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A Guide to the 12th European Union Film Festival: Week Two
by Peter Sobczynski

A look at some of the highlights of the second week of screenings at the European Union Film Festival at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center.

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 at 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.

Here are some of the highlights from the festival’s second week of programming.

THE GIRL FROM MONACO: In the latest work from French director Anne Fontaine (whose previous films have included the international hits “Dry Cleaning” and “Nathalie”), a straight-laced lawyer working on a high-profile murder case finds his life pulled in unexpected directions by a dedicated bodyguard who will do anything to keep his client out of harms way and a sexpot weather girl who worms his way into his heart (among other body parts) but who may have a secret or two up her sleeve (if she wore anything with sleeves, that is). It starts off as an intriguing character study but as it goes on, the film becomes more interested in the machinations of the plot and by the time it gets to its oh-so-ironic ending, most viewers will be too bored to care. (3/13 6:00 PM and 3/14 7:30 PM)

THE PERFECT AFTERNOON: Originally conceived as a project for Poland’s leading filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda (“Kanal,” “Katya”), this dramatic comedy offers a metaphorical look at the country’s struggle to find a place for itself in the post-Communist world by offering up a dual storyline that chronicles a few days in the lives of both a young couple preparing for their wedding and the bride’s now-divorced parents. Although the construction of the story is a little uneven (some of the events are seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker for no particular reason), there are a lot of good moments here (the political discussion at McDonalds is a highlight) and besides, how can I possibly tell you not to see a Polish movie? (3/13 8:15 PM and 3/15 7:15 PM)

EL GRECO: The early years of the famed artist are chronicled in this Greek-made film that finds him making his way from his native Greece to Spain and coming into conflict with an old friend who has now, inevitably, become the lead inquisitor of the now-raging Spanish Inquisition. Although it looks pretty and it contains a nice soundtrack (featuring contributions from Vangelis), this is a by-the-numbers biopic that will be of little interest to anyone other art buffs looking to pick at historical inaccuracies. You would probably be better served walking down a few more blocks to the Art Institute and check out their own collection of four authentic El Grecos. (3/13 8:00 PM and 3/15 3:00 PM)

WORLDS APART: This Danish melodrama, which was their official entry for this year’s Bes Foreign-Language Film Oscar, centers on a seemingly devout family of Jehovah’s Witnesses whose dedication to the faith is thrown into question when the parents divorce as the result of Dad’s affair. At the same time, daughter Sara finds herself falling in love with a boy who is not a Witness and when he father hypocritically rejects their budding relationship because of that, she finds herself forced to choose between her faith and her happiness. (3/14 5:00 PM and 3/18 6:00 PM)

MY FUHRER--THE TRULY TRUEST TRUTH ABOUT ADOLF HITLER: In this defiantly outrageous comedy that inspired a firestorm of controversy in its native Germany when it premiered in 2007, Jewish-born director Dani Levi tells the story of a Jewish actor (Ulrich Muhe) who is pulled out of a prison camp in late 1944 by Goebbels himself in order to inspire a depressed Hitler to once again reach his former heights of oratorical greatness. There are some amusing moments here and there but the film relies on just a little too much slapstick for its own good and while there is a momentary kick in seeing a German comedy about Hitler at first, there is nothing here that wasn’t done more effectively back in the 1940’s in such classics as “The Great Dictator” and “To Be or Not to Be.” (3/14 9:30 PM and 3/17 6:00 PM)

PUFFBALL: Nicolas Roeg, the director behind such cult classics as “Walkabout,” “Don’t Look Now,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession” (all of which you need to see immediately if you haven’t already done so) returns to feature filmmaking after a long absence with this strange adaptation of the Fay Weldon novel about a young woman (Kelly Reilly) who moves to a remote Irish village to restore a house. When she unexpectedly becomes pregnant, her next-door neighbor (Miranda Richardson), who has three daughters of her own, becomes convinced that the newcomer has somehow taken the son that is rightfully hers and enlists the aid of her mother (Rita Tushingham), a genuine witch, to settle things. While nowhere near as good as Roeg’s best work (and I see that my earlier list neglected to include such equally worthy titles as “Eureka,” “Insignificance” and “The Witches”), this trippy blend of sex, horror and female empowerment is definitely different and while it may confuse and outrage some viewers, it certainly won’t bore any of them. (3/14 9:30 PM and 3/17 8:00 PM)

SOMERS TOWN: Two teenage boys--a runaway from Nottingham (Thomas Turgoose) and the son of a Polish rail worker (Piotr Jagiello)--meet up in the new and unfamiliar city of London and become fast friends, even after they both find themselves falling for the same French waitress. This is the latest work from acclaimed British filmmaker Shane Meadows (whose previous works have included “TwentyFourSeven,” “Dead Man’s Shoes” and “This is England”) and while it is more of a minor-key effort than his earlier films, the intimacy of Meadows’ approach is a perfect fit for the material and it is aided immeasurably by the lovely black-and-white photography and the natural performances and easy chemistry between the two leads. (3/15 7:30 PM and 3/16 6:00 PM)

LA BELLE PERSONNE: For his intriguing latest effort, French director Christophe Honore (“Dans Paris” and “Love Songs”) goes the “Cruel Intentions” route by taking a classic work of 17th -century French literature-- “La Princess de Cleves” in this case--and resetting it in the confines of a contemporary high school. In this one, Louis Garrel stars as a studly teacher who drifts from one meaningless affair after another with fellow teachers and students alike until he lays his eyes upon a sexy new student (Lea Seydoux) and finds himself instantly besotted with her. It sounds like the premise for a bubblegum farce but this is a lot smarter than that thanks to Honore’s stylish direction and the performances from Garrel and newcomer Seydoux. (3/16 7:30 PM and 3/17 6:00 PM)

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originally posted: 03/13/09 04:53:45
last updated: 03/13/09 05:25:10
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