The 15th European Union Film Festival continues Friday through Thursday, March 23 through 29, at Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800. Tickets are $11, $7 for students, and $6 for Film Center members. Following are reviews of selected films; for a full schedule see siskelfilmcenter.com.
Alps Anyone would have trouble topping Dogtooth (2009), the stunning black comedy that repositioned Greece at the cutting edge of world cinema. But this follow-up from writer-director Giorgos Lanthimos is a bigger disappointment than I expected. One story line involves a rhythmic gymnast who's cracking under the pressure of her coach's demands; another focuses on a nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia, the older daughter in Dogtooth) who develops an unhealthy fixation on a tennis-playing patient. The movie contains some of the same elements that made its predecessor so startling—cruel punishments, weird emotional attachments, language neutered of all meaning—but they tend to float around rather than coalesce into a singular perspective. In Greek with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 93 min. Sat 3/24, 7:30 PM, and Mon 3/26, 8:15 PM
The Fairy Physical comedy is so rare in movies now that a team like Bruno Romy, Fiona Gordon, and Dominique Abel is something to be treasured—their Belgian features (L'Iceberg, Rumba) teem with deft slapstick and clever sight gags, skillfully directed and often gut-laugh funny. This 2011 fantasy stars Abel as a put-upon hotel clerk and Gordon as the title sprite, who offers to grant him three wishes (when he asks for a scooter and a lifetime supply of gas, she delivers the motorbike and the key to a gigantic petroleum silo). Largely free of dialogue, the movie meanders from one comic idea to the next, which makes you appreciate how carefully silent clowns like Chaplin and Keaton constructed their stories. But there are some great set pieces here, like the sequence in which Gordon, preparing for a date, trades clothes with a mannequin in a store window and puts on her makeup as security guards chase her through the streets. In French with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 90 min. Fri 3/23 and Tue 3/27, 6 PM
Gerhard Richter Painting Shot mainly in 2008 and 2009, this documentary shows the German artist preparing exhibitions of his work, conversing with colleagues, and, of course, painting. The movie really comes alive when it lets Richter's creative process speak for itself: extended sequences that track his creation of several large abstract canvases recall Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic The Mystery of Picasso (1956) in their sense of wonder and their resourceful wide-screen framing. The works in question express a delicate balance between spontaneity and rigid formal control—seeing Richter at work is a bit like watching a great trapeze artist. Corinna Belz directed. In English and subtitled German. —Ben Sachs 97 min. Sun 3/25, 2:45 PM, and Wed 3/28, 8:15 PM
Good Night, Missy Polona Juh, one of Slovenia's most respected actresses, stars as a bitter working mother whose upper-class marriage is coming apart. Her character registers as a real person, aware of her flaws yet not always capable of overcoming them. None of the other roles is imagined this fully, however, and some are stale archetypes (particularly the woman's boorish, lying husband, who seems to have been flown in from Diary of a Mad Housewife). Writer-director Metod Pevec keeps the story rolling and refreshingly free of bathos; this may be familiar, but it's rarely dull. In Slovenian with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 93 min. Sat 3/24, 9:30 PM, and Thu 3/29, 8:15 PM
Hors Satan A nameless man appears in a small farm town on the northern French coast, spending his days wandering the fields and praying. He finds an acolyte in a sulky young woman, commits a seemingly random murder, and has violent sex with a strange woman. That's about it for the story of this 2011 French drama, which evokes the Old Testament in its opaque simplicity, and Bruno Dumont's commanding, atheistic style—rooted in purposely empty wide-screen vistas and the inexpressive faces of his nonactors—doesn't offer many clues as to its meaning. As with L'Humanité (1999), Dumont wants to give epic form to the longing for spirituality in a despiritualized world. I found the movie mind-blowing, though it will likely irritate as many viewers as it impresses. In French with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 110 min. Sat 3/24, 2:45 PM, and Wed 3/28, 6 PM
Madonna's Pig This 2011 Belgian comedy suffers from a terminal case of the cutes: every character has some wacky trait (even the token "serious" characters wear tacky clothes for no reason) and the nonstop whimsy includes robot pigs and wisecracking ghosts. Still, the predictable story, about a traveling salesman waylaid in a small town full of eccentrics, is good-natured enough, and the candy-colored production design is easy on the eyes. Frank Van Passel directed. In subtitled Flemish and French. —Ben Sachs 109 min. Sun 3/25, 7:15 PM, and Mon 3/26, 8 PM
Whores' Glory "It's Christmas Eve, and we're getting fucked!" giggles a Mexican prostitute near the end of this Austrian documentary—so much for the glory part. Director Michael Glawogger (Workingman's Death) interviews hookers, madams, pimps, and johns in three dismal third world brothels, laying out in intimate detail how degrading and dehumanizing sex work can be. There are few surprises here, but the movie does offer some seedy cultural insights as Glawogger touches down in Bangkok, then Bangladash, and then Reynosa. For me the most revealing moments centered on the pimps and madams, who understand and mercilessly exploit the hookers' gaping emotional wounds. "I love them like my own children," insists one madam, which makes you wonder if her children are also servicing ten guys a day. Subtitled. —J.R. Jones 110 min. Fri 3/23 and Tue 3/27, 8 PM