Film

Siskel Film Center’s EUFF Week 4: One More Week of Acclaimed European Cinema

The 22nd Chicago European Union Film Festival is almost over, with just one more week of screenings remaining. Thankfully, there’s still plenty to see whether you’ve put off checking it out until now or have already binged all the earlier offerings. With romcoms from Paris and political documentaries from Spain and plenty in between, the selections remain diverse and interesting as another month-long program comes to an end. Here’s what Third Coast got a sneak peek at this week:

Emma Peeters

Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

Emma Peeters

Aiming for the quirky romcom vibes of Amelie but not quite hitting the mark, Emma Peeters follows the titular main character (Monia Chokri) as she decides to end her life rather than face her 35th birthday as a single, unemployed actress who even her parents deem a failure. Meticulous to the last detail, Emma begins planning the act (researching ways to do the deed and their respective pain levels) and even goes so far as to meet with a funeral director to help make arrangements for after she’s gone. But Alex (Fabrice Adde) is no ordinary mortician; handsome and charming, his flirting goes all but unnoticed by Emma, as intent on ending it all as she is. Filmmaker Nicole Palo builds her narrative around the humor in the macabre, making room for a few unexpectedly fun moments throughout, which generally serve to eschew the predictability that often trips up films of the genre. Particularly inventive is the coffin-testing scene (yes, she gives her final resting spot a test drive) that’s presented as if from a silent movie, dialogue cards and all. What’s more, Paris is certainly on full display as Emma wheels around the city on her bike; as adventurous moviegoing goes, Emma Peeters isn’t exactly breaking all the rules. But it breaks enough of them to make for a charming escape abroad. ––Lisa Trifone

Screens Friday, March 29 at 2pm and Tuesday, April 2nd at 6pm.

Holy Boom

It’s Holy Week in Athens, and orthodox festivities are in full swing. In the bustle of the city at night, a group of young men, out for an evening of mischief, drop a stick of dynamite into a mailbox and run off. It explodes, sending mangled letters and packages in all directions and leaving envelopes and parcels burning along the street. Holy Boom, Greek director Maria Lafi’s debut feature, examines the fallout from the prank, as the consequence of the explosion echo through the lives of a handful of strangers. There’s Ige (Spiros Ballesteros), the Filipino teenager who is responsible for the act, Albanian mother Aida (Luli Bitri), who is waiting on papers to avoid deportation, Lena (Anastasia Rafaella Konidi) and her boyfriend Manou (Samuel Akinola) who are waiting on a shipment of acid to pay off their drug debt, and Thalia (Nena Menti), a lonely, elderly seamstress who keeps careful watch on the neighborhood’s goings-on.
Director Lafi, working from her own script, uses the act of adolescent terrorism to explore her country’s ethnocentric view on immigration, and the consequences of foreign cultures clashing with the Greeks’ strict Orthodox values. The nationalist and religious rhetoric apparent here is fascinating from a global perspective, echoing similar political situations across the world. The disparate storylines draw obvious comparisons to the Academy Award Best Picture-winning Crash, but the machinations in Holy Boom manage to feel more focused and organic than its oft-maligned brethren. And if the overall message of a triumphant human decency seems a bit trite, Lafi’s cast of generous performers manage to prove, by the film’s fateful ending, that small moments of compassion and kindness can alter a life. –Matthew Nerber

 

Screens Friday, March 29 at 7:45pm and Wednesday, April 3 at 8:30pm

 

The Silence of Others

 
We have our fair share of generational trauma to atone for here in the U.S.; in Spain, the same could be said for those a generation or more removed from that country’s Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship that followed. Filmmakers Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo focus their cameras on the fight to hold Spain’s Francisco Franco, his government and his henchmen accountable for atrocities and injustices that occurred throughout a brutal rule that extended all the way to 1975. When its iron fist finally lost its grasp, the new government approved amnesty laws ostensibly designed to help the country move on from its darkest decades. But this “Pact of Forgetting” means that no one is held accountable for the suffering of so many, and in 2010, a small group of survivors had had enough. While they couldn’t bring the perpetrators to justice in Spain, they could petition international courts on the grounds of crimes against humanity. From a man who’d been tortured by the regime only to later find himself living within block of his abusers to women who’d had their children forcibly abducted by the state and adopted with “loyal” families, the crimes are serious, shocking and entirely unforgivable. The Silence of Others chronicles the fight over seven years of filming, as their case grows in scope and scale and their push for justice earns international headlines. Though much of the film will have you wondering why we continue to be so awful to our fellow human beings, the rest of it will remind you what’s possible when we unite for all the right reasons. –Lisa Trifone

