This year’s Chicago European Union Film Festival continues at downtown’s Siskel Film Center through March 14, and if you’re looking for a film to see on a weeknight, our critics share two options. One might be worth your time…the other, well…that’s up to you.
As In Heaven
Marking the harrowing feature debut from Danish director Tea Lindeburg, As In Heaven tells the difficult story of 14-year-old Lise (Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl), the daughter of a farmer (Thure Lindhardt) and his wife (Stine Fischer Christensen), and the first child in their very large family to go to school, despite her father’s objections.
Set in the late 1800s, this is an era when dreams were seen as omens and natural remedies were as much a part of medicine as trained doctors. So when Lise’s pregnant mother goes into a horrific labor, these superstitions begin to rule the day and risk both the mother’s life and Lise’s plans for a future different than her parents or siblings. Most of the film takes place in the days that were meant to lead up to Lise heading off, but as her mother’s postpartum complications worsen, you can almost see the light go out in her eyes as the reality of the situation makes itself clearer. We see the girl go from somewhat carefree and playful, even beginning to flirt with a young farmhand who works on the property, to a hardened woman for whom the future is written both by tradition and by her father’s need for someone to run the estate while he travels to sell their goods.
As In Heaven is frequently heartbreaking, even in its fleeting moments of hopefulness, and it can often be soul-crushing in its authenticity regarding the ways and attitudes of the time. Although not always an easy watch, the film is beautifully acted by performers both young and old, with a solid story about women’s roles in rural areas that feels as old as time. (Steve Prokopy)
As in Heaven screens on Wednesday, March 9, at 6pm.
The Tsugua Diaries
Three 20-something friends—or three actors (Crista, Carloto and João)—are working on a big project. It’s slow and messy. They’re building a flimsy butterfly house of wood framing with mesh sides and top. The film proceeds about as slowly as actually watching three people build a butterfly house. After about 35 minutes, just when you decide this is like watching paint dry (or choose your own example of lassitude), you discover that this isn’t just about three people working on a project. It’s a film about three people working on a film about three people working on a project. It’s so meta, it’s almost a metaverse.
That’s also about the time it becomes clear that this is a pandemic film. The Portuguese filmmakers (directors Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes) began shooting at the very beginning of the pandemic. We don’t learn that until the end because the film is shot in reverse chronology, day by day.
The three actors are Crista Alfalate, Carloto Corra and João Nunez Monteiro. As the days progress backward, they pick fruit in an orchard, clean out a funky pool full of algae (that’s a 10-minute scene), give a dog a bath, argue with the directors about their lack of direction, and ride a tractor out to the shooting site. Crista drives the tractor, loaded with crew people; four minutes with no dialogue. At one point, Fazendeiro asks Gomes what’s the point of the tractor scene. “It seems stupid,” she says. I thought it was a parallel to a Luis Buñuel film—perhaps The Exterminating Angel, in which a couple of dozen people arrive for a party and never leave—but not funny.
The film begins (dia 22) with the three friends dancing to Frankie Valli’s 1970s hit, “The Night.” And the film closes (dia 1) with a large crowd of people (cast and crew) partying to the same song. They’re having a great time. The best is past.
To be fair, the filmmakers deal with an important subject—the need to preserve butterflies—and try to take a playful approach, rather than producing a dead-serious butterfly documentary. The problem is that it’s not playful, it’s boring. And if you’re wondering about the title, don’t try to translate Tsugua from the Portuguese. It’s just August, backwards. (Nancy Bishop)
The Tsugua Diaries screens Thursday, March 10, at 8pm.
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