22nd European Union Film Festival Presents 60 Films at Siskel Film Center

From March 8 through April 4, the Gene Siskel Film Center brings the creative diversity and excitement of Europe to Chicago, with the 22nd Annual Chicago European Union Film Festival. It's the largest event of its kind in North America, exclusively showcasing movies originating in the European Union; this year, the program boasts 60 Chicago premieres representing all 28 EU nations.

As is always the tradition with this event, the opening night is presided over by the nation in the presidency of the European Union, which is Romania in 2019. On Friday, March 8, the evening is hosted by Tiberiu Trifan, Consul General of Romania in Chicago, featuring the U.S. premiere of the investigative drama Thou Shalt Not Kill from directors Catalin Rotaru and Gabi Virginia Sarga.

carmen and lola Image courtesy of Gene Siskel Film Center

Guest filmmakers are still being confirmed, but these are currently scheduled to appear for audience discussions. On March 16, Lithuanian director Arūnas Matelis presents his documentary Wonderful Losers, delving into the world of professional cyclists. Irish director Carmel Winters and production designer Toma McCullim will be present for March 29 and 30 screenings of Float Like A Butterfly, a coming-of-age story featuring a wealth of traditional Irish tunes. On March 23 and 25, Italian director Giacomo Durzi will discuss his film Ferrante Fever, a documentary examining the cult popularity of the reclusive pseudonymous author, Elena Ferrante.

The festival closes on Thursday, April 4, with Italian director Francesco Falaschi tentatively in person with As Needed, his comedy-drama about a disgraced chef who redeems himself by mentoring a struggling young talent. A reception hosted by the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) follows the show.

The full schedule of films, added events and updates on personal appearances, as well as advance ticket sales, can be found at the Siskel Film Center’s website. Third Coast Review will feature capsule reviews of some of the films featured in the forthcoming weeks, with this week’s selections covering March 8-14. Authors are indicated at the end of each brief review.

Carmen & Lola

In Madrid's Roma (gypsy) community, a young woman can expect to be paired off to her future husband around the age of 17, or so we learn in Arantxa Echevarría's Carmen & Lola. It's Carmen, beautiful and obedient, who gets engaged to a young man in the community just as her parents want her to. Lola, on the other hand, shows no interest in the opposite sex, and her parents have noticed; rumors such as these spread quickly in their tight-knit community, so for the most part Lola is keeping her budding sexuality under wraps. Until she meets Carmen, that is. Their friendship soon becomes something more, as Lola finds confidence in her identity and Carmen learns to differentiate between her own beliefs and those of her community. It's a familiar story, and though told through the lens of a rarely seen community, it's not enough to infuse the coming-of-age drama with anything innovative or exceptional. Zaira Romero as Lola and Rosy Rodriguez as Carmen deliver strong performances as young women discovering themselves and each other, but something about the discrimination hurled at them and the well-meaning teacher who serves as an escape valve feels tired. ––Lisa Trifone

Screens Sunday, March 10, at 5:30pm and Thursday, March 14, at 8:15pm.

Central Airport THF

An early contender for one of my favorite documentaries of the year, Central Airport THF is director Karim Aïnouz’s profile of Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, which was built in the 1920s, deemed almost too small for the traffic going through it just a few years later, and finally decommissioned in 2008. The eerie, expansive structure was reopened in 2015 as a holding center and way station for thousands of refugees from the Middle East and other troubled regions, all of whom are housed in makeshift cubicles in the giant hangers until they can be put into the general population as legal residents. While many are told they will only be there for a few weeks, we meet some who have lived at the airport for more than a year. Not unlike the films of Frederick Wiseman, this movie doesn’t feature any narration or explanation as to what we’re looking at (outside of title cards to announce what month it is), but it’s clear that by following just a few key residents, Aïnouz (Brazilian-born, of Algerian descent, now living in Berlin) illustrates the inner workings of this small city. The film is not some exposé about terrible living conditions; quite the contrary, most of those living there know they are in a better place than they came from. The more fascinating part is watching how people find unique ways to conquer boredom and routine by taking advantage of expansive grounds and the facility’s sparse opportunities. The film isn’t meant to be exciting, but it is revealing and captivating in its own way, while also giving voice to people who genuinely want to move forward with their lives  and make a fresh start in a new nation that has mixed feelings about them being there in the first place. It’s as timely and urgent a film as I’ve seen in months. — Steve Prokopy

