop. At over two hours, this film is definitely a commitment, and while it will force you to look away for some of the more severe moments, it is well-worth the time. Sunday, May 19th, 7pm. (JLE)

The Nightingale
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In Fabric

The devil is in the details, which means it is easily etched into every fiber inside of every fabric. This is especially true for the dress in “In Fabric”, which seems to curse each wearer with misfortune. That’s right, you read that correctly. A haunted, devil dress. If that isn’t enough to garner your attention, then the fact that this film is written and directed by the same person (Peter Strickland) who brought us the strangely sultry “The Duke of Burgundy” should be enough to push your curiosity over to the darkside of this midnighter film. Saturday May 18th, 11:59pm. (JLE)

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

As a JFK assassination buff, this descriptive immediately spoke to me … “In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, leaving no survivors. It’s understood that because Hammarskjöld was, at the time, advocating for Congo’s independence, the “crash” was an assassination. With the case still unsolved fifty-plus years later, Danish journalist, filmmaker, and provocateur Mads Brügger leads viewers down a wild investigative rabbit hole to unearth the truth.” It’s filled with such sweet 1960s intrigue that Oliver Stone’s stone face just cracked a smile. Wednesday May 22th, 10pm. (PM)



In what is sure to be the most exciting Chicago premiere in 2019, director Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” is the coup of coups for the Chicago Critics Film Fest (It may its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC a mere 11 days ago). In one of the great “what-ifs” ever conceived, struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) finds himself going through a wormhole where he emerges on the other side THE ONLY person who knows The Beatles existed. Balancing between horror and amazement, Jack starts sharing the catalog with a hungry universe. The premise is solidly astounding, and for this Beatle’s admirer, an essential. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, and even Jon Lennon (Espino) will be there! Saturday May 18th, 9:30pm. (PM)

The Farewell

“The Farewell” is the spotlight of the Chicago Critics Film Festival for a reason, and it’s not just because it boasts an incredible, all-Asian cast that Hollywood is starved for. This film deals with death, duty, family, and tradition. It promises to be a tear-jerker, but it would have earned every drop. It asks a question that we’ve likely all asked ourselves at some point in our life: If you were terminally ill, would you want to know? Don’t expect this film to answer that question for you, but the journey it takes you on will be full of empathy and emotional depth. “The Farewell” features “Crazy Rich Asians” favorite Awkwafina showing us her true range in a dramatic role. Monday May 20th, 7:15pm. (JLE)

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CCFF Short Film Programs 1 & 2

Every year, the CCFF shorts programs are perfectly curated in a way – led by short film expert and Chicago film critic Collin Souter – that brings amazing stories from around the world. A great mixture of fictional narratives, non-fiction human interest stories, documentary-style storytelling, and marmots… yes, the furry, prairie dog-looking animals. Separated in two different programs on two different days, both complement each other and are also a must-see.

The different visual mediums vary as much the topics they are about. Some of my favorites include a revenge story starring some marmots (“Wild Love”), the empowering effects of a strap-on dildo (“Fuck You”), a musical whale answering the call of a lonely trucker (“The Phantom 52”), and a devastating text about the film “Rat Race” (“Squirrel”). Those are on top of the festival favorites like “The Orphan”, “Guaxuma”, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sudden Birth* (*but were afraid to ask)”, and the winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction, “Dunya’s Day”. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll learn, so pack tissue accordingly. Program 1: Saturday May 18th, 1pm. Program 2: Monday May 20th, 5pm (JLE)

CCFF Special Guests

In what is sure to make you say, “WOWSA,” the list of appearing filmmakers and performers is simply astounding. In the films outlined above, Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan will appear on behalf of “Saint Frances,” Lead actor Aisling Franciosi will appear on behalf of “The Nightingale,” director Lulu Wang will represent her film “The Farewell” and both Shorts Programs will have filmmaker appearances. Or, how about the 40th Anniversary celebration of Ridley Scott’s classic film “Alien” (Saturday May 18th, 6pm), with an appearance by featured performer and movie character actor legend Tom Skerritt. I could go on, but I’ll let you click here to peruse the CCFF film list, which is also a handy link to purchase tickets.(PM)

The 7th Chicago Critics Film Festival runs from May 17th through May 23rd, 2019, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 North Southport, Chicago. For the CCFF website, click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald,

from The Everything Entertainment Destination

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