Film Feature: The 15th Annual EU Film Festival Arrives at Chicago’s Siskel Center

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CHICAGO – One of the annual gems of the Chicago movie scene is the Siskel Film Center’s unmissable European Union Film Festival. It provides local movie buffs with the opportunity to sample some of the finest achievements in world cinema. For many of the festival selections, their EU appearance will function as their sole screening in the Windy City.

This year’s edition, running from March 2nd through the 29th, includes high profile films from world renowned filmmakers like Andrea Arnold (“Wuthering Heights”), Bruce Dumont (“Hors Satan”), Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (“The Fairy”), Abdellatif Kechiche (“Black Venus”) and John Landis (“Burke & Hare”). Moviegoers will have the opportunity to see the latest work from some of the world’s most acclaimed and beloved actors, including Léa Seydoux (“Belle Épine”), Tahir Rahim (“Free Men”), Colm Meaney (“Parked”), Noomi Rapace (“Beyond”), Andy Serkis (“Burke & Hare”), Isabella Rossellini (“Late Bloomers”) and Ewan McGregor (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”).

Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor star in Lasse Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, one of 65 films selected to screen at the 15th Annual EU Film Festival.
Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor star in Lasse Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, one of 65 films selected to screen at the 15th Annual EU Film Festival.
Photo credit: CBS Films

Seven of the year’s selections were chosen to represent their respective countries in the 2012 Best Foreign Film competition. Among them is the acclaimed Austrian drama, “Breathing,” which features a star-making debut performance from Thomas Schubert. This film also marks the first directorial effort of Karl Markovics, a superb character actor best known for his starring role in Stefan Ruzowitzky’s 2007 Oscar-winner, “The Counterfeiters.” Notable actors also making their directorial debut at this year’s festival are Daniel Auteuil (“The Well Digger’s Daughter”) and Pernilla August (“Beyond”).

A Funny Man
A Funny Man
Photo credit: Danish Film Institute

The 15th Annual European Union Film Festival is the biggest one yet, with a grand total of 65 films representing 27 nations. As usual, the festival kicks off with the annual custom of a celebration presided over by the nation currently holding the presidency of the European Union. On Friday, March 2nd, the hosts are the Honorable Anne Mette Vestergaard, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Denmark, Washington, and the Honorable Jacob Anderson, Consul General of Denmark, Chicago. They will introduce the festival’s opening night selection, “A Funny Man,” which features “Brothers” co-stars Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Lars Ranthe as two close collaborators whose friendship was undone by fame. Kaas plays Dirch Passer, Demark’s top comedy star of the 1950s and ’60s, and Ranthe plays his longtime partner, Kjeld Petersen. The director, Martin P. Zandvliet, scored at last year’s festival with a similarly scorching show business drama, “Applause,” starring Paprika Steen. In addition to “Funny Man”’s 6pm screening on March 2, it will also play at 5pm Sunday, March 4.

Also making a return appearance at the EU festival is actor and filmmaker Gianni Di Gregorio, who delighted audiences with his gentle 2010 comedy, “Mid-August Lunch.” His latest comedic work, “The Salt of Life” will serve as this year’s closing night selection, and centers on a sixty-year-old man’s attempts to boost his sex appeal. It re-teams Di Gregorio with Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni, once again cast in the role of his fussy mother. Audiences are advised to stay after the 6:15pm screening Thursday, March 29 for a closing night reception hosted by Whole Foods Market.

Gianni Di Gregorio directs and stars in The Salt of Life, the closing night selection at the 15th Annual EU Film Festival.
Gianni Di Gregorio directs and stars in The Salt of Life, the closing night selection at the 15th Annual EU Film Festival.
Photo credit: Zeitgeist Films

Special guests making appearances at various screenings throughout the festival include esteemed critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who will host a screening of José María de Orbe’s “Aita”; Terence Davies, the brilliant British director of gems such as “The House of Mirth” and “Of Time and the City”; budding filmmaker Lucian Georgescu and author Barry Gifford, whose work provided the foundation for the David Lynch classics “Wild at Heart” and “Lost Highway.”

There are also some unusual film screenings well worth highlighting for special consideration, including a speak preview of a Polish film featuring a major French star on 7:15pm Saturday, March 10 (adventurous moviegoers are guaranteed to not be disappointed). A Slovenian double feature will take place at 7:15pm Sunday, March 4 and 8:15pm Thursday, March 8, pairing Nejc Gazvoda’s coming-of-age drama, “A Trip,” with Kenneth Scicluna’s Bela Tarr-approved short, “Plangent Rain.”

