The Gene Siskel Film Center’s EU Film Festival is in full swing, with the second week of films offering a few of the festival’s biggest highlights. Including films from Croatia, Latvia, Spain, the Netherlands, France and more, you’ll find it all this week. Though they didn’t all wow us, there are timely documentaries, the latest from on of France’s best filmmakers and more. Check out the full schedule for EUFF here; meanwhile, our preview selections are as follows:
Firstborn follows the lives of a young married couple, Francis and Katrina, after a very traumatic assault and robbery. The aftermath leaves both characters in disturbed moods and the news of Katrina’s pregnancy only heightens the tension. It is most apparent in Francis, whose life is subsequently filled with fear and a sense of uselessness in regards to protecting his wife. It’s in these moments where the overall mood and look of the film is excellent, when the actors’ immersive portrayals of their characters enhance the themes of perceived masculinity and dread.
However, there is much to be desired when it comes to the rest of the plot. At times it feels like too many unbelievable dalliances are going on as Francis’ motives and actions become more desperate and far fetched as the film progresses. There are moments where these faults are balanced with incredibly strange imagery that is just too good to ignore. Clearly all these moments are heightened to underline the thriller aspects of the film, detaching you from the reality of the situation and giving everything a more impressionistic sense. The final act takes all its positives and negatives to an extreme realization of the film’s themes, leaving you questioning it all in the best way possible. -Julian Ramirez
Screens Friday, March 16 at 8:00pm & Monday, March 19 at 8:00 pm
Touted as “the Croatian Fargo,” Goran (above) may not feature any wood chippers, but it’s nevertheless just as dry—and funny—as any Coen Brothers offering of late. Set in Croatia’s snowy northern borderlands, Goran is a well-meaning if unfulfilled cab driver whose greatest recent accomplishment is completing the new sauna space in his backyard. He and his buddies pass the time bowling and drinking, a distraction from his souring marriage with Lina. Blind and beautiful, she’s not impressed with what he’s made of himself, but she’s newly pregnant and resolved to make it work. One problem: Goran is sterile. It’s here this unassuming slice of life drama jumps head first into a dark comedy so disturbingly funny you might need to look to your fellow audience members for permission to laugh. As the stakes escalate around the absurdity of it all, its perfectly-timed reveals and beautifully crafted final third work if for no other reason than director Nevio Marasovic’s commitment to going there. -Lisa Trifone
Screens Friday, March 16 at 6:00pm and Saturday, March 17 at 3:30pm.
Played as the opening night film at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (although the version playing the EU Film Festival is the 20-minutes-longer director’s cut), the latest from one of France’s finest, most intriguing living filmmakers Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen, A Christmas Tale), Ismael’s Ghosts features multiple timelines, characters who may or may not be real, and a central character on the verge of an alcohol-fueled mental collapse. Mathieu Amalric (who has starred in the majority of Desplechin’s works) plays filmmaker Ismael Vuillard in the midst of making his latest feature based on the life of his late brother (Louis Garrel, shown in copious flashbacks).
Telling such personal stories seems to be the norm for Vuillard, but this particular story seems particularly difficult for him to complete, as he is haunted by memories and other, less reliable visions of his life. His long-term girlfriend Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is there to help him though the rough patches, but their bond is threatened when his long-lost, presumed-dead wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard, in a truly edgy, unsettling turn) returns after an absence of more than 20 years. She has spotty stories about why she left or what she’s been doing, and we even begin to wonder if she’s real or just a product of Ismael’s fevered mind. I’m not entirely sure I could pass a test on this film, but that didn’t stop me from drinking in its rich ideas about identity, creativity, and reality, with everyone involved (especially Amalric) giving absolutely fearless performances. -Steve Prokopy
Screens Saturday, March 17 at 5:30pm; and Thursday, March 22 at 6pm.
Miss Kiet’s Children
The endlessly patient Miss Kiet (Kiet Engels) teaches a class of primary school children in a Dutch village. The children seem to be 6 to 10 years old—probably comparable to grades 1 to 4 in a U.S. elementary school. They are mostly immigrants from Middle Eastern countries, many from Syria. Miss Kiet’s Children is a documentary that shows how the teacher (they call her “Miss”) teaches letters and numbers, helps them learn Dutch (although they are more comfortable speaking Arabic), mediates playground fights and bullying, and helps them navigate life in a strange new land. The subtitles are written to show how the children labor with syntax and grammar. Much of the film, directed by the husband and wife documentary team of Petr Lasater and Petra Lataster-Czisch, shows close-up one-on-one interactions between teacher and student. The kids are adorable and Miss Kiet is endlessly patient, but I was not; the almost two-hour length was about twice as much as I could sustain interest in. The film will be of most interest to teachers and parents of small children. -Nancy Bishop
Screens at 2pm Friday, March 16, and 2pm Sunday, March 18.
One of the most timely films of the festival, Number One takes on headfirst the idea of the first-ever female CEO of a major French corporation. One of my absolute favorite French actors, Emmanuelle Devos, plays Emmanuelle Blachey, a senior executive at a major sustainable-energy company who is being headhunted by a feminist special interest group that thinks she would be perfect for the CEO position of another group. Being someone who has never felt the need or desire to “play the woman card,” Blachey is hesitant, curious and desperate to let merit be the most important element in getting this position. What follows in director Tonie Marshall’s (Venus Beauty, The Missionaries) film is a deep dive into the world of corporate dirty tricks, deal making, and power plays that is exhausting and heartbreaking to observe. Even if she gets the job, what price must she pay down the line?
Devos’ performance is one of her finest, as she refuses to be showy while also making it clear that her character is working five times as hard as her male counterparts to close deals and get the work done. The film isn’t designed as a message movie (if anything, the feminist group is seen as too cutthroat for Blachey’s tastes), yet the message is loud and clear, especially when you factor in Blachey’s responsibilities as wife and mother, which she struggles not to make an afterthought. The immersion into business culture only adds to the film authenticity, but it’s Devos who is the heart and soul of this impressive work. -Steve Prokopy
Screens Sunday, March 18 at 5pm; and Monday, March 19 at 6pm.
Strangers on Earth
From its onset, Strangers on Earth paints a varied and beautiful picture of its core subjects: Europe’s most popular pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago and the people that take the journey. The pilgrimage, which spans 965km, brings together countless people all with different reasons for taking the challenge of the camino. The film jumps between these travelers on the trail and the locals they encounter on the way to what is believed to be St. John’s final resting place, each imparting their personal philosophies and experiences. There is an added focus on Dane Johansen’s goal of traveling the path to perform and record Johann Sebastian Bach’s six cello suites in 36 Spanish churches, but with so many stories taking place through the film’s 97 minute runtime, it’s somewhat lost in the seas of voices. There are so many stories going on that the documentary does feel a little overlong and exhausting at times. Some of the vignettes and points of view initially feel unneeded or too unimportant. However, the way the film presents them with beautiful landscape shots and a welcoming solo cello score, each is given their due, making them feels as epic as the journey itself. -Julian Ramirez
Screens Saturday, March 17 at 3:30 pm & Monday, March 19 at 6:00 pm