CHICAGO EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL-2020 UPDATE
2019, 2018, 2017, 2016
March 6th to April 2nd at the Siskel Film Center, 164 North State Street, Chicago, Illinois

Vito on the Chicago European Union Film Festival

The 23rd European Union Film Festival is happening at the Gene Siskel Center (164 North State Street) this month (March 6 through April 2), but usually some of the films will come back and play longer runs in the Chicago area or show up on streaming stations in the near future. While these titles may be in limited theatrical release soon, many I am sure some will also become available on DVD in case you miss the showings here.

Some of the expected highlights include Werner Herzog’s latest documentary Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (March 28 and April 1st) Bruno Dumont’s Joan of Arc (March 7 and 11), as well as Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne widely acclaimed Young Ahmed (March 12 and 14). However, the distributors were embargoing some of these films, so I was not able to see previews.

I noticed that this year the festival seemed to have more films than usual that were directed by women.
Of the films, I reviewed so far female filmmakers without male collaborators made more than half, (Bille, Fire Lilly, Queen of Hearts and Real Love). Perhaps this a sign that female filmmakers are making more headway internationally than in America (remember this year had no female best director nominees.)

Here are some capsule reviews on some of the cinematic works playing at the Fest. These films were ranked with the traditional star rating system. Four star films means great (such as Au Hasard Balthazar, Taxi Driver, Persona, and the original Night of the Living Dead), three is good (the Peter Jackson King Kong, The Green Book or most Marvel films, and The Revenant), two is average (all the films in the second Star Wars trilogy), one star is poor (any Fantastic Four or Friday the 13rth film) and zero applies to your average Adam Sandler flick (Punch Drunk Love and Uncut Gems are the exceptions) or any Transformers film.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of these films have already played but they are scheduled to return for longer runs. Entries have been added since the article's original publication date. These additions have been noted in RED)

For more information on this years fest, go to:
http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/ceuff/2020/overview
 

As Happy as Possible/ Rêves De Jeunesse (France) **1/2
90 minutes
Showings:  Fri, 030320 @ 02:00pm & Wed, 032520 @ 06:00pm
Entry Posted: 030720

Intelligent but slight film about young drifters looking for direction in which nothing much happens. One of the key plot developments involves young people struggling to find a place to bring put oversized furniture that will not fit into garbage cans. Although the film includes an opening and closing scene in an unnamed city in the south of France, the story most of it takes place completely in an isolated, disgusting waste disposal site. Young people stop by to get rid of their clothing or anything else that want discarded. The thirty something Salome (no connection to the biblical dancer), works over the summer as the temporary caretaker. Originally, she was supposed to live in off-site house belonging to her employers, but when they vanish right away after giving her the wrong keys, she squats in a weather-beaten van parked at the dump (not by the river). She entertains herself by playing her homemade cassettes and vinyl records. She eventually encounters the rude and impulsive, Jess who got lost working on a survivalist radio show. She is Salome’s opposite in every way but they become close. We also learn that one of the character’s ex-boyfriend, Mathis, was radical activist in the environmentalist zadiste movement, but he was killed during a protest. This film was obviously influenced by mumble core (which I never liked) and perhaps Kevin Smith, so there are some rambling pointless conversations, which show the felling of apathy and lack of hope plus direction of today’s youth. That does not mean it was especially fun to sit through, and despite some worthwhile moments this film about people going nowhere ends up going nowhere. Eventually the two female outsiders rebond and they try to maintain an alternative lifestyle cut off from society.
 

Beats (UK/Scotland) ***
102 minutes
Showings: Fri, 032720 & Mon, 033020 at 8:00 pm
Entry Posted: 031320

Gripping youth culture drama from Scotland that takes place during the ‘90s UK rave movement (Chicago had one at about the same time.) This is an exciting cross social class buddy film about the friendship between Spanner, an angry and impulsive working-class youth and Johnno, a slightly more reserved and restrained middle class young man. Their friendship causes problems with Johnno’s parents who see Spanner as a loser that will take their son into the gutter with him. To make things worse, Johnno’s dad is a cop who despises the new youth culture that the boys participate in. The city passes a law to prevent future raves (just like the mayor of Chicago did at the time), and of course Spanner convinces his friend to go a giant illegal rave the day before he is supposed to move (Spanners calls up Johnno’s boss and tells him he can’t go to work because he is dead.) The film is greatly elevated by the gorgeous black and white photography, and the performances are fine, but the film does not quite measure up to similar British youth culture films as 24-Hour Party People. The Scottish accents of the characters are so thick that the film has English sub titles even though it is technically in English.
 

