CHICAGO EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL-2019
2018, 2017, 2016
March 8th to April 4th at the Siskel Film Center, 164 North State Street Chicago Illinois

Vito Goes Back to the Fest

For me one of the cinematic highlights every year is the Chicago European Union Film Festival. It takes place this year from March 8 through April 4 at the Gene Siskel Film Center which is located at 164 N. State Street. The hotline is 1- (312) 846 2800and the website is at https://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/ceuff/2019/festivalfilms

It is the largest festival in North America which shows films originating in the European Union. This year there will be sixty Chicago premieres representing all twenty eight EU nations.
Some of the films were directed by such global superstars as Paolo Sorrentino (Loro), Krzysztof Zanussi (Ether), Bruno Dumont (Coincoin and the Extra-Humans) and Guillaume Canet (Rock N’ Roll).

The films and even their credits reflect acceptance of the dissolving of barriers between countries and cultures. For instance the first reviewed film in the series: Ether is a multi nation co production (Polish/Ukrainian/Hungarian/Lithuanian/Italian). There is also quite a bit of promising new, fresh younger talent in the fest such as Antony Cordier (Gaspard at the Wedding), Judith Davis (Whatever Happened to the Revolution), and Marine Francen (The Sower). Now here are the reviews.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Entries have been added since the article's original publication date. These additions have been noted in RED)
 

Aleksi **1/2
90 minutes
Showings: Friday, March 29 at 6 pm & Saturday, March 30 at 3 pm.

Alexsi is a minor but competent melodrama that manages to capture millennial discontent and restlessness. Despite her savage intelligence, Alexsi has trouble holding down a job (perhaps because of her flightiness). She took several long, unpaid internships that did not lead to jobs. Her parents are unhappy because her life is so aimless, and she tries to impress people by telling them she is an abstract photographer. Her personal life is as chaotic as the other aspects of her life. She is simultaneously seeing three men: an older, wealthy playboy type, an American that seems to repel her when he acts too nice, and a musician who wants to confine her with his traditional viewpoints on male/female relationships. She is not completely happy with any of them. Her parents want her to take over the family wine business, but her big dream is to run off to Paris and hang out with intellectuals. Newcomer Barbara Vicario’s direction is fine, and the acting is above average, but there is nothing particularly original or memorable about the script or storyline. This is a rather rambling, aimless film that for good and bad reflects the rambling, aimless nature of the main character.

In Croatian with English subtitles.


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Coincoin and the Extra-Humans ****
205 minutes
Showings: Saturday, March 23 at 2 pm & Thursday, March 28 at 6 pm.

This long awaited sequel to Li’l QuinQuin (at least by me) was released in France last year where it was picked as second best film of the year (higher than Phantom Thread) by the prestigious film magazine, Cashiers du Cinema, but it is just coming to Chicago this month. The director, Bruno Dumont tends to use disabled people and non-actors with odd personality quirks and facial tics that he shoots from unflattering angles. This odd absurdist sci fi procedural police comedy has hints of body horror in it, and it seems influenced by Invasion of the Body Snatchers and perhaps The Andy Griffith Show. A small town teenager named CoinCoin (for some reason he was called QuinQuin in the previous film) encounters extraterrestrial globs of liquid that fall from the sky that cause people to produce identical clones. The clones emerge fully formed out of the original’s anuses in scenes that recall the mock birth scene in Alien but this time the births are funny. A bumbling inspector named Captain Van Der Weyden investigates the case (he is like a French Cousteau), and his deputy likes to shock people by driving the police car sideways on two wheels. There are also large bands of immigrants entering the country, and the film seems to be saying Europeans sometimes treat foreigners like extraterrestrials (one of the first people to see the alien glop is an employee of a white nationalist.) Since this film was originally released as a French TV miniseries, it does not use its final scene to provide closure, but there is a wonderful parade near end, which includes odd small town people, alien clones, and people in Mardi Gras like costumes, and a visibly decaying zombie. The film is enriched immeasurably by the exquisite widescreen shots and long takes of scenic landscapes by cinematographer, Guillame Deffontaines. This is a totally unique cinematic experience and director Bruno Dumont is able to create weird, surreal alternate universes as well as David Lynch, Lars Von Trier or Richard Kelly. In short, I loved it