There’s also a hugely intriguing German series entitled, “The Dreileben Trilogy,” consisting of three standalone films linked by the tale of an escaped serial killer. Christian Petzold’s “Beats Being Dead” serves as the first chapter and is followed by Dominik Graf’s “Don’t Follow Me Around” and Cristoph Hochhäusler’s “One Minute of Darkness.” The trilogy premieres at 2pm Saturday, March 10 and will screen again over a two-day period, with “Beats Being Dead” playing at 6pm Tuesday, March 13, and the following two features starting at 6:15pm Wednesday, March 14. Another trio of formidable filmmakers are included in the annual Jeonju Digital Project, a feature-length showcase of three short works set to screen at 5pm Sunday, March 11 and 6pm Wednesday, March 14. This 2012 short festival will feature Jean Marie Straub’s “An Heir,” Claire Denis’s “To the Devil” and José Luis Guerín’s “Memories of a Morning.”

To further illustrate the festival’s abundant offerings, here are fifteen more films, in order of appearance, that are particularly worth your time…

The Salt of Life
The Salt of Life
Photo credit: Zeitgeist Films

“Black Butterflies,” Netherlands/Germany/South Africa, Paula van der Oest

Saturday, March 3, 7:15pm
Wednesday, March 7, 8pm

Synopsis: “This screen biography of the poet who has been called South Africa’s Sylvia Plath portrays her life against the violent and conflicted nation that shaped her, even as torrid love affairs, father issues, and alcoholism make their mark on her life and work. Set in the 1960s, the film chronicles the turbulent relationship of Ingrid Jonker (van Houten of THE BLACK BOOK) with author Jack Cope (Cunningham of HUNGER), while her stern father (Hauer), the country’s Minister of Censorship, attempts to thwart her growing opposition to racism and injustice. In English. Special advance screening courtesy of Tribeca Films. HDCAM video.”

“Putin’s Kiss,” Denmark, Lise Birk Pedersen

Saturday, March 10, 2pm
Thursday, March 15, 8:15pm

Synopsis: “Some of the most acclaimed documentaries in the world (ARMADILLO, THE AMBASSADOR, THE RED CHAPEL, etc.) have been coming out of Denmark lately. Featured at the recent Sundance Film Festival, PUTIN’S KISS evokes Preston Sturges and Alexander Payne (especially ELECTION) in this sardonic yet ultimately touching portrait of Masha Drokova, an ambitious Russian teenager who attains insta-celebrity as “the girl who kissed Putin” and rises to power in Nashi, a controversial youth movement that supports Putin with Hitlerjugend-like fervor. When Masha debates a group of critical leftist journalists, her staunch right-wing principles begin to waver, and a shocking event brings her to a crossroad of decision. In Russian with English subtitles.  Special advance screening courtesy of Kino Lorber. HDCAM video.”

“The Runway,” Ireland/Luxembourg, Ian Power

Saturday, March 10, 7:15pm
Monday, March 12, 6pm

Synopsis: “Winner of the Galway Film Festival’s Best Irish Feature, and inspired by an actual 1983 event, THE RUNWAY tells a zany, stranger-than-fiction story of what happens in a rural Irish town when a Latin American pilot lands his crippled plane in a cow pasture. The pilot Ernesto (Bichir, Oscar-nominated this year for A BETTER LIFE) is not the romantic hero he seems to nine-year-old Paco, a lonely boy in search of a father figure, but pidgin Spanish and a heaping helping of imagination weave a legend that the sleepy community buys into with gusto. Special advance screening courtesy of Olive Films. In English. HDCAM video.”

“Innocence,” Czech Republic, Jan Hrebejk

Sunday, March 11, 7:15pm
Monday, March 12, 6pm

Synopsis: “This twisting drama is the first in an intended trilogy on guilt and blame by director Hrebejk (KAWASAKI’S ROSE, BEAUTY IN TROUBLE) and his longtime screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky. Respected physician Tomas has it all: a successful career that affords a high-end lifestyle, a solid marriage with his second wife, and a beautiful daughter. When a pouty Lolita of a teenage patient accuses him of rape, the happy picture begins to fall apart, leaving the doctor to scramble to cover some very different dark secrets. In Czech with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Le Pacte.”

