Some of the best films you’ll have a chance to see all year are being screened this month at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Most of them are screened only twice, so check your calendars and the film center’s schedule and get down to 164 N. State St. It’s week three of the European Union Film Festival, which continues through March 30. For week three, our writers have watched a few films for you and penned some mini-reviews. There’s an erotic story of a might-be saint, a missing olive tree, a messy divorce, and a writer who inspired Wes Anderson. Tickets are $11 and $6 for members. The box office opens an hour before the first screening each day, but you can also buy tickets online.
Ethel and Ernest (UK)
There is something about the straightforward and sincere animated film Ethel and Ernest that speaks volumes about life. The film centers on the parents of Raymond Briggs, the illustrator and author of the graphic novel on which the film is based. The film focuses on little snapshot moments of the couple’s relationship from the moment they meet to the end of their lives. There is no central conflict or a concentrated story-line to follow. Instead the film tries and succeeds in displaying the beauty of this family in mid-20th century UK. You get to see these infinitely beautiful moments in their relationship, both in and out of context, that build on each other wonderfully. Every moment is dealt with honestly and the simple and understated hand-drawn animation breathes life into that honesty, much as Briggs’ original illustrations. Take for instance Briggs’ part in the whole film. He appears at the beginning of the film, introducing the story on which he clearly left an immense mark as Ernest and Ethel’s child, but he barely appears in the story. When he does, Briggs and his family’s interactions are portrayed with all the childhood innocence, adolescent angst, and eventual bittersweet truth that inhabits all of our lives. Ethel and Ernest is a moving film worth your attention. The film is as much a tribute as it is a love letter to Briggs’ parents, honoring them with all the grace and beauty that their lives deserved.
Ethel and Ernest will be screened at 2pm Friday, March 17, and 2pm Saturday, March 18.
— Recap by Julian Ramirez.
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Austria/Germany)
This biopic about Stefan Zweig, the great Austrian writer of the early 20th century, is also a meditation on the risks of being an artist and a dissenter during a fascist era. Many of Zweig’s conversations with colleagues and friends deal with the dangers faced by other writers desperate to get out of Nazi Germany and asking for Zweig’s help. Director Maria Schrader casts Austrian actor and playwright Josef Hader as Zweig and the fine German actress Barbara Sukowa (Hannah Arendt, Romance and Cigarettes) as his ex-wife and confidant. Schrader’s direction is patient and subtle, and benefits by the cinematography and off-kilter framing by Wolfgang Thaler, as she develops the story of Zweig’s break with Austria and Germany as the Nazi government gains power. At a 1936 press conference and at a writers conference in Brazil, Zweig refuses to condemn the Third Reich, despite reporters’ demands. But he and his second wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz) finally leave Europe for the US and eventually settle in Brazil, a country he comes to love. We see Zweig, the great man of the world, in some happy personal moments, as when friends give him a dog named Plucky as a birthday gift. The story is told in six parts from 1936 to 1941 in Brazil, Argentina and New York. The 1942 epilogue shows the end of Zweig’s life in Petropolis, Brazil. Wes Anderson’s 2014 film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was inspired by Zweig’s writings. The two writers who frame the movie’s actions (Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law) vaguely represent Zweig, but the character M. Gustave played by Ralph Fiennes is modeled on Zweig.
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe will be screened at 8pm Friday, March 17, and at 4pm Saturday, March 18. On Friday, director Schrader will be present via Skype and actress Sukowa tentatively will be present in person for audience discussion.
— Recap by Nancy Bishop.
Two Lottery Tickets (Romania)
|What would you do if you lost a winning lottery ticket? Two Lottery Tickets follows three down-on-their-luck friends as they present one solution: go to great lengths to find it. Escaping a small, dusty Romanian town, Dinel (Dorian Boguta), an ingenuous mechanic, Sile (Dragos Bucur), a smartphone-wielding playboy, and clean-shaven government worker Pompiliu (Alexandru Papadopol) jump into Dinel’s car on an intuitive and deadpan-funny trip to Bucharest to search for the two men who stole Dinel’s fanny pack, which purportedly contains the winning ticket. Set to a plaintive, twangy soundtrack and interspersed with stage-set like shots of run-down buildings, gas stations, and empty streets that highlight the financial plight of the trio, their chase is supported by the money Sile coaxes from Pompiliu, which he has stashed in his socks, and by the friends’ encounters with a range of characters from fortune-tellers and potheads to the Bucharest police. The film is consistently amusing with a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Dinel plays up his innocuousness with a quick wit and parries with a policeman about the color of his car. Ultimately, the comedy has a happy ending… in a way. Directed by Paul Negoescu
Two Lottery Tickets will be screened at 2:15pm Saturday, March 18, and at 6:15pm Monday, March 20.