Bille (Latvia) ***
104 minutes
Showings: Sat, 030720 @ 07:45pm & Thurs, 031220 @ 06:00pm
Entry Posted: 030720

The highly whimsical film, Bille is based on a novel by the famous Latvian author Vizma Belševica, a winner of Tomas Tranströmer Award (named after the famous poet) and five-time candidate for the Nobel Prize. Billie is a touching and inspiring quasi autobiographical drama set in the 30s, and there are even certain scenes that were shot where the real author grew up. The film’s young protagonist, Bille is quite gifted and she even reads the Hunchback of Notre Dame before she goes to grade school. She is frequently confused by the adult world and her own mom’s ambivalent feelings toward her, and she is also repulsed by her dad’s drunken behavior. Bille, like the main character in Alice in Wonderland goes down the rabbit hole and finds solace in a world of fantasy while her country is heading towards fascism (reminds me of modern-day America). The girl is incredibly naive and at one point she is extremely worried because she got a glimpse of male nudity and she believes that this probably made her pregnant. This fine film is in the tradition of previous classics such as Forbidden Games and Valarie and Her Week of Wonders because with its intimate story and superb camera work it is able to masterfully capture the whole inner world of a child. Since the novel that the film was based on was part of a trilogy we might be seeing some sequels in the future which would be welcome (at least by me). Highly recommended.
 

By a Sharp Knife (Slovakia) ***
89 minutes
Showings: Sat, 032120 & Tues, 032420
Entry Posted: 031320

A family begins to fall apart when the only son is savagely murdered (the film is based on a real event that happened in Bratislava). To the dad’s horror, the skinhead Neo Nazi killers seem to get protection from the law, and they get off with almost nothing initially. The dad is enraged and will do anything to get justice. But then just when you think it will turn into another revenge flick (like the kind that Mel Gibson used to make) it goes in an unexpected direction. The dad finds out that the boy was a drug dealer and our sympathy for the dad wanes a bit as the film goes on. Pretty bleak indictment of the justice system in Slovakia (but it could take place almost anywhere.)
 

Carga (Portugal) ***
113 minutes
Showings: Fri, 031320 @ 08:00pm & Monday, 031620 @ 08:00pm
Entry Posted: 030720

Unflinchingly brutal and graphic thriller about human trafficking shows a young woman who is abducted and forced to work as a sex worker. Antonio (Vitor Norte) is a very Catholic driver (he would be called a coyote over here) who smuggles over men who pay to get a new life in Portugal. However, we soon discover that most of the men are killed and the women are raped and forced to endlessly service johns to pay off their debt for coming over. One of the new prostitutes Viktoriya (Michalina Olsanska) rebels and fights for her life, but the odds are against her. Antonio suffers substantial guilt for his part in the enterprise, but he knows if he leaves, his sadistic employer will rape and murder his family. The employer’s sister who watches over the prostitutes is a truly evil character and she displays no traces of humanity at all. At the end when the words “This could happen to you” appear on screen, viewers may be forgiven if they feel like they are being hammered with the film’s message, and it is somewhat reminiscent of the disclaimer in a 30s gangster film. Overall this a very strong and well-made but rough film with a social conscience.
 

Firelilly/TulllIIillia (Estonia) **
Run Time: N/A
Showings: Sat, 032120 @ 2:30pm and Thurs, 032620 @ 06:00pm
Entry Posted: 030720

 The films gets its title from a hermaphroditic plant that can fertilize itself (believe it or not scientists also recently discovered the Komodo Dragons can also do this). The thirty-something, recently divorced Pia (Ingrid isotaam) moves into a space with her much younger sister. At night, she senses that an unseen entity makes its way into her room every night until she finds that she has become pregnant. Ironically her husband just left her for another woman because she can’t have kids. When she tries to explain that she was knocked up without having a flesh and blood sex partner everyone understandably (especially her ex-husband) thinks she is crazy. Like in the equally underwhelming Agnes of God, a woman gets pregnant without intercourse or any scientific explanation (The film also bears some similarities to Demon Seed, Rosemary’s Baby and The Entity). Not especially compelling or memorable
 

Joan of Arc (France) ***1/2
137 minutes
Showings: Sat, 030720 @ 5pm & Wed, 031120 @ 7:30pm
Entry Posted: 031320

