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A Guide To The 19th Annual European Union Film Festival: Week Four
by Peter Sobczynski

A look at the fourth and final week of films at the 19th Annual European Union Film Festival, being held at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center

Now in its 19th year, Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center once again presents the European Union Film Festival, a month-long program designed to highlight the newest films coming out of the EU member nations by offering a canny mix of highly anticipated titles and lesser-known films that may never again be seen in these parts. This year’s iteration offers up 62 titles from all 28 EU nations that include the latest efforts from such acclaimed filmmakers as Alexandra Sokurov, Mattero Garrone, Terrence Davies, the Taviani Brothers and the late Chantal Akerman. Over the next four weeks, I will be presenting a brief highlight reel of some of the more notable titles that will be unspooling and the guests that are scheduled to appear. All screenings will be held at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 North State Street. For a full schedule of films and showtimes, you should log on to the Film Center website at siskelfilmcenter.org

Here are some of the more notable titles from the fourth and final week, including an Oscar nominee, historical epics, plenty of sex and violence, stars like Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly and even something for the whole family.

THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN: In this weirdo French thriller, a put-upon secretary (Freya Mavor) takes her boss’s car for an unplanned trip but when she pulls into a small seaside town that she has never been to before, it seems that everyone knows who she is. To make matters even more complicated, the once-empty trunk of the car now contains a dead body that she doesn’t recognize. This adaptation of the Sebastien Japrisot novel (the fourth to date) is undeniably slick and stylish but once you get past the film’s retro look, it proves to be a singularly hollow experience, though the considerable presence of Mavor helps to serve as a distraction from its general emptiness. (March 25, 31)

A WAR: The first half of this nominee for this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar offers up the parallel stories of a Danish commander (Pilou Asbaek) in the war in Afghanistan who tries to treat the men under his command with dignity and respect and his wife (Tuva Novotny) back home trying to raise their three children practically on her own. After a major miscalculation on his part during a firefight results in heavy civilian casualties, he is sent home to face trial and finds himself faced with choosing between sticking up for his hard-fought integrity and dignity or the needs of his struggling family. This is a smart and engrossing story—the screenplay by writer-director Tobias Lindholm is notable for the ways in which it avoids all the expected cliches and forces viewers to confront some hard and uncomfortable truths—that is further buoyed by powerful performances from the entire cast. (March 25, 26)

THE GIRL KING: Malin Buska slips into the shoes formerly worn by Greta Garbo and Luv Ullmann to star in this lavish biopic about Queen Christina, the 17th century Swedish monarch who assumed the throne at age 18 and shocked the country with her progressive attitudes, her friendship with philosopher Rene Descartes, her marked interest in Catholicism and her much-rumored relationship with her lady-in-waiting (Sarah Gadon). Mika Kaurismaki’s film is slickly made and lavishly appointed and reasonably entertaining on a superficial level but anyone hoping for something that cuts a little deeper will find it a little too slight and gossipy for its own good. (March 25, 26)

CHEVALIER: In this decidedly absurdist deadpan comedy from Greece, a group of six men on a trip at sea become so bored that they devise a game that they call “The Best In General,” in which literally everything that they do is turned into a contest in which they rank and evaluate each other in the most merciless manner imaginable. This is one of those movies that is almost certain to split viewers right down the middle—I found it to be a fairly excruciating exercise that proved to be about as funny as being stuck at sea for a week with a half-dozen self-absorbed twits but those who are on its admittedly peculiar and unique wavelength may find it hilarious. (March 25, 28).

HOCKNEY: The life and work of famed British artist David Hockney is examined in this documentary by Randall Wright that takes viewers from his childhood in Yorkshire to his fame in America as one of the premiere artistic chroniclers of the culture of Los Angeles in the Eighties and Nineties to his work today in which he utilizes iPhones and iPads as his tools. Hockney himself is a lively enough subject and his art does still resonate but this aggressively slight film fails to do justice either to him or his work. (March 26, 28)

THE MEASURE OF A MAN: In this drama from French director Stephane Brize, a middle-aged unemployed factory worker (Vincent Lindon) struggles to make ends meet for his family until he lands a job as a security agent at a supermarket guarding the goods made by the very same people who fired him in the first place by people often as needy as he was just a short time earlier. Lindon won a much-deserved Best Actor award at Cannes last year for this performance and while the film as a whole may not exactly be a bucket of laughs, those who admired “Two Days, One Night” may see it as a sort of unofficial companion piece. (March 26)

MY BIG NIGHT: The latest film from Spanish provocateur Alex de la Iglesia is a wild and frantic dark comedy chronicling the disastrous filming of a New Year’s Eve special for television where the backstage intrigues include a crushed extra, riots, sex scandals, an assassination attempt and even a few musical numbers here and there. Like many of de la Iglesia’s previous films (including “Perdita Durango” and “El Crimen Perfecto”), this one is as wild and noisy and bizarre as can be but he exerts enough quiet control over the increasingly lurid material to keep it from flying completely off of the tracks. (March 26, 30)

TALE OF TALES: With the aid of a decidedly eclectic cast that includes the likes of Salma Hayek, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones, Italian director Matteo Garrone (whose “Gomorrah” and “Reality” were international hits) makes his English-language debut with this elaborate and often eye-popping fantasy that interweaves three fairy tales from author Giambattista Basile involving adjoining kingdoms, crazed monarchs and any number of grotesqueries. The interweaving of the stories is sometimes a little rough but the film as a whole is surprisingly entertaining in the way that it suggests the strange fantasy films of Terry Gilliam while still managing to eke out its own unique style. (March 27, 30)

PHANTOM BOY: For the closing night film, the festival has selected this animated fantasy from France in which a rookie New York cop sidelined by a broken leg and a young boy who has the power to set his spirit free from his body to float above the city join forces in an effort to bring down a ruthless gangster. Directed by the guys behind the Oscar-nominated favorite “A Cat in Paris” and featuring the voices of Edouard Baer and Audrey Tautou, this film is a charmer that is suitable for audiences young and old alike—there are subtitles but the story is easy enough to follow along even without them. (March 31)


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originally posted: 03/24/16 15:14:17
last updated: 03/24/16 15:59:38
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