In French with English subtitles
 

Ether (Eter) ***
118 minutes
Showings: Friday, March 22 at 6 pm & Wednesday March 27 at 7:45

This darkly dramatic film was directed by Krystof Zanussi, who is probably best known in the United States for the prize winning, A Year of the Quiet Sun. It can be seen as meditation on the meaning of suffering. Early on the camera zooms in on Hans Merling’s powerfully horrific Last Judgement painting as if to visually announce that the film will take us on a psychic journey through hell. The film plays a bit like a cross between Faust and Frankenstein minus most of the sci-fi/ horror elements. Jacek Poniedzialek’s doctor character is reminiscent of Cushing’s profoundly evil depiction of Dr. Frankenstein in half a dozen Hammer films. Both characters repeatedly and improbably escape death. They also both are extremely Machiavellian, and they tend to put scientific progress above the welfare of their patients. The doctor in Ether sees physicians who care for their patients as suffering from extreme sentimentality. When the doctor finally makes a deal with a demon, he is not a man with horns but a high ranking, suit wearing bureaucrat serving the state dictatorship. Perhaps this is an even more fitting personification of evil. While the movie is mostly engaging and artful, the relentless bleakness, dark visuals, and constant sounds of people screaming into the background gets a slightly tiresome towards the end. This gruesome but worthwhile film is not recommended for extremely sensitive viewers. In Polish with English sub-titles

 

Float like a Butterfly ***
101 minutes
Showings: 8 on Friday, March 29 & 5:30 on Saturday, March 30.

This charming and folksy feminist film is from Ireland. Francis is an orphaned girl whose pregnant mom was killed when by a fork when she was tussling with a brutal cop. Above all, Francis admires Mohammed Ali and wants to follow in his footsteps and become a boxer. But her dad wants to marry her off as soon as she comes of age. He drinks too much and is often out of control. In one shocking scene she actually punches him out when he becomes plastered and abusive. Unlike his daughter, the father (played by a man who is the spitting image of Colin Farrell) seems resigned to living an impoverished, dead end life. He thinks education is a scam and school just teaches people to roll over and play dead. He obstinately insists, “No flesh of mine going to no school.” The film effectively documents the tension between modernism and tradition, and the director Carmel Winters (who is a fresh new promising talent) may be attending both screenings. In English.
 

Lajko-a Gypsy in Space (Cigany Az Urben) ***
90 minutes
Showings: Saturday, March 23 at 8:30 & Thursday, March 25 at 8:15

The Russians get sick of sending monkeys into space so they decide to hold a contest to determine which disposable citizen should be sent up. They test the applicants and decide on letting a Hungarian gypsy take the trip, but only after he starts falling for one of the female contenders. When he finally goes to space, he has a vison of his dead mother, which seems to be a homage to the sci-fi classics Solaris and Contact. This political black comedy pokes fun at bureaucracy as much as Death of Stalin but it is a little less clever. I was ready to judge this as one of the weakest films in the festival but the very true and amusing ending hit the ball out of the park and redeemed the whole film. I also liked how the film expertly incorporates real, ancient black and white stock TV footage to tell the story.

 In Hungarian, German, and Russian with English sub-titles

Loro 1 (Them) ****
150 minutes
Showings: Sunday, March 17 at 4:30 & Thursday, March 21 at 7:30

