12th Annual EU Film Festival Highlights, Week Three: ‘Angel,’ ‘Left Bank,’ ‘Eden,’ ‘Fear Me Not’

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CHICAGO – The third week of the 12th Annual EU Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center is nearly upon us and we’re back to give you an idea of what to expect in the second half of arguably the best fest in the Windy City. We feature great new films from Ireland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

The first half of EU 2009 (which you can read about here and here) produced some excellent films including Ireland’s “Kisses,” Denmark’s “Worlds Apart,” and France’s “Shall We Kiss?” There’s nothing that we’ve seen that’s quite as notable as “Kisses” or “Worlds Apart,” the two best of the fest through week three, but there is a quartet of films well worth seeing this weekend. Get your calendar out and take notes.

You’re going to be busy on Saturday with a dark trio of quality films - Denmarks “Fear Me Not,” Belgium’s “Left Bank,” and Ireland’s “Eden”. (I swear that I have no predilection for Irish or Danish films but those two countries clearly have something interesting going on in their film scene.)

Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

Start Saturday night with “Eden,” a dark, incredibly well-performed piece about an imploding marriage as it approaches its ten-year anniversary. Aidan Kelly plays Jimmy, a man having personal problems that lead him to be unable to perform in bed with his wife and looking a little longer than he should at the young lass at the pub. His neglected wife Breda is played by Eileen Walsh, who won the award for Best Actress at the Tribeca Film Festival for this part.

Walsh and Kelly are simply fantastic in a film that can sometimes feel a bit too attached to its stage-based roots but director Declan Reck has made a character-driven drama that plays with stereotpyical elements of marriage movies like infidelity and ennui but makes them feel completely genuine. “Eden” has played in New York and other major markets, but the EU Fest could be the only way you see it in Chicago. Don’t miss it on Saturday, March 21st at 7:45pm or Wednesday, March 25th at 6:00pm.

Fear Me Not
Fear Me Not
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

If you see “Eden” Saturday night, you can make it a “troubled marriage” double feature with Denmark’s twisted “Fear Me Not,” although Jimmy and Breda have it easy compared to Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) and Sigrid (Paprika Steen). With a pedigree enough to make foreign film lovers drool, “Fear Me Not” was co-written by Anders Thomas Jensen (“After the Wedding”) and directed by Kristian Levring (“The King is Alive”) with a riveting lead performance from Thomsen, the star of “The Celebration” who will be recognizable to all audiences from small parts in everything from “The International” to “Duplicity”.

Thomsen plays Mikael, a man who is taking a sabbatical from work and has descended into boredom. He decides to be a part of his brother-in-law’s pharmaceutical trial to test some anti-depressants. At first, it’s going well. Then it’s really, really not. Mikael starts to lose all inhibition, punching out a man who makes him angry and sexually assaulting a girl. Then he turns on his family.

If a pill takes away depression, does it take away things that are necessary for human existence like regret, remorse, or morality? Does self-loathing actually keep us in check? “Fear Me Not” is a dark thriller that doesn’t completely come together but Thomsen’s excellent performance keeps it from falling apart and fans of left-of-center suspense films should take a look. Not for the faint of heart. “Fear Me Not” plays at 10pm on Saturday, March 21st and on Tuesday, March 24th at 6:15pm.

Left Bank
Left Bank
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

If you’ve had enough marital drama after “Eden,” head to the other theater at Siskel on Saturday night at 10pm and check out the highly-buzzed “Left Bank,” a Belgian horror film with echoes of ’70s horror like “Rosemary’s Baby” or the early work of David Cronenberg.

Eline Kuppens plays a young athlete who falls for a charismatic young man who lives in a new high-rise in an unusual part of town. She discovers that the former tenant disappeared and, oh yeah, there might be a black hole in the cellar. Weird dream sequences, extreme sex scenes, and an ending that needs to be seen to be believed have made “Left Bank” a cult hit already. The follow-through isn’t as strong as the set-up but there’s still a lot to like here, especially Kuppens’ daring, believable performance.

“Left Bank” plays Saturday, March 21st at 10pm and again on Tuesday, March 24th at 8:15pm. If you’re busy this weekend or need a break after “Eden,” you could see “Fear Me Not” and “Left Bank” back-to-back on Tuesday night.

Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

And then there’s “Angel”. Francois Ozon (“8 Women,” “Swimming Pool”) has already developed a loyal following, so he can get away with a misfire like this unusual period piece, a film that’s a total mess, but in kind of a beautiful way.