Screens on Saturday, March 9, at 3pm; and Thursday, March 14, at 8:30 pm.

Gaspard at the Wedding Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

Gaspard at the Wedding

A more appropriate title for Antony Cordier's third feature film might have been Gaspard at the Zoo, as a wedding features only fleetingly in this part rom-com, part family drama that follows the Gaspard of the title as he returns home for his father's wedding. Home, as it happens, is literally a zoo, penguins, giraffes, lions and the like sharing the space with Gaspard's father, a womanizer finally ready to settle down; his level-headed yet edgy brother Virgile; and their waif of a sister, Coline, who's never really grown up. Heading home for the event, Gaspard meets Laura on the train and convinces her, in a charming meet-cute, to join him for the weekend, pretending to be his girlfriend. Meanwhile at the zoo, finances are tight and they can't seem to keep the local wildlife out of the enclosures. Add to the mix the complicated relationships between father and children, brothers and sister, sister and new girlfriend and more, and it all swirls together into storylines that, in lesser hands, might get muddled or confusing or awkward––or any combination therein. Instead, Cordier (and his frequent writing partner Julie Peyr) navigate it all with skill, keeping their audience engaged enough to follow this motley crew through each twist and turn. By the end, Gaspard resolves in a delightfully charming conclusion that assures us everything will be ok so long as there's family to help us through. –– Lisa Trifone

Screens Friday, March 8, at 4pm and Thursday, March 14, at 6:15pm.

The Ice King

It’s almost impossible to imagine a time when the world might be scandalized at the idea of a gay male figure skater, but such was the case even as recently as the 1970s when one of the greatest skaters ever to grace the ice, John Curry of Great Britain, won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, after which he acknowledged he was gay—something that was still illegal in his home country at the time. From director John Erskine, The Ice King follows not only the life story of Curry but also delves deep into his artistry, as he took the practice of ice dancing to levels that had never been imagined, especially as done by male skaters. Discouraged from taking ballet lessons as a child by his homophobic father (who believed figure skating was much “safer” since it was a sport), Curry never lost the dream of taking the grace of dancing and applying it on the ice, eventually creating a troupe of ice dancers that went on to play the Metropolitan Opera and at the Royal Albert Hall. The rare, recently discovered footage of these performances is rough around the edges but still captures the graceful performances and the rapturous audiences that knew they were seeing something that had never been done before. Through readings of Curry’s personal letters (by actor Freddie Fox), we get the subject’s very private thoughts on many key moments in his life, including his HIV diagnosis and how open he was about having the disease—a rarity for the 1980s. The film is carefully, lovingly crafted; the performances are quite striking; and the story of a man realizing his dreams against every imaginable barrier against him is inspiring. — Steve Prokopy

Screens on Saturday, March 9, at 3pm; and Monday, March 11, at 6pm.

