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 screening through Thursday, March 22; for a full schedule visit chicagoreader.com.
Adam’s Apples The prolific Anders Thomas Jensen has distinguished himself more as a screenwriter (Open Hearts, Brothers) than as a writer-director (The Green Butchers), and to judge from this 2005 religious parable, his third feature, he may need collaborators to stay his heavy hand. A vicious neo-Nazi (Ulrich Thomsen) is paroled from prison and arrives at a village church to complete his community service; he proudly describes himself as evil, but he meets his match in the parish priest (Mads Mikkelson of Casino Royale), a saintly character who’s suffered the trials of Job and whose car stereo is always playing “How Deep Is Your Love.” Luckily Jensen can attract the cream of Danish movie actors, and Thomsen and Mikkelson bring enough conviction to their archetypal roles to put this creaking story across. In Danish with subtitles. 91 min. (JJ) a Sat 3/17, 3:30 PM, and Tue 3/20, 8:15 PM.
R Beauty in Trouble A struggling Prague family loses everything in a flood, which pushes the husband into crime and imprisonment and his beautiful wife (Ana Geislerova) into the arms of the kind and wealthy Tuscany-based winegrower who sent him away. Writer Petr Jarchovsky and director Jan Hrebejk collaborated on the formidable Up and Down (2004), and this 2006 feature, which takes its title from a Robert Graves poem, is equally impressive for its mastery, intelligence, and ambition in juggling intricate plot strands and memorable characters. It also treats class difference and right-wing intolerance in the Czech Republic as ferociously as Mike Leigh has done in depicting Thatcherite England. In Czech with subtitles. 110 min. (JR) a Sat 3/17, 5:30 PM, and Mon 3/19, 6 PM.
Chariton’s Choir French actor George Correface, a leading man in the vein of Marcello Mastroianni or Giancarlo Giannini, stars as a high school principal and bon vivant in Corfu, Greece, who flouts the authority of a repressive military commander following the 1967 junta. Their rivalry over a pretty teacher and their zeal for a choral competition embraced by the locals sustain this 2005 Greek romantic comedy, despite occasionally hammy theatrics and a cloying juvenile narrator. Grigoris Karatinakis directed. In Greek and French with subtitles. 111 min. (AG) a Fri 3/16 and Mon 3/19, 8:15 PM.
RDon’t Tell A far cry from the heavy-handed treatment of incest on American television, this handsomely produced 2005 Italian drama approaches its subject with delicacy and a nearly poetic sensibility. Giovanna Mezzogiorno stars as an actress who puts aside her ambitions to help support her struggling actor husband (Alessio Boni of The Best of Youth); after he gets cast in a hot TV series, she visits her troubled brother in Virginia to see if he can shed some light on her recent nightmares. Director Cristina Comencini adapted her own novel. In English and subtitled Italian. 120 min. (AG) a Sun 3/18, 5 PM, and Wed 3/21, 6 PM.
God Save the King This adorable chick-rock comedy from Sweden (2005) went a long way toward erasing my unpleasant memories of the Gina Gershon vehicle Prey for Rock & Roll. Set in the early 80s, when you could still get jumped for wearing a Mohawk, it centers on two bedroom rebels so giddy with fantasies of punk-rock glory that they don’t mind banging out their tunes at an old folks’ home. After they recruit a supercool bassist and a geeky synth player the band begins to take off, though the lead singer turns out to be fairly prescient when she declares,
“The band always breaks up if someone
has a boyfriend.” Ulf Malmros directed. In Swedish with subtitles. 94 min. (JJ) a Mon 3/19, 6 PM, and Wed 3/21, 8:15 PM.
King of Thieves In this edgy 2004 German-Slovakian feature, parents in a rural Ukrainian village sell their acrobatic son and daughter to a circus owner who promises them international fame and fortune; once they’ve been smuggled into Berlin, the girl is sold to a vicious pimp and the boy is apprenticed to a gang of teenage street thieves. Writer-director Ivan Fila has all the ingredients for a modern-day Oliver Twist, but his overly broad characters and general lack of nuance make for an oddly unsatisfying experience. In Russian and German with subtitles. 104 min. (Reece Pendleton) a Sat 3/17, 3:30 PM, and Thu 3/22, 8:15 PM.
Klimt I miss the relative funkiness of Raul Ruiz’s low-budget films, but this internationally produced feature (2006) is probably the best of his more opulent work since Time Regained (1999). A series of speculative riffs on the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, it stars John Malkovich in the title role. Unfortunately the Film Center has been able to book only the “producer’s cut” of the film, which is half an hour shorter than the version shown in France but feels half an hour longer. It’s been cut as if it were a biopic and sometimes registers as a failed one. But it’s still an eyeful. 97 min. (JR) a Sun 3/18, 3 PM, and Thu 3/22, 6 PM.
