Dispatch: Week Three at Chicago European Union Film Festival

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.

Gentle

Unexpectedly heartwarming while also being one of the most startling and honest depictions of the bodybuilding world I’ve ever seen on film, co-directors László Csuja (Nine Month War), Anna Nemes (Beauty of the Beast)—both of whom come out of the documentary world, and it shows—bring us the Hungarian work Gentle. Eszter Csonka plays female bodybuilder Edina, whose streamlined physique masks a regimen that includes starvation, dehydration, and massive amounts of supplements and steroids that her doctors tell her will kill her because they are literally thickening her blood and making her heart work so hard it will simply stop pumping eventually. Her partner and former bodybuilding champ Adam (György Turós) sees enormous potential in her as a competitor, and she seems well on her way to reaching championship status herself. But the training and drugs have drained them financially, which leads her to secretly take a side job as an escort and opens up her eyes to what it means to be desired for reasons other than the possible titles she might win. She even falls for one of her clients who makes her understand what a sensitive soul she is and what it is she truly wants out of life. The film is a powerful and potentially tragic character study that makes the perfect female flip-side to the recent Sundance powerhouse Magazine Dreams. This is a devastating work unlike anything I’ve seen and it absolutely shook me. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Wednesday, March 15, at 6pm and Thursday, March 23, at 8:30pm.

Mutzenbacher

Veteran Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann (The Waldheim Waltz) had an idea for a gender-centric experimental documentary involving a large group of men of all ages coming to an abandoned factory and taking turns—individually, in pairs or in groups—reading aloud mostly explicit passages from the classic, notorious, anonymously penned 1906 erotic novel Josephine Mutzenbacher or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself, which chronicles a prostitute's sexual journey from her early teens to adulthood. But Beckermann also has her subjects talk quite openly about their own sexual experiences, attitudes, and fantasies, which range from graphic and disturbing to tame and conservative. The resulting work is something of a complete package of sexual proclivities that reveal a male sexual culture that can be amusing but also dark, bordering on controversial. Even though the filmmaker uses fairly static, straightforward camera angles to capture her subjects, the result is endlessly fascinating, revealing, and undoubtedly surprising. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Tuesday, March 14, at 6pm.

Orchestra (Orkester)

“Those Slovenians really know how to party.” That’s what the Austrian host to two Slovenian musicians says to his wife when  he comes home from the opening night party for the brass band music festival in his Austrian town. A busload of Slovenians have traveled from their village to perform at the festival. The musicians are working class people, mostly portly middle-aged men, a few women and some teenagers. They see the trip as a way to cut loose from their everyday lives, rather than as an artistic venture. The film Orkester (Orchestra), a Slovenian-German production written and directed by Matevz Luzar, tells the story of this cultural and generational clash.

Woven throughout the film are vignettes of participants’ responses to the festivities. The most interesting one takes place back home in the village of Zagorje ob Savi, where the wives have a “girls night out,” with unfortunate consequences. Musicians Pavo and Ive (Lovro Lezic and Gaber Trseglav) have a tense relationship with their Austrian hosts, mainly because of their post-party antics (and vomiting on the host’s carpet is never a good idea). The teenagers drink too, but are torn between celebration and disgust with their rowdy elders. One of them sees her father (Gregor Zorc as Stojan) in a compromising situation with a female band member and lets him know what she saw. “You saw nothing,” he tells her firmly. Rajko (Gregor Cusin), the bus driver, wants to keep his good-paying job but his drinking and driving cause an accident and damage to the new bus. Finally, Rajko has to let his new assistant driver—band members call him “the Bosnian” (Jernej Kogovsek)—take the wheel.

The film’s humor is mostly based on drinking and loud singing in Slovenian. Orkester doesn’t end on the merry note it begins with, as the bus heads back toward Slovenia. (The music played over the credits is the song we know as “Beer Barrel Polka,” written in 1927 by Czech musician Jaromír Vejvoda.) The too-long film—just under two hours—is shot in black and white; some of the scenes, especially nighttime exteriors, are very dark. (Nancy Bishop)

Orkester screens Monday, March 13, at 8:15pm and Saturday, March 25, at 12pm.

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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.