This touching and visually stunning quasi musical is a sequel to Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc which was made by the same director (Bruno Dumont) and stars the same actress (Lise Lepate Prudhomme who is shockingly good although she looks like she is 12). Both films are based the play "The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc", written in 1910 by the Catholic mystic author Charles Péguy. This film picks up from the last one and presents an absurdist version of the story of the trial and execution of the French saint. We hear many lush, gorgeous synth pop ballads by Christophe, which sound like early 80s MTV new wave. We don’t see Prudhomme singing them because her lips don’t move, but the songs seem to emanate in her head. The film has several hilarious scenes in which every day, banal dialogue is juxtaposed against the background of extraordinary events. For instance, in one scene a man complains that Joan’s execution was put off because she confessed and his wife wasted her time dressing in her Sunday clothes because she wanted to look good for the burning (how little people have changed). The trial is a great way for the film maker to ridicule the pomp and circumstance plus the hypocrisy in legal proceedings. The ornately dressed Vatican officials keep talking about the need for humility while they talk pompously and wear the most ornate clothes possible. Joan is often shown in close up reaction shots during the trial with everything behind her looking unfocused (perhaps corresponding to her murky state of mind) and when the Vatican lawyers are shown the church background is in stunning deep focus with a triptych on top which parallels the court characters. This very odd and off-putting film got mixed reviews, but the cult filmmaker, John Waters listed the film second on his list of best films for 2019. His review starts with the words "There is a God and his name is Bruno Dumont." Most of his cast is comprised of non actors, including the judges, who were portrayed by lecturers from the University of Amiens in northern France, where part of the film was shot. Surprisingly light and inspirational for a film about a saint who was burned at the stake: this is by far the best film I saw in the festival. If it did not feel a little padded (especially in the beginning) it would have received four stars. This film already played at the fest, but it will open wider soon.
 

Ko Ko-di Kok-Da (Sweden) ***
86 minutes
Entry Posted: 031320

Ko Ko-di Kok-Da which is named after a nursery rhyme is very surreal and totally bizarre horror film with a wicked sense of humor. The young couple, Ellin and Tobias witness the death of their beloved daughter on her eighth birthday. Three years later on the anniversary of their death the couple goes camping possibly to forget the tragic event. But they seem to get stuck in a hellish time loop and the film becomes like a ghoulish Euro version of Groundhog Day. A clownish talk show type in a bowler hat (played by a pop star, Peter Belli ), appears accompanied by a very tall silent woman in dreadlocks, a dog and a brutal giant looking like they came out of a demented children’s show. Over and over the quartet brutalize and murder the couple in variations of the same sinister scenario (at one point before a murder, the bowler guy ironically sings “Yummy yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy.”) The husband always knows what is going to happen and tries to get his wife to leave with him quickly to avoid death, but it is futile (she usually dies when she insists on stopping to urinate). Then the couple comes back to life and the whole thing is repeated in a slightly different form. I thought the film was parodying how many of us go through life going through the motions and experiencing the same, meaningless situations because of our unwillingness to change but I could be wrong. If this is not fun enough there is also has frequent evolving shadow puppet shows in between the murders that are related to other parts of the film. I have never seen anything quite like this, and I am not sure that I ever want to, but it was definitely worth one viewing.
 

Queen of Hearts ***1/2 (Denmark)
127 minutes
Showings: Sat, 032120 @ 02:30pm & Thurs, 032620 @ 6:00pm
Entry Posted: 030720

Anne is a powerful and sophisticated lawyer who specializes in cases involving abuse. She is living with her husband, his two daughters, and their teenage son (all by his first wife that he divorced), and the combined family situation works for a while. She is the pillar of her community, and does noble work helping her clients, but it is clear from her later actions that when it comes to her personal life she is lacking any kind of a conscience. When her husband leaves on one of his frequent trips, she is left unsatisfied and she begins a short affair with her aimless and jobless stepson. The joyless, unromantic sex scenes, which are explicit but not exploitative, reduce sex to a biological process. In one memorable scene, the female lead (who is quite good) dances (ironically enough) to Soft Cell’s Tainted Love while the partygoers watch (little do they know). In a way, this is like a female centered version of Damage because both films depict upright respected citizens who ruin their families because of their poor choice of taboo romantic partners). The film keeps showing a desolate dying tree which seems to correspond to the state of the family in the end. Mesmerizing and disturbing.
 

