The tenth European Union Film Festival continues through Thursday, March 29, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800. Tickets are $9, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members. Following are selected films; for a full schedule see chicagoreader.com.
After the Wedding The abundantly talented Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Open Hearts, Brothers) directed this 2006 drama about a social worker (Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale) who returns from India to Denmark to schmooze a philanthropist at his daughter’s wedding. An Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, the movie is scheduled to open commercially in April. In English and subtitled Danish, Swedish, and Hindi. 122 min. (JJ) a Thu 3/29, 6:30 PM.
Bosnia Diaries Weaving together footage he shot in Bosnia in 1996, just after the siege of Sarajevo was lifted, and two years later, Joaquim Sapinho constructs what seems a self-centered, somewhat befuddled diary rather than a document of devastation. There are affecting shots of ruined and abandoned homes, and the lone functioning Serbian Orthodox church Sapinho finds in the formerly diverse, now “cleansed” Sarajevo serves as an effective metaphor. But the facts of this horrible war were well reported, and the sepia images of destruction seen in near silence here seem pedestrian alongside more accomplished films that deal with genocide both factually and poetically–Shoah comes to mind. In Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian with subtitles. 78 min. (FC) a Sat 3/24, 6:30 PM, and Mon 3/26, 8 PM.
The Exterminating Angels In 2005, French writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau was convicted of sexual harassment for pressuring actresses to masturbate in his presence during auditions for his feature Secret Things. Now he’s made a sexually explicit film fictionalizing the whole episode, which is unbelievably pretentious and a bit of a hoot but rarely boring. Critics I admire have assured me that many of Brisseau’s earlier films are less silly, more interesting, and even commendable. Hearing him try to defend himself at a recent festival, backed up by the actresses from this 2006 feature, was even more fun than this screwy movie. In French with subtitles. 108 min. (JR) a Sat 3/24, 8 PM.
R48 Angels This simple but effective chamber piece (2006) recalls Whistle Down the Wind with its story of a terminally ill Irish Catholic boy (Ciaran Flynn) who thinks he’s found Jesus when he stumbles across a bearded, wounded fugitive (Shane Brolly) hiding out on a ruined estate. A runaway Protestant teen (John Travers) helps the boy nurse the outlaw back to health, but their patient, intent on settling old scores, turns out to be anything but godly. The quiet of the Northern Irish countryside is analogous to the fragile peace of the Good Friday Agreement, and director Marion Comer (Boxed) shows a fine touch for the escalating menace of those still mired in the past. 95 min. (AG) a Mon 3/26, 6 PM, and Thu 3/29, 8:15 PM.
Ghosts The principal characters in this 2005 German feature are two troubled, rebellious teenage girls who meet in a Berlin park and fall in love and a Frenchwoman who’s persuaded that one of them is her long-lost daughter, abducted as an infant. All three are lost souls who sometimes project their fantasies onto other people. Initially director Christian Petzold appears to be cross-referencing Celine and Julie Go Boating with the two girls, but the lack of any humor or sense of fun makes the allusion feel pointless. The enterprising experimental filmmaker Harun Farocki collaborated on the script, said to be derived from one of Grimm’s fairy tales, but I found most of this intractable. In German with subtitles. 85 min. (JR) a Fri 3/23, 6 PM, and Sat 3/24, 6:15 PM.
The Great Communist Bank Robbery In 1959 six Romanian Jews–five communist officials who’d been drummed out of the party and the wife of one–held up the national bank in Bucharest for reasons that remain unclear (the stolen cash was traceable inside Romania and worthless outside). After hundreds of arrests and thousands of interrogations, they were caught and, in order to avoid death sentences, agreed to reenact their heist for a propaganda film called Reconstruction; except for the wife, all of them were executed anyway after a show trial. Filmmaker Alexandru Solomon deftly explains what he can in this 2004 documentary, using interviews and excerpts from the mendacious Reconstruction, but the surviving wife apparently eluded his grasp. In English and subtitled Romanian. 70 min. (JR) a Sat 3/24, 5 PM, and Tue 3/27, 6:15 PM.
