It’s week two of the European Union Film Festival, which continues through March 30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. For week two, we have recaps of some of the amazing films to be shown, including a Dutch garden, a Polish holiday, a flamenco film album, and a Greek relationship. And so much more. The box office opens an hour before the first screening of each day. See the full schedule here.
The Stuff of Dreams (Italy)
This little confection is a sort-of adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and also draws from the work of Eduardo de Filippo, the great Neapolitan playwright. Shipwrecks during a Mediterranean storm bring the members of a traveling theater company and a band of Camorra gangsters to a prison island near Sardinia. Writer/director Gianfranco Cabiddu cleverly creates a play within a play. Don Vincenzo (Renato Carpentieri), the governor of the prison, is a Shakespeare fan and challenges Oreste Campese (Sergio Rubini, outstanding in a gawky magnetic way) to put on a play and thus win his troupe’s escape back to the mainland. Campese is threatened by the gangsters to hide their identity and so they become part of the cast of an ad hoc version of The Tempest. The Shakespearean subplot includes the governor’s daughter, Miranda, falling in love with the gangster’s son, Ferdinando. Rehearsals begin, a set is built and the play opens before an audience of prisoners. Everything goes well for a while, but then …. Well, you should see the film. At the end, Campese sits on the mail boat looking back across the blue Mediterranean and quotes Prospero (in Italian), “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air….”
The film screens at 6pm Friday, March 10, and 8:15pm Wednesday, March 15.
— Recap by Nancy Bishop.
Family Film (Czech Republic)
I’m drawn to Czech cinema for its peculiar and often perverse sense of humor. Director Olmo Omerzu delivers on the perversity in his latest Family Film. Chasing their already departed youth, the parents played by Karel Roden and Vanda Hybnerova Fildecide to go off on an irresponsible vacation in the Indian Ocean, rarely checking in on their teenage children. Unsurprisingly a degree of chaos ensues at home, followed by some chaos at sea. The film is shot with a distance and darkness that creates a sense of realism and believability to the plot. With its incredible sense of irony, restrained emotion and even apathy of characters, this film is weird but worth watching, though perhaps not with a group of people. If you’re looking for a knee-slapper, this is not the film for you. The odd little references to nature throughout push the film somewhere between the black comedy and socio-cultural drama discussing parental responsibility and family roles. In a delightfully eccentric note, Otto the dog has a parallel plot arc to the couple’s son. He might just be my favorite character in the film.
Screenings are at 8pm Friday, March 10, and at 6:15pm Saturday, March 11. Czech ingénue Jenovéfa Boková will discuss her role in Family Film following both screenings.
— Recap by Emma Terhaar.
Slack Bay (France)
As a writer and director, France’s twisted Bruno Dumont (Camille Claudell 1915, Twentynine Palms, and his notorious previous work Li’l Quinquin) has always run outside of the norm or the expected. But with Slack Bay he may have simply fallen off the face of sanity with his thumbing of the nose at French aristocracy, circa the early 1900s. Set on the beaches of a cozy seaside community where the poor scrounge for mussels while the rich live in an oddly designed mansion on the cliffs, the film takes place during a mysterious time when rich tourists have bene vanishing off the beaches. The inept police are investigating, but we are made aware right from the beginning that the impoverished Brufort family has been grabbing them up and eating them. The family’s primary income comes from literally carrying the rich across the bay at low tide, while the buffoonish rich walk around, dwelling on the most petty subjects.
Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi play a married couple whose primary means of communication is screaming at each other in shrill voices while making silly faces and waving their arms around. Comédie! Juliette Binoche is enlisted as his sister, but she doesn’t class up the affair at all. It’s actually quite incredible watching some of the finest French actors I’ve ever seen stink up the joint in such a royal fashion. The far more interesting story is the sweet love affair between Binoche’s son/daughter Billie (played by an actor known only as Raph) and the Bruforts’ oldest son Ma Loute. For most of the film, we’re never quite sure if Billie is a boy dressing like a girl or a girl dressing like a boy, and that’s part of the intrigue of the character and the relationship. But the film is so broad and makes no sharply realized criticisms about class, religion, authority, or sexual politics that it becomes two hours of noise accompanied by some truly lovely scenery. I know exactly what Dumont is going for, and he misses the mark almost every time. Satire has rarely felt this forced or been made to seem so obvious and tired.
