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

Please enjoy a brief look at some of the highlights on display during the third week of the European Union Film Festival, currently 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 and which 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.


COINCOIN AND THE EXTRA-HUMANS (March 23, 28): After such bizarre recent efforts as ''Li'l Quinquin,'' ''Slack Bay'' and ''Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc,'' you might not think that it would be possible for French filmmaker Bruno Dumont to get much stranger. As it turns out, he can and he has with this seriously nutty four-part story, originally produced for French television, that serves as a sequel to ''Li'l Quinquin'' and rejoins the now-teenaged Quinquin (Alane Delhaye)--now known as Coincoin--as he goes about life in his small town while policeman Van Der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) investigate the appearance of a mysterious substance that seems to be cropping up in the countryside and which may be the harbinger of an alien invasion. Not surprisingly, this is not for all tastes--even those who have enjoyed Dumont's recent excursions to the wild side may be a bit mystified by it all--and the extended run time may try patiences as well. While I would not call it great by any stretch of the imagination, the defiantly goofball tone is reasonably amusing and there are enough fun elements to provide balance to the stuff that doesn’t quite work.

THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES (March 22, 26): You might think that there could not possibly be any new or fresh angles remaining by which to examine the artistic legacy of Orson Welles but Irish documentarian Mark Cousins has somehow managed to do just that here. His hook is a cache of old paintings and drawings done by Welles that he has managed to procure and uses them as a springboard to discuss both the artistic influences that he developed while studying at the Art Institute and how his work in that medium would go on to inform his cinematic output. Not a soup-to-nuts look at Welles's life and work--something that no single movie could possibly cover in the first place--this is an always fascinating look at a little-discussed aspect of his legacy that has been created in an idiosyncratic manner fully fitting of its subject. Cousins's incessant narration may drive some viewers a bit batty after a while, but it is nevertheless a must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in Welles.

FERRANTE FEVER (March 23, 25): Elena Ferrante, as many of you known, is one of the biggest names in contemporary literature--her books have developed a passionate following among readers around the world, there have been equally popular adaptations done for both the big screen and HBO and she was cited by Time magazine in 2016 as one of the 100 most influential people of the year. What makes these achievements even more extraordinary is that no one seems to have any idea who she is or even what she looks like. At first glance, it seems as if this documentary by Giacomo Durzi about the Ferrante phenomenon is going to concern itself solely with the notion of trying to uncover the author’s real identity but Durzi is less interested that than in looking at her mostly from a literary perspective, bringing in the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Strout and Roberto Saviano to discuss her use of specific use of language and location as well as her recurring themes. This approach may prove to be frustrating to those looking for either an answer to the mystery of her identity or a general explanation of her appeal to those not already in her fan base but those who are already into her books should find it to be both entertaining and informative.

SPARRING (March 22, 25): At the end of an undistinguished career that has left him as little more than a walking bag of meat with a losing record, a not-particularly-good boxer (Matthieu Kassovitz) has promised his long-suffering wife that his next fight will be his last. Alas, when he is in dire need of money to buy a piano for his musically gifted daughter to play on, he decides to sign on for a lucrative-but-dangerous job as a sparring partner for a powerful, top-ranked fighter (Souleymane M’Baye). As you can probably surmise, this potboiler from director Samuel Jouy is not exactly brimming with originality--it would take less time to make out a list of the boxing film cliches that it doesn’t invoke than it would for one that does--and while Kassovitz tries to bring some degree of authenticity to the proceedings, even he cannot save the film from the been there/done that feeling that permeates practically every single scene.

WORD OF GOD (March 23, 26): Based on the best-selling 2004 memoir by Danish writer Jens Blendstrup, this odd comedy-drama tells the 1980s-set tale of a family thrown into upheaval when the patriarch (Soren Malling), a psychologist who refers to himself as God and rules over his wife and kids, elects to write his memoirs--the working title is ''Mein Kampf''--and finally pushes things to the breaking point. Imagine a darker and more disturbing take on ''The Royal Tannenbaums'' and you will have an idea of what kind of film that director Heinrik Ruben Genz has in store. I cannot say that I was completely captivated by this film--I suspect something about it got lost in the translation--but I was never bored with it and Malling's cheerfully overblown performance is certainly memorable.

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originally posted: 03/23/19 01:14:02
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