RLove in the Year of the Tiger This 2005 historical drama, the first Polish-Chinese coproduction, aims for epic romance–think Doctor Zhivago on a budget. In 1913 a Polish officer (Michal Zebrowski) escapes from a Siberian prison and crosses the border into Mongolia; a peasant family takes him in, and the parents, hoping to protect their virginal daughter (Li Min) from the handsome stranger, disguise her as a boy. The lead players are affecting and the scenery gorgeous, though how much you like the story may depend on your tolerance for a long tease: even allowing for language and cultural differences, the hero takes an awfully long time to figure out what’s what. Jacek Bromski directed. In Cantonese, Russian, and Polish with subtitles. 103 min. (AG) a Sat 3/24, 8:15 PM, and Wed 3/28, 8 PM.
R Regular Lovers Philippe Garrel’s bittersweet 178-minute epic about the May 1968 demonstrations in Paris and their aftermath is one of his finest narrative films. Shot in ravishing black and white by the great William Lubtchansky, it distills the brooding melancholy of Garrel’s meditative and romantic oeuvre, which has always been tied to the legacy of silent cinema (as the solo piano score here reflects). This 2005 feature focuses on a young Parisian poet played by Garrel’s son Louis (who played a similar if cockier role in Bertolucci’s less authentic The Dreamers) and his relationship with a sculptress (Clotilde Hesme). It’s ultimately limited by its political defeatism, which Garrel characteristically treats as a voluptuous embrace tied to the hero’s opium addiction. But it’s very good in showing his pampered life, which comes to the fore comically when he goes on trial for evading the draft. In French with subtitles. (JR) a Sat 3/24, 3 PM, and Mon 3/26, 6:30 PM.
The Secret Life of Words Sensitive yet somewhat opportunistic, this 2005 Spanish feature by writer-director Isabel Coixet transfers to a Europudding context the sort of disabled characters so popular with Oscar voters. A withdrawn, traumatized, and hearing-impaired factory worker (Sarah Polley) volunteers to take care of a foulmouthed, burned, and temporarily blinded oil rigger (Tim Robbins, Mr. Oscar Grubber himself). Neither disability is handled convincingly, but despite all the emotional showboating, the story is affecting whenever it strays from its most obvious points. Julie Christie contributes an impressive cameo toward the end. 115 min. (JR) a Fri 3/23, 7:45 PM; Sun 3/25, 5:15 PM; and Wed 3/28, 6 PM.
The Tiger and the Snow Anyone moved by Roberto Benigni’s masterful stage recital of Dante’s Paradiso knows that this is one clown who wants to be a poet. The writer-director deliberately pushes his screen persona further along that path in this Italian romance (2005) about a poet-scholar who travels from Rome to Iraq to rescue his muse (Nicoletta Braschi), a writer gravely injured at the start of the current war. Less coherent than Life Is Beautiful, the film nonetheless boasts a few passages of visual beauty and exquisite feeling, like the scene in which Benigni and an Iraqi colleague (Jean Reno) gaze at a starry Baghdad sky that symbolizes not only the glories of Arabic literature but the hopes of civilization. The humor is gentler and Benigni less frantic than in his previous works, and his Down by Law costar Tom Waits contributes a lambent musical number. In English and subtitled Arabic and Italian. 113 min. (AG) a Sun 3/25, 3 PM, and Wed 3/28, 8:15 PM.
RUnrequited Love This 2006 feature is my favorite to date by English writer-director Christopher Petit (Radio On). Subtitled both On Stalking and Being Stalked and A Story of Obsessive Passion, it’s about a young woman (Rebecca Marshall) stalking a London academic (Gregory Dart, author of the source novel) who is himself obsessed with a woman in Leipzig. Both paranoid and lyrical, the movie visualizes its strange tale mainly through ersatz surveillance footage, and the music is appropriately Hitchcockian. To complicate matters, the first-person voice-over is shared by Marshall and Petit himself (his portion is full of film references). Formally this is a dazzler. 77 min. (JR) a Fri 3/23, 6:15 PM, and Sun 3/25, 5:15 PM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Love in the Year of the Tiger.