The European Union Film Festival is at the
Gene Siskel Center (164 North State Street) this month (March 3rd through 31st)
and hopefully most of the films being shown will come back and play longer runs
in the Chicago area in the near future. While these titles may be in limited
theatrical release soon, many Iím sure some will also become available soon
on DVD, Netflix or other streaming platforms as well. Still there is nothing like seeing a
film on the big screen for the first time (If I had first seen Lawrence of
Arabia or The Third Man or Vertigo for the first time on my computer they would
have had half the impact.) Itís too bad that there are so fewvenues on the
south side or near south side that shows art films (I miss the Fine Arts and
Pipers Alley.) Surprisingly most of the films also come close to suspense or
With so many films being shown at the Festival here are some capsule reviews on
some of the
cinematic works playing at the Fest that caught my eye. I ranked
these films with the
traditional star system. Four star films means great (such
as Au Hasard Balthazar, Taxi Driver, and Night of the Living Dead), three is
good (the Peter Jackson King Kong or The Revenant), two is average (all the
films in the second Star
Wars trilogy), one star is poor (any Fantastic Four
film) and zero applies to your average Adam Sandler flick (Punch Drunk Love is
the exception) or any Transformers film.
of the Serpent (****)-Masterful and mesmerizing travel picture about a
German intellectual who encounters ancient pre Christian customs and religions
when he travels down the Amazon to find a plant that will cure his illness. He
is accompanied by a shaman, a native who hate whites and a native who has been
assimilated into modern culture. They meet a sadistic missionary, a man who
thinks he is the messiah, and they even see a scene of ritual cannibalism in the
movieís most shocking scene (donít bring the kids). This filmís entrancing
tracking shots capture the immensity of nature brilliantly and they recall the
best work of Werner Herzog including Aguirre: The Wrath of God, but the plot
recalls Apocalypse Now. This got nominated for best foreign picture at the
Oscars this year and lost, but it is much better than most of the nominees for
best picture. Mandatory viewing for fans of Joseph Campbellís The Power of Myth.
Currently playing at the Music Box.
(***1/2)-Perversely fascinating Oedipal romantic comedy gradually turns into
a harsh and horrific drama/thriller. A cultured and classy lady (Julie Delphy)
thinks she has found the perfect man, but when her sociopathic son comes to live
with her things start to go wrong. The suiter appears drunk at her work event;
he loses a big account at work, and worse of all he is accused of cyberterrorism.
It turns out that the womanís sadistic son, Lolo is manipulating events to break
up the romance. Things are light and humorous until we see how far Lolo will go.
At first the situations and dialogue are rather pedestrian but the film ends up
firing on all cylinders and Julie Delphyís winning performance (she also
directed and co-wrote the script) elevates the film. But Vincent Lacoste is
brilliant as an art student from hell and his performance captures perfectly the
banality of evil. Playing at the Gene Siskel Center as part of the European
Festival on March 17 at 6 pm.
Home Movie (***)-In this extremely personal documentary, the Belgium
feminist director Chantal Ackerman compiles interviews with her dying
grandmother who shares some of her memories about growing up and her experiences
in the Holocaust (she was an Auschwitz survivor). There are also many Gates of
Heaven like shots of wind blowing through the greenery. (They are mostly
captivating and occasionally boring.) The film is also poignant because
Ackermanís grandmother died right after the film wrapped, and the director
killed herself last year. Ackerman was a first class director but this film does
not quite match her best work, but it is still definitely worth a look. Playing
at the Gene Siskel Center as part of the European Union Film Festival on March 19 at
3:30 and it will have an extended run at the same theatre on April 8-13.
for a Vampire (***1/2)-Amusing (although not in a laugh out loud way)
situation comedy set in 1930s Vienna. Itís about Count Geza Von Koznom, a
vampire who is bored with everything. Heís been married for hundreds of years
and he complains ďI no longer have a thirst for life.Ē In desperation he gets
therapy from Sigmund Freud, and he sees a painting of a woman in the office who
is the spitting image of his long dead love. He suspects that she is the
reincarnation of his old love and pursues her even though she is in love with
Freudís assistant and this causes problems in his own marriage. This fresh
comedy does not lack bite and it is in the tradition of Polansksiís quasi
classic, The Fearless Vampire Lovers as well as the recent What We Do in the
Shadows. Highly recommended. Playing at the Gene Siskel Center on March 19 at 8
pm and Thursday, March 24 at 6 pm. It is also supposed to have an extended run
at the Music Box Theatre sometime this spring.
Witch (***)-Moody and atmospheric film about a family that is cast out of
Puritan society under false charges and they try to survive on their own in the
forest accompanied by some animals including a sinister goat. At first this
seems to be about Puritan paranoia but eventually some events occur that appear
to have been caused by the supernatural. A boy spits up an apple after he is
kissed by a dark clad temptress and one child acts possessed. It takes a long
time for this film to build up to something but the creepy climax is definitely
worth the wait. Playing at various theatres everywhere including the south side.
The following reviews were added to this article on 032116:
(A)lone (***1/2)-A teen boy gets razzed continuously at school because heís
an oddball who finds it hard to communicate and his momís job as a prostitute
does not help his rep. The only person who he connects with is a sociopathic,
hedonistic girl (her mom is also a hooker) who leads him into mischief. For a
while the couple is sweet and sympathetic but like the main character in
Breaking Bad they commit worse and worse acts until they cross the line into
complete villainy. In Luxembourgish with English sub-titles.
Entry (***)-Two sixteen year old emo girls go to a big music festival in
Budapest, and they finance their stay by selling pot. One of them flirts with a
security guard to get by with the stash but there are other complications. This
captures the excitement of young people cutting loose away from their parents
for the first time perfectly, and itís amazing how universal youth culture has
become. The girls could almost be Americans. This is much lighter than the other
recent films I have recently seen from Eastern Europe. In Hungarian with
Donít Belong Anywhere: Le Cinema de Chantal Ackerman (***1/2)-This companion
piece to No Home Movie was shot is about Chantal Ackerman, an important
experimental feminist film maker. It was shot as Ackerman as she shot her last
movie No Home Movie. Chantal is a fascinating interview subject and she
discusses her personal life (she says it is ďfull of missing links, blanks and I
donít even have a child,Ē) her film making methods, and the great influence of
her mom. This film is particularly poignant because both her and her mom died
recently. In French with English sub-titles. The film will have an extended run
at the Gene Siskel Center on April 8-13.
of a A Man (***1/2)-This well-acted film concerns the timely story of a 51
year old with a disabled son who loses his job, and his frustrating efforts to
find a new one. He finds that his skills are outdated, and he has to take a
humbling job as a security guard in a store. Soon he has to make an ethical
choice when a struggling employee is caught cheating. Vincent Lindon who was
marvelous in the title role won at best actorís award at Cannes Film Festival,
and this is definitely one of the best films at this yearís EU film festival.
Playing on the closing day of the festival on Saturday, March 26 at the Gene
Siskel Center at 4:15. In French with English sub-titles.
Boccaccio (***)-This uneven compilation films adapts five stories by the
great Italian literary master. The stories are told to teach others by a bunch
of strangers trying to pass the time because they canít leave during the plague.
There are some good moments (especially in the start and last third) but the
film isnít nearly bawdy or clever enough to do Boccaccio justice. Pasoliniís
Decameron is still the best Boccaccio film but this isnít a bad time waster.
Directed by the Taviani brothers who also directed the classic Padre Padrone. In
Italian with English sub-titles.