Siskel Film Center Goes Abroad with Month-long Chicago European Union Film Festival and Opener Hilma
Spread throughout the entire month of March, the 26th Chicago European Union Film Festival continues the annual tradition of celebrating emerging voices and providing a showcase of provocative perspectives from that continent. All Chicago premieres, the lineup includes debut feature films; award-winners from international film festivals including Berlin, Locarno, Sundance, and Toronto; and new films from CEUFF alumni. The program is also an evolution, as the festival recognizes and embraces the EU’s porous borders and global citizenry.
On Wednesday, March 1, at 6pm, CEUFF’s OpenIng Night features writer/director Lasse Hallström's compelling and creatively gripping Hilma (with an encore screening on Saturday, March 25, at 3:45pm), a sweeping biopic of groundbreaking Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (played as a younger woman by the director’s daughter, Tora Hallström, and at a more advanced ago by his wife—and Tora’s mother—Lena Olin). Although today considered one of the inventors of abstract art, Hilma was largely dismissed while alive (she died in 1944), and it wasn’t until years later that her work was uncovered and subsequently (and rightfully) praised to the skies. The film digs into her belief that her art was communicated to her by spirits that often showed her visions of the future and shapes that either didn’t exist in nature or had no literal, real-world parallels. She spent a great deal of her life either being rejected for her art or because she was a woman, but rather than let that defeat her, she let her unique visions of the world inspire and give her a certain amount of joy and confidence.
Hilma explores her relationships with family, friends, and possible love interests to varying degrees, but the most enlightening of her entanglements is with a group of female artists with whom she built a commune and lived, away from the gaze of the outside world, especially sexist men who judged her unfairly on a number of levels. In her later years, as played by Olin, Hilma's attempts to get her work shown in a special, spiral-shaped facility of her own design make it almost shocking where her collection ended up just a few years ago when it come to the United States (I don’t want to give this particular detail away). Watching her modernistic, and sometimes prescient, visions come to life on the canvas is awe-inspiring, and the film is the near-perfect match of subject, filmmaker, and actors. My only real complaint is that the film is in English (which I understand is easier to sell to international markets), but that has nothing to do with the filmmaking or performances, which are quite strong and offer a thoroughly engrossing life story.
At the March 1 screening, lead actors Lena Olin and Tora Hallström will be in attendance, and the film will be followed by a reception hosted by the Honorary Consulate of Sweden, which holds the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
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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.