Film

Siskel Film Center’s EUFF Week 3: Compelling Stories Keep the Schedule Fresh

Gene Siskel Film Center’s robust European Union Film Festival continues into its third week with ever more interesting offerings; it’s a credit to the jam-packed schedule that just as one impressive selection finishes its run, two more pop up in its place, keeping the program fresh. This week, our film writers explore documentaries on architecture and design, books and art, as well as narrative offerings from Denmark, Greece, Slovenia and more. See the full line-up for this week here.

Bauhaus Spirit

Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus

This 90-minute documentary celebrates the 100th anniversary of the famous German architecture and design school that decamped to Chicago (and became IIT’s Institute of Design) after the Nazi regime forced it to close in 1933. The Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919 and at first was rooted in the arts and crafts movement but began an emphasis on architecture, urban design and collaboration with industry when it moved to Dessau in 1925. There it would occupy the famous Bauhaus building and campus designed by Walter Gropius (pictured above). The film, directed by Niels Bolbrinker and Thomas Tielsch, describes the basic philosophy of the Bauhaus and shows some charming examples of its early teaching and activities (such as a costume party and theatrical performances). In several scenes, a choreographer equates design patterns to dance and demonstrates how the body responds to form in space. (Despite the utopian beliefs of its founders, female students were pushed into the weaving program rather than the male-only architecture program. One woman managed to join the metals workshop taught by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.)

The film is primarily devoted to modern theories and examples of solutions to space usage, housing and urban planning. Interesting segments include an architect showing his “tiny house” (100 Euro apartment) designed to mitigate urban housing problems and homelessness, and a community building project in a barrio in Medellin, Colombia, organized by the Zurich-based Urban-Think Tank. We also meet the architect of an elementary school in Stockholm “with no classrooms” and watch as the children use different types of group and individual spaces in creative ways. Learn more about how Bauhaus design shaped our visual world at the excellent exhibit “The Whole World a Bauhaus,” at the Elmhurst Art Museum through April 20. —Nancy Bishop

Screens Sunday, March 24, at 3:15pm and Wednesday, March 27, at 6pm, including a conversation led by Dennis Rodkin, residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business.

Consequences

Slovian director Darko Stante’s debut feature Consequences concerns 18-year-old Andrej (Matej Zemljic), a troubled, repressed young man sent to a detention center by his desperate parents. Andrej initially takes to the program, reluctantly accepting the punishment that’s been doled out. He’s lost, but not entirely a lost-cause––but when head bully Zele (Timon Sturbej) takes notice of Andrej’s criminal potential, things take a turn for the worse. The two spend weekends partying hard and rounding up money from Zele’s helpless victims, mostly other detainees who owe him for small amounts of pot. For Andrej, it’s an increasingly co-dependent relationship, as Zele’s manipulative knife twists deeper, and the lines between camaraderie and abuse begin to blur.

Consequences deftly portrays the constraints of a hyper-masculine social model that demands strict adherence to law and order but paradoxically rewards those who are the most aggressive. There’s a bit of repetition in the story structure and the film could benefit from a little narrative padding; though there is a cumulative merit from watching Andrej waking up in various states of disarray after another destructive night of partying, it has the overall effect of a cinematic hangover. There are tiny moments of violence throughout the film that echo like bombs across the stark production, and seemingly minor assaults, like the uploading of an incriminating Facebook video, manage to increase the mounting tension to a climactic boil. And Zemljic turns out a tremendous performance as Andrej: its a stoic essay of a lonely boy stuck inside a man’s body, unable to reveal his truest desires for fear of complete alienation. ––Matthew Nerber

Screens Sunday, March 24, at 5:15pm and Tuesday, March 26, at 8:15pm.

 

The Eyes of Orson Welles

Loaded with a great many never-before-seen paintings and sketches by the legendary filmmaker, The Eyes of Orson Welles is Irish-born director Mark Cousins’ (Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise) deep dive into the life and artistic output of the man many only know as the director of Citizen Kane.

By examining Welles’ life in its totality—from the impact his mother had on him as a boy to his time as a drawing student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to his use of classic composition and lighting techniques in his film work—the film finds visual and thematic connections throughout every means of creative expression Welles entered into, while also finding common themes in the way he lived his life and loved the women and men he became close to. Acting as his own narrator, Cousins treats his text as if he’s addressing Welles directly, which gets to be a bit much at times; but he’s also wise enough to enlist the invaluable help and access of Welles’ daughter Beatrice, who help the filmmaker pull together the many threads of Welles’ life into a single character study that will likely be illuminating even to seasoned film scholars who have presumably watched all of the movies but never been granted access to the master’s complete visionary portrait quite like this. ––Steve Prokopy

Screens on Friday, March 22, at 2pm, and Tuesday, March 26, at 6pm.

