The 44th Chicago International Film Festival

| November 2, 2008

The 44th Chicago International Film Festival had a great run from October 16 through the 29th, and in her first directorial debut, Jada Pinkett Smith examined human nature and desires with an “erotic drama” about one man’s discovery of his inner soul at the insistence of a female stranger with whom he’s made acquaintance and become obsessed.
The Human Contract (which screened on the day before the festival’s end as part of the Black Perspectives program) follows actor Jason Clarke, playing businessman Julian Wright, after he meets free-spirited Michael Reed, played by Paz Vega, at a bar. He’s been estranged from his wife for a year, and has just willed himself to sign the divorce papers. Julian seems to be in a state of depression, but he’s a whiz at work; with co-workers Idris Elba and Ted Danson relying on him to close on a multimillion-dollar deal that will secure their financial freedoms.
There’s one kicker, Julian has to maintain a wholesome lifestyle until the deal is finalized. In this aspect, beautiful, seductive Michael–who dances to the beat of her own drummer, and counts a husband and at least two boyfriends as diversions–puts Julian to the test, while dragging him through an unorthodox social obstacle course. He follows her to places he’s never imagined–one being a screening of the Frankenstein movie at a cemetery. While there, he punches a guy in the face after Michael argues with him.
Pinkett Smith said during an interview before the screening that “many of her own secrets have affected her life,” and that Clarke’s character must confront what his life would become if he continues to hold onto his own secrets. “The woman [Vega] forces him to confront that,” Pinkett Smith added. “I wanted to make an adult movie.”
And adult movie it is. The sex scenes could almost compare to those on cable television.
The jury is still out for me, however, on just what Julian’s secret is. The movie reveals that, as a young boy, he came home and found his mother had attempted suicide, and his sister, Rita, played by Pinkett Smith, is in an abusive marriage. He keeps a locked room where no one really knows the combination but him; however he does share this combination with Michael. Only it seems to be too late–after he has nearly destroyed both his personal and professional lives.
The Human Contract is a different type of movie, in an “indie” kind of way, while touching on themes self-mutilation, voyeurism, suicide and domestic violence. But I will add that I’m sure it will release to a wider audience. It doesn’t hurt that Pinkett Smith’s hubby, Will, is an executive producer and veteran actress Joanna Cassidy is also included in the cast.
Veteran Chicago actor, director and all-around movie man Robert Townsend’s Of Boys and Men also screened at the festival. The movie centers around the Cole family’s heartbreak and near destruction after the mother, played by Angela Bassett, is killed in a tragic auto accident. The movie gives new life to Chicago’s West Side, as it was filmed there, with appearances from locals, such as the Rev. Bill Winston, basketball great Norm Van Lier and iconic DJ Herb Kent. Soap star Victoria Rowell, Bobb’e J. Thompson and Faizon Love also add to the cast.
Other notable mentions were the King of Ping Pong, Pride and Glory, Ballast, The Brothers Bloom and Good, among others.
Other highlights of the festival were a tribute to screen darling Sidney Poitier, who received a Gold Hugo Lifetime Achievement Award, and Chicago breakout actress Jennifer Hudson, who received an Artistic Achievement Award.
The 44th Chicago International Film Fest screened movies at AMC 600 North Michigan, as well as AMC River East and the Music Box theaters. There were 175 movies, 47 countries; in two weeks in one great city–Chicago!
For more info: visit www.chicagofilmfestival.com.

Photos by Bob Dowey.

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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