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The fourth annual European Union Film Festival runs Friday through Thursday, February 9 through 15, at the Gene Siskel 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 9

Light Keeps Me Company

A loving but unstinting portrait of longtime Ingmar Bergman cinematographer Sven Nyqvist, who's also worked with Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Directed by Nyqvist's son Carl-Gustaf, this 2000 documentary gives a good view of Sven's cinematic achievements but also acknowledges his personal failings (such as favoring work over family, which may have figured in his eldest son's suicide). Nyqvist, whom aphasia forced into retirement, appears in the film along with various associates: Bergman actor Erland Josephson describes how Nyqvist could anticipate actors' movements, and Melanie Griffith calls him "really cool . . . for his age." Well-chosen clips from the cinematographer's work illustrate his spare close-ups and soft, sensual use of light and prove Bergman's claim that the camera can "register the soul." 76 min. (FC) (6:00)

Don't Cry Germaine

Based on a French-Canadian novel by Claude Jasmin, this 2000 Belgian film concerns a family whose father and mother have drifted apart. The mother wants to return to her native Pyrenees, where people look out for each other, and after the father learns that the suspected murderer of their eldest daughter might be living there the couple pack their four children into an old van and set off. The strongest element of this road movie is Dirk Roofthooft's broad portrayal of the volatile and ridiculously macho father, by his own admission an "unemployed bum," who blusters unfeelingly at a family that loves him anyway. Unfortunately, his gradual softening seems more sitcom syrup than credible self-awareness, and Alain de Halleux, a still photographer directing his first feature film, fails to assemble the postcard shots into a dynamic drama. 98 min. (FC) The director will attend the screening. (8:00)

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10

Guardian Angel

After a man drives his car off a cliff into the sea, his daughter returns home to look for a letter he supposedly left behind, but this 1999 Portuguese film by Margaraida Gil wanders into subplots involving his servants and neighbors, his obsession with the horrors he witnessed in Timor in 1975, and the daughter's weird encounters with a guardian angel. The inexplicability of the father's suicide may account for the film's vagueness, but in the end the lovely imagery is simply pictorial, unworthy of the profound Rilke quote about death cited in a note by the father. 100 min. (FC) (2:00)

The Policewoman

A lonely rookie (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) assigned to a bleak precinct in northern Germany finds herself getting involved in the lives of those on her beat, which eventually leads her into ethical dilemmas. Director Andreas Dresen underplays the soapy elements in the script and provides a gritty realism that exposes the dead-end lives of those on the fringe, and Schmeide is excellent as the moody protagonist, a tough cookie torn between duty and compassion. 97 min. (TS) (4:00)

Hunters in the Snow

Michael Kreihsl's 2000 Austrian feature plays like an aesthete's version of Falling Down. A laconic copyist in a Vienna art museum (Ulrich Tukur), frustrated by his ex-wife's refusal to let him visit their daughter and angered by the disappearance of the spiritual way of life evoked in his beloved paintings, goes on a solitary rampage against the modern world. In showing his gradual breakdown, Kreihsl wisely downplays the violence and hysteria, enclosing us in the man's cocoon of serene contemplation and operatic arias. The look of the film is, of course, painterly--Brueghel is a key influence--and the many art-history references add to its precious, fabulist tone. 86 min. (TS) (6:00)

About Adam

Stuart Townsend and Kate Hudson star in this 1999 comedy from the UK, about a Dublin waitress who brings home a handsome stranger and finds herself competing with her sisters and her mother for his affections. Gerard Stembridge directed. 102 min. (8:00)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11

Petits Freres

"Because I failed high school, I have always been on the fringe," veteran French director Jacques Doillon once remarked, and the five young teens in his 2000 feature seem equally alienated, forced to fend for themselves in a world that offers them no stability. Talia flees her stepfather, an apparent pedophile, to hang out with four Arab and African boys, who immediately steal her pit bull; one of them, who's developed a crush on her, tries to recover the dog after some older boys use it for dogfights. The youths have little outlet for their energies other than petty crime, and Doillon effectively captures their flailings with tight close-ups in which the movement of the camera, the characters, or both is as aimless as it is rapid. Occasionally, surreal images underline the absurdity of their lives, like the kids on a moped seen making off with a mannequin wearing a wedding dress. 92 min. (FC) (3:00)

I Prefer the Sound of the Sea

Melancholy without ever being depressed, this 2000 Italian feature by Mimmo Calopresti (The Second Time) is a film of extraordinary resonance and depth, infused with a clarity all the sharper for its refusal to resolve or intensify conflict. The film opens in a hospital whose large, dim vaulted spaces echo the columned arcades of a coolly twilit Turin and ends with the infinite, shimmering expanse of the Calabrian sea; its uniqueness comes from its curious blend of larger-than-life mythic oppositions and the nuanced understatement of their playing out. A repressed Turin businessman (veteran actor Silvio Orlando) imports a poor young relative from his Calabrian peasant past in a desperate bid to connect with his troubled teenage son and lay his own ghosts to rest. While the businessman's furtive avoidance of any warmth, commitment, or change only escalates with each occasion for human interaction, the boys, despite their differences (the rich man's son is aimless, emotional, and unfocused, while the southern "peasant" is strong, silent, motivated, and stubborn as a rock), begin a hesitant, hedging mutual exploration. The film very definitely opposes north and south, maturity and youth, and capital and labor, but in ways that are neither didactic nor confrontational. Rather, the characters, caught between fascination and defensiveness when they encounter a contrasting lifestyle, alternate between odd circlings of each other's turfs (climbing up walls to rescue or spy on one another) and prickly strategic retreats (the two boys, dragged to a soccer game, huddle together in polite incomprehension as their usually dour, undemonstrative elder explodes in an orgy of emotion when the home team scores). Calopresti started as a documentarian, and his film lies somewhere between the flat, insistent testimony of documentary (his two young leads are startlingly believable nonprofessionals) and a moody evocation of character as destiny (Orlando has practically patented this sort of role). I Prefer the Sound of the Sea raises many questions but provides no answers, only a fascination with the textures and choices of lives in the making. 84 min. (Ronnie Scheib) (5:00)

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15

Wild Blue

Born in Kinshasa, Zaire, Belgian filmmaker Thierry Knauff makes his feature debut with a visual tour-de-force about the coexistence of beauty and violence, good and evil. The film creates a series of poetic riffs by juxtaposing eerie images of nature and architecture with images of political atrocities; only the recurring motifs of tall trees (a source of life) and children at play (hope for the future) bind them into an organic whole. The mesmerizing sound track, similarly random yet meditative, mixes ambient sound with songs and recitations by women from troubled regions. In one bravura sequence Knauff shows antiaircraft towers from the Nazi era casting shadows over present-day Vienna as a voice-over describes the lurking menace of letter bombs to postal workers. The accumulation of evocative images and narrative fragments is so powerful that it manages to overcome a certain naivete in the film's politics. 68 min. (TS) (6:00)

Black Milk

A pampered young writer who's sold out to a big-time publisher begins to feel his life spinning out of control in this disastrous 1999 attempt at social satire from Greek director Nicholas Triandafyllidis. Most of the humor is aimed at the celebrity-craving mass media, but the director's timing is so bad and the situations so phony that few of the jabs connect (one demented gag has the writer's mother dying from too much espresso). The bewildering melange of setups, including sappy musical interludes and Felliniesque parties, ultimately overwhelms the protagonist's longing for his lost innocence, and as a cheap plot mechanism Triandafyllidis gives him the magical ability to transport himself out of unpleasant situations, which should provoke envy on the part of anyone stuck watching the film. 101 min. (TS) (7:30)

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