The Deep Blue Sea
The Deep Blue Sea
Photo credit: Music Box Films

“The Deep Blue Sea,” United Kingdom, Terence Davies

Tuesday, March 13, 8pm

Synopsis: “In partnership with Music Box Films, the Film Center is pleased to welcome one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers, Terence Davies (DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES; OF TIME AND THE CITY). THE DEEP BLUE SEA is Davies’s first fiction film since 2000’s THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, and, like that film, it is a model of inspired adaptation. Terence Rattigan’s 1952 drama is considered a showcase for its leading actress (predecessors include Vivien Leigh, Peggy Ashcroft, and Blythe Danner), and Rachel Weisz more than measures up to that distinguished company with her heart-wrenching performance as Hester Collyer, a postwar London woman who impulsively leaves her aging husband for a dashing but diffident ex-RAF pilot. This is British romance in the vein of BRIEF ENCOUNTER and THE END OF AFFAIR, sharpened by shabbiness and regret. THE DEEP BLUE SEA represents cinema classicism at its finest, filled with sweeping camera movements, evocative period decor, and spectacularly tenuous lighting that can be fully appreciated only on the big screen. In English. Special advance screening courtesy of Music Box films. 35mm. Director Terence Davies will be present for audience discussion.”

“Hot Hot Hot,” Luxembourg/Belgium, Beryl Koltz

Friday, March 16, 6:15pm
Thursday, March 22, 8:30pm

Synopsis: “A shy little man’s transformation from straitlaced introvert to almost-hedonist is the subject of this jolly, surreal comedy. Ferdinand, a dedicated employee of Fish Land in the Worlds Apart theme park, relates to his aquatic companions far better than to his customers. When Fish Land closes for renovation, he’s transferred to the Turkish Delight area, to work among the stark naked revelers in the park’s spa. An education in functioning as a fully-rounded human is about to begin. In English. DCP video courtesy of the Centre National de l’Audiovisuel (CNA).”

“Unforgivable,” France, André Téchiné

Saturday, March 17, 7pm
Wednesday, March 21, 6pm

Synopsis: “Impulse, speedboats, detectives, errant children, and foolish parents are among the many strands in this rich, multifaceted narrative from acclaimed director Téchiné (WILD REEDS, THIEVES). Plagued with writer’s block, a popular French crime novelist (Dussollier) rents a villa on the outskirts of Venice (seen from a refreshingly non-touristy perspective). There he encounters a series of distractions that delay his novel but reconnect him with life, including an expatriate real-estate agent (Bouquet) he falls in love with, an eccentric sleuth (Adriana Asti) who was once her lover, and his own daughter, who deserts her family to take up with a drug-dealing aristocrat. In French and Italian with English subtitles. Special advance screening courtesy of Strand Releasing. 35mm widescreen.”

Photo credit: Eddie Saeta SA

“The Christening,” Poland, Marcin Wrona

Sunday, March 18, 7pm
Thursday, March 22, 8:30pm

Synopsis: “A Silver Lion winner at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, this low-key thriller keeps the tension and the pressure mounting in the days leading up to the christening of an ex-gangster’s firstborn child. Michael (Zielinski) has reformed his life, married a beautiful woman, and works a “real” job, much to the surprise of his best friend Janek (Schuchardt) who arrives to serve as godfather. Growing unease underlies the surface camaraderie as it becomes evident that debts from Michael’s past life remain unpaid. In Polish with English subtitles. Special advance screening courtesy of Palisades Tartan. DCP video.”

“Aita,” Spain, José María de Orbe

Sunday, March 18, 5pm
Monday, March 19, 6pm

Synopsis: “Like his compañeros José Luis Guerín, Pere Portabella, and Mercedes Álvarez, director de Orbe adventurously bridges the boundaries of documentary, fiction, and avant-garde. The subject of AITA is a decaying but beautiful Basque home that de Orbe inherited. The building is tended by an aged caretaker and visited by a priest, schoolchildren, vandals, and various ghosts, including the flickering images of decomposed nitrate films. Winner of the best cinematography prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival, this haunting meditation on time and light is a must in 35mm. In Spanish with English subtitles.  35mm print courtesy of Eddie Saeta SA. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, president of the jury that gave AITA the Best Film award at the 2011 FICUNAM festival in Mexico City, will introduce and discuss the film at the Monday screening.”

