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12th Annual EU Film Festival Highlights, Week Two: ‘Worlds Apart,’ ‘La Belle Personne,’ ‘El Greco’

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CHICAGO – We’re back with our look at week two of the The 12th Annual EU Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center, one of the best film events of the year in the Windy City. If you missed part one and want to relive the best of the first seven days of the fest, check it out here. On to week two…

This year’s edition, running from March 6th to April 2nd, includes high profile films from world renowned filmmakers like Peter Greenaway, Francois Ozon, Agnes Varda, Nicholas Roeg, Shane Meadows, Olga Malea, and Olivier Assayas, along with some movies that probably won’t be seen outside of the EU in the Windy City.

The 12th Annual European Union Film Festival includes 59 feature films, all of which are making their Chicago premiere. If you’re interested in seeing something off the beaten path, the EU is the fest for you. Week by week, every Wednesday, come back to HollywoodChicago.com for the highlights of the upcoming weekend and following week with a synopsis for every single film premiering that week.

Week one had a number of highlights, including the Czech “I’m All Good,” Irish “Kisses,” and French “Shall We Kiss?,” all of which could be hits on the arthouse circuit. Week two isn’t going to produce as many hits. It’s a disappointment in comparison.

Sure, Nicolas Roeg’s “Puffball” will probably get an arthouse release based on the pedigree of its unusual filmmaker, but it’s a total mess. Even the synopsis below mentions that it’s “admittedly flawed”. That’s putting it kindly.

Worlds Apart
Worlds Apart
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

But let’s leave “Puffball” aside and try and focus on the positive. We have seen one excellent film from week two of the EU Film Festival - Denmark’s “Worlds Apart,” the country’s entry for the 2009 Academy Awards and a very effective drama.

Playing this Saturday, March 14th at 5pm and next Wednesday, March 18th at 6pm, Niels Arden Oplev’s film is a moving story about a group of people rarely seen on film, Jehovah’s Witnesses. The incredibly genuine Rosalinde Spanning stars in this true story of a teenaged girl raised in a strictly religious community and family.

In the opening scenes of the film, the patriarch of the family has admitted infidelity and repented but the matriarch cannot forgive him. Instead of ostracizing the sinner, the family chooses to have their mother leave because she can’t forgive the sin. Strict, rule-based religion impacts every aspect of these people’s lives.

“Worlds Apart” is another variation on the story of the boy from the other side of the tracks. Spanning’s character meets a charming, nice young man (Johan Philip Asbaek) who tempts her away from her faith and could lead her to be kicked out of not not just her community but left behind by her own family.

Oplev’s film works because it takes its subject matter very seriously. We’ve seen dozens of movies that portray people as religious as Jehovah’s Witnesses as crazy, but “Worlds Apart” doesn’t go there. It certainly points a judgmental finger at the repression of the system, but everyone involved in this tragedy is simply doing what they think is best.

It’s one of the most honest, genuine screenplays I’ve seen in a long time. And the performances are spectacular. “Worlds Apart” probably won’t play outside of New York and LA. It’s a shame because more people should see it.

The Girl From Monaco
The Girl From Monaco
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

From “Worlds Apart” to the second-best film of week two of the EU Film Festival is a steep drop but there are a pair of French films worth checking out and likely to play to satisfied crowds.

The better of the two is easily Anne Fontaine’s clever and sexy “The Girl From Monaco,” a film that feels like a summer day in the south of France. Something Chicago could use in March.

“Monaco” is essentially a three-player piece about a lawyer (Fabrice Luchini), his bodyguard (Roschdy Zem), and the sexy weather girl (Louise Bourgoin) who changes their lives. Is the passionate young lady really falling for the shy older man or is she just trying to distract him from his case? And should the bodyguard come in and protect his client from himself?

“The Girl From Monaco” takes a dark turn in the final act that I’m not sure fits with the rest of the film but all three of the principal players are excellent and the film has a breezy, sexy tone that’s harder to pull off than it looks.

The film plays this Friday, March 13th at 6pm and Saturday, March 14th at 7:30pm

La Belle Personne
La Belle Personne
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

As for the rest of week two, there are good performances by some of the players in “La Belle Personne” but the drab tone of the piece makes it a film that I can recommend to hardcore fans of French cinema only. “Personne” plays Monday, March 16th at 7:30pm and the next day, March 17th at 6pm.

