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The euro might be shaky, but not the European Union Film Festival

New work from the directors of The Secret of the Grain and, uh, Animal House

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The following are selected films screening through Thursday, March 8; for a full schedule see siskelfilmcenter.com.

Breathing In this tedious Austrian drama (2011), a young man sentenced to a juvenile detention center for manslaughter takes a work-release job in a mortuary to help improve his chances for parole. Director Karl Markovics elicits decidedly reserved performances from his actors, and their matter-of-fact gestures and apparent lack of emotion can be distressing when the morticians are showing the new recruit how to handle nude corpses. The coldly observant cinematography suggests an indifference to mortality, though Markovics occasionally loosens his grip and a genuine warmth finds its way into the movie. In English and subtitled German. —Drew Hunt 90 min. Sat 3/3, 5:15 PM, and Wed 3/7, 6 PM

Black Venus Born in Tunisia and raised in Nice, writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche has portrayed the Franco-African experience in Games of Love and Chance (2003) and The Secret of the Grain (2007), but neither of them approaches the unmitigated suffering of this 2010 historical drama. It tells the sad story of Saartjes Baartman (Yahima Torres), who was brought to London from Cape Town in 1808 and endured a humiliating existence as "the Hottentot Venus," famous for her enlarged pudenda. Kechiche follows Baartman from the UK to France, where her venues may have ranged from Parisian society to the natural history museum to a common brothel but her treatment by ignorant whites was uniformly cruel, ugly, and degrading. For some reason the movie opens with a scene of scientists dissecting her body and depositing her ladyparts into a glass jar; considering what her life was like, perhaps Kechiche wanted to assure us that it ended. In English and subtitled French and Afrikaans. —J.R. Jones 159 min. Sat 3/3, 2:15 PM, and Tue 3/6, 7:30 PM

Burke and Hare
  • Burke and Hare

Burke and Hare Director John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London) proves there's no limit to the number of times you can get a laugh by having characters keel over in shock. This 2010 British comedy tells the true story of 19th-century serial killers William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis), who did a brisk business supplying dissection cadavers to an anatomy lecturer (Tom Wilkinson) at the Edinburgh Medical College. Macabre humor dominates—in one scene Wilkinson promises his students "the human form in all its glory" and tears away a sheet to reveal a hideous green corpse crawling with worms. But almost all the gags connect, probably because Landis learned his craft before American movie comedy settled at the level of weak improv and smug pop-culture references. With Isla Fisher, Ronnie Corbett, Tim Curry, and Christopher Lee; look sharp for the brief cameos by Ray Harryhausen and Costa-Gavras. —J.R. Jones R, 91 min. Sat 3/3, 3:30 PM, and Mon 3/5, 6 PM

Cousinhood Spanish writer-director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo follows up his button-pushing satire Gordos (2009) with something decidedly gentler: a comedy about arrested male development, modeled on Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket and The Darjeeling Limited. Three 30-ish cousins, seeking debauchery after one of them gets dumped by his bride-to-be, return to the seaside resort town where they spent summer vacations in their teens. Instead they discover the good life and, in predictable "feel-good" fashion, greater maturity. Arévalo borrows Anderson's technique of defining characters through outsize quirks (a traumatized war vet wears a big eye patch and has numerous phobias) but conveys none of his underlying melancholy. Because the men's problems seem fairly simple, there's no real sense of progress when they're resolved. In Spanish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 95 min. Sat 3/3, 5:15 PM, and Mon 3/5, 6 PM

A Funny Man The life of Dirch Passer, a baggy-pants comedian beloved by Danish audiences in the 50s and 60s, becomes grist for the mill of this slow-moving melodrama (2011). Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Brothers) works overtime as the manic star, and Lars Ranthe plays his antagonistic straight man, Kjeld Petersen. There are funny moments—in one swell sight gag the two men find a little couch in a backyard, turn it perpendicular to the ground, and manage to arrange themselves upon it in languorous poses—but their Martin-and-Lewis-style stage act is way over the top, greeted by gales of shrill laughter. After Passer goes solo, the movie devolves into a routine tale of showbiz ego and dissolution, centered on his drinking and womanizing, his crumbling marriage, and his funny-daddy romance with his little daughter. Martin Zandvliet directed. In Danish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 111 min. Screening as the festival's opening night film. Fri 3/2, 6 PM, and Sun 3/4, 5 PM

Glass Tiger 3 This is the third in a series of broad Hungarian comedies about six idiots who manage the eponymous roadside snack stand. In this moderately funny installment, one of them pretends to suffer from amnesia so he can steal the identity of a wealthy doctor, which leads to numerous sex-related gags, many involving middle-aged women. This sometimes reminded me of the Canadian TV show Trailer Park Boys in its lowbrow farce and affectionate parodying of blue-collar types. Péter Rudolf, one of the stars, directed. In Hungarian with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 107 min. Sun 3/4, 7:15 PM, and Thu 3/8, 8:15 PM

Morgen
  • Morgen

Morgen Marian Crisan makes his feature directing debut with a cute comedy in what might be called the "New Romanian" mold, developing deadpan humor through keenly observed boredom. A frumpy, small-town security guard, lacking anything better to do, shelters an illegal immigrant, and they become good friends despite the fact that neither man speaks the other's language (as it turns out, they both enjoy watching soccer). This lacks the dark undertones of other recent Romanian comedies (Police, Adjective; The Happiest Girl in the World) but includes some pointed jokes about the absurdity of borders in our globalized culture. The pratfalls are pretty funny too. In subtitled Romanian and Hungarian and unsubtitled Turkish. —Ben Sachs 102 min. Sun 3/4, 5 PM, and Wed 3/7, 8 PM

Pure A 20-year-old high school dropout with a shameful past lies her way into an administrative job at one of the top symphonies in Sweden and ends up in a tumultuous affair with the conductor that threatens to ruin them both. This 2009 debut feature by writer-director Lisa Langseth is impressive for the way its daring shifts in tone—from social realism to Bergmanesque psychodrama to Chabrolian suspense—never upset the fluid storytelling. Alicia Vikander is remarkable as the young woman, conveying her gullibility and self-involvement but also the romantic longing she can't quite articulate. The original Swedish title translates as "for it is beautiful." In Swedish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 97 min. Sun 3/4, 3 PM, and Wed 3/7, 6 PM

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