Longing Few recent films have left me feeling more conflicted than Valeska Grisebach’s second feature (2006), which is sensitive, moving, accomplished in its extraordinary direction of nonprofessional actors but also a little bogus. A gentle, happily married metalworker in a tiny village goes away for a weekend to train as a volunteer fireman and has a drunken fling with a waitress, which leads to tragic consequences. The most telling points in this story register in the faces rather than the dialogue, but it’s conceived like a folk ballad and feels self-conscious in some of its plot developments and in its neo-Brechtian finale. In German with subtitles. 88 min. (JR) a Fri 3/16, 6:15 PM, and Sun 3/18, 5:15 PM.
Men at Arms The Estonian comedy troupe O-Fraktsioon aims for the sublime silliness of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with this 2005 feature about a medieval peasant boy kidnapped by marauding Teutons, but the jokes have all the finesse of a sledgehammer. Among the targets are the papacy, pagan rituals, lusty virgins, French cuisine, and German militarism (all the soldiers sport Hitler mustaches, a running gag that isn’t even funny the first time). The movie also features crude animation and serious gore; the latter feels particularly out of place in what’s meant to be a lighthearted, revisionist romp. Kaaren Kaer directed. In Estonian with subtitles. 109 min. (AG) a Sat 3/17, 7:45 PM, and Tue 3/20, 6 PM.
RThe Pervert’s Guide to Cinema If Daffy Duck ever became a film critic informed by Lacanian psychoanalysis, this three-part English entertainment (2006) by Sophie Fiennes would surely qualify as his Duck Amuck. Theorist Slavoj Zizek, inside beautifully constructed sets matching various films’ locations, lectures provocatively and dynamically about 43 screen classics, often sputtering like Daffy himself. Hitchcock and Lynch are favored, but among the many filmmakers considered are Coppola, Lang, Powell, and Tarkovsky. Zizek is especially sharp about manifestations of the maternal superego in Psycho and The Birds, maverick fists in Dr. Strangelove and Fight Club, and voices in The Great Dictator and The Exorcist. 150 min. (JR) a Sat 3/17, 7:30 PM, and Wed 3/21, 6:30 PM.
RPrivate Fears in Public Places Alain Resnais’ 2006 adaptation of a British play by Alan Ayckbourn is a world apart from his earlier Ayckbourn adaptation, Smoking/No Smoking (1993); that film tried to be as “English” as possible. But this time Resnais looks for precise French equivalents to British culture, and what emerges is one of his most personal works, intermittently recalling the melancholy Muriel (1963) and Providence (1977). A bittersweet comedy of loneliness, shyness, and repression, it was shot entirely on cozy sets, with a continual snowfall outside, and its interwoven plots feature his standbys Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, Andre Dussollier, and Lambert Wilson. At 84, Resnais is not only a consummate master but arguably the last great practitioner of classical Hollywood’s craft, style, and feeling. In French with subtitles. 120 min. (JR) a Fri 3/16, 6 PM.
The Role of Her Life Karin Viard (Time Out, The Ax) won a French Cesar for her role in this 2004 drama, as a timid journalist who becomes personal assistant to a movie star (Agnes Jaoui of Look at Me) and mistakenly regards her as a friend. Director and cowriter Francois Favrot subtly orchestrates the mounting tension between the women, noting the actress’s caprice and narcissism as well as the assistant’s toxic self-abasement. But the movie’s tone and psychological realism are badly undermined by a strained romantic triangle involving the star’s gardener (Jonathan Zaccai), who too quickly surrenders his principles and becomes her buffoonish plaything. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (AG) a Sun 3/18, 3:15 PM, and Thu 3/22, 8 PM.
RA Shot in the Dark Less the thriller it’s billed as than an essay with psychological and sociological depth, Leonel Vieira’s 2005 feature begins with a casual restroom encounter that leads to a baby’s kidnapping. The forlorn mother later works in an exploitative strip club, quitting when it becomes intolerable only to fall in with a group of socially marginal characters who turn criminal. The taut bank robbery scenes are well executed, while the narrative reveals ever widening social networks with unexpected connections that confound simple distinctions between good and evil. Joaquim de Almeida’s portrayal of the cop pursuing the gang is superbly understated and emotionally nuanced. In Portuguese with subtitles. 108 min. (FC) a Mon 3/19, 8 PM, and Thu 3/22, 6 PM.