Those fans will probably have heard of director Christophe Honore (“Dans Paris,” “Love Song”), who adapts a 17th-centyry novel “La Princesse de Cleves” to a high school in contemporary Paris. Louis Garrel stars as a young teacher who sleeps his way through both the faculty and the class. Jealousy, infidelity, shocking tragedy - “La Belle Personne” is well-made and performed (Lea Seydoux is particularly good) but feels like more of a chore than it should have.

If you’re coming back to week two of the EU Film Festival, nothing comes close to “Worlds Apart” but French film fans will have a good movie to see over the weekend and a decent one early next week. Consider this the calm before the storm of weeks three and four…we’ll be back…

Other films in week two unseen or seen films that don’t stand out as highlights…

“El Greco,” Iannis Smaragdis, Greece/Spain/Hungary
With Nich Ashdon, Juan Diego Botto

Friday, March 13, 8:00 pm
Sunday, March 15, 3:00 pm

Synopsis: “The life of the artist known as El Greco comes in for a colorful dramatic treatment of his work and tumultuous times in a film that had its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Ambitious young talent Domenikos abandons his native Greece and aristocratic first lover for Toledo, Spain, where his rising fame as a painter and his profligate lifestyle put him on a collision course with his old friend, the priest who is now the grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. In English, Greek, and Spanish with English subtitles. Enjoy four of El Greco’s most important works including ³The Assumption of the Virgin,² in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. 35mm print courtesy of Notro Films S.L.”

The Perfect Afternoon
The Perfect Afternoon
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“The Perfect Afternoon,” Przemyslaw Wojcieszek, Poland

Friday, March 13, 8:15 pm
Sunday, March 15, 7:15 pm

Synopsis: “The screenplay for THE PERFECT AFTERNOON was written for Andrzej Wajda but eventually directed by its author Przemyslaw Wojcieszek (LOUDER THAN BOMBS), one of Poland’s most adventurous independent directors of film and theater. This refreshing comedy/drama centers on the generation gap, with engaged couple Mikolaj and Anna, and the filmmaker friend who wants to document their wedding, at one end of the spectrum, and Anna’s divorced parents at the other. In Polish with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Skorpion Art.”

“Loss,” Maris Martinsons, Lithuania

Saturday, March 14, 5:30 pm
Thursday, March 19, 8:15 pm

Synopsis: “Inspired by the concept of “six degrees of separation,” this intense, intricate drama follows two far-flung parallel plotlines—one set in Vilnius and centered on a woman caught up in a custody battle, the other set in Dublin and centered on a young Lithuanian emigrée who works for a guilt-ridden priest—linked by a catastrophe that occurred 25 years earlier. The official Lithuanian entry for the 2009 Academy Awards, Martinsons’s impressive first film tackles two of the country’s most pressing current problems: massive emigration and a glut of abandoned children. In Lithuanian and English with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of The Lighthouse Company. 35mm.”

“My Führer—The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler,” Dani Levy, Germany

Saturday, March 14, 9:30 pm
Tuesday, March 17, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “While Hitler has long been fair game for American comedy directors such as Chaplin and Mel Brooks, the irreverent (and Jewish) Levy (GO FOR ZUCKER!) is the first German filmmaker to treat the Führer as fodder for farce. In late 1944, Goebbels enlists a Jewish actor (Mühe of THE LIVES OF OTHERS) to coach the demented, depressed Hitler back into top speech-making form. With such piquant scenes as Hitler playing with a toy battleship in the bathtub and being humped by his Hund (who wears a miniature Nazi uniform), MYHRER ignited a firestorm of controversy in Germany, but Levy insists that lack of respect was precisely the point—an antidote to films like DOWNFALL that treat the subject “so unbelievably seriously.” In German with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of The Cinema Guild. 35mm.”

Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“Puffball,” Nicolas Roeg, UK/Ireland

Saturday, March 14, 9:30 pm
Tuesday, March 17, 8:00 pm

Synopsis: “Nicolas Roeg’s first film in over ten years is admittedly flawed but much more than a misfire—with its densely layered imagery and gleefully perverse characterizations, it provides much to reward the loyal Roegophile. Rough sex, witchcraft, gynecological horror (“It’s all about the interior”), Norse mythology, and a suave walk-on by Donald Sutherland all figure into this defiantly uncategorizable whatsis, as a British architect (Reilly) acquires a fixer-upper in the Irish boondocks, where her fecundity incites the envy of a malevolent neighbor (Richardson). In English. Preview courtesy of IFC Films. DigiBeta video.”

“Rumba,” Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy, France/Belgium

Sunday, March 15, 3:15 pm
Thursday, March 19, 8:15 pm

Synopsis: “With nods to Demy and Tati, RUMBA cobbles together a quirky comic universe out of minimal dialogue, storybook compositions, candy colors, low-tech f/x, and hilarious sight gags. Two happily married schoolteachers, toothy Fiona (Gordon) and gangly Dom (Abel), live to dance, and they dominate local hoofing contests until a freak accident sends them waltzing down a strange and fateful road. As in their previous collaboration THE ICEBERG (screened in the 2007 EU Film Festival), Abel, Gordon, and Romy specialize in mining priceless slapstick from the most unlikely situations. In French with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of Koch Lorber Films. 35mm.”

“The Right Distance,” Carlo Mazzacurati, Italy

Sunday, March 15, 5:15 pm

Synopsis: “A coming-of-age story, a crosscultural romance, and a murder mystery are played out against a backdrop of small town intrigue and obsession in this absorbing drama by veteran director Mazzacurati (HOLY TONGUE). The routine of a Po Valley backwater is disrupted by the arrival of a vivacious schoolteacher (Lodovin in a dazzling performance) who captivates all the
local men, including budding reporter Giovanni (Capovilla) and Arab garage mechanic Hassan (Ahmed Hafiene). The title refers to the detachment that a reporter must observe toward his subjects, but, when violence enters the picture, Giovanni finds that “the right distance” is not so easy—or desirable—to maintain. In Italian with English subtitles. 35mm widescreen print courtesy of Fandango srl.”

Blind Loves
Blind Loves
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“Blind Loves,” Juraj Lehotsky, Slovakia

Sunday, March 15, 5:30 pm
Monday, March 16, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “BLIND LOVES takes a leap from what at first appears to be a cinema verité documentary about the home life of a blind couple, into surreal fantasy and a series of love stories. Blindness is only the background circumstance held in common by a sequence of characters including a music teacher, a courting couple, a young mother expecting her first child, and a teen girl
just discovering boys. Acclaimed at the Toronto Film Festival, this unique and charming film is packed with surprises. In Slovak with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Artileria Production Company.”

“Somers Town,” Shane Meadows, UK

Sunday, March 15, 7:30 pm
Monday, March 16, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “This buoyantly comic, deceptively casual tale, limned in beautifully gray-toned black-and-white, confirms Shane Meadows as one of Britain’s best recent directors. Thomas Turgoose, the remarkable young actor introduced in Meadows’s THIS IS ENGLAND, here plays a pugnacious Midlands lad who heads for the glitter of London, only to be waylaid by thugs soon after his
arrival. He crosses paths with a quiet Polish photography buff (Jagiello), and the bulk of the film traces the two boys’ developing friendship as they vie for the affections of a sexy French waitress and explore the scruffy Somers Town area behind the shiny new St. Pancras railroad station. In English. Preview courtesy of Film Movement. 35mm.”

“Music,” Juraj Nvota, Slovakia/Germany

Wednesday, March 18, 8:15 pm
Thursday, March 19, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “Director Nvota strikes frequent notes of hilarity in this Eastern European hit telling a black-humorous tale of a misfit sax player’s cockeyed bid for freedom via a garage band. One party leads to another, and finally he’s auditioning for the biggest party of all, the Communist party. But Martin lives with his in-laws, one foot in a dream and the other in the bed of his very pregnant, very whiny new bride. When crazy love, not the homebound kind, comes calling, the future is up for grabs. In Slovak with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of ALEF Film & Media Group.”

Come back next week for week three of the 12th Annual European Union Film Festival.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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