Ferrante Fever

Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

Ferrante Fever

Whether or not you’ve read the books, chances are you’ve heard of Elena Ferrante and her wildly popular novels; a few years ago, they blasted to worldwide popularity on a scale that hadn’t been seen since JK Rowling and her Potter novels. Decidedly aimed at a more adult audience, Ferrante’s novels are an Italian phenomenon translated into dozens of languages and recently adapted into an HBO mini-series. The most intriguing bit about Ferrante’s writing, however, is the author herself; ardently committed to anonymity, no one really knows who wrote My Brilliant Friend and the others. In fact, we can’t even be sure the author is a “she” at all. Ferrante Fever, directed by Giacomo Durzi, chronicles the cultural phenomenon and the unexpected debate that ensues when the most acclaimed literary works to come out of Italy in years can’t be attributed to anyone in particular. Through a series of interviews with a variety of players––fellow Italian authors, the woman who translated the books into English, and even a few recognizable American writers––Durzi explores the infatuation with Ferrante’s works as well as their lasting impact on readers, fellow authors and the publishing world as a whole. A fairly straightforward film that weaves Ferrante’s own letters to the public into the narrative, Ferrante Fever is an interesting time capsule of a particular moment in the global zeitgeist while incorporating a far broader consideration around who creates art and why. ––Lisa Trifone
Screens Saturday, March 23, at 6pm and Monday, March 25, at 7:45pm.

 

The Last Note

World War II and the Holocaust are historical events of such scope that it may never be possible to tell every story of those affected by the trauma and tragedy of the era. Which makes Pantelis Voulgaris’s The Last Note all the more gripping, as it chronicles the true story of the 1944 mass execution of 200 Greek partisans in retaliation for the assassination of a Nazi officer and three bodyguards (fifty for one, the commanding officer grimly explains). At the internment camp where the members of the resistance have been jailed, we get to know Napoleon Sukatzidis (Andreas Kontantinou) best, singled out for his ability to speak both Greek and German and therefore conscripted into interpreting the Nazi’s orders and interrogations. In between tense moments in the camp, we glimpse the prisoner’s lives before war came to town, their relationships and work and commitment to standing up for what’s right. It all builds to the inevitable tragic conclusion, as the order of execution must be carried out. Even in the face of death, the 200 men present a steely resolve; between a riotous celebration of life the night before to last words of resistance, dedication to their cause and even humor at their executioner’s expense, The Last Note honors those who died in the massacre by telling their story––and telling it well. ––Lisa Trifone
Screens Friday, March 22, at 8:15pm and Tuesday, March 26, at 8:15pm.

 

Lajkó–Gypsy in Space

This rough-around-the-edges account of the life of Lajkó (Tamás Keresztes), a Hungarian gypsy crop-duster pilot who has grown up believing he will be the first man in space, is a beautiful and darkly funny piece of fiction, but director Balázs Lengyel has populated Lajkó–Gypsy in Space with enough strange and awful characters that it ends up feeling like an only slightly lesser take on Cold War culture in the vein of last year’s The Death of Stalin. From accidentally launching his mother hundreds of feet in the air in an outhouse rocket fueled by human waste to dive-bombing the Russian Army in his crop-dusting plane just to prove that he’s the best pilot on his side of the Iron Curtain, Lajkó finally gets his wish when he’s allowed to try out to be the first Soviet cosmonaut (and first human being) to enter the stratosphere (a feat that was famously achieved by Yuri Gagarin, who factors a great deal into this story).

His gypsy heritage makes him a victim of a great deal of discrimination, but his expertise at piloting always seems to win out in the end. He even falls in love for the first time with a German ex-Nazi named Helga, who hates gypsies and whose last name might be Mengele. Making the final determination of who gets to make this landmark flight from a small pool of candidates is none other than a high-ranking Soviet party official you may have heard of named Brezhnev (Bohdan Benyuk). Clearly, the film pulls no punches when it comes to outrageous humor, but it much of it is executed in a sly, quiet, knowing way that only serves to underscore the surreal aspects of this deftly constructed plot. It becomes clear that the Soviets have selected these candidates for less than noble reasons, but that doesn’t stop Lajkó from desperately wanting to achieve his life goal. It’s a work that is both heightened and low-key, and it all work perfectly. ––Steve Prokopy

Screenings take place Saturday, March 23, at 8:30 pm, and Thursday, March 28, at 8:15 pm.

Word of God

As memoirs go, Word of God, the Danish production directed by Henrik Ruben Genz and based on the 2004 autobiography by Jens Blendstrup, is absurd, quirky and hilarious. And if it wasn’t based on Blendstrup’s childhood, you might not believe it’s true. Uffe (Søren Malling) is God, the patriarch of a family of three sons and wife Gerd (Lisa Nilsson); he runs a tight––if slightly odd––ship; his is not a home of religious extremism or far-right conspiracy politics. Instead, he’s driven by a determination to to keep his family away from such drivel, ultimately over-correcting to the point that his eldest son actually does find religion and begin a life in service of the Lord, much to his father’s chagrin. The humor here may not translate entirely to American audiences, which is why the poignant notes of familial bonding and unconditional love infused throughout elevate Word of God to something quite lovely. As Uffe, now facing a terminal illness, imparts ever more absurd edicts and beliefs on his family, Gerde and her sons revolt. Not because they hate him, but because they love him. ––Lisa Trifone

 

Screens Saturday, March 23, at 8:15pm and Tuesday, March 26, at 6pm.

 

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