I could spit out hundreds of words about what doesn’t work about “Angel” from one of the worst lead performances in a long time by “Atonement“‘s Romola Garai or the fact that Ozon’s overly romantic dialogue sounds better in French than it does in English, but there’s something almost rivetingly bad about “Angel”.

The story of a young lady who becomes an internationally renowned writer that co-stars Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Rampling, and Sam Neill just doesn’t work but it’s kind of impossible to stop watching or completely dismiss this odd blend of romanticism, social satire, and completely sincere romance. It almost feels like Ozon’s “Far From Heaven,” as if the filmmaker is using the traps of a genre to comment on it. But that doesn’t make those traps any less annoying.

“Angel” plays on Sunday afternoon, March 22nd, at 2:45pm and again on Monday night, March 23rd at 8pm.

The rest of week three which have either not been seen or not been deemed worthy of a notable mention, in chronological order…

Towards Zero
Towards Zero
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“Towards Zero,” Pascal Thomas, France

Friday, March 20, 6:00 pm
Sunday, March 22, 5:00 pm

Synopsis: “Mistress of crime Agatha Christie gets a witty Gallic update of one of her most esteemed novels in this murder mystery that could be called a who’s-gonna-get-it. As a character observes in the first scene, most whodunits are dull because the murder occurs at the beginning; in Towards Zero, the murder will come at the end, when a series of interlocking events converge on the fatal “zero hour.” The potential victims congregate at a Brittany seaside mansion presided over by a dowager (screen legend Darrieux) whose playboy nephew (Melvil Popaud) unwisely invites both his former (Chiara Mastroianni) and present (Laura Smet in a sensational sexpot role) wives to spend le weekend. In French with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Cultural Services of the French Embassy.”

“Heroes in the Sky,” Engelbert Grech, Malta

Friday, March 20, 6:15 pm
Sunday, March 22, 7:15 pm

Synopsis: “The little-known story of Malta’s pivotal role in WWII’s air war is told through rare wartime footage and a wealth of detail about the pilots who blocked Nazi victory in Africa through daring air reconnaissance and unorthodox battle techniques. Maverick flyers from throughout the Western world sought the ultimate test of their skills and courage in Malta, with the side effect of putting the tiny island on Hitler’s map for massive retaliation. Heroes In The Sky gives legendary pilots including James ‘One-Armed Mac’ MacLachlan and George ‘Screwball’ Beurling their due. In English. Beta SP video courtesy of Halo Productions.”

“Vogelfrei,” Anna Viduleja, Gatis Smits, Janis Kalejs, and Janis Putnins, Latvia

Friday, March 20, 8:00 pm
Monday, March 23, 7:45 pm

Synopsis: “Four young directors team up for a haunting, visually stirring progression through the ages of one man¹s life from childhood through middle age. The result is the thoughtful and ravishing story of Teodor. The title, loosely translated as ³free as a bird, is largely ironic. Teodor progresses from an innocent and somewhat awkward boy to bullied adolescent to jaded young
executive without a clue until the soaring concept of freedom is brought home to him in the film¹s most quietly stunning sequence. In Latvian and Russian with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Film Angels Studio.”

Little Greek Godfather
Little Greek Godfather
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“Little Greek Godfather,” Olga Malea, Greece

Friday, March 20, 8:15 pm
Tuesday, March 24, 8:30 pm

Synopsis: “Greek auteur Olga Malea, known for her wildly popular bawdy comedies (The Cow’s Orgasm, The Mating Game), turns her hand to political satire in this film based on an autobiographical short story by Nicholas Papandreou, son of the former Greek prime minister. Comic chaos ensues when a high-ranking politician sends his 11-year-old kid to stand in for him to perform the
politically charged baptism of a party hack¹s newborn. In Greek with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the Greek Film Centre.”

“A Woman in Berlin,” Max Färberböck, Germany/Poland

Saturday, March 21, 3:00 pm
Tuesday, March 24, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “The director of multi-award-winning Aimée & Jaguar returns to the chaotic milieu of WWII Berlin for a harrowing tale of survival in which love and the human spirit soar out of the depths of degradation. Based on the best-selling diaries of the same title, the story centers on a beautiful young journalist as the Russian occupation of the devastated city reduces all women to sexual prey. With rape an inescapable fact of life, she trades herself to a high Russian commander for protection, and finds that they are both playing with fire. In German with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of Strand Releasing. 35mm widescreen.”