Screens Sunday, March 31 at 3pm and Monday, April 1 at 6pm

Touch Me Not

Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

Touch Me Not

This intimate and moving Romanian work acts like a film essay, about the connections between self image, sexuality, pain and healing, and the body’s ability to bring all of these elements together into an individual, making that person wholly neurotic, psychologically free or some combination of the two. Experimental filmmaker and first-time feature writer-director Adina Pintilie (who we see as a face in the camera lens) conducts interviews and observations of three primary subjects; although the film is not entirely a documentary, I’m fairly certain her subjects aren’t actors. Laura (Laura Benson) hires sex workers whom she talks to or watches as they engage in various forms of self pleasure, in an effort to conquer some of her fears of intimacy. Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis) is a man who lost all his hair when he was still a boy and has led a fairly solitary life ever since. He meets Christian (Christian Bayerlein), a married, highly sexualized disabled man, in a class about touching and forming safe spaces for contact that makes some of the subjects lose their inhibitions. The winner of the Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear award, Touch Me Not achieves a great deal and sometimes gets quite explicit without feeling torrid or exploitative. It has an edge borne of a healthy curiosity, and while it’s rough around the edges, it also reaches poetic heights at times. We are witnesses to a kind of healing for some and awakening for others, and everyone (including the filmmaker) seems a little more grounded and open by the end of the film, probably best expressed in a dance that Laura performs that may bring you to tears. I’ve never seen anything quite like Touch Me Not, but I hope other directors grow brave enough to reach these heights. — Steve Prokopy

Screening on Saturday, March 30 at 7:45pm, and Wednesday, April 3 at 6pm.

We

It’s difficult to watch this Flemish film from first-time feature director Rene Eller (based on the coming-of-age novel from writer Elvis Peeters) without recalling such controversial works as Lars von Trier’s The Idiots or Larry Clark’s Bully. There’s little about We that is pleasant as we observe the depraved, thoughtless, predatory world of a group of eight teen boys and girls (four of each) from the suburbs who want nothing more than to acquire a lot of money by any means necessary so they can continue living their escapist lives where sex and drugs are simply a way of life and manipulation is part of the process. The film is told in a series of flashbacks (or maybe they’re flash-forwards) in which we’re aware that a terrible crime has been committed and at least one of these kids is on trial for it. My biggest issue with We isn’t the behavior on display; I’m just not sure what we’re supposed to get out of being subjected to it. Movies about the questionable behavior of teenagers is hardly a groundbreaking realm, and the only thing that separates this film is its explicit nature, especially as the kids make amateur porn in an effort to make some fast cash. If anything, the more outrageous the behavior, the less tethered to reality the movie feels, and the less I felt like I was being exposed to a hidden reality of teenage living. Even a film meant to shock has to be about something, and We doesn’t accomplish this convincingly. — Steve Prokopy

Screening on Saturday, March 30 at 8pm, and Monday, April 1 at 8pm.

Whatever Happened to My Revolution

The directorial debut from actress Judith Davis captures that moment in life when we’re too old to hold onto convictions that don’t stand a chance in the real world but too young to know what to do with our lives instead. Davis plays Angèle, a young woman raised to believe in socialism and personal responsibility for the good of all, and wears her indignation as a badge of honor. She demands moral certitude and courage of conviction, and she’s seemingly always disappointed in someone; her father is too old to keep up the cause anymore and her sister is too liberal, too hipster to be taken seriously. But when her sister invites her out to the country where their mother, who’d left them decades ago, now lives, Angèle’s stoic façade begins to crack ever-so-much. There’s a bit of a tonal shift as the film moves from its satirical beginning into the more nuanced storyline of a fractured mother/daughter relationship and the first steps to healing it, but it’s handled well, giving the film (and Angèle) a more approachable feel than had it stayed purely political. –Lisa Trifone 

Screens Saturday, March 30 at 4:45pm and Monday, April 1 at pm

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