The 13th European Union Film Festival continues Friday through Thursday, March 26 through April 1, at Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800. $10, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members. Following are selected films screening; for a full festival schedule see siskelfilmcenter.com.
Around a Small Mountain On a deserted road in the south of France, a handsome Italian gent (Sergio Castellitto) wordlessly rescues a haggardly beautiful woman (Jane Birkin) from an automotive breakdown. She’s on her way to reunite with an old-timey circus that she left under traumatic circumstances decades earlier; he attaches himself to the same concern and starts benignly stalking her while engaging various clowns, acrobats, and jugglers in philosophical dialogues about the mystery and nature of performance. This 2009 feature is as precious as it sounds but also irresistibly charming. If you’re a newcomer to the oeuvre of New Wave hero Jacques Rivette, this is a highly accessible port of entry. In French with subtitles. 84 min. —Cliff Doerksen Sun 3/28, 3 PM, and Mon 3/29, 6 PM
Brotherhood Like The Believer (2001), this Danish drama follows a young man who falls in with neo-Nazis, regardless that his nature is at odds with the movement’s ideology. Thure Lindhardt (Flame & Citron) plays a soldier passed over for promotion after he’s been reported hitting on men in his unit. He quits the army and joins a local gang of gay-bashing fascists, where he comes to love the skinhead (David Dencik) assigned to mentor him. Director Nicolo Donato ratchets up the suspense as the closeted lovers grow careless, but delivers more than just another coming-out story. In spare, deft strokes he shows how demagogues target potential recruits by reinforcing their egos and appropriating their culture, as in the electric scene where a heavy metal band instantly transforms a political rally into a head-banger dance party. In Danish with subtitles. 90 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 3/27, 9:30 PM, and Wed 3/31, 8:15 PM
Hadewijch The title of this 2009 French drama refers to both the 13th-century Catholic mystic and a doleful 21st-century virgin named after her (Julie Sokolowski), who’s evicted from her rural convent for her excessive piety and self-abnegation. Back home in Paris, the young woman rebuffs admiring men, insisting she longs only for Christ; after a young Arab (Yassine Salime) becomes smitten with her, his Islamic fundamentalist brother (Karl Sarafidis) recognizes her zealotry and suggests she channel it into action. Director Bruno Dumont (L’Humanite) suggests that sublimated physical desire causes a yearning for transcendence—and self-annihilation. In French with subtitles. 102 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 3/27, 7:15 PM, and Wed 3/31, 6 PM
Helsinki, Forever Peter von Bagh uses paintings, historical photos, and archival footage to contemplate the title city in this lovely and lyrical 2008 documentary. Like Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, the movie also doubles as a critical evaluation of filmmakers who’ve set their stories against the streets and buildings of the city (though the only one of them I know is Aki Kaurismaki). Helsinki can hardly claim a cinematic legacy as vast and deep as LA’s, but von Bagh understands the parallel between the cinema and any great city: both are experienced communally and sometimes magically, linking people to one another and to the past. In Finnish with subtitles. 75 min. —J.R. Jones Sun 3/28, 5 PM
The Secret of Kells The conventional wisdom in the movie business holds that 2-D animation is headed for the junkyard of history. Ironically, the best 2-D features to come along in recent years have all taken inspiration from pre-Renaissance art and design: for Michel Ocelot’s Azur & Asmar (2006) that art was Islamic, for Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues (2008) it was Hindu, and for Tomm Moore’s The Secret of Kells (2009) it was the Celtic illumination of the Book of Kells. Made for a relatively paltry $8 million, this Irish feature won’t impress anyone with its character drawings, which aren’t much more detailed or emotionally nuanced than you’d find in a 60s holiday special by Rankin/Bass. But the backgrounds are another story. As richly hued and ornately patterned as their ninth-century models, they remind us what stunning imagery once resulted from nothing more than a pen and all the time in the world. 75 min. —J.R. Jones Thu 4/1, 7 PM
The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner Neither the sweeping European vistas nor the masterful Serbian actor Miki Manojlovic (Underground, Irina Palm) can save this Bulgarian road movie (2008) from its treacly sentimentality. Manojlovic plays an elderly backgammon champ who travels to Germany after his expatriate daughter and her husband die in a car wreck. Their grown son (Carlo Ljubek) has survived the crash but lost his memory, so the old man brings his grandson back to Bulgaria (via tandem bicycle) in the hope that old photos, stories, songs, and locales will cure the young mans amnesia. Flashbacks illustrate the family’s life in a refugee camp and under Bulgarias communist regime, but the revelations arent startling, and the grandsons romance with a tourist he meets along the way serves only to expose some skin and set up a feel-good ending. Stephen Komandarev directed. In Bulgarian, German, Italian, and Slovenian with subtitles. 106 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sun 3/28, 7 PM, and Mon 3/29, 8 PM
The Secret of Kells