Miss Hanoi

Set in a small town in the Czech Republic, Miss Hanoi is a timely, thoughtful procedural that digs deep into that country's Vietnamese immigrant community and the xenophobia that surrounds it. Though the drama here takes place a continent away, one could imagine an adaptation set in any small southern border town right here at home. Of Vietnamese heritage, Anh (Ha Thanh Spetlíková) is a constable on the local police force who proves a valuable asset when clues in a new homicide case point to the Vietnamese community; in plain clothes among her fellow immigrants, she pulls double duty as officer and interpreter, often taking a beating, verbally and emotionally, from both sides. Her tough-talking boss isn't shy with his racism, and her elders in the community don't understand why she'd want to serve a country that doesn't respect her people. Directed by newcomer Zdenek Viktora, Miss Hanoi isn't remarkable for the murder case at the center of its plot. Instead, it's the all-too-familiar hostilities against the "other" that make it a compelling watch, as Anh grapples with newly discovered truths about her community while keeping her sights set on success within the force. ––Lisa Trifone

Screens Sunday, March 10, at 5:30 pm and Wednesday, March 13, at 6pm.

Rock 'N Roll Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

Rock'n Roll

When the inside joke becomes an entire movie, you get something like writer/director/star Guillaume Canet’s Rock’n Roll, in which he plays a version of himself—an actor in his 40s, who has started to get cast in dad roles and is told by the young actress (Camille Rowe) playing his daughter in a new movie that her generation of women no longer find him especially sexy. This news shakes him to his core and sends Canet (Tell No One, Joyeux Noel) on a downward spiral that sees him attempt to change his clothes, his demeanor on set and eventually even his face and body (with a grotesque overuse of Botox, steroids and plastic surgery), all of which lead to trouble on the movie he’s making and eventually with his faltering career. Making matters worse during this process is that Canet’s partner, actress Marion Cotillard (playing herself, as is everyone else in the film) is in the midst of a career boom, including a role she’s preparing for in an upcoming French-Canadian production, which allows her to play with her accent and lingo in very funny ways. The movie is filled with cameos from the world of French and American film (a drop-in by Ben Foster is actually one of the film’s funnier moments), but after a certain point, the jokes about insecurity and the resulting self-butchering that Canet puts himself through get to be a bit much. Cotillard’s off-the-wall performance and ability to laugh at herself are what kept me watching, but the further the story drifts from reality and believability, the less engaging it becomes. Rock’n Roll has its moments, and I’ll watch anything with Cotillard in it, but I simply grew tired of things by the end. — Steve Prokopy

Screens on Sunday, March 10, at 3pm; and Thursday, March 14, at 6pm.

Take It or Leave It

When we first meet Erik (Reimo Sagor), the hero of director Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo's keenly observed domestic debut Take It Or Leave It, the 30-year-old Estonian bachelor is working construction in neighboring Finland, living in close quarters, fraternity-style, with his co-workers, and getting into drunken brawls. He's a brooding presence, taking life's punches without much fuss either way. When he receives a sudden call from ex-lover Moonika (Liis Lass), Erik rushes home to find her in the hospital, and with child. It's his child, he comes to find out, and after a brief bout of self-righteousness over his former girlfriend's estrangement, he decides to accept his paternal duty and tries to mend things with Moonika. But she's been hit hard with post-partum depression, and is ready to give the baby up for adoption. Erik decides to retain full custody, naming his daughter Mai (because of the month she was born in) and settles into single-fatherhood, for better or for worse.

Trishkina-Vanhatalo, working from her own script, devises scenes of quiet, subdued conflict not unlike 2016's Manchester by the Sea; aside from the obvious comparisons between Lonergan's "suddenly-a-parent" drama, Trishkina-Vanhatalo's variation also explores stunted masculinity and the healing power of responsibility in an equally hard-hitting and confident manner. Her characters are motivated and react with lingering resentments, and the understated plotting allow them to change with gradual, gentle modulations. Sagor, looking like a scrappy, stocky Nicholas Hoult, delivers a powerhouse performance as Erik, from early scenes––befuddled by his new responsibilities––all the way to the exquisite, heartbreaking finale. Take It Or Leave It was Estonia’s official selection for this year's Best Foreign Language Oscar category, but was not nominated—it’s a shame, too; this film deserves as wide a release as possible. –– Matthew Nerber

Screens Friday, March 8, at 4pm and Thursday, March 14, at 6:15 pm.


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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.