The Miracle of this year's European Union Film Festival | Bleader

The Miracle of this year's European Union Film Festival

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Juraj Lehotskys Miracle screens tomorrow and Tuesday.
  • Juraj Lehotsky's Miracle screens tomorrow and Tuesday.
In addition to hosting Chicago premieres from internationally lauded filmmakers, every year the European Union Film Festival spotlights active directors who aren't especially well-known here because their work is either too modest, too strange, or too culturally specific to attract U.S. distributors. I enjoy catching up with these filmmakers as much as the famous ones—sometimes it's nice to chart a director's maturation on his or her own terms, without having to contend with a backlog of criticism. Czech director Jan Hrebejk is one of these figures. None of his movies have received a commercial U.S. release since Beauty in Trouble (2006), yet he remains a steady presence at the EU Fest, treating viewers to a new wry dissection of his nation's middle class every year. Hrebejk will attend this year's closing-night ceremony on Thursday 4/3, where he'll be introducing his latest, Honeymoon. I haven't seen the film yet, nor have I read much about it, but I have good expectations, having seen the last several Hrebejk titles to play at EU—4Some, Innocence, Kawasaki's Rose, and Shameless.

In his first two films, both of which have played at the fest, Slovakian director Juraj Lehotsky shows signs of becoming another reliable figure. I have warm memories of his debut feature, Blind Loves, a fiction-documentary hybrid that played four years ago. That movie suggested the work of a cuddlier Ulrich Seidl, presenting several eccentric but otherwise well-adjusted blind people in theatrical tableaux and staged dream sequences. Blind Loves was a documentary that drew liberally from fiction filmmaking. Miracle, which screens tomorrow at 9:15 PM and on Tuesday at 8:15 PM, is a dramatic feature that draws liberally from documentary. In intimate, direct-cinema fashion, Lehotsky follows a delinquent teenage girl as she enters, then escapes a juvenile detention center. I shouldn't divulge what happens next—the narrative takes several unexpected turns in its 77 minutes, and Lehotsky's poker-faced direction makes them especially surprising.

Viewers familiar with contemporary European cinema might be reminded of the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta (1999), if not other, more recent films depicting the miseries of post-Communist eastern Europe (among them Seidl's Import/Export). Miracle doesn't surpass these points of reference, nor does it tarnish them. Owing perhaps to his background in documentary, Lehotsky is a skilled realist. No detail feels overstated or out of place, and the filmmakers grant special attention to how the shape of a room can influence the action that takes place within it (like the Romanian film Child's Pose, which also screens tomorrow night, Miracle gets lots of dramatic mileage out of cramped interiors). This is less sentimental than Blind Loves, but no less terse or observant.

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