|by Peter Sobczynski
A look at some of the highlights screening during the third week of Chicago's European Union Film Festival.
Now celebrating its 20th 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. Running March 3-30, this yearís iteration offers up 62 titles from all 28 EU nations that include the latest efforts from such acclaimed filmmakers as the Dardenne brothers, Francois Ozon, Olivier Assayas, Bruno Dumont, Pernilla August and Lone Scherfig. Over the next four weeks, I will be presenting a brief highlight reel of some of the more notable titles that will be unspooling. 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 key films playing during the third week of the European Union Film Festival.
AFTER LOVE (March 17, 20): Not to be confused with ''Afterlov,'' another entry in this year's festival, this emotionally brutal Belgian drama features Cedric Kahn and Berenice Bejo as a couple whose 15 year marriage has just fallen apart but who are forced to continue co-habitating for the time being in the home that he renovated but that she, as the chief earner, paid for. For the sake of their two daughters, they try to make the uncomfortable arrangement work but the tensions between the two eventually do surface, especially when it appears that one of them is not quite as eager to end things as the other. Although the premise sounds like the setup for an especially contrived sitcom, director Joachim Lafosse develops it in a quietly effective manner that eschews big dramatic moments for ones that sneak up on you in creating scenes of instantly recognizable discomfort while providing Bejo (best known here for her roles in ''The Artist'' and ''The Pact'') with the best part that she has had in a while.
THE COUNTRY DOCTOR (March 17, 22): As this French drama opens, a man (Francois Cluzet) undergoes a battery of medical tests and learns that he has cancer. It turns out that he himself is a medical professional, the doctor of a rural village, and he decides to throw himself into his work as a way of avoiding his own uncertain future. Eventually he is forced to take on an assistant from the city (Marianne Denicourt) and as he shows her that her no-nonsense methods will not work in a practice that sometimes employs odd methods to dealing with the idiosyncratic patient base, he also learns to come to grips with his own situation, personal and professional, before it is too late. Despite the schmaltziness of the premise, director Thomas Lilti, himself a one-time doctor, employs a blessedly low-key approach that prevents it from turning into a soap opera.
ETHEL & ERNEST (March 17, 18): At the beginning of this adaptation of his 1998 graphic novel of the same name, beloved British author/illustrator Raymond Briggs remarks that ''There was nothing extraordinary about my parents.'' The same cannot be said about this lovely adaptation, done entirely through hand-drawn illustration, that begins as his parents, unassuming milkman Ernest (Jim Broadbent) and maid Ethel (Brenda Blethyn) meet in 1928 and follows them over the years as they marry, have a child and observe events ranging from World War II and the political and social upheaval of post-war England to the advent of television and the horror of learning that their son wants to go to art school. Although it is animated (and beautifully at that), this is not a film for little kids, mostly because the subject matter might make them restless. For everyone else, however, this is a wonderful work that is funny, touching, gorgeous to look at and features two of the very best voice performances in an animated film in a long, long time in the contributions from Broadbent and Blethyn.
STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE (March 17, 18): Not exactly a biopic in the conventional sense, this Austrian drama by Maria Schrader focuses on the last few years of the life of the famous Jewish-Austrian writer (played here by Josef Hader) after he fled his home country in 1934 and became a controversial figure for his refusal to publicly condemn Hitler and his regime. Selected as Austriaís entry in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the film is handsomely mounted and contains a good performance by Hader as the increasingly tortured Zweig but the film as a whole is too dry at times and will mean virtually nothing to anyone who doesn't walk into the theater without a considerable working knowledge of Zweig and his work. Following the screening on the 17th, there will be a Q&A featuring Schrader, who will be appearing via Skype, and co-star Barbara Sukowa, who is tentatively scheduled to be there in person.
SUNTAN (March 18, 22): In this increasingly creepy drama from Greece, Makis Papadimitriou (''Chevalier'') plays a sad-sack doctor--though with his pasty skin, flabby body and cigarette habit, he hardly seems the type to advise on health--who is posted to a small island that is dead for most of the year but which comes alive in the summer as hedonistic young people swarm the place for one endless party. When he treats sexy visitor Anna (Elli Tringou) for a minor injury, he is instantly smitten with her and begins hanging out with her and her group of friends, who barely tolerate the guy because he buys the drinks. Anna is a little nicer to him but doesn't grasp the seriousness of his obsession until it is too late. This effort from Argyris Papadimitriopoulos has been made with undeniable skill but there are times when it canít quite decide whether it wants to be a grim, if strangely sun-kissed psychodrama or a just a slightly less amusing version of ''Hardbodies.'' I cannot quite recommend it--it steers a little too close to the latter at times for my taste--but others may find it an intriguing, if ultimately grim experience.
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originally posted: 03/17/17 11:22:41