Chicago Feminist Film Festival: ‘Crystal Swan’ Tells A Darkly Comic Version of the American Dream

We all know about the American Dream. We see it in movies, we read about it history books, we talk about it all the time. In achieving this proverbial dream, we have achieved the pinnacle of success and freedom, whatever that means. In her directorial debut, Darya Zhuk paints a different picture of chasing the American Dream in the newly sovereign nation of Belarus, one that is funny, tragic, and confused.

In Belarus in the 1990s, Velya (Alina Nasibullina) is an aspiring DJ who wants nothing more than to move to Chicago, home of house music. She and her strung-out boyfriend party all night, and she survives by living at home and stealing from her mom. But, Belarus’ bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for an unemployed woman living with her mom to leave the country. In an attempt to trick the system, she buys a letter of employment from a factory, but this backfires as she writes down the wrong phone number, which means the embassy can’t call to verify her “employment.” So, she heads to the phone number’s address in the factory town of Crystal City to ensure she gets her visa. This leads to a clash of the classes in the name of reaching that American Dream.

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It’s More Complicated Than Serial Killers in ‘Smaller and Smaller Circles’

We’re a society that loves serial killers, but only a certain image of serial killer: a white man with a tortured past who can easily be slapped on a t-shirt and lauded as some kind of perverse hero. Filipino director Raya Martin taps into this obsession with his adaptation of Felisa Batacan’s award-winning novel, Smaller and Smaller Circles (it was also the first Filipino crime novel). But, instead of glorifying or deifying the killer, Martin instead portrays him, and the entire case, with nuance and pain, depicting a world unseen by most Western audiences.

In a rain-soaked Payatas, reminiscent of the dreary city in Se7en, two Jesuit priests, Gus Saenz (Nonie Buencamino) and Jerome Lucero (Sid Lucero), are assisting in the investigation of a potential serial killer who is targeting young boys in the slum district. Seven bodies have been found in a local garbage dump, each missing his face and genitals. Saenz and Lucero, forensic investigators as well as priests, are working against time and the police to solve this case, fighting tooth and nail for resources. While they are investigating these murders, they are also combating the rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Both men are trying to do good by the Lord, but are confronted with a more harrowing reality.

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