“Dolina,” Zoltán Kamondi, Hungary

Saturday, March 21, 3:00 pm
Wednesday, March 25, 7:45 pm

Synopsis: “Part frontier-town western and part post-apocalyptic fantasy, Dolina is an intriguing genre hybrid. Conscripted laborers break rocks on the edge of town in view of the toxic waste dump while their overlords, the members of a quasi-religious sect whose odd garb includes a fake beard, supervise the local brothel and other important enterprises. Loner Gabriel shows up in search of his father’s bones and gets sidetracked by one of the foxier ladies for hire. In Hungarian with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of Bunyik Entertainment. 35mm.”

The Baker
The Baker
Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“The Baker,” Gareth Lewis, UK

Saturday, March 21, 5:30 pm
Monday, March 23, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “When things get too hot for a London hit man (Lewis of Band of Brothers), his handler (Michael Gambon) sends him to a sleepy Welsh village where he happily takes up a new career as a baker. But the media-savvy locals quickly discover his past and would much rather purchase contracts than crumpets—“Is there anyone in this village who doesn’t want someone dead?” the exasperated patissier complains at one point. Directed by the star’s brother, this often hilarious Britcom combines the violent humor of IN BRUGES with the rustic satire of COLD COMFORT FARM. And watch out for the exploding sheep! In English. Preview courtesy of Panorama Entertainment. DigiBeta video. ”

“Frontier of Dawn,” Philippe Garrel, France

Saturday, March 21, 5:30 pm
Thursday, March 26, 8:30 pm

Synopsis: “In this offbeat love story with supernatural overtones, director Garrel (Regular Lovers) draws upon Cocteau and Aragon, with a touch of that surrealists’ favorite Peter Ibbetson. A photographer (Garrel fils) has a torrid affair with a self-destructive movie star (Smet). After her suicide, he finds solace with a devoted young woman, but his dead love calls to him
from beyond the grave. Several critics have suggested that the film is further haunted by the memory of Garrel’s late lover and muse Nico. In French with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of IFC Films. DigiBeta video.”

Photo credit: Siskel Film Center

“Nightwatching,” Peter Greenaway, Netherlands/UK/Poland/Canada

Saturday, March 21, 7:30 pm
Thursday, March 26, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: Provocative avant-garde director Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover) unleashes a zesty sense of humor in a film that is part biopic of Rembrandt in his middle period (in which his mammoth work ‘The Night Watch’ was created) and part droll, detailed deconstruction of the painting as a murder mystery. Art lovers and Greenaway fans alike will revel in his characteristically sumptuous visuals as the painting is taken apart character by character to reveal a vile murder, a gay love affair, and other secrets. Martin Freeman of ‘The Office’ heads the superb cast. Enjoy many works by Rembrandt in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. In English. 35mm widescreen print courtesy of ContentFilm International.”

“Taarka,” Ain Mäeots and Hardi Volmer, Estonia

Sunday, March 22, 3:00 pm
Thursday, March 26, 8:30 pm

Synopsis: “A musical drama with an ethnographic angle, Taarka is based on the true story of an Estonian folk-singing diva of salty renown. Feared, reviled, and grudgingly respected for her ability to make local gossip the grist for her raucous ditties, Taarka finds sweet payback in eventual fame. Raw, forceful performances by the three actresses portraying the songstress at various ages bring vibrant life to her progression from maidenly maverick to town slut to national treasure. In Estonian with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Exitfilm.”

“Jerichow,” Christian Petzold, Germany

Sunday, March 22, 5:15 pm
Monday, March 23, 6:00 pm

Synopsis: “One of Germany’s most distinctive and accomplished filmmakers, Christian Petzold (Something To Remind Me, Wolfsburg) crafts tight, unsettling films with ruthless precision. In this neue-noir riff on The Postman Always Rings Twice, a taciturn hunk (Fürmann) gets a job working for a Turkish immigrant (Hilmi Sözer) with a successful chain of snack bars and a beautiful,
restless wife (Hoss). Petzold reconfigures the classic noir triangle by giving more weight to the betrayed husband, brilliantly fleshed out by Sözer into a complex and tragic figure. In German with English subtitles. Preview courtesy of The Cinema Guild. 35mm.”

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

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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