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A Guide To The 2019 European Union Film Festival: Week One
by Peter Sobczynski

A look at some of the films screening as part of the first week of the 22nd European Union Film Festival, a month-long program unspooling at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center.

Now in its 22nd year, the Chicago European Film Festival returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center for a month-long program consisting of 60 local premieres of films from each one of the 28 EU nations. Running March 8 through April 4, the festival, the largest dedicated solely to presenting films from the European Union, many of which may never screen in these parts again, will kick off as usual with an offering from the nation currently in charge of the EU--in this case, the gripping Romanian medical docudrama ''Thou Shalt Not Kill''--and the films on display cover a wide variety of genres and subjects. Over the next four weeks, I will be offering up a weekly highlight reel of some of the more notable titles on display that I have had a chance to preview. For a full schedule of titles and times as well as ticket availability, go to the Siskel Center website at or call them at (312) 846-2800 or visit the theater box office, located at 164 North State Street. If you somehow cannot find at least one title among those being screened that attracts your interest, it is almost certainly your problem.

CARMEN Y LOLA (March 10, 14): Set within the confines of Madrid's gypsy community, this first feature by Arantxa Echevarria, who won the Best New Director prize at this year's Goya Awards, tells the story of the unexpected romance that develops between the lively Carmen (Roxy Rodriguez) and the much shyer graffiti artist Lola (Zaira Romero) and the upheaval that it causes in their respective lives when it is discovered. There is nothing in this story of star-crossed lovers that you have not seen in dozens of previous films--even the metaphors have a been there-done that quality to them--but it still makes for a reasonably entertaining, if unsurprising, viewing thanks to the undeniable charm of the two leads.

CENTRAL AIRPORT THF (March 9, 14): This German documentary is centered on the Tempelhof Airport, a historic Berlin structure that was shuttered in 2008 and then reopened in 2015 to serve as a way station for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn regions as they wait for months or even years for their statuses to be evaluated. Part architectural tour and part penetrating Frederick Wiseman-stye look at both an institution as it goes about its daily business and the people affected by the decisions and actions made within its walls, chiefly an 18-year-old Syrian named Ibriham, this is an engrossing work by director Karim Ainouz that captures a particular sociopolitical moment in time in ways both educational and compassionate.

GASPARD AT THE WEDDING (March 8, 12): After a bizarre meet cute during a protest on railroad tracks, mopey Gaspard (Felix Moati) hires free spirit Laura (Laetitia Dosch) to accompany him to the rural farm owned by his family to serve as his date for his father's remarriage. While there, Laura tries to deal with the strange family dynamics she sees, especially the increasingly weird relationship that Gaspard has with his sister (Christia Theret), an oddball who runs around in a bearskin and thinks nothing of stripping down and jumping into the bathtub with her brother. If you ever wondered what ''The Hotel New Hampshire'' would be like if it was reconfigured as a strained French farce with chunks of ''We Bought a Zoo'' and sub-Wes Anderson-style quirkiness jammed into the proceedings, this film should be the answer to your strangely specific dreams. For everyone else, the whole enterprise will come across as more banal than outrageous and all the offbeat touches will come across as more grating than amusing.

THE ICE KING (March 9, 11): This documentary by John Erskine tells the story of John Curry, the male figure skate who revolutionized the sport by eschewing the technical precision that once defined it with a more athletic and balletic approach that first earned him a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics and then led him to further refine it through a series of touring shows into what is commonly known today as ice dancing. He proved to be just as much of a game-changer off the rink as well after more or less outing himself as a homosexual on the eve of his Olympic finals, becoming the first openly gay Olympian. The film uses Curry's life and accomplishments to chart both the evolution of competitive ice skating and of the gay movement of the 70s and 80s that culminated in the onslaught of the AIDS virus, which he was diagnosed with in 1987 and which contributed to his death in 1994. Even if you have little interest in the world of figure skating, this is still an interesting look at a true pioneer whose innovations and influences can still be felt and recognized to this day.

LORO (March 9, 13): This is one film that I have not yet had an opportunity to see. However, it warrants a mention here simply because the idea of acclaimed Italian director Paolo Sorrentino doing an epic-length take on the life of infamous billionaire tycoon and politician Silvio Berlusconi (played by Sorrento regular Toni Servillo) is one that sounds so promising that even if it proves to be a failure, it would almost certainly have to be an interesting failure.

MISS HANOI (March 10, 13): Set in a small Czech town with a strong Vietnamese population, this thriller begins with two kids being released from juvenile detention after serving time for the murder of a local beauty queen. When one turns up dead and the other goes missing, a local Vietnamese policewoman (Ha Thanh Spetlikova) teams up with a borderline racist Czech cop (David Novotny) to investigate and quickly discover that nothing, not even the original crime, is quite as it seems. This is a fairly standard police procedural that nevertheless winds up standing out thanks to the admittedly unusual setting for the story and the compelling performance by Spetlikova as a young woman torn between the demands of her community and her desire to seek justice, not matter what the cost.

ROCK ’N ROLL (March 10, 14): For his latest directorial effort, Guillaume Canet stars as himself, an actor of some note and fame who is no longer getting the hot young parts and whose longtime real-life partner, Marion Cotillard (also playing herself), has far eclipsed him in terms of popularity. When the sexy young co-star of his latest movie (model Camille Rowe) makes a vague offhand remark that her generation doesn't really consider him to be edgy or sexually arousing, it kicks off a mid-life crisis that finds him trying to prove to the world that he can still be a bad boy hottie with predictably disastrous and increasingly grotesque results. Fans of contemporary French cinema may get a kick out of all the in-jokes and cameo appearances and Cotillard, who spends most of the film struggling to learn to speak with a Canadian accent for a new project, is clearly having fun spoofing herself and her image as a serious actress--she even gets to bust out a full-blown Celine Dion impression at one point. The problem is that all the stuff involving Canet and his fumblings is pretty awful--imagine the ''A Fine Mess''-era Blake Edwards trying to do a Charlie Kaufman-style meta-movie screenplay--and just grows increasingly intolerable as the film goes on and on and on before dribbling off into a concluding riff on the vapidity of the American film industry that rings somewhat hollow considering what precedes it here.

THOU SHALT NOT KILL (March 8, 13): This year's official kickoff film is a tense Romanian docudrama that opens with a top surgeon (Alexandru Suciu) reeling from the death of a young patient after what appeared to be a successful operation. When he discovers that the death was the result of ineffectual sterilizers purchased by the hospital, he goes on a crusade to bring attention to his findings but discovers that no one--including colleagues, the media and his own family--is interested in causing a stir and try to dissuade him from rocking the boat further. As one-person-versus-the-system movies go, this doesn't exactly shake the template up but it does succeed thanks to its genuinely angry tone and the strong performance by Suciu. Think of it as a sort of symbolic prequel to ''The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'' and you should have some idea of what you are in for.

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originally posted: 03/08/19 04:11:16
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