“Sleeping Sickness,” Germany, Ulrich Köhler

Sunday, March 18, 5pm
Wednesday, March 21, 6pm

Synopsis: “A major discovery at the Berlin (where it won the Best Director prize) and New York Film Festivals, SLEEPING SICKNESS is an unsettling tale of Africa, Europeans, and neocolonialism, divided into two asymmetrical parts. The first part centers on a white doctor (Bokma) who, after fighting an epidemic in the Cameroon, plans to rejoin his wife and daughter in Germany, but… The narrative jumps forward three years, now following a black Parisian doctor sent to the area to report on an aid program overseen by a white doctor who has apparently “gone native.” The first part evokes WHITE MATERIAL, the second APOCALYPSE NOW, but Köhler keeps steering the film in unexpected directions, including an amazing final image. In German, Dutch, and French with English subtitles. 35mm. This program was made possible through the support of the Goethe-Institut Chicago.”

The Phantom Father
The Phantom Father
Photo credit: GAV

“The Phantom Father,” Romania, Lucian Georgescu

Friday, March 23, 8pm
Saturday, March 24, 5pm

Synopsis: “Based loosely on the short story “Almost Oriental” by cult writer Barry Gifford (“Wild at Heart,” “Lost Highway”), this story of an American professor searching out his family’s past in Romania has Chicago roots. Robert Traum follows the trail of his grandfather, a Capone-era mobster, back to the Carpathian town of his birth, where some surprising revelations await. A bittersweet attraction to a government archivist smoothes the way for a road trip in search of the keys to the story: a long-shuttered cinema and an aged projectionist who’s gone missing. In English and Romanian with English subtitles. DigiBeta video courtesy of GAV. Director Lucian Georgescu and writer Barry Gifford will be present for audience discussion at both screenings.”

“Whore’s Glory,” Austria/Germany, Michael Glawogger

Friday, March 23, 8pm
Tuesday, March 27, 8pm

Synopsis: “With a clear, non-judgmental eye, filmmaker Glawogger (MEGACITIES, WORKING MAN’S DEATH) chronicles the lives of sex workers in three locations: Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico. Explicit yet never exploitative, this documentary lets the women and the images speak for themselves, with inside views of establishments that range from the corporate slickness and assembly-line operation of Bangkok’s Fish Tank, to blanket-on-the-floor cubicles in the ironically named City of Joy in Bangladesh. In German, French, English, Thai, Japanese, Spanish, and Bengali with English subtitles.  Special advance screening courtesy of Kino Lorber. HDCAM video.”

Photo credit: Kino Lorber

“Alps,” Greece/France, Yorgos Lanthimos

Saturday, March 24, 7:30pm
Monday, March 26, 8:15pm

Synopsis: “Following the Oscar-nominated DOGTOOTH, director Lanthimos tackles yet another darkly comic story in which his characters conjure up a bizarre alternate world. A nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast, and her coach hire themselves out as unorthodox grief counselors, moving in with families that have lost loved ones and impersonating the deceased, right down to wearing their clothes, adopting their mannerisms, and revisiting family fights. Complications abound. In Greek with English subtitles. Special advance screening courtesy of Kino Lorber. HDCAM video.”

LOVE.NET,” Bulgaria, Ilian Djevelekov

Saturday, March 24, 9:15pm
Wednesday, March 28, 8:30pm

Synopsis: “This rollicking comedy was inspired by more than 7,000 stories of Internet dating solicited by director Djevelekov, producer of the wicked satire ZIFT (2008). Angling for a career-making exposé, a journalist plunges into the world of dating sites and quickly falls victim to an online hooker. Elsewhere on the Web, other virtual romances play out, and his research ferrets out a wallflower with a passion for an obscure Seventies rock band hooking up with a suspiciously knowledgeable old hand (played by Mick Box, lead guitarist in the British band Uriah Heep). In Bulgarian with English subtitles. DCP video courtesy of Miramar Film.”

“Madonna’s Pig,” Belgium, Frank Van Passel

Sunday, March 25, 7:15pm
Monday, March 26, 8pm

Synopsis: “A sense of whimsy gives this earthy fable a magical air. Traveling salesman Tony is on deadline to peddle to commercial pig farmers a quota number of his company’s bizarre robot pig, a porcine fertility enhancer. Landing by GPS error in the hamlet of Madonna (where the pop star is reputed to have once spent the night), he becomes embroiled in an ongoing community fracas, sees a ghost, and falls in love with a woman who won’t give him the time of day until her grandfather returns from his WWI grave. In Flemish with English subtitles. Special advance screening courtesy of Caviar Films. HDCAM video.”

For more information on the 15th Annual European Union Film Festival, visit staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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