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European Union Film Festival

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The fifth annual European Union Film Festival continues Friday, February 15, through Thursday, February 28, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Admission is $8, $4 for Film Center members. For further information call 312-846-2800. All films will be shown in 35-millimeter prints, and those marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15

Songs From the Second Floor

Swedish director Roy Andersson took four years to complete this opaque 2000 feature, and the perpetual traffic jam on its sound track symbolizes his vision of a world mired in chaos, cynicism, and hopelessness. Working with no script and mostly nonprofessional actors, he tells the story of a middle-aged businessman so worn down by caring for his mentally ill son that he decides to end his career by burning down his factory; punctuating this narrative is a series of elegant but relentlessly gloomy tableaux whose characters are fearful of responsibility and deadened by ennui. The lugubrious, impressionistic music is by Benny Andersson of Abba. In Swedish with subtitles. 98 min. (TS) (6:15)

In July

A Hamburg science teacher, convinced he's found true love, sets out for a tryst with a Turkish girl at the Bosporus Strait, whose waters divide Europe from Asia. Accompanied for much of the trip by a female friend who harbors a crush on him, he has a series of amusingly nutty if stereotypical road-movie encounters that strip him of his belongings and pride. Director Fatih Akin was born in Germany to Turkish parents, and while this 2000 film can be self-consciously cute, it offers a benign vision of a new Europe where even the trickiest of borders can be negotiated and the sinister hoodlum with a corpse in his trunk can be a good guy with a decent reason for transporting