Now in its last week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, the EU Film Festival boasts another fine crop of films to check out as the affair winds down. We’re keeping things tight here at Third Coast, with just four great films to put at the top of your list, including the festival’s Closing Night selection, The Young Karl Marx. It’s quality, not quantity after all.
Share in the comments what you’ve seen at this month’s festival, and let us know what you enjoyed (or didn’t!).
Bye Bye Germany
“Peddling is an art—it’s the show that counts.” That’s what David Bermann (Moritz Bleibtreu) tells his coworkers in this funny, poignant story about Jews who remained in Germany after World War II. Director Sam Gabarski sets the film in 1946 Frankfurt, where Bermann and a crew of camp survivors revive his family linen business with door-to-door sales. The sometimes hilarious business story of how they sell to German customers using deceit and guilt as sales tools (“We’re the Jewish revenge!”) is interwoven with the flashback story of Bermann’s time in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The camp commandant discovers that Bermann can tell a joke and he is commanded to perform at the SS Christmas party. Soon after, he’s ordered to be Hitler’s humor coach, teaching jokes to the famously humorless fuehrer. In 1946, Bermann is interrogated as a possible collaborator by a U.S. Army officer (Antje Traue). The scenes of Frankfurt’s post-war destruction are a little too cosmetically perfect but overall the period mood is well created. Bleibtrau and Traue both give excellent performances. The film is worth seeing for its themes of survivor guilt, retribution, and the line between collaboration and doing whatever is necessary to survive. -Nancy Bishop
The film screens at 2pm Friday, March 30, and 3pm Sunday, April 1.
Let Yourself Go
After shining in more serious Italian works like Il Divo and The Great Beauty, actor Toni Servillo takes a decidedly more comedic turn in Let Yourself Go, in which he plays Elia, an abrasive and lonely psychotherapist who still lives next door to an ex-wife he still loves. After finding out that he’s borderline diabetic, he decides to take on a much younger, quite beautiful and spirited personal trainer, Claudia (Spanish actress Verónica Echegui, recently seen in You’re Killing Me Susana), who has her own personal problems, including romantic entanglements with bad men and a young child she’s afraid of letting down. Director/co-writer Francesco Amati pushes the comedy from situational to outright slapstick, especially when a pair of bumbling convicts show up at the doctor’s door looking for him to hypnotize one of them to remember the exact location of buried loot (and yes, they are connected to Claudia). The film flirts with Elia and Claudia striking up a romance, but wisely the story has them instead inspiring each other to better their lives, starting over with new outlooks and a fiery zest for living. -Steve Prokopy
Screens Friday, March 30 at 4pm; and Saturday, March 31 at 8pm.
I’m not sure what they’d call it in French, but in English, Paula (Laetitia Dosch) is a hot mess. After an ugly break-up with an older man (shouting in the streets, no place to live, the works), she spirals with abandon into absolutely anything that comes her way, so lost on the course of her own life is she. She lies her way into a job as a live-in nanny (shelter issue solved), charms her way into a second gig at a lingerie pop-up shop (cute security guard), and even goes along with it when a total stranger mistakes her for a schoolmate and “rekindles” a friendship. The only thing that saves this shit show from being a self-indulgent mess is Dosch’s vibrant, vulnerable performance; wonder of wonders, we actually care whether Paula figures it all out or not. Not that it all gets tied up in a nice, neat bow at the end. If anything, things go further off the rails before there’s a glimmer of hope in poor Paula’s existence. But it’s an existence worth glimpsing into. -Lisa Trifone
Screens Friday, March 30 at 6pm and Monday, April 2 at 6pm.
The Young Karl Marx
The closing night film of this year’s Chicago EU Film Festival is the new German work from director Raoul Peck, whose last film was the Oscar-nominated James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro. This time taking on a very different kind of outspoken activist, with The Young Karl Marx Peck (who also helmed the edgy Lumumba) seeks to illustrate the rise in popularity of one of the most celebrated and derided figures in the history of politics. The film is part traditional biopic, part deep dive into the birth and formation of his thoughts and eventual manifesto on the working class as a means of production in the modern world and a source of political power.
August Diehl plays the journalist Marx, desperate to get his ideas out somewhere in a mid-1800s Europe that is on the edge of revolution against the elite class. He and his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps from Phantom Thread), who is entirely his intellectual equal, move from country to country seeking out work for Marx and his radical ideas. His life changes when he meets Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), the son of a wealthy factory owner who despises his father’s attitudes and is eager to help Marx shape his ideas and get them out to the masses. Director Peck refuses to put Marx on some sort of intellectual pedestal, instead showing him as an important part of a larger, heated conversation that he captured in his writings. The film is as energetic as it is educational, and features exceptional period detail that further enhances the entire viewing and learning experience. -Steve Prokopy
Screens Saturday, March 31 at 3pm; and Thursday, April 5 at 6pm.