On Monday September 18th the schedule was announced for the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, which runs October 11 – 22, 2023. In no particular order, below are listed our top ten anticipated films for this year’s festival directed by women or non-binary people. There is one exception because of the film’s story centering around a female character. This list was done in collaboration with Cinema Femme contributors Peyton Robinson and Emily Jacobson and our Managing Editor Rebecca Martin Fagerholm. Be on the look-out for our festival reviews and interviews. Tickets are available to purchase on Friday, September 22nd. Learn more.
In addition to the below list, we’d like to elevate three shorts that will be screening at the festival that we are excited about, “A Real One,” directed by McKenzie Chinn (read interview with McKenzie Chinn about short in THE CALL SHEET), “Video Funeral,” , directed by Linh Tran (read interview with Linh Tran about short in THE CALL SHEET), and “Chronicle of a Summer Day.”
Also, we highly recommend you see “The Persian Version” at the festival. The film is directed by Maryam Keshavarz. We covered this film for the Sundance Film Fest. It’s not on this list because we’ve seen it already, but we loved it, and we recommend you go see it!
DIRECTED BY Jessica Hausner
COUNTRIES Austria, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark RUN TIME 110 minutes
Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner (Little Joe) returns to the director’s chair with a provocative thriller out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Crimson Peak) stars as Ms. Novak, a nutrition teacher at an elite prep school whose dogma of “conscious eating” quickly devolves into cult-like conformity for a group of seven teens. By the time their parents realize how extreme this so-called “Club Zero” has become, it may be too late to break Ms. Novak’s spell over her students.
A mannered, impeccably constructed combination of dry satire and gross-out body horror, Club Zero takes aim at Instagram “wellness” culture and social conformity. A typically controversial statement from an iconoclastic director, it’s bound to be the one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Festival.
DIRECTED BY Monia Chokri
COUNTRIES Canada, France RUN TIME 111 minutes
Plenty of films have been made about adultery. But not many of them are rom-coms told from the perspective of the philandering woman. Sophia (Magalie Lépine Blondeau) is a philosophy professor whose relationship with nice guy Xavier (Francis-William Rhéaume) stimulates her mind — and that’s about it. Enter Sylvain (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), a simple handyman who excites Sophia in all the ways her partner cannot. How can she choose between these two very different men, each of whom satisfies her in distinct ways?
Writer-director Monia Chokri asks a provocative question — can sexual and intellectual gratification co-exist in the same relationship? — in this seductive, playful story about having it all.
LANGUAGE French with subtitles
DIRECTED BY Nora El Hourch
COUNTRIES France, Morocco RUN TIME 100 minutes
Fifteen-year-olds Amina, Djeneba, and Zineb have been an inseparable trio since childhood. When one of the girls is the victim of a predatory incident, an emboldened Amina posts a video of the assault on social media as a means of denouncing the assailant. The video unexpectedly goes viral, eliciting both widespread support and backlash from their community and the internet at large. Amina’s actions force a wedge into this formerly invincible friendship, shedding light on the divides in the girls’ race, class, and cultural privilege.
A poignant commentary on the act of speaking out in the age of the viral internet, Sisterhood takes a critical closer look at the complex factors at play that, all too often, force women and girls into silence in the face of gendered violence.
LANGUAGE French with subtitles
DIRECTED BY Raven Jackson
COUNTRIES United States RUN TIME 92 minutes
A lyrical, decades-spanning exploration across a woman’s life in Mississippi, the feature debut from award-winning poet, photographer, and filmmaker Raven Jackson and producer Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) is a haunting and richly layered portrait, and a beautiful ode to the generations of people and places that shape us.
Sumptuously shot on 35mm film with evocative sound design and elliptical editing, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt unfolds like a dream, skipping around in time and seizing on key moments in its protagonist’s existence from infancy to adulthood. With a sensitive touch, each frame captures the fragile beauty of every passing second. What emerges is a stunningly tactile vision of family, womanhood, and the sights and sounds of the American South.
DIRECTED BY Justine Triet
COUNTRIES France RUN TIME 152 minutes
Married writers Sandra and Samuel live in an idyllic mountain chalet in the snow-covered French Alps with their visually impaired son Daniel. When Samuel’s body is found lying bloodied in the snow, the initial presumption is suicide. As the investigation proceeds, the police begin to suspect foul play. The evidence mounts, and Sandra is brought to trial. Could she have committed such a crime?
Featuring an electrifying lead performance from the mesmerizing Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall trains a microscope on one couple’s troubled relationship while posing questions about the legal system’s ability to interpret the nuances of life and the complexities of marriage. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Justine Triet’s tension-filled opus is a bracing, Hitchcockian showstopper.
