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A Guide to the 12th European Union Film Festival: Week One

by Peter Sobczynski

In 1998, Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center first presented the European Union Film Festival, a month-long program designed to highlight the newest films emerging from the EU member nations. Over the years, it has grown into an annual event that is one of the largest such showcases and has offered viewers a canny mix of previews of highly anticipated films as well as smaller titles that might otherwise never be seen in these parts. This year, the 12th Annual European Union Film Festival kicks off on March 6th and will be screening 59 films from all 27 EU nations, including new works from such noted filmmakers as Agnes Varda, Peter Greenaway, Olivier Assayas, Shane Meadows, Nicholas Roeg and Francois Ozon.

Over the next four weeks, I will be presenting a brief highlight reel of some of the more notable titles that will be unspooling and the guests that are scheduled to appear. If you would like more information on the films and their showtimes, you should log on to the Film Center’s website. All screenings will be held at the Film Center (164 North State Street) and outside of the opening and closing night films, the ticket prices are $9 for non-members, $7 for students and $5 for members.

I’M ALL GOOD: This year’s festival kicks off with, of all things, a decidedly silly caper comedy from the Czech Republic that centers on a group of closely-knit group of oddballs living in a remote town. When one of them falls victim to a con game that relieves him of his life savings, the others embark on a series of elaborate deceptions of their own in an effort to win back his money. The director of the film, Jan Hrebjik, is scheduled to appear for a post-screening discussion. (3/6. 7:00 PM)

WONDERFUL AND LOVED BY ALL: Described in the program as “Bridget Meets Bergman,” this Swedish take on the venerable chick flick genre centers on an actress who is struggling in both her personal and professional lives. The good news--she gets cast is a stage production of “Twelfth Night” to be directed by none other than Ingmar Bergman himself. (At this point, I should probably point out that this was made in 2007, before Bergman’s passing last year.) The bad news--the role requires the kind of advanced acrobatics training that she does not possess. (3/7 3:15 PM. 3/9 7:30 PM)

GRUBER’S JOURNEY: No, this is not an origin story illustrating the history of the late thief before he arrived at Nakatomi Plaza. This is instead a true life tale of a German war correspondent (and friend of Mussolini) who arrives in a small Romanian town suffering from a massive asthma attack. The party officials recommend that he visit a local doctor who is a specialist in such matters--and Jewish to boot--and the correspondent is forced into a desperate wild-goose chance to track the man down before it is too late. Director Rodu Gabrea and actress Victoria Cocias are currently scheduled to appear at both screenings. (3/7. 5:15 PM and 3/9. 7:45 PM)

SHALL WE KISS: In this lighter-than-light romantic comedy from France, a young man with romantic problems (Emmanuel Moret, who also wrote and directed) implores his longtime platonic female friend (Virginie Ledoyen) to kiss him once, purely for research purposes and with no emotional ties. In news that will surprise practically no one (especially if they have ever gotten a look at Virginie Ledoyen), that seemingly innocent smooch winds up having unexpected repercussions for the two of them, their respective lovers and, as we eventually discover, even complete outsiders. The whole thing is pretty silly but the two leads are charming enough to keep it from becoming completely insufferable. (3/7 7:30 PM and 3/10 6:00 PM)

ELDORADO: In the opening scenes of this decidedly dark comedy/road movie from Belgium, an antique car dealer catches a junkie in the process of robbing his home. Through a series of strange circumstances, the two wind up hitting the road together on a long and somewhat eventful drive into oblivion. Definitely not for all tastes but those in the mood for something a little twisted may get a kick out of this. (3/7 9:30 PM and 3/9 6:00 PM)

THE BEACHES OF AGNES: Agnes Varda, one of the world’s leading female filmmakers (thanks to such fascinating works as “Vagabond” and “The Gleaners and I”), takes a look at a subject near and dear to herself--the life and work of Agnes Varda--in this autobiographical documentary. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a look at this one before writing this article but based on her previous work, not to mention the fascinating life that she has led, I can pretty much guarantee that this one is worth checking out. (3/8 3:00 PM and 3/12 6:00 PM)

FERMAT’S ROOM: In what can only be described as a weirdo fusion of “Pi,” “Cube” and “Saw,” this Spanish thriller finds four math geniuses trapped in a room that has been booby-trapped with walls that are slowly collapsing together and the only thing that can stop them from being squished is to answer a series of brainteasers being sent to them via computer. Yeah, it is pretty much as stupid as it sounds, never more so than during the absurd finale in which the person responsible for everything tries to explain it all. In other words, this is the one that will probably get the big-budget American remake before too long. (3/8 5:30 PM and 3/10 6:15 PM)

DAYS AND CLOUDS: Corporate downsizing isn’t merely an American phenomenon, as is demonstrated by this Italian melodrama. After a lifetime of comfort and privilege, a well-to-do man is harshly forced out of the company that he founded decades earlier and he and his wife are forced to face the new realities of life as all the perks and privileges that they have depended on over the years are stripped away one by one. (3/8 5:15 PM and 3/10 8:00 PM)

KISSES: If there is one flat-out must see among this week’s entries, it is this utterly beguiling modern-day fairy tale from Ireland about two young friends--a boy beaten by his father and a neighbor girl who is also being abused--who run away from home one night and embark on a journey to Dublin that educates them on the mysteries of life, love and Bob Dylan. Imagine a cross between “A Little Romance” and “Night of the Hunter” and you will have an idea of what director Lance Daly has pulled off here--a charming and sometimes creepy coming-of-age saga that is filled with visual splendors, wonderful performances from the two young leads and a couple of nifty surprises to boot. (3/8 7:30 PM and 3/9 6:00 PM).

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originally posted: 03/06/09 04:45:58
last updated: 03/06/09 05:22:02
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