Time is running out to catch some of the best European films of the year at Gene Siskel Film Center’s EU Film Festival. Now entering its third week (out of four), we take a look at what’s worth checking out over the next seven days. From a non-Tomb Raider offering featuring Alicia Vikander to a timely observation of dangerous political extremism, there’s another great crop of international films worth making time for at Chicago’s best arthouse cinema. Read on for our picks.
Anchor and Hope
In 2014, director Carlos Marques-Marcet made a curious, modern take on the relationship drama called 10,000 KM. It’s about a young couple trying to make a long-distance romance work via a series of online exchanges, with the remarkable Natalia Tena as the female lead. Filmmaker and actor return for Anchor and Hope, another fascinating look at the minefield a relationship can become when the subject of children is thrown into the mix. This time, Tena’s Kat is paired with Eva (Oona Chaplin), and the two live a happy life on a houseboat that moves along London’s Regent’s Canal (the law is such that the boat much relocate every few days, and the metaphor about having an unstable home is hard to miss). Eva wants a child; Tena is uncertain; and the conversation takes an even more intriguing turn when Eva’s friend from Spain, Roger (David Verdaguer), comes to visit them, and eventually volunteers to be a donor, should baby-making occur.
The movie shifts from funny and celebratory to anxious to tragic as Eva’s true feelings about impending parenthood make their way to the surface. The cramped boat only adds to the feeling of being trapped, and what initially brings the three closer than ever sends them to the verge of pushing them apart. The legendary Geraldine Chaplin (Oona’s real-life mother; Charlie’s daughter) plays Eva’s nosy mother who also provides a degree of insight into the chaotic situation. Director Marques-Marcet isn’t afraid to explore a spectrum of emotions during the course of the film, which I found enriching and quite heartwarming. –Steve Prokopy
Screens Friday, March 23 at 4pm; and Monday, March 26 at 7:45pm
Part anthology horror film, part debunking exercise, Ghost Stories is based on a London play by co-directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. As a pure scary exercise, it delivers the goods in three unique tales of hauntings all being investigated as possible hoaxes by Prof. Philip Goodman (Nyman), a debunking expert who is contacted by his hero, Dr. Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), a world-famous debunker who vanished years earlier. Cameron says these three cases haunt him because they seem unsolvable if they were hoaxes, and he wants Goodman to lend his skeptical eye to them.
One involves a nightwatchman (Paul Whitehouse, currently also in The Death of Stalin) at an abandoned mental hospital for women; the second is about a teenager (Alex Lawther) who steals his parents’ car and collides with a vengeful demon; and the final concerns a rich Scottish businessman (Martin Freeman), whose wife’s pregnancy is made all the more difficult by the presence of ghosts in their home. At first these three stories seem like separate, cut-and-dry (if not entirely solvable) incidents, but Goodman has increasingly frequent and odd visions during his investigation that lead him (and us) to believe that all is not what it seems. The chaos that serves as the film’s climax is astonishing, totally unexpected, and wholly unnerving. There’s something wonderfully old school about the entire film, but with a quite modern take on things by the conclusion. And the scares will shatter your soul, if you like that sort of things, which I do. -Steve Prokopy
Screens Friday, March 23 at 8pm; and Thursday, March 29 at 8:30pm.
The Last Prosecco
Director Antonio Padovan’s murder mystery in the Veneto region of Italy might look like a more drawn out version of an hour-long Who Done It? tv show. But The Last Prosecco is more interested in telling a mystery second and showing a warm-hearted environmental film first. After the apparent suicide of a local Count and winemaker, police inspector Stucky (Guiseppe Battiston) scours the Congliano and Valdobbiadene countryside to uncover a plot of greed, corruption, and the lengths one will go for revenge and for the love of the land.
More humorous than dark or violent, The Last Prosecco moseys through its mystery with lots of sweeping views of the Veneto region. The light plot serves as more of a guide for the audience to experience the beautiful vistas and perhaps, like our characters, to fall in love with the land. As far as it is an environmental film, Padovan lets the land and the people who live there speak for themselves, and it delivers its message with a softer, more humorous touch. -David Lanzafame
Screens Saturday, March 24, at 8:00pm, and Tuesday, March 27, at 6:00pm.
