Dispatch: Siskel’s European Union Film Festival Concludes with Compelling Personal Stories

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.


Romania’s submission for Academy Awards consideration and the winner of the Best Debut Film at the Venice Film Festival, Immaculate is the slightly twisted story of 18-year-old heroin addict Daria, played as the perfect combination of naive and knowing by Ana Dumitrascu, whose parents send her to a barely supervised rehab hospital. She became an addict a year earlier because of her now-incarcerated boyfriend, and his influence on her remains even though they are separated.

At first, the mostly male population of the rehab facility torment her, but her perceived innocence makes a few of them want to protect her like some sort of valuable property. These relationships are sketchy at best and seem to turn on a dime, depending on who is showing Daria the most attention. The hierarchy of the facility is much like a prison, where the patient with the most connections outside (in this case Vasile Pavel’s Spartac) has the most influence inside and the most control over Daria.

Immaculate is about male control over women, and the entire experience is unnerving, bordering on terrifying at times, with Dumitrascu giving a stunning central performance that may seem passive but is anything but. From co-directors George Chiper and Monica Stan, this isn’t a film about addiction; it’s one about the power dynamics of a society, no matter the population. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Monday, March 27 at 8:15pm

January (Janvaris)

It’s January in Riga. Not just any January. It’s 1991 and the Baltic states are fighting for independence from the imploding USSR. Protest marches are on as Latvian citizens demand freedom while Russian special forces attack the Riga Press House. Jazis (Karlis Arnolds Avots), a 19-year-old would-be filmmaker, shoots the action using a chunky on-your-shoulder video camera of the time, until Russian officers stop him. 

January is the seventh narrative film by Viesturs Kairiss (The Dark Deer, City on the River). He mixes vintage news footage with a stunning series of dramatic protester faces and the coming-of-age story of Jazis, his girlfriend Anna (Alise Danovska) and their cohort of film-crazy friends. The young people are sorting out their futures in a period of dramatic political change. Needless to say, lots of filmmaker names are dropped. Jazis’ favorite DVD at the video store is Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise. His other heroes are Tarkovsky, Bergman, Herzog and Kubrick—and the admired Latvian filmmaker Juris Podnieks (portrayed by Juhan Ulfsak) visits their film class. 

At home, Jazis is always in amicable disputes with his communist father and anti-communist mother. He knows he needs to leave home and they want him to go to university so he won’t be drafted into the Russian army. The story sometimes feels directionless as it meanders between political and personal, between parties and protests. (Nancy Bishop)

January screens Saturday, March 25, at 2:30pm and Wednesday, March 29, at 6:15pm 


Another Academy Award submission, this time from Lithuania, director Laurynas Bareisa’s Pilgrims charts the disturbing and heartbreaking journey of a grieving brother, Paulius (Giedrius Kiela), who has returned to his hometown four years after his brother Matas’ brutal murder. He enlists the help of his brother’s girlfriend Indre (Gabija Bargailaite) to essentially retrace the events of the fateful day in the hopes of making sense of his death and finding out if anybody could have helped him that didn’t.

Paulius is searching for some type of closure, but also vengeance, even though the killer was caught, tried, and is serving a life sentence. Walking through this history is more for the audience’s benefit than anyone else’s, but it is a truly haunting way to slowly unveil the details of the night in question and get a sense of how four years of rage have warped Paulius’ mind. The winner of Best Film in the Horizons program at the Venice Film Festival, Pilgrims sometimes veers into the absurd, as Paulius buys the car that his brother was stuffed into the trunk of, or he needlessly harasses people who actually testified truthfully during the trial. He’s punching at shadows, and while it’s easy to understand his pain, his pursuit seems misguided at times as this endeavor is more about his own guilt than anyone else’s. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens on Saturday, March 25 at 4:45pm and Tuesday, March 28 at 8:30pm.

Third Coast Review Staff
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.