Dispatch: Variety of Films, Emotions and Sexy Firefighters as Siskel’s EU Film Festival Continues

The Chicago European Union Film Festival screens throughout March at downtown's Siskel Film Center. Third Coast Review staff bring you capsule reviews of select premieres and special screenings each week.

Art Talent Show

Done in more or less the exact style of a Frederick Wiseman documentary, the Czech Republic’s Art Talent Show, from directors Tomás Bojaromás Bojar and Adéla Komrzý is a rich tapestry of discussions about art, what inspires it and who it’s meant to inspire, all through the lens of the admissions process to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Prospective art students submit themselves to grueling theory and practice exercises, having their work and ideas critiqued rather extensively by their would-be instructors, who are both encouraging and sometimes critical. We get to know all of the participants on both sides of the admissions process, and the result is a thoroughly satisfying commentary on the state of art in the 21st century and the vastly varied mindsets of those making it. The filmmakers also get to know some of the other staff at the academy (including a surprisingly bigoted receptionist), with the tone being both joyful and somewhat tense (especially for those being put through the process). (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Thursday, March 9 at 8:30pm and Saturday, March 18 at 1:45pm.

El Agua

Water is a visual theme and a character itself, always linked to death, in El Agua, a Spanish/Swiss/French film set in a village in southeastern Spain. The Segura River has broken its banks and flooded the town many times over the centuries. Older women relate stories of women cursed by the river, claiming that some women are destined to disappear when the next flood arrives, because they were born “with the water inside them.” Women relate their memories of the river curse, as they’re filmed in documentary fashion. Are the stories superstitions or are they true? 

El Agua is the first feature film for writer-director Elena López Riera, a native of Orihuela in the Segura River region; her co-writer is Philippe Azoury. López Riera uses non-professional actors for many of the roles in the film. The film’s focus is the coming-of-age story of Ana (Luna Pamiés), a 17-year-old young woman trying to come to grips with her future and the looming threat of the river as a storm approaches. Her family is considered cursed by the river. Ana lives with her mother Isabella (Bárbara Lennie) and grandmother Angela (Nieve de Medina); we see her talk and do household work with each of them. (Lennie and Medina are professional actors.) The performance by Luna Pamiés as Ana is sweetly passionate. (She has won some festival nominations and awards for her role.) Luna and José (Alberto Olmo) fall in love and their conversations illustrate their yearning to escape from their dead-end lives. The film asks if it’s possible to escape our destiny. 

López Riera and cinematographer Giuseppe Truppi shoot many quiet scenes on the muddy polluted river, as if preparing for the real and imagined storm to come. (Nancy Bishop)

El Agua screens Thu. March 9 at 6pm & Fri. March 31 at 6pm.

Employee of the Month

Something of a workplace crime fantasy, director/co-writer Véronique Jadin’s Employee of the Month tells the story of Inès (Jasmina Douieb), an under-appreciated and sexually harassed office manager at a cleaning supply company where she has worked and never gotten a raise for nearly 20 years. That's despite her regularly taking on extra duties, while her male colleagues get raises and other perks every year. Still, she’s the consummate professional and proves this when a new intern arrives, named Melody (Laetitia Mampaka), who is also immediately treated like dirt by the men in the office. When the two women accidentally kill their lecherous boss, they immediately get to work finding an efficient way to cover up his death using supplies the company makes (naturally), which in turn sets off a chain reaction of killings to keep the previous deaths a secret—some accidentally, some very much on purpose. Despite the seemingly dark subject matter, the film takes on a whimsical quality that makes the deaths seem almost unimportant, because to these women, they are. I’m not sure the tone entirely works, but there is something about the attitude and Douieb’s focused performance that I found mildly appealing. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Friday, March 10 at 8:15pm and Saturday, March 18 at 8:30pm.

L’Immensità

The current rule of thumb regarding the always-impressive and resplendent Penelope Cruz is that any film with her in it is bound to be elevated simply because of her. Thus is the case with L’Immensità, set in 1970s Rome (the film is actually in Italian and not Cruz’s native Spanish) and centering on a family at war. Cruz’s Clara is married to a brute of a philandering husband, but stays with him because of their three young children, including the eldest, 13-year-old Adriana (newcomer Luana Giuliani), who is questioning their gender identity and even their planet of origin (Adriana insists they are of alien birth), which only makes the household that much more volatile. Writer/director Emanuele Crialese (Terraferma) based the story on his own life, and it gives us an honest and often-heartbreaking tale of the bond between working-class mother and children. When Clara’s mental health is put at risk, she agrees to go to a clinic to recuperate (and not lose her children in the process). Part coming-of-age journey, part family character study, the film allows Cruz and her terrific young co-stars to truly shine against a bopping, Italian-pop soundtrack. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Friday, March 10 at 6pm and Saturday, March 25 at 1:30pm.

Will O’ The Wisp

If you like hot firefighters, sometimes dancing, sometimes fully naked, have I got a self-described “musical fantasy” for you. From Portugal, director João Pedro Rodrigues’s (The Ornithologist) latest, Will O’ The Wisp, is a deathbed fever dream as seen through the mind of Portugal’s royal highness King Alfredo in the year 2069, recalling his early years when he was a young man of privilege. In order to rebel against his aristocratic family, he decides he wants to become a volunteer firefighter for a brigade that seems pulled right out of a softcore-porn musical, and a pretty good one at that. There are also fuzzy commentaries on race, global warming, and class that don’t quite amount to anything, but when the film sticks to the sexual exploits of its lead characters, it can be rather entertaining and even romantic. At barely over an hour long, even the copious number of floppy wieners don’t overstay their welcome. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Sunday, March 12 at 1:30pm and Friday, March 24 at 8:15pm.

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Third Coast Review Staff

Posts with the Third Coast Review Staff byline are written by a combination of writers, credited by section within the article.