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Chicago's European Union Festival 2012 (Week Two)

by Peter Sobczynski & Erik Childress

The 15th Annual European Union Festival continues at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center and here are some films you can see in Week Two (March 9-15).

In this effort from Julie Gavras--best known for the festival favorite "Blame It on Fidel," Isabella Rossellini and William Hurt play a married couple trying to come to terms with the fact that they are indeed getting older--she chooses to accept the way things are by aggressively embracing the aging process while he tries to stave off the inevitable by spending more time with young architecture students. The film as a whole is well-meaning but kind of bland at its core and not even the efforts of the always-reliable Rossellini and Hurt can do much to save it. However, while it isn't especially good, it is the kind of safe and familiar work that one can easily take their mother to see without much fear of things getting too bizarre for comfort. (March 9, 6:00 PM and March 11, 3:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

Prudence (Lea Seydoux) might seem like she has the teenage dream come true, an empty house all to herself. This came at the cost of a mother who has passed away and a father who left, so maybe happiness is a stretch for her who opens the film being strip searched at a police station and spends the rest of the film defying her Jewish upbringing and trying to ingratiate herself into local motorcycle culture. If it seems very slight, that is because it is. In less than 80 minutes, Prudence's teenage rebellion is very casual and not overtly breaking every rule and causing lectures from what family she has left. Is it even rebellion or something to merely fill the now-empty portions of a life with seemingly no direction. Seydoux made quite the impression with American audiences in 2011 with brief, but memorable, appearances in Midnight In Paris and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and we wish that writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski allowed her character to open up as less of an observer and more of an active participant. Every scene is practically built around a blank stare, being in a room while another naked girl speaks and wishing she was in the next room. There is clearly more of an underlying ambition at work here leading to Prudence's climactic catharsis, but there is little to feel or care about until that moment. (Friday, March 9 at 6:15 PM & Saturday, March 10 at 3:45 PM) (Erik Childress)

If you thought the economic system in Greece was a chaotic mess, wait until you get a load of their take on health care as depicted in this black comedy, based on real-life events as chronicled in a book by a doctor who witnessed them first-hand, in which an idealistic young doctor arrives at All Saints Hospital to serve as an intern for his mentor and discovers that the place has the quiet dignity of a MAD magazine panel where bodies are sent to the wrong funeral homes, everyone on staff seems to require bribes in order to provide basic services and it appears impossible to get through one operation without someone fainting during it. There will be inevitable comparisons to such films as "M*A*S*H*" and "The Hospital" and while it never quite makes it to the level of those two, it is certainly no "Critical Care" and should leave most viewers chuckling grimly while growing increasingly angry at how the notion of easing the suffering of others is being perverted in the name of simple greed. (March 9, 8:00 PM and March 12, 8:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

This Danish documentary by Lise Birk Pedersen trains its cameras on Masha Drokova, a seemingly ordinary Russian teenager who first becomes famous for being filmed kissing Vladimir Putin on the cheek and then swiftly becomes a high-ranking member of Nashi, a national youth movement that blindly supports Putin while brutally dealing with anyone who opposes their views. (Through security camera footage, we see members trashing a car in a manner that suggests that "Christine" may be a popular title in their ranks.) For a while, things look great for her but in the wake of meeting and befriending some left-wing anti-Putin journalists following a personal setback within the group, Masha finds herself beginning to question her previous fanatical devotion to both Putin and Nashi. Although the timing for this screening couldn't be better, what with Putin's recent re-election to the presidency of Russia, this would be fascinating to watch under any circumstances as we bear witness to the intriguing sight of a fanatic slowly beginning to realize that things are not as black-and-white as she once believed. (March 10, 2:00 PM and March 15, 8:15 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

Three filmmakers team up to produce three separate films with an escaped murderer tying all together. No, this is not the Red Riding Trilogy all over again, nor anything close to it. In Christian Petzold's Beats Being Dead, a shy, lovelorn male nurse (Jacob Matschenz) pursues a relationship with a hotel maid when she opens herself up away from the bad boys for a change. But jealousy and homebound lust may threaten their progress. In Dominik Graf's Don't Follow Me Around, a psychologist (Jeanette Hain) comes to town to aid police in the capture of the murderer who escaped from the first film. In-between clues, she discovers that the friend (Susanne Wolff) she is staying with shared the bed with the same man she once knew. Oh yeah, and the murderer is still out there somewhere. In Cristoph Huchausler's One Minute Of Darkness, we finally get to hang out with the hunted murderer as he hides and scampers about the woods. The title refers to a blacked out piece of tape that actually reveals pretty much what we already knew from the final moment of the first film. This is very little to care about from one film to the next, each surprisingly duller and less interesting than the last. Beats Being Dead may be the best of the lot but is not nearly up to the emotional neediness of the film it most closely resembles, James Grey's Two Lovers. By using the wraparound that it does, the rest of the characters' problems on display truly feel like they don't amount to a hill of beans. (The three films can be seen on Saturday, March 10 at 2:00, 3:45 & 5:30 PM or separated starting on Tuesday, March 13 at 6:00 PM and concluding on Wednesday, March 14 at 6:15 & 8:00 PM.) (Erik Childress)

If E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial had actually been a Mexican pilot who crash-landed, his story may have sounded a bit like Ian Power's film. Based on a reported event that happened in an Irish town the year following the release of Spielberg's film, a young fatherless boy witnesses the plane go down and brings home the downed pilot, Ernesto (Oscar-nominee Demian Bichir, recently seen playing an illegal alien in A Better Life), at first under the nose of his mom (Kerry Condon). When he is discovered, the local government and the community are a lot more helpful in wanting to get him hope, offering to fix up his plane and lay the ground for the necessary tarmac while the boy tries to bond with his new father figure. The film has all the earmarks of bare-bones Irish charm with colorful characters and all, but audiences may have more fun earmarking all the E.T. comparisons right up to the kids' attempt to mount Ernesto's escape from those with other interests in him. Bichir remains a presence to watch in film, but this is average harmless fare at best that never quite accelerates its oddities or emotional pull. (Saturday, March 10 at 7:15 PM & Monday, March 12 at 6:00 PM) (Erik Childress)

As with most film festivals of note these days, there is a slot featuring a film whose title will be unknown to audience members until the screening begins. That said, the program notes do offer a few hints--it is from a Polish filmmaker, the cast includes a major-league French actor, a young Polish actress, a Parisian setting and revolves around "sex in the public and private realms." No, I haven't quite been able to figure out the title myself but the above description is certainly enough to pique my interest. (March 10, 7:15 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

Swedish actress Pernilla August, best known for her work with the late Ingmar Bergman, makes her directorial debut with this drama featuring Noomi Rapcae (in her first role after her starmaking performances as Lisbeth Salander in the hugely successful scrren adaptation of the "Millenium Trilogy") as a seemingly happy wife and mother who, as the story opens, has her peaceful life turned upside-down when she receives a call that her estranged mother is dying. With family in town, she makes the journey to her mother's deathbed and as the trip progresses, she experiences an increasingly harrowing series of flashbacks of her decidedly unhappy childhood and what lead to the aforementioned estrangement. On the whole, the film (which was Sweden's offical entry for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar) is fairly ordinary--decently made but offering little in the way of surprise or ingenuity--but it is worth seeing for yet another strong and compelling performance from Rapace. If nothing else, this film proves that "The Girl withthe Dragon Tattoo" was no fluke and that she is the real thing and has the kind of compelling personality that can make any material shine for as long as she is on the screen. (March 11, 3:00 PM and March 15, 6:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

This program consists of three short films originally produced for the 2011 Jeonju International Film Festival by three of Europe's most acclaimed filmmakers. In "An Heir," Jean-Marie Straub examines his often-grim memories of growing up in German-occupied Alsace via the prism of a novel by author Maurice Barres. "To The Devil" finds director Claire Denis traveling to French Guyana with the star of her next film so that he can meet the reclusive renegade that the character is based on. Finally, "Memories of a Morning" has Jose Luis Guerin examining life in his Barcelona ranging from the brightness of the local culture to the darkness inspired by a grim local incident. Like most omnibus films, this one is a bit uneven at times and everyone is sure to have their own favorite (I lean towards the Denis myself) but the package as a whole is pretty satisfactory with none of the contributions being anything less than watchable and interesting. (March 11, 5:00 PM and March 14, 6:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

In the films-you-may-need-to-see-twice pile you can add Jan Hrebejk's Innocence right to the top. The easiest logline to unveil would be that this is the story of a physician (Ondrej Vetchy) accused of inappropriate contact with a 14 year-old patient. But that would mean leaving out the fanciful imagination of said patient, Olinka (Anna Linhartová) or that the cop on the case (Hynek Cermák) is a childhood friend of the physician - estranged after he stole his wife away from him - and the wife's sister who holds her own sadness while trying to give joy to sick kids as a hospital clown. It's a vicious circle of lies, secrets and misdirection that keeps the audience judging each of these characters right up to a final image that will leave everyone wanting to take a second look at the timeline that Hrebejk presents to us. Lucky for you the 98-minute film is playing twice at the festival. (Sunday, March 11 at 7:15 PM & Monday, March 12 at 6:00 PM) (Erik Childress)

No, this has nothing to do with genetically-enhanced sharks. Instead, this is acclaimed British filmmaker Terrence Davies' adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's 1962 play featuring Rachel Weisz as a woman in post-war London who rashly dumps her older, richer and more remote husband in order to devote herself entirely to a hunky ex-RAF pilot (Tom Hiddelston) without realizing that he isn't into her quite as much. Davies is a great filmmaker and Weisz is one of my favorite actresses working today and therefore it pains me to admit that this film simply doesn't work--the story is kind of tepid, Davies's usually sure directorial touch is off throughout and while Weisz is capable of convincingly playing any number of character types, a doormat is just not one of them. That said, it might still be worth checking out because Terrence Davies himself will be in attendance for a post-screening discussion. (March 13, 8:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)

Creepy, peeping stalkers have always had their day in the movies, some more sympathetic than others, and it is one of the driving forces of Peter Kristúfek's film that we are not quite sure where his antagonist is headed. Air-traffic controller, Oliver (Ivan Trojan), lives by himself, occasionally visits his suicidal hypochondriac mother and is always checking out the family across the way. Is he bored? Obsessed with a weird hobby? Or something more nefarious? Glimpses of flashbacks suggest a revenge angle may be possible and may get you thinking well ahead of Kristúfek's intentions. Visible World comes closest to being One Hour Photo with dashes of Rear Window, Cache and a sprinkle of Vertigo's ironies. Hardly a thriller in the Hitchcockian sense, it succeeds more as a "what-the-hell-is-this-guy-up-to?" drama that doesn't quite live up to its own mystery and takes the onus off of complete sympathy a bit early on. Trojan has just the face for a fascinating creep and his quiet performance of equal indifference and precise action keep us on our toes even through a running time that takes its time a little too often and extends itself just a tad too thin in the end. (Wednesday, March 14 at 8:15 PM) (Erik Childress)

For more details you may go the Siskel Film Center Website

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3366
originally posted: 03/07/12 18:16:00
last updated: 03/07/12 19:01:16
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