Mo (Romania) ***1/2
77 minutes
Showings: Sat, 030720 @ 8:00 pm & Wed, 031120 @ 6:00 pm
Entry Posted: 031320

Two female students cheat on a college exam, and they get caught by an ultra-serious take no prisoners professor. But the academic has a sleezy side (he reminds me a bit somehow of Harvey Weinstein). He knows he has the girls over a barrel and he takes that opportunity to have the girls over at his apartment for a home cooked meal. The more rebellious one, Mo (who sports a punkish hairdo) begins to bond with her prof over their mutual love of post punk and new wave. At one point she even sings an acoustic version of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control while the formerly bohemian prof strums his guitar. She seems half attracted to him (but she might just be playing along to pass), and the story does not end well. This Me-too era commentary film is completely contemporary, relevant and absorbing.
 
Real Love /C'est ça l’amour (France/Belgium) ***1/2
98 minutes
Showings: Sun, 030820 @ 3:00pm & Thurs, 031220 @ 6:00pm
Entry Posted: 030720

Real Love is an involving Franco-Belgian dramedy written and directed by Claire Burger (She won the Camera d'Or award for her debut feature film Party Girl that she codirected at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival). The film came out in Europe in 2018 but it is finally making its way to Chicago. A middle-aged man named Mario tries to adapt to his new life after his wife of twenty years abruptly leaves him to care for their two daughters alone. Mario thinks of himself as a failure and he doubts that he is up to the task of guiding his daughters through their turbulent adolescent years. He spends so much time pining for his ex that the house looks unkempt and messy and one of his daughters berates him for it. The younger daughter, Frida is only fourteen and she is very rebellious problem child. She blames the dad for the parental breakup and sometimes-great harbors anger towards him. At one point, she spikes her dad’s drink with a drug for fun and this makes him very sick. In addition, she begins a relationship with a much more experienced and older girl (the older girl kisses her while they are smoking). When Frida makes tea for her dad, the tragic Philip Glass music that is playing effectively conveys the distance between them. The other daughter, Niki is more together but she also has issues, and is not always the nicest person. Although she is not quite 18, she wants to live on her own and she has a very shallow view of love (she callously dumps her boyfriend with a text.) Although the plot and story of the film are engaging, the best aspect of the Real Love is the performances. All of the acting is way above average and Bouli Lanners even won a Magritte award for his portrayal of Mario, the dad, and Burger won for best director for this film at the Venice Film Festival.
 
the Waiter (Greece) ***
104 minutes
Showings: Fri, 031320 & Thurs, 031920
Entry Posted: 031320

An example of the so called Greek weird wave which was kicked off by the film, Dogtooth in 2009. Films in the loosely defined genre often feature unusual character and narrative choices that reflect the unstable, anxiety ridden environment of contemporary Greek society. Greek weird wave films are usually quite cheap plus they have absurdist dialog, haunting cinematography and alienated, isolated protagonists (many of these traits also exist in The Lobster an American film by the director of Dogtooth). The Waiter which is about a conservative, unspontaneous waiter (who cuts himself off from most of humanity certainly fulfils most of the criteria. The waiter notices that the man down the hall abruptly vanishes and his room is occupied by a suspicious stranger who claims he is housesitting. The two meet for dinner and they eventually become friends, they even hook up with a sinister femme fatale named Tzina (Chiara Gensini who has a kind of fragile beauty) who seems to go along with anything they suggest. Also at one, point the waiter finds body parts of his missing neighbor in the trash and we are led to believe that the new tenant and Tzina (who the waiter is strongly attracted to) might have had something to do with it. This noirish first film directed by Steve Krikris pays off but many American film fans might find it slow moving.
 

 

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to:
 www.artinterviews.org  & www.chicagopoetry.com.

Plus look for his recent book Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor.Come to the Monthly Show every first Saturday at Intersect Cafe at 1727 W. 18th near Damen and 18th in Pilsen from 6-8 featuring Poetry/Spoken Word (also some Music and Performance Art), Hosted by Vittorio Carli, Featuring The Two Bobs (Lawrence and Raskow) on March 7.

Vittorio Carli will read Film Related Poems at the Uptown Art Center at 941 W. Lawrence on March 28 at 8-up?

Vittorio Carli is the narrator of a new movie titled The Last Hippie Freak which recently played in Canada and will soon be streamed online. To see a preview go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWQf-UruQyw
It will play at the Gene Siskel Center on June 20th.

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