The destructive and addictive power of hidden surveillance is explored in Illian Djevelekov’s Omnipresent. In 2017, the film won big at the 35th Annual Golden Rose Bulgarian Film Festival with such nods as Best Feature Film, Best Actor (Velislav Pavlov), Best Actress (Teodora Duhovnikova), Best Screenplay, and the Audience Award.
Omnipresent centers on Emil (Velislav Pavlov) the creatively bored owner of a floundering ad agency, with a marriage on the rocks. In assisting his ailing father with catching a thief through hidden cameras, Emil quickly becomes obsessed with installing more candid cameras throughout his home, work, and daily life. The videos, containing the secrets, lies, affairs, and human moments, become a new form of cherished memories to Emil, who uses his newly acquired footage on his friends, coworkers, and family for personal and creative gain.
We the audience are pulled into Emil’s world, one where the dark secrets of those around us are laid bare through a phone or laptop screen, with the intoxicating feeling coming from just watching. The climax shows how his consuming addiction pulls everything and everyone down with him. -David Lanzafame
Screens on Saturday, March 24, 5:30pm, and on Wednesday, March 28, 7:45 pm.
If you just haven’t gotten enough of Alicia Vikander this month after seeing her in Tomb Raider, you should most definitely check her out in the latest from director Wim Wenders, whose Submergence is another English-language work from the German-born master. The first half of the film finds marine scientist Dani (Vikander) and British spy James (James McAvoy) meeting on vacation and falling in love at a seaside resort in Normandy. He can’t be entirely honest with her about his work (he’s posing as a water-purification expert, which gets him into certain countries—in this case Somalia—where he can then infiltrate terrorist organizations). She’s about to get into a deep-sea submersible in the hopes of collecting samples and proving there is life at water depths never before explored or tested.
When the two are together in Normandy, Submergence (based on J.M. Ledgard’s novel) is a far better film; the two have an undeniable chemistry and their conversations are adult and quite charming. When they separate, they are always thinking about each other but film struggles somewhat to stay interesting. He’s immediately captured by Al Qaeda and accused of being a spy, which means he has no way to reach out to her; she in turn is more than a little heartbroken by his radio silence and assumes he’s lost interest, but the job must come first. The film feels as if it’s moving toward an inevitable conclusion, but don’t be too sure that’s where it lands; Wenders is rarely that predictable. In the end, the movie is a great showcase for its two interesting leads, even if the story lets them down somewhat. It’s certainly a better vehicle for Vikander than Tomb Raider. -Steve Prokopy
Screens Saturday, March 24 at 3pm; and Tuesday, March 27 at 8pm.
This Is Our Land (Chez Nous)
This Is Our Land is a highly political film as well as a warm and engaging human story. It’s been very controversial in France for “normalizing” the right-wing politics of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, just before the 2017 national election. Directed by Lucas Belvaux, it’s the story of Pauline (Émilie Dequenne), a nurse in Henart, a fictional small town in northern France. She visits her patients and helps them with their medicine and nutrition. She’s separated from her husband, and she and her two kids, Tom and Lili, get some help from her father (Patrick Descamps), an old trade-union Communist, and her friends. Pauline is apolitical, but when she’s approached by the family doctor (André Dussollier) to run for mayor of the town on a right-wing ticket, she at first rejects the idea as silly. She’s won over by the charisma and ideas of Agnès Dorgelle (Catherine Jacob, the Le Pen stand-in) after a scary anti-immigrant rally where everyone stands and sings “This Is Our Land.” Pauline becomes a candidate and it changes her life in ways she didn’t expect, including her relationship with her new boyfriend, Stephane (Guillaume Gouix), who has a right-wing past. The film has an important lesson for us: How right-wing parties rebrand their politics to conceal their extremist positions. -Nancy Bishop
The film screens Friday, March 23, 6pm and Wednesday, March 28, 6pm.