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A Guide to the 20th European Union Film Festival: Week Two
by Peter Sobczynski

A brief look at some of the more notable titles playing during the second week of Chicago's European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Now celebrating its 20th year, Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center once again presents the European Union Film Festival, a month-long program designed to highlight the newest films coming out of the EU member nations by offering a canny mix of highly anticipated titles and lesser-known films that may never again be seen in these parts. Running March 3-30, this year's iteration offers up 62 titles from all 28 EU nations that include the latest efforts from such acclaimed filmmakers as the Dardenne brothers, Francois Ozon, Olivier Assayas, Bruno Dumont, Pernilla August and Lone Scherfig. Over the next four weeks, I will be presenting a brief highlight reel of some of the more notable titles that will be unspooling. All screenings will be held at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 North State Street. For a full schedule of films and showtimes, you should log on to the Film Center website at

Here are some of the more notable titles playing during the festival's second week.

GOZO (March 10, 14): In this psychological thriller from Malta, British couple Joe and Lucille (Joseph Kennedy and Ophelia Lovibond) go off to the titular island for an extended stay that starts off beautifully but the relationship begins to crumble under the pressure of water issues at their villa, the presence of an American visitor with his eye on Lucille and Joe's delayed sense of guilt over the demise of his previous girlfriend, who killed herself after seeing him and Lucille together and who now appears to be literally haunting his work. Director Maria Bowen, a former exchange student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, does a good job of establishing a slow-burning tension and the performances are good but the film is somewhat undone by the inescapable fact that we never quite get a convincing reason as to why Joe, after all the time that had elapsed, would suddenly choose to feel guilty about his previous boorish behavior.

THE STUFF OF DREAMS (March 10, 15): In this genial Italian comedy from Gianfranco Cabiddu, a group of recently convicted gangsters and a group of ambitious actors are unexpectedly brought together through a shipwreck that lands them all on a prison island in the Mediterranean run by Don Vincenzo and his daughter, Miranda. With the criminals having successfully infiltrated the acting troupe, Vincenzo hits upon the only possible solution to help him figure out who is who--he orders them to put on a performance of ''The Tempest'' so that he can see for himself who are the real actors and who are the criminals. This is all kind of silly, of course, but in a week filled with bleak fare, its basic charms cannot be denied.

AFTERLOV (March 11, 13): While housesitting for a producer friend, goofball hipster Nikos extends an invitation to ex-girlfriend Sofia to come on up for a vacation of a purely platonic variety. If it sounds too good to be true, that is because it is and once Sofia arrives, he essentially takes her hostage and refuses to let her go until they go through the remains of their previous relationship and she adequately explains to him why she decided to leave. This film from Greek director Stergios Paschos is supposed to be a comedy and there is plenty of slapstick silliness to be had and it does deserve some credit for making Sofia almost as much of a basket case as Nikos. However, neither one is especially likable or interesting and their back-and-forth quickly begins to grow tiresome--viewers may feel like they are the ones who have been held hostage for the duration of its 94-minute running time.

SLACK BAY (March 11, 16): Thanks to such controversial works as ''L'humanite'' and ''Twentynine Palms,'' Bruno Dumont has become one of Franceís most talked-about filmmakers but this absolutely deranged effort could leave even his greatest proponents speechless and not in the good way. Following his flirtation with farce in his previous effort, ''Liíl Quinquin,'' he fully embraces the ridiculous with this story, set in a remote seaside town in 1910, where class conflicts come to light when the occasionally cross-dressing daughter of a well-to-do family of vacationers falls in love with the son of a family of rough-and-tumble local fishermen. While all this is going on, visitors to the island are beginning to disappear in large numbers and while the Laurel & Hardy-like local investigators are flummoxed, we soon learn the grisly details of what exactly is happening to them. Blending together a half-hearted mystery narrative, broad slapstick and moments of stomach-churning gore, Dumont is clearly swinging for the fences here but all he winds up doing is striking out spectacularly, though some may be entertained (if that is the word) by its sheer audaciousness. Otherwise, there is absolutely no reason to indulge in Dumont's foolishness unless you want to see Juliette Binoche, in an absurdly written part as another one of the rich idiots, deliver what must be one of the most insanely miscalculated turns from a demonstrably great actress to come along in a long time.

THE UNKNOWN GIRL (March 12, 15): The world-renowned Dardenne brothers return with their latest effort and, in a shocking twist, it is not a silly knockabout comedy. Instead, it tells the story of an ambitious, newly-licensed doctor (Adele Haenel) who is about to move from a small office in a troubled community to a lucrative position in a slick suburban clinic when she, out of sheer exhaustion, refuses to respond to the frantic after-hours buzzing by a young woman at the door to her office. When the young woman turns up dead the next day, the guilt-stricken doctor decides to not only stay and serve the disenfranchised community of working class and immigrant patients but also sets off on her own to investigate who that girl at her door was and what happened to her. With films such as ''Rosetta'' and ''Two Days, One Night,'' the Dardennes have made some of the most powerful examples of social realist drama of our time but this, frankly, is not one of their better efforts--although Haenel is quite good in the lead, the film as a whole seems a little too dictated by the mechanics of the plot for its own good and simply fails to achieve the kind of impact that they have made over the years with their other, better films.

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originally posted: 03/11/17 02:47:31
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