Film fest

Euro Union Film Fest: Recaps Week of March 4-11

The Chicago European Union Film Festival just opened and runs through the end of March at the Gene Siskel Film Center. See Colin Smith’s preview. Each week, we’ll provide brief reviews of some of the next week’s films. Details and ticket info here.

THE PARADISE SUITE

The perfect film to kick off the Gene Siskel Film Center’s 19th Chicago European Union Film Festival, The Paradise Suite (a co-production of The Netherlands and Sweden, written and directed by Joost van Ginkel) is a sweeping and emotionally devastating ensemble piece that shows five different, often tragic stories set in today’s Amsterdam. While the storylines do occasionally intersect, the “small world” theme of a film like Crash isn’t truly the point of this work, which could easily have been retitled Everybody Hurts, a truism that repeats itself throughout the lives of these characters. As if to underscore the idea that the European community is more a melting pot than ever (often boiling over), six different languages are spoken in this film, which includes, among others, dark stories about a pretty Bulgarian girl who is tricked into becoming a prostitute in the Red Light District; an African immigrant dipping into the city’s underbelly trying to help a neighbor keep her home for her and her two children; a ferociously bullied boy seeks escape from his school and his parents; and a Bosnian woman haunted by visions of her son killed by a Serbian war criminal, whom she is stalking. The weightiness of the subject matters and endless torment feels oppressive at times, but these stories ring true and the resulting angst and fleeting hope is honest. The Dutch submission for this year’s Academy Award consideration, The Paradise Suite is a worthy opening title and a film you will not soon forget.

The film screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center today at 6pm, and tomorrow at 8pm, with actor Issaka Sawadogo appearing after both showings for audience discussion. Immediately following tonight’s program, the audience is invited to a reception in the Film Center’s Gallery/Café.

— Recap by Steve Prokopy (Steve at the Movies).

THE FENCER

The tale behind Klaus Haro’s The Fencer is a familiar one: the determined teacher inspires his students to move past life’s obstacles. But despite its familiarity, Haro executes the story with originality. The Fencer captures the fictionalized trials and tribulations of Endel Nelis (Mart Avandi), the Estonian fencing professional who left fencing in Leningrad to escape Stalin’s Secret Police during the 1950s. But instead of competitively fencing in a metropolis, he taught physical education in a remote town of Estonia. The film not only depicts the challenges and growth of a young and impatient Nelis, but also the maturation of his students. For a time and place where many children lost their fathers to wars and labor camps, Nelis fills the shoes of a father figure. Haro shows us the story of a man who surreptitiously battled oppression with ingenuity.

The Fencer will be shown at 8pm Tuesday and 8pm Friday, March 11, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. In Estonian and Russian with English subtitles.

— Recap by Colin Smith.

ANTON CHEKHOV 1890

This 96-minute biopic gives us a slice of the life of the great Russian writer, Anton Chekhov, considered the founder of the modernist naturalist movement in literature. Covering a decade in the late 1880s and 1890s, the film, written and directed by René Féret, shows us Chekhov (Nicolas Giraud, who looks remarkably like Chekhov) in the process of becoming a writer. He’s a doctor in a small Russian town and writes short stories in his spare time. His work is noticed by a major publisher, who wants to publish Chekhov’s stories, which will supplement his meager income. Anton oversees the family home of his parents, four brothers and his sister Masha (Lolita Chammah), his confidant and close adviser. Giraud plays Chekhov as a restrained soul with underlying emotions; he’s torn about whether to focus on his medicine or his writing.

The title refers to the year—1890—when Chekhov makes an arduous journey to Sakhalin Island, a Russian penal colony, to live and learn about the people who are imprisoned, work and live there. Returning home, he reports their story in A Journey to Sakhalin. In one marvelous scene, Chekhov goes to meet Tolstoy at the latter’s home. Tolstoy advises the younger writer to focus on his writing. “Write your stories and forget everything else. Give up sex and meat, pray to god and scourge yourself whenever you are seized with desire.” (Chekhov had lovers but only married near the end of his life.) Near the end, Chekhov watches a dress rehearsal of his first play, The Seagull, and he’s not happy. He tells the actors, “You’re trying to prove what good actors you are, but you’re killing the characters…. Be simpler.” The film is simply shot, mostly in natural light, and the Russian scenery is beautiful. The interiors seem to be a little fussy, which makes them feel claustrophobic.

 Anton Chekhov 1890 screens at 3pm Sunday and 6pm Thursday, March 10, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. French with English subtitles.

— Recap by Nancy S Bishop.

FORBIDDEN FILMS

Hitler and Goebbels were film fanatics. Nazi Germany produced 1,200 films and 40 of them still are banned in Germany. This 94-minute documentary directed by Felix Moeller (director of Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss) looks at these most notorious propaganda films—many of them considered quality productions—and asks why they are still banned. Some consider them dangerous recruiting tools. Others fear that young children who don’t know about Germany’s past will believe them. The film shows the debate through commentary by film historians, government officials and citizens on both sides of the subject. One scene shows an adult German rhapsodizing after a screening of the film Homecoming about its excellence and authenticity. Homecoming shows Poles committing atrocities on Germans. Every detail of actual history is reversed, but he finds it profoundly accurate and beautiful. Forbidden Films includes many clips of the banned films (the anti-Semitic Jew Süss, the pro-euthanasia film I Accuse, and the insidious Homecoming.) The films seem relevant today and this documentary asks whether banning them does not add to their mystique. “It’s as silly as banning Mein Kampf,” one commentator concludes.

Forbidden Films will be screened at 3pm Sunday and 6pm Wednesday, March 9, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. German, English, Hebrew and French with English subtitles.

— Recap by Nancy S Bishop.

Categories: Film fest, Screens

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *