A Guide To The 23rd European Union Film Festival—Week Two
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/13/20 02:37:13
A look at some of the titles appearing at the second week of the 23rd European Union Film Festival, playing this week at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center
Now in its 23rd year, Chicago's European Union Film Festival returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center for a month-long program consisting of local premieres of films from each one of the 28 nations of the EU (including a final go-around for the United Kingdom). Running from March 6 through April 2, the festival, the largest dedicated solely to presenting films from the European Union, many of which may never screen in these parts again and covering any number of genres and subjects. Over the next four weeks, I will be offering up a weekly highlight reel of some of the more intriguing titles on display--some of which I have seen and some of which just sound tantalizing. For a full schedule of titles and screening times, go to the Siskel Center website at www.siskelfilmcenter.org or call them at (312) 846-2800 or visit the theater box office, located at 164 North State Street.
WEEK TWO HIGHLIGHTS
Koko-Di Koko-Da (March 14, 17): In what can only be described as a hellacious hybrid of "Funny Games," "Antichrist" and "Groundhog Day," this Swedish entry follows a traumatized couple as they set off on a camping trip designed to help repair their marriage three years after an unimaginable tragedy. Needless to say, things do not go well right from the start and get progressively worse when their remote campsite is visited by. . .well, you’ll have to see where it goes from there. Dark, creepy and mordantly funny (and I haven’t even mentioned the puppet shows that even the John Cusack character from "Being John Malkovich" might find unremittingly bleak), this is one of those films that gets under your skin (alongside the infernal earworm title song) right from the get-go and will not leave until long after it has ended.
The Last Witness (March 15, 16): In this historical drama from Poland and set in post-war London, journalist Stephen Underwood (Alex Pettyfer) begins investigating a series of seemingly unrelated suicides and discovers that they are all linked to what became known as the Katyn Massacre, a series of mass executions of Polish nationals that was originally attributed to the Nazis but which was later found to have been the work of the Soviet secret police, a crime that they would not formally admit to for several decades. Director Piotr Szkopiak treats the material more as a straightforward procedural as Underwood doggedly investigate the crime and coverup--an intriguing approach but one that is ultimately done in by a lack of any real dramatic tension, a talky script and the less-than-convincing performance by Pettyfer in the central role.
Living the Light: Robby Muller (March 13, 16): Through his work with such filmmakers as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier, cinematographer Robby Muller was acclaimed throughout the world as one of the leaders in his field before his passing in 2018. This documentary from Claire Pijman takes a look at his life and career with the aid of Muller's personal archives, interviews with many of his collaborators and, of course, numerous clips of his work. The film is engaging enough but is little more than a slightly more elaborate Blu-ray extra--one could get just as edifying a examination of his artistry by renting something like "Paris Texas," "Until the End of the World" or "Dancer in the Dark" and letting the work speak for itself.
Sibyl (March 13, 15): In this very strange offering from France--where else?--a psychiatrist (Virginie Efria) with plenty of demons of her own decides to essentially abandon her practice in order to become a writer. While struggling with a block, she agrees to take on a new patient, a neurotic actress (Adele Exarchopolus) who is having an affair with her co-star (Gaspard Ulliel), who just happens to be the director of their film. The psychiatrist begins using elements from her patient’s story to fuel her fiction and things become really complicated when the actress insists that she come to the set to help see her through the production. It sounds like the setup for a door-slamming farce and there are some funny parts, mostly supplied by Sandra Huller as the frazzled director, but director/co-writer Justine Triet tries juggling too many characters, plot developments and tones and the whole thing just becomes messy and tiresome after a while.
The Waiter (March 13, 19): Any EU-based film festival has to have at least one example of the current trend towards serious offbeat filmmaking from Greece and this generally interesting, if extremely deadpan, work from debuting writer-director Steve Krikris certainly fits the bill. For the first 20 minutes or so, it follows the numbingly dull daily routine of an unassuming cafe waiter (Aris Servetalis) but soon takes a turn when he makes a grisly discovery in his apartment building’s garbage dumpster and subsequently becomes involved with a new neighbor, who might be a murderer, and his girlfriend, who is definitely a femme fatale of the highest order.