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A Guide to the European Union Film Festival: Week One
by Peter Sobczynski

A look at some of the offerings during the first week of the 20th European Union Film Festival at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center.

Now celebrating its 20th year, Chicagoís 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 and kicking off with ''20,000 Reasons,'' a genial rom-com from Malta (the opening film is always from the country currently filling the presidency of the EU), 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

CEZANNE AND ME (March 3, 7): The latest film from Daniele Thompson is a sort of dual biopic of two renowned French artists--painter Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and author Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet--that follows from their days as childhood friends to the dust up that occurs when Cezanne accuses the far more successful Zola of using him as the basis for the character of a genius failure in his 1888 book ''The Masterpiece.'' Although some of the early scenes are interesting and the whole thing is as handsomely mounted as can be, the film kind of loses its way and becomes the chronicle of a silly rivalry between two old friends than a look at the evolution of two wildly different though equally impressive and influential artistic temperament.

SENSE OF AN ENDING (March 3, 9): For the followup film to his international hit ''The Lunchbox,'' director Ritesh Batra has elected to adapt the 2011 Booker Prize-winning Julian Barnes novel about a seventy-something man (Jim Broadbent) who prefers to live his entire life at a comfortable distance until a late acquaintance leave him something in his will that the person currently in possession of it refuses to turn over to him. Annoyed by this, he begins to investigate and as a result is forced to confront an incident from his long-buried past that he may have tried to forget but which continues to have repercussions for everyone involved. It sounds juicy enough and the presence of Charlotte Rampling in the cast canít help but further stoke excitement. Alas, the story, for all its huffing and puffing, basically turns out to be little more than an inferior riff on ''Atonement'' that is contingent on our hero not immediately grasping a piece of information that, to be fair, he could not have possibly been expected to suss out entirely by himself. As for Rampling, she does liven things up with her patented brand of icy fury but since she doesnít turn up until about the 70-minute mark, her presence turns out to be a case of too little, too late.

THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (March 4. 5): Ever since I first read about this 1962 screen adaptation of the fantastical stories chronicling the wild misadventures of the good baron from Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman more than a quarter-century in the late Bill Warren's essential genre history ''Keep Watching the Skies,'' I have been hoping to one day have a chance to see this now-obscure film. Now that I have finally see it at last in a newly restored version, I can assure you that whatever lofty expectations I may have developed for the film in my mind over the years, it not only meets them, it wildly exceeds them. Since a lot of the fun of the film comes from watching Zemanís animated visions come to life before your eyes, I wonít spoil things by telling you what you will be seeing. I will, however, say that even after 55 years, those visions are still as spectacular as ever (thanks in no small part to the gorgeous-looking restoration the film has been given) and viewers of all ages are certain to be thrilled and delighted by the delights packed into its 83-minute-long running time. A must-see.

FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION (March 4, 6): Until passing away of cancer last December at the age of 66, Franca Sozzani served as the editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue for more than a quarter-century, a tumultuous reign that saw her combining art, fashion and politics in unusual and oftentimes controversial ways, such as shooting a fashion layout of a model lying on a beach befouled by the spillage from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Directed by her son, Francesco Carrozzini, this documentary examines Sozzaniís life and creative process through interviews with her and such boldface names as Bruce Weber, Baz Luhrmann, Courtney Love, Naomi Campbell and Karl Lagerfeld and while the results may lean a little too close to hagiography for more casual observers, fashionistas will find this to be an interesting look at one of the most groundbreaking participants in the modern fashion industry.

PERSONAL SHOPPER (March 4, 8): Continuing the collaboration that began with ''Clouds of Sils Maria,'' French filmmaker Olivier Assayas and American actress Kristen Stewart reunite for this Paris-set sort-of ghost story about Maureen, a young woman who divides her time between serving as the personal assistant to a rarely-seen but utterly spoiled movie star and trying to make contact with the spirit of her twin brother, who recently died of the same heart ailment that she has and who promised to make contact with her from the spirit world if possible. What happens from there is best left for you to discover but suffice it to say, Maureen's personal and professional lives begin to collapse into each other in increasingly creepy and bewildering ways. As this film is opening commercially in a couple of weeks, I will have more to say about it then but for now, I can assure you that the film as a whole is an endlessly fascinating work that reconfirms that Assayas is one of the most ingenious French filmmakers at work today and that Stewart has undeniably become one of the most valuable and inventive actresses of any age or nationality working today.

THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (March 5): If there is one thing that unites everyone--rich or poor, powerful or weak--it is the inescapable fact that at some point, we will all shuffle off of this mortal coil. That notion is the inspiration for the fascinating and occasionally darkly funny historical drama from Albert Serra that follows the end days of the titular leader (Jean-Pierre Leaud) from initially feeling a strange pain in his leg to enduring any number of treatments ranging from the practical to outright quackery to his passing, virtually all of it from the increasingly dubious comfort of the royal chambers. Admittedly, spending two hours watching someone die may not immediately strike a lot of people as being particularly entertaining but the sumptuously produced work is absolutely mesmerizing and thought-provoking in equal measure and the central performance by Leaud, one of the true living legends of French cinema, is one of the best of his considerable career.

BELOVED DAYS (March 6, 9): In 1970, the town of Karmi island nation of Cyprus was the site of production for ''The Beloved,'' a Raquel Welch film that was reportedly funded at least in part by some wealthy locals as a way of jump-starting a local film industry. Things didnít go quite as planned--the film, apparently a riff on ''Therese Raquin,'' ended up sitting on a shelf for several years before getting a token and largely forgotten release while the good feeling it engendered among locals was soon obliterated by the Turkish invasion of 1974. In this genially entertaining documentary, by Constantinos Patsalides interviews as many of the participants in the original production as possible (getting no further with Welch than her lawyers) to recount the story of how it came to be and how it all went wrong, even hosting a screening of it for the people of Karmi who were there at the time and who themselves had never had a chance to see it before.

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originally posted: 03/04/17 02:42:33
last updated: 03/04/17 07:39:03
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