The Chicago European Union Film Festival concludes this week, so if you love watching films with subtitles, this is your chance. See some of the best of European films at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. We’ve been providing brief reviews of some of each week’s films. Details and ticket info here.
The documentary Hockney by Randall Wright portrays the artist as an old man. It features interviews with the great living British artist himself, who also opened his personal archives for the documentary. Along with home videos, conversations with friends, family, and former lovers reveal all sides of the enigmatic artist—this includes a 5-foot tall teddy bear and long drives through the American west. The documentary not only unveils the curtains behind the enigmatic artist’s life, but it also threads themes of class and queerness. Through film, Wright does not merely let us view an artist and his work. Instead, he lets us peer into Hockney’s world through the artist’s owl-like eyes.
Hockney will be screened at 2pm tomorrow/Saturday and 6pm Monday, March 28. 108 minutes. English.
Recap by Colin Smith.
THE GIRL KING
This melodramatic biopic gives us an overview of the life of the complex Queen Kristina of Sweden, who reigned in the 17th century. Her father had no sons and declared Kristina his successor, teaching her to hunt and sword-fight. She began her monarchy when she reached 18, guided by Chancellor Oxensteima (Michael Nyqvist). Kristina (a strong performance by Malin Buska) scandalized her conservative Lutheran counselors by advocating educational reforms, showing an interest in Catholicism, and consulting with French philosopher Rene Descartes. She refused to marry and produce an heir, wore masculine clothes and carried on an affair with her lady in waiting. The film tries to cram in too much of Kristina’s 10-year-reign and the result is a rather superficial treatment. Directed by Mika Kaurismäki, this Finnish production has an international cast and a Canadian screenwriter (playwright Michel Marc Bouchard—Tom at the Farm).
The Girl King will be screened at 6pm today and at 2pm tomorrow/Saturday. 102 minutes. Mostly in English.
Recap by Nancy Bishop.
The Eastern Front of WW2 often gets shorted within the wider Western film history. Based off entries like The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers, the greatest armed conflict in history seems to wrap around D-Day and that’s all. However, with Estonia’s 1944, directed by Elmo Nüganen, this cinematic bias may continue to shift. After all, the Eastern Front is where the war in Europe was defined and won. After a title crawl, the film begins in a ruddy haze before focusing on a ragtag group of conscripted Estonians fighting in the Waffen-SS, reduced to using Russian weapons, to stave off the Soviets. The visuals are well done, especially in the claustrophobic confines of the trenches, even if they feature the bleached out cinematography and lighting of Janusz Kamiński from two decades ago. Gallows humor abounds: “I’m sure we’d get an iron or wooden cross.” Raw scenes dedicated to existential and psychological depth of the characters enhance the elongated, but well-managed, action sequences. However, the most surprising aspect is the brave narrative shift midway where we move from Estonians defending their country, conscripted by the Germans in their 1941 takeover, to Estonians attacking their country, conscripted by the Soviets in their previous 1940 takeover. Each segment’s focal character is killed and certain soldiers forcibly swap sides. Though there is a subtle anti-Soviet bent (not surprising considering the history of Estonia), what results is a solid film depicting a people stuck in the middle, not entirely innocent, but not entirely guilty.
1944 will be screened at 6pm tomorrow/Saturday and 8pm Tuesday, March 29. 100 minutes. Estonian with English subtitles.
Recap by James Orbesen.