Superstar Italian director, Paulo Sorrention (his films The Great Beauty, Il Divo and Youth made my previous top 10 lists) is back with a highly speculative but outstanding portrait of the former supremely corrupt Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The lead actor Toni Servillo does a masterful, quasi-sympathetic job at portraying the traitorous, magnetic and charismatic national leader/TV station owner. You can almost understand why dozens of his friends threw themselves under the bus to protect him when his many crimes became known. However, he is reminded of the limits of his power at a party that he throw consisting just of himself and dozens of beautiful women trying to vie for his attention. A 20 something year old (portrayed well by Alice Pagani) does not want him to make her an actress or star and is completely turned off because his breath smells like her grandfather’s (it turns out they have same type of dentures). However, he is later able the turn on the charm and he promises to replace the dentures of an old woman which were destroyed by an earthquake (he seems to feel her pain and relieves her despair in a Clintonesque show of empathy.) His wife Veronica is portrayed (well played by Elena Sofia Ricci) as the complete opposite of him. She is an intellectual homebody who is more interested in reading great literature than being in the public eye. This has to be one of the most mismatched marriages in history. People who do not see parallels between the supremely corrupt and decadent politician and a certain current politician in the white house are not paying close attention. I don’t quite know what the recurring goat image is supposed to mean but I liked it. Sorrentino may not quite be the new Fellini, but he is the closest thing we have. Despite its long length (it was cut from four hours to three) this pageantry-filmed film is one the cinematic highlights of the EU Festival and perhaps of the year (this will almost surely make my top 10 list). This film has already played at the festival but like most of Sorrentino’s films, it will get an extended release in the US later this year.

In Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese with English subtitles.
 
Love and Bullets (Ammore and Malavita) ***
134 minutes
Showings: Sunday, March 17 at 4:30 & Thursday, March 21 at 7:30

This sloppily constructed but energetic and rousing gangster musical is about the passionate and inconvenient love between a mafia thug and a nurse. The film begins with a funeral of a high ranking mafia leader named Don Vincenzo. We soon learn that they actually buried a similar looking man as a decoy because there was a hit on the leader. A nurse sees the real Don in the hospital later, but since the mobsters want to keep it a secret they send a hitman to kill her. The man they send turns out to be her lover, and he betrays the mob, spares her and runs off with him. There are some delightfully bizarre and campy moments like when the nurse declares her lover for the failed assassin in a reworked version of the Flashdance theme with new Neapolitan lyrics about the situation. In Italian with English sub-tiles.
 

The Sower (Le Semeur) ***1/2
99 minutes
Showings: Saturday, March 16 at 3:30 & Monday, March 18 at 6:00

The text adapted for this film is the real story of a woman who did not allow it to be shared until 100 years after her death. This picturesque drama takes place in the aftermath of the French revolution. Some of Napoleon’s men forcibly remove all the adult male Republicans in a small village (in real life most of them were killed or deported) leaving only the women and kids. The isolated, lonely women make an unusual pact out of desperation. They agree that if any man comes to town all the women will share him. But when a handsome blacksmith from another country with a mysterious past shows up Violette bonds with him over literature (he is one of the only males she met that could read). They fall in love, and she wants an exclusive arrangement, but the other women want in. The film makes good use of mostly unknown or semiprofessional actresses that often put big names to shame. This starts out a bit like a less savage version of The Beguiled but it ends up going in a totally direction. In French with English sub-titles.
 

Take it or Leave it (Vota voi jata) ***1/2
102  minutes
Showings: Friday, March 8th at 4:00 & Thursday, Mar 14th at 6:15pm

This film has already been shown at the festival but it will soon be streaming online. A sensitive portrayal of struggling construction wchorker father who is singlehandedly raising an infant. When the mom rejects the baby, Erik must decide whether to raise him alone or put him up for adoption. Erik is a construction worker in Estonia, but he works in neighboring Finland presumably because like many modern Europeans he cannot get enough work in his native country. His ex-suffers from post-natal depression, and Erik reluctantly takes on the responsibility of the kid. He thinks it is a temporary situation and that his ex will eventually come around and take him. Erik soon has to give up construction to take care of the baby and he ends up doing handy work for a woman who watches the kid while he works. Erik is mostly a decent dad but there are bad consequences when he gets drunk and has a one night stand, and neglects the baby. Reimo Sagor is excellent as the devoted Erik and Nora Altrov is also fine as Moonika, the icy and cold neglectful mom. This film and the lead performances do a great job of humanizing its working class protagonists. The director’s last film (Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo mostly does documentaries), Tangerines, scored both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and this film was on the Oscar shortlist for best foreign film representing Estonia.

In Estonian with English sub-titles

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Tiger Milk (Tigermilch) ***1/2
107 minutes
Showings: Friday, March 15 at 7:45 & Wednesday, March 20 at 7:45

This film (named after an alcoholic beverage the teen protagonists illegally drink) skillfully blends together a coming of age/initiation story (some parts of this film could have been in the American rebellious youth Indy film 13) with a tale designed to gain sympathy for undocumented immigrants. Nina and Jamel are extremely close 14 year old friends, but their friendship is tested when they accidently witness an honor killing, and their different cultural backgrounds (Jameeah came from Iraq to seek a better life and Nina is a native born German) cause them to disagree on what to do. Although the film is not particularly profound or original it moves along nicely and manages to get deep inside of the mind of the female protagonists almost as much as the recent Eighth Grade. Nina is capable of surprising profundity and at one point she even suggests that adults are not really alive and they only absorb light (or consequently life) from youth. This film does an excellent job chronicling the tension between adult and teens, and it perfectly captures the chaotic, frantic and spontaneous energy of youth. This fast paced, adrenaline pumping roller coaster ride that is sure to perk up audiences. In German with English subtitles.
 

Touch Me Not  **1/2
125 minutes
Showings: Saturday, March 30 at 7:45 & Wednesday, April 3rd at 6:00

This highly explicit film examines sexual relations and behavior of various marginalized types including the disabled combining interviews, fiction and documentary. It touched upon such subjects as BDSM, alternative sexualities, fetishism and exhibitionism. One of the highlights is a group therapy session, where people are led through different exercises to break down barriers to intimacy. Christian Bayerlein, who tries to overcome his limitations caused by severe spinal atrophy is the bravest and most interesting character in the story. Although the film is well meaning and informative, it is ultimately tedious. The filmmakers’ clinical and academic tone ends up dehumanizing sexuality and reducing it to just another physical process.

In English and German with English sub-tiles
 

We (Wij) ***
90 minutes
Showings: Saturday, March 30th at 8:0 & Monday, April 1st at 8:00

This very explicit Dutch film of youth gone wild takes more than a few cues from Harmony Korine’s Kids and Spring Breakers with a bit of Pasolini’s Salo thrown in with its fall of civilization theme. During a torridly hot summer, a group of teenagers naively begin to engage in sexual experimentation not knowing they will eventually get in over their heads and it will lead to tragedy. Their games become increasingly transgressive and some of them engage in blackmail, pornography and prostitution. Some of the girls enjoy flashing expressway drivers from the top of a bridge which causes considerable damage and multiple car crashes. Eventually one of the teens dies death because of their actions. The death and the film is told from multiple points of view like Kurasawa’s Rashoman, but it is not near that level of quality. The viewer must decide who is telling the truth and which fractured reality is more reliable. This film has not been rated but it is the equivalent of an NC17 film.

In Dutch and Flemish with English subtitles.

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Whatever Happened to My Revolution? ***1/2
88 minutes
Showings: Saturday, March 30 at 4:45 & Monday, April1st at 6:00

Angele is a modern day, young radical who came from a revolutionary family. Her parents met in a Maoist protest, but Angele clashes with them and some of her friends because she thinks they sold out their ideals. She organizes left wing encounter group sessions which are well meaning but someone absurd. At one of them, some members have a long argument about whether Johnny Rotten was still punk after he did a butter commercial (the real Country Time butter commercial is a classic.) It is actually a great, entertaining conversation. One of the other members espouses the belief that society would be better off if had been more nomadic, but he has never left his town. The best part of the film is the lead performance by Judith Davis (she also directed the film.) She manages to create a completely real, multi layered and convincing character that is hard to forget. In French with English sub-titles.

In English and German with English sub-tiles

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For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org  & www.chicagopoetry.com. See his poetry show at the Art Colony on Saturday, April 13 from 5 to 7 at 2630 West Fletcher. Also catch his feature at the Elizabeth's Crazy Little Thing show at Phyllis’s Musical at 1800 W. Division on May 8 from 9 pm to 12. He will be reading from both his poetry books which are available at Alternate Reality.

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