LANGUAGE English, French, German with subtitles
DIRECTED BY Laura Luchetti
COUNTRIES Italy RUN TIME 111 minutes
Turin, 1938. Young Ginia has just moved from the countryside to the big city and takes a job at a dressmaker’s atelier. She demonstrates talent, and with the promise of a successful career, the future feels wide open. But war looms, casting shadows over the present and creating a sense of restlessness and unease. Desperate for adventure, Ginia befriends Amelia, who introduces her into a bohemian world of impetuous artists. Sensual and provocative, Amelia is different from anyone Ginia has ever known, opening her up to a world of new possibilities. During her “beautiful summer,” Ginia will surrender to her first great love and find the courage to be her true self.
Inspired by the 1949 novella of the same name by celebrated author Cesare Pavese (whose third novella in the same trilogy inspired Michelangelo Antononi’s Le amiche), The Beautiful Summer is steeped in the warm and glowing tones of radiant youth. Laura Luchetti elicits magnetic performances from the always sensitive Yile Yara Vianello (an Alice Rohrwacher regular also seen in La Chimera and Corpo Celeste) and radiant newcomer Deva Casel as two young women coming to terms with their own power and taking control of their destinies.
LANGUAGE Italian with subtitles
DIRECTED BY Paris Zarcilla
COUNTRIES United Kingdom RUN TIME 99 minutes
In a posh London neighborhood, undocumented Filipina worker Joy arrives at her latest job with her young daughter Grace smuggled in her suitcase. As Grace hides in an upstairs bedroom, Joy takes care of the estate’s patriarch, Mr. Garrett, who’s bedridden and slowly dying of cancer. Then an ominous revelation emerges, threatening to destroy everything that Joy has strived for in her new life.
In this bold and frightening portrait of race, class, and power, British-Filipino filmmaker Paris Zarcilla skillfully mixes tongue-in-cheek social commentary with plenty of jump scares and haunted-house thrills. Called a “coming of rage” story by its director, the film builds to ever greater heights of thrills and blood-splattered carnage, as mother and daughter attempt to break out of the cycle of exploitation that has long trapped their people.
LANGUAGE English, Tagalog with subtitles
DIRECTED BY Haroula Rose
COUNTRIES United States RUN TIME 90 minutes
Chicago native Haroula Rose (Once Upon a River) directs this delightful dysfunctional family comedy about Graham Landry (Josh Radnor), an eternally aspiring actor in Chicago who’s stuck in a funk and living in his family’s crumbling two-flat. When an old college crush (Chandra Russel) comes looking to rent the first floor apartment at the same time as his TV star brother Will’s (Rob Huebel) return home, Graham must finally grow up — if he can get out of his own way.
With a stellar cast of comic talents led by the lovable Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) and the love-to-hate Huebel (Childrens Hospital) and David Pasquesi playing a sleazy family friend, All Happy Families wrings humor and pathos from its flawed, yet sympathetic cast of characters as they try to overcome bad choices, entrenched sexism, and their own human foibles.
DIRECTED BY Clare Cooney
COUNTRIES United States RUN TIME 85 minutes
Mexican-American and queer, high school student Javier doesn’t exactly fit in with the popular kids. But he might be the only one who can save them. After an act of bullying sends Javier to the hospital, he begins experiencing visions that foresee glimpses of shocking murders at his school right before they happen. Now, in between navigating the social hierarchies and prejudices of clique culture, Javier (Primo’s Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) and his best friend Bianca (Candyman’s Ireon Roach) must try to unmask a serial killer before he strikes again.
Departing Seniors puts a fresh spin on teen slasher movies like Scream and Freaky, updating them by putting its queer protagonist and characters of color front and center. It’s a horror-comedy with a sarcastic, whip-smart edge and appealingly complex characters, shot right here in Chicago and ready to scare you silly.
DIRECTED BY Emerald Fennell
COUNTRIES United Kingdom RUN TIME 127 minutes
Scholarship student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) struggles to find his place as a new student at Oxford. On a chance meeting, he befriends Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), the most popular, charming, and handsome student in school. When Oliver tells Felix that he has no home to return to for the summer, Felix invites him to his aristocratic family’s country estate, Saltburn. As an outsider drawn into the shimmering world of the eccentric Cattons and their life of excess, Oliver begins to feel at home in this lifestyle, drawing closer to each member of the family. But when his fascination starts to verge on obsession, buried truths are unearthed, and this summer will become one he will never forget.
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) and an exceptional star-studded cast bring us a beautifully wicked and subversive tale of privilege and desire.
Tribute to Emerald Fennell
This screening includes an in-person tribute to director Emerald Fennell and presentation of the Chicago International Film Festival’s Visionary Award.