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

A brief recap of some of the highlights of the fourth and final week of the 20th European Union Film Festival in Chicago.

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 key films playing during the fourth and final week of the European Union Film Festival.

EGON SCHIELE: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (March 25, 27): Told in a series of flashback, the life of the controversial Austrian artist (played here by Noah Saavedra)is recounted in this biopic that focuses on his relationships with his younger sister (which was rumored to be incestuous in nature), the young model Wally Neuzil and the even younger Viennese girl, the latter of which saw him put on trial for her alleged seduction. The story is undeniably fascinating--though it will probably play better with those already familiar with Schiele's life and work going in--and Saavedra is good in the lead role but in recounting a life as daring and controversial as Schiele's, Dieter Berner's film is oddly conventional in tone and never quite seems like a good fit for the story at hand.

LOUISE BY THE SHORE (March 25, 30): In this modest and beautifully animated charmer from France, a sweet little old lady is spending the last day of the summer season at a remote beach getaway when she inadvertently misses the last train out and is stranded in the now-abandoned resort following a pounding rainstorm. Over the next few months, she makes the best of her situation by fending for herself and experiencing memories of the past seaside misadventures of her youth. The screening on the 30th will be the official Closing Night presentation, an honor given to a film of the country that will be heading the EU the following year, and audience members are invited to attend a post-screening reception.

AUSTERLITZ (March 26, 29): For this dark and thought-provoking documentary, German filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa placed a number of hidden cameras throughout the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, which have now been open to visits from the public, and, in a series of long and uninterrupted shots, quietly observes the visitors as they blithely stroll through the location of such misery and horror while taking selfies, snacking, chatting amongst each other and half-listening to tour guides relaying information of dubious historical and educational value. It sounds like an opportunity for a lot of cheap shots and there are moments that come close to doing just that (especially the long sequence in which hundreds of people unthinkingly pass by the infamous sign on the outside gates proclaiming ''Arbeiit Macht Frei'') but for the most part, Loznitsa refrains from such things, preferring a quieter and less obstrusive take that forces viewer to confront their own thoughts about what the Holocaust means to them in this day and age and whether the very idea of making it into a public attraction is a desecration of sacred ground or a well-meaning attempt to prevent people from forgetting the past.

THEIR FINEST (March 26): Screening as a preview before a commercial release scheduled for next month, the new film from Lone Scherfig (''An Education'') is a WW II-era comedy starring Gemma Arterton as a housewife who lands a job in Britain's Ministry of Information doing rewrites on the propaganda shorts they crank out to aid the war effort. With a fellow screenwriter (Sam Clafin), she comes across a story involving the evacuation at Dunkirk and tries to convince her superiors to produce it as a full-fledged feature. This particular title was not made available for preview but the combination of the subject matter and the presence of the always-interesting Arterton certainly has my interest piqued.

SHELLY (March 27, 29): In this fairly icky slice of body horror from Denmark, a Romanian immigrant takes a job as a live-in maid for a Danish couple living mostly off the grid in an isolated forest. When the couple are unable to conceive a child on their own, she agrees to serve as a surrogate for their frozen embryo and before you can say ''It’s Alive'' (or, to a much lesser extent, ''It's Lives Again''), the gestation period grows increasingly strange and creepy. The film looks good (though an abrupt shift in aspect ratios seems more like a gimmick than anything else) and has a couple of reasonably effective shock moments here and there but for the most part, director Ali Abbasi has not managed to figure out a way to present the material in a manner unique enough to make viewers forget the likes of the similarly-themed ''Rosemary’s Baby.''

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originally posted: 03/25/17 01:42:18
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