The 13th European Union Film Festival continues Friday, March 19, through Thursday, April 1, at Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800. Tickets are $10, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members. Following are selected films screening through Thursday, March 25; for a full festival schedule see siskelfilmcenter.com.
Dogtooth I've seen movies this weird before, but never from Greece. Inside the confines of a nicely appointed country home, a stern patriarch and his obedient wife keep their teenage son and two teenage daughters cloistered from the world and zanily miseducated. Tape-recorded vocabulary lessons teach them new words with absurdly inaccurate definitions, an LP of Frank Sinatra singing "Fly Me to the Moon" is presented to them as their grandfather's voice, and a female security guard from the father's workplace is periodically brought home to copulate with the blank-faced young man. Writer-director Giorgos Lanthimos walks a fine line between the sinister and the hilarious, though the confused siblings (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, and Hristos Passalis) are never less than poignant. This is one you won't forget, though probably not for lack of trying. In Greek with subtitles. 93 min. —J.R. Jones Fri 3/19, 8:15 PM, and Mon 3/22, 8:15 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. Reader contributor Jonathan Rosenbaum will introduce the screening. —J.R. Jones Wed 3/24, 8 PM
Just Anybody Toying with the accepted dynamics of French sexual melodrama (e.g. Betty Blue, L'Ete Meurtrier), whereby a sensible chap is knocked off his bearings by a crazy sexpot, Jacques Doillon's odd but entertaining psychodrama (2008) concerns a goodhearted knockout (Clementine Beaugrand) unaccountably determined to redeem the weedy ne'er-do-well (Gerald Thomassin) who's just ditched her after a one-night stand. She tracks him to an off-season resort town, where her stalking behavior is passively abetted by a local cop (Guillaume Saurrel) who's known the bad boy since childhood. This is talky and existential as the day is long, but the acting is terrific and Doillon extracts great value from his wintry beach location. In French with subtitles. 121 min. —Cliff Doerksen Fri 3/19, 6 PM, and Wed 3/24, 7:45 PM
Lourdes In this austere but often wry French drama (2009), a woman with multiple sclerosis (Sylvie Testud) makes a religious pilgrimage to the title town, where millions have journeyed since the Virgin Mary was reportedly seen there in 1858. The protagonist isn't particularly devout, going more for social contact than for any hope of a miracle, but when she rises from her wheelchair one day, cured, the incident provokes envy and spite among others in her tour group. Austrian writer-director Jessica Hausner uses rigorously formal compositions to echo Christian iconography, though her script focuses on the vexing nature of miracles: are they divine signs, proving that life has meaning, or merely random events, further testing the limits of human endurance? In French with subtitles. 96 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 3/20, 3 PM, and Thu 3/25, 6 PM
Rembrandt's J'Accuse In much of this 2008 video, director Peter Greenaway appears in a little box near the center of the image to lecture viewers (perhaps hector would be a better word) on his theory that The Night Watch, Rembrandt's most celebrated painting, is actually an indictment of a murder. Marshalling nearly every part of the large group portrait as conspiracy evidence, Greenaway argues well but is perhaps too sure of himself. He's fascinated by systems and intellectually playful in the extreme, arguing that our culture has learned to read but not to see, which explains how we've missed Rembrandt's narrative. But when Greenaway argues for visual literacy, what he really means is treating pictures as texts; the amazing use of line, light, and rhythm that distinguishes Rembrandt from any prose writer go unmentioned. 86 min. —Fred Camper Sat 3/20, 8:30 PM, and Sun 3/21, 2:30 PM
A Year Ago in Winter The members of an upper-middle-class German family are devastated by the suicide of the cherished 19-year-old scion (Cyril Sjostrom) but lack the capacity to process their pain. Comparisons to Robert Redford's Ordinary People (1980) are inevitable, but instead of turning to a menschliche Jewish shrink, the tightly wound mother (Corinna Harfouch) commissions a painter to create a portrait of her dead son and living daughter (Karoline Herfurth). The daughter derides the project as an exercise in ghoulish kitsch, but her sessions with the artist become an inquest into her family's emotional pathologies; the painter, meanwhile, is trying to decipher his complicated sexual nature and work through the wreckage of his own past. Director Caroline Link (Nowhere in Africa) eschews sentimentality, but her 2008 film, however well-acted, suffers somewhat from the same coolness and bloodlessness it purports to dissect. In German with subtitles. 129 min. —Cliff Doerksen Fri 3/19, 6 PM, and Sun 3/21, 5 PM