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European Union Film Festival

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European Union Film Festival

The third annual European Union Film Festival continues Friday, February 11, through Sunday, February 20, at the Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson. Admission is $7, $3 for Film Center members. For further information call 312-443-3737. Films marked with a 4 are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11

The Little Thief

Lasting only 65 minutes, Erick Zonca's lean and purposeful 1999 second feature (after The Dreamlife of Angels) confirms his talent while pointing it in a somewhat different direction. He continues to focus on the lower economic strata, but this time he explores the progress of a baker's assistant who decides to join a band of thieves. The results are gripping. (JR) (6:00)

The Mutants

This 1998 Portuguese film is a searing cri de coeur on behalf of Lisbon's homeless children. Rejected by dysfunctional families, often escaping from heartless institutions, they're victimized by others (Pedro and Ricardo by pornographers, Andreia by a boyfriend who leaves her pregnant) and not surprisingly victimize one another as well. Director Teresa Villaverde makes their plight come alive with a variety of isolating compositions: a boy arriving home appears framed in the front doorway against the landscape, his family invisible, and more than once a kid riding in a vehicle is shot from above, the character's head backed by the moving roadway. In one terribly painful sequence a variety of unbalanced compositions show Andreia screaming as she gives birth to her child in a lavatory--where she then abandons it. These decontextualizations convey the children's separation from society, making them the pained subjects of our gaze, and the film's warped visual spaces make that separation seem unnatural, even wrong. (FC) (7:45)

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12

The Best of Animation

These short animations from Luxembourg vary widely in subject and style while reflecting the themes of malleability, transformation, and animism common to the form. Silverware comes to life in Daniel Wiroth's Crucifixion, its movement effectively creepy partly because it occurs in such a pristine kitchen. In Law of the Jungle, child filmmaker Thierry Beltrami uses sudden changes in the characters' shapes and expressions to vivify a fable about creatures eating each other. In Armand Strainchamps' Man . . . or the Adventurous Journey From Black to White, stark images resembling woodcuts suggest that all distinctions between black and white (e.g., Africans and Europeans) are arbitrary at best. I especially liked Bady Minck's Mecanomagie, an almost gnostic fable in which humans can seem stone-faced, rocks are split apart to reveal living organs, clouds streaking across a pixilated sky seem to be alive, and young children sprout as if born from the soil. On the same program: films by Claude Grosch, Roger Leiner, and Paila Piozzi, another by Wiroth, and two more by children. (FC) (4:00)

Possessed

This 1999 supernatural thriller from Denmark assiduously copies Hollywood models: a junior-level virologist investigates an Ebola-like disease (Outbreak), uncovering an evil force that leaps from one human body to another (The Hidden). Director Anders Ronnow-Klarlund (a protege of Lars von Trier) adds an homage to Dracula and blatant rip-offs of The X-Files but has neither the budget nor the conviction to put across all the spooky sequences and occult mumbo jumbo. The film comes alive only when focusing on the ambitious virologist, who pays the price for his single-minded pursuit of scientific glory. With Udo Kier. (TS) (6:00)

Three Gentlemen

En route to a new hospital, three mental patients get loose and wander into a sleepy village; believing they've reached their destination, they befriend some of the villagers and even help out when word arrives that three inmates have escaped from the nearby asylum. This 1998 comic parable by Austrian director Nikolaus Leytner contrasts the men's childlike innocence with the village leaders' hysteria and narrow-mindedness, offering a few mordantly funny moments and endearing portrayals of the eccentric inmates. Unfortunately, they fail to compensate for the film's moralizing, predictable situations, and shticky humor. (TS) (8:00)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13

Shores of Twilight

Greek director Efthimios Hatzis says one of his goals is to "help you see a person's face a lot better," and his 1999 debut, based on a 1907 novel by Alexandros Papadiamantis, is haunted by the protagonist's early glimpse of a beautiful young woman through a window. Bathed in golden light, she seems to float in a dreamlike space between intimacy and distance, and listening to three older men tell their own tales of love gives him the courage to search for her. Much of the film was shot around sunrise or sunset, giving its images the tenuous illumination of twilight; characters appear in silhouette against bright backgrounds or in isolating close-ups that make them seem weightless. This is as much a light poem as a narrative. (FC) (4:00)

The Glassblower's Children

The son and daughter of a poor glassblower are kidnapped by a lonely empress in this adaptation of a children's novel by Maria Gripe. Anders Gronros directed this 1998 Swedish film; with Stellan Skarsgard, Pernilla August, and Thommy Berggren. (6:00)

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17

One Man and His Dog

Annette Apon directed this lighthearted social comedy from the Netherlands (1998), about a lonely young man in a middle-class enclave of Amsterdam who fabricates a past with photos stolen from other people's family albums. With his wide eyes and droopy face, Ramsey Nasr portrays the main character as naive, eager to please, yet creepy in his voyeurism; he also mirrors the foibles of those around him. Apon, cofounder of an influential film journal, seems to suggest that photographs, as witnesses to past events, can validate a life--even an invented one. Her comedy can be overly cute, but she has a keen eye for the drabness of the setting and treats the inevitable collision of the young man's real and imaginary lives with understated empathy. (TS) (6:00)

The Trench

Soldiers in a trench await the First Battle of the Somme in this taut 1999 antiwar drama from Great Britain. The performances generate some tension--Daniel Craig stands out as the tough, taciturn sergeant--and typical war-movie vignettes keep our attention. Novelist William Boyd, in his first outing as director, effectively conveys the men's entrapment, the camera seeming to butt against the narrow limits of the trench. But one never feels the filth of such an environment, and Boyd brings no new insights to this drama of men in a confined space, a situation that's been the basis for many powerful war films. It's almost too easy to indict a battle that would claim 20,000 British soldiers on its first day. (FC) (8:00)

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