— Recap by Taylor Poulin
Handsome Devil (Ireland)
John Butler’s film Handsome Devil feels like an Irish attempt at an American ‘90s teen movie. It follows the standard plot arc for a high school drama: new kid (Nicholas Galitzine) comes to school, befriends social outcast (Fionn O’Shea), they bond over their secret sensitivity, social constraints pull them apart, they overcome social constraints in dramatic happy ending at the championship sports game. The most interesting aspects of the film—homophobia in Irish culture, shortcomings of single sex education, importance of rugby and sport in reinforcing gender norms—were not given as much attention as they deserved. The script and the characters lacked cleverness and felt hackneyed. If you love ‘90s teen movies and Irish accents, you might enjoy this movie, but otherwise it’s not worth watching.
Handsome Devil will be screened at 8:15pm Saturday, March 18, and at 8pm Wednesday, March 22.
–Recap by Emma Terhaar.
After Love (Belgium/France)
They say home is where the heart is. But if the people you once loved there become those who you now hate, does home become hell? Director Joachim Lafosse’s After Love explores the mundane violence of a household divorce when all members involved are under one roof. For 15 years, Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Boris (Cédric Kahn) built a life together. He’s from the working class while she comes from wealthy parents; neither can fully understand or respect the other. They fight viciously for the apartment; she wants what’s rightly hers, and he demands recognition for his additions to the place and to their lives. There is no space for the two to mourn their love for one another, as they’re constantly tripping over one another and their 8-year-old twins in their flat. After Love captures the silent anger, the awkward passive aggressive fights, and even the small moments of love between the two. This is by no means a happy movie, but it is an honest one. The cinematography captures perfectly the claustrophobic nature of broken relationships. After Love won Best Film from the Belgian Film Critics Association for good reason: it tells the story of two people falling out of love so realistically.
Catch After Love at its screening at 6pm Friday, March 17, and at 6pm Monday, March 20.
— Recap by Sherry Zhong.
The Ornithologist (Portugal/France)
At first this may seem like a nature film. Fernando (a soulful and determined Paul Hamy), an ornithologist on a desolate river, is looking at black geese thru his binoculars; he’s on a research trip to find the habitat of black storks. He paddles his kayak through raging rapids and crashes. When he awakens (he’s rescued by two Chinese girls on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela), a surreal adventure begins. Gradually, his journey becomes a metaphysical one and a reincarnation of the life of St. Anthony of Padua (with elements of Homer’s Odyssey). Fernando goes through violent, erotic and bizarre experiences as he makes his way through the forest. After almost two hours in a lush, verdant and claustrophobic woodland, the final scene is jarring; it knocks us into the modern world. Anthony in a hoodie and camo pants and his new friend Thomas in a birdsuit bounce along hand in hand on the side of a modern highway into Padua. Juan Pedro Rodrigues has created a poetic masterpiece of vibrantly colorful and shockingly graphic scenes. It’s more than a little puzzling, however, but most everything that happens to Fernando/Anthony has its roots in history and myth. Still you may find yourself scratching your head at the end. (And reading up on the life of St. Anthony of Padua.)
See The Ornithologist at 4pm Saturday, March 18, and go back to see it again at 6pm Thursday, March 23.
— Recap by Nancy Bishop.
The Olive Tree (Spain/Germany)
It doesn’t take long for The Olive Tree to get at its deep core. Anna (portrayed wonderfully by Anna Castillo) is at odds with her family ever since they sold off her grandfather’s 2000-year-old olive tree. With her grandfather in failing health, she (along with her friend and uncle) haphazardly attempts to retrieve the olive tree from its new home, the foyer of a Düsseldorf energy company. At first it seems like a very simple story: part family drama, part road trip tale. But once the symbolism of the olive tree, its Quixotic allusions, and the strong political themes begin to reveal themselves, the film starts to grab hold. The Olive Tree at times strikes some very typical heartstrings, but the forthright way it deals with the complex family connections and romantic way it views the characters’ beliefs give the film a magnetic energy. It is really easy to back up Anna in her impulsive and farfetched plans to bring back her family heirloom. The film ultimately feels like a modern-day fable exalting nature and urging a greater sense of empathy, something that seems all the more necessary nowadays.
The Olive Tree will be screened on Sunday, March 19, at 5:15pm and Monday, March 20, at 8pm
— Recap by Julian Ramirez.