The film screens Saturday, March 11, at 4pm, and Thursday, March 16, at 6pm.
— Recap by Steve Prokopy
Right from the get-go, Afterlov places itself outside the realm of a normal narrative. The film follows Nikos (a downright crazy portrayal by Haris Fragoulis) as he invites his ex-girlfriend Sofia (Iro Bezou) on the vacation they never took when they were together, which is actually a creepy attempt to lock her away so that he can figure out why their relationship fell apart. This plan is evident as Nikos addresses the audience directly to crazily explain his plan, shattering the fourth wall before it ever gets the chance to be built. The film has plenty of those utterly absurdist moments, which frame Nikos’ obsessiveness and Sofia’s likely growing Stockholm Syndrome (or stubbornness, I sincerely don’t know) with some brevity and silliness. It definitely helps as it becomes clear these characters have refused to grow up and have become self-destructive in the oddest and unintelligible ways due to their relationship. This ends up giving an incredibly emotionally raw and uncomfortable film experience that is exacerbated by the shallow focus of the cinematography, lending itself to the visage of a manic hallucination. It mirrors the difficulty in ever fully understanding what the film is actually trying portray other than the study of a very dysfunctional relationship. The whole film feels like a flash of fury in the aftermath of a breakup, down to the most loving and violently crazy fantasies that inhabit of the spectrum of love. The opening lines of the film seem to best describe the film’s aim and ultimately the difficulty in fully succumbing to narrative: “People get together and drive apart, and get nothing from one another. Because love is the toughest way to get to know each other.” The film is a hard one to nail down, but certainly worth the effort.
The film screens Saturday, March 11, at 8:30pm and Monday, March 13, at 8:15pm.
— Recap by Julian Ramirez.
J: Beyond Flamenco (Spain)
Carlos Saura, the master of the flamenco film, has made some 50 films over his long career and is considered one of the three great Spanish directors, along with Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar. Some of his flamenco films are formatted as “album” films and the new film is in this category. J: Beyond Flamenco is dedicated to the jota, a form of folk dance found in the northern autonomous community of Aragon. Jota is characterized by triple-time dancing and the use of castanets and heel percussion.
The gorgeous film is made up of a wide variety of jota scenes, from a kids’ jota class to modern jota with dancers accompanied by a modern jazz-like group, and performances of jota songs. Some scenes illustrate various types of Jota, including Jota Galicia, Jota de Sarasate and a spooky La Tarantula. Saura makes use of mirrors, rear projections, drawings, dramatic lighting, puppets and giant masks and a variety of musical groups and configurations. The dancers are sometimes dressed casually, as in rehearsal wear, and others are elegantly costumed. If you’re entranced by this view of flamenco, consider viewing Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy, made up of three story-based flamenco films. Blood Wedding (1981) is a flamenco adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1932 play, while Carmen (1983) shows a dance troupe preparing to dance the Bizet opera. El Amor Brujo (1986) is a gypsy ballet.
J: Beyond Flamenco will be screened at 6:30pm Saturday, March 11, and at 8:30pm Thursday, March 16.
— Recap by Nancy Bishop.
Tomorrow, After the War (Luxembourg/Belgium)
The future is a thing of the past. That’s the theme of this film in which World War II secrets, lies and whispers of collaboration darken the future of a Luxembourg village. Director Christophe Wagner creates the gloomy environment that prevails after the German surrender in 1945. How do villagers deal with the after-effects of four years of Nazi occupation and acknowledge their own actions during the war? There are some elements of a crime procedural. Jules (Luc Schiltz) tries to determine who was responsible for a brutal crime in the village. He left home to fight for the Resistance in France, but was captured and tortured by the Nazis. Is he a war hero or a traitor? His father, also captured, returns from Dachau with physical infirmities suffered in the camp. When Luc comes home, he finds he can’t pick up the life he left three years ago. His sister Mathilde is engaged to a shadowy member of the local government. His girlfriend Leonie (Elsa Rauchs) is involved with a German man whose family took over a local farm. When the family and Leonie are all murdered, Luc determines to find out who was responsible. He’s a moody, secretive man who has not come to terms with his own past or his future. One of the most atmospheric scenes is Mathilde’s wedding in the village square, where everyone celebrates and briefly forgets the war.
