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A Guide To The 23rd European Union Film Festival—Week One
by Peter Sobczynski

A look at some of the titles appearing at the first week of the 23rd European Union Film Festival, playing this week at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center

Now in its 23rd year, Chicago's European Union Film Festival returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center for a month-long program consisting of local premieres of films from each one of the 28 nations of the EU (including a final go-around for the United Kingdom). Running from March 6 through April 2, the festival, the largest dedicated solely to presenting films from the European Union, many of which may never screen in these parts again and covering any number of genres and subjects. Over the next four weeks, I will be offering up a weekly highlight reel of some of the more intriguing titles on display--some of which I have seen and some of which just sound tantalizing from their descriptions. For a full schedule of titles and screening times, go to the Siskel Center website at www.siskelfilmcenter.org or call them at (312) 846-2800 or visit the theater box office, located at 164 North State Street.

WEEK ONE HIGHLIGHTS

BALLOON (March 6, 7): Remember "Night Crossing," that early-80s Disney live-action drama repointing the true-life tale of two East German families who built their own hot air balloon and used it to fly to the West and freedom in 1979? This is a presumably more serious-minded take on that same story from Germany that stars Thomas Kretschmann as a Stasi investigator on the trail of the families when an aborted previous attempt to escape leaves behind evidence suggesting what they are attempting to accomplish.

THE BAREFOOT EMPEROR (March 6, 10): In this sequel to the 2017 mockumentary "The King of the Belgians" (which played the festival three years ago), the King of Belgium (it is a long story) is trying to get out of Serbia when he is injured in a freak accident during a reenactment of the starting point of World War I. When he wakes up, he finds that he is secretly recovering in a weird clinic on a Croatian island (run, perhaps inevitably, by Udo Kier) and that the EU has broken up, creating a power vacuum that he could potentially fill. The film is pretty messy from a narrative standpoint, the combination of outrageous and deadpan humor doesn't quite work and the most potentially amusing notion--the conceit that the newly separated nations are now more paradoxically united than ever since they have split apart because other shared sense of self-interest--is never explored in any depth. Still, there are a number of funny moments throughout and watching Udo Kier chewing the scenery is always a treat.


COMIC SANS (March 6, 11): By tradition, the official Opening Night selection comes from a film representing the nation currently holding the presidency of the EU. This year, that country is Croatia and the film is an amusing and decidedly oddball comedy about a slick ad salesman (Janko Popovic Volaric) who goes into a self-destructive spiral following a busted engagement. After hitting rock bottom, he goes to live with his estranged artist father on a remote island and while you might think you can guess how things play out from this point, you would most likely be mistaken


JOAN OF ARC (March 7, 11): As his follow-up to "Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc," which presented the early years of the legendary historical icon as a decidedly strange head-banging rock opera, Bruno Dumont depicts the events surrounding her arrest, trial and execution in a comparatively straightforward manner featuring a number of synth-pop ballads composed by French songwriter Christophe. While the end result probably won't be challenging the position of "The Passion of Joan of Arc" anytime soon, Dumont's offbeat take on the familiar material is still fascinating to behold, largely because of the mesmerizing performance from ten-year-old Lise Leplat Prudhomme as Joan.


MO (March 7, 11): In this exceedingly bleak drama from Romania, two female college student (Dana Rogoz and Madalina Craiu) are caught cheating on an important exam by their tough-as-nails professor. Unexpectedly, he invites the two of them over to his apartment for dinner and to discuss letting the cheating slide. Perhaps more expectedly, things get dark pretty quickly as the evening turns into an array of physical and psychological brutality meted out by both parties. Needless to say, this is not what one might call "entertaining" by even the loosest definition of the word--and there are some moments of sexual violence that may prove to be too much for some viewers--but those who are able to handle it should find it a well-made, well-acted and quite provocative work that will no doubt inspire long and thoughtful discussions/arguments from the moment the lights come up at the end of the screening.


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originally posted: 03/04/20 23:54:42
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