Tomorrow, After the War will be screened at 4pm Saturday, March 11, and at 7:45pm Tuesday, March 14.
–Recap by Nancy Bishop.
Portrait of a Garden (Netherlands)
|“A gardener has to learn to accept what is happening.” The philosophical musings of Daan van der Have on gardening and life are only a fraction of what makes Portrait of a Garden a rich, thought-provoking, and even riveting, documentary. Filmmaker Rosie Stapel follows van der Have, the owner of a private 16th-century estate in northern Holland, and the no-nonsense but passionate Jan Freriks, a pruning master, as they tend to the estate’s extraordinary kitchen garden, which they have spent over 20 years restoring. For gardeners and non-gardeners alike, the film offers an accessible perspective on traditional, self-supporting agriculture, along with the discussions, surprises, and conflicts that accompany tending to plants. With a poetic eye and a masterful attention to storytelling, aesthetics, and the sheer abundance and variety of produce, Stapel follows garden staff as they prune, plant, water, harvest, prune, and plant tirelessly and thoughtfully during four seasons. From the gray of winter to a glowing spring and a buzzing summer, through a blustery fall and into another moody winter, Portrait of a Garden is a labor of love for those in front of the camera and behind it, and it shows.|
Screenings are at 2pm Friday, March 10, and 3pm Sunday, March 12.
— Recap by Taylor Poulin.
Walpurgis Night (Poland)
Walpurgis Night is a European event reminiscent of Halloween. Anything is possible on this night: death, ghosts and magic. It’s on this night that opera singer Madame Sedler allows an all too earnest, all too Aryan looking journalist to interview her. She wears many masks, and as she strips away her opera make up, we’re never sure if her sad eyes are being truthful. We’re also never too sure what the journalist’s intentions are. As the two meet, their conversation dances from the erratic to the eccentric. There’s a desperate sadness and hunger between the two, and director Marcin Bortkiewicz is too smart to make their story too simple.
Frankly, I’m still not sure what I witnessed. The storyline is chaotic, and scenes are haunting. But because of this, not despite, I highly recommend watching this movie. It’s beautifully shot, and the story could ,only be told incoherently. Tragic to the point of being comedic and comedic to the point of being tragic, do not miss this Polish film that questions every identity we hold near our heart.
This film shows Saturday, March 11, at 8:30pm and Thursday, March , at 8:15pm.
— Recap by Sherry Zhong.
The Unknown Girl (Belgium)
Although quite a different tale than the directors’ Oscar-nominated Two Days, One Night (nominated for best lead actress Marion Cotillard, not for best foreign language film, which is nuts), Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s latest, The Unknown Girl does have a similar, door-to-door approach to its storytelling with a similar impact, shining a dim light into a community that does not often have exposure on the big screen—or any size screen. The central moment here is an off-screen murder of a black teenage girl, who, just moments before she was killed, rang the buzzer of local doctor Jenny (Adèle Haenel) after hours as she and her intern Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) were trying to wrap things up for the day. The fact that she ignored the buzzing has filled her with guilt, especially since the police are having trouble identifying the girl, so she sets out going throughout the neighborhood with a photo of the girl trying to at least attach a name to the crime. In the process, Jenny introduces us to a complex network of immigrants and others on welfare who want as little attention on them as possible, for various reasons. The film is both the story of the small town and how Jenny finds her true calling as a physician in her small clinic serving the disenfranchised. It’s a quietly powerful work from the Dardenne brothers, anchored by a desperate and subtle performance by Haenel. In so many ways, it’s a perfect societal drama.
The film screens Sunday, March 12, at 3pm, and Wednesday, March 15, at 6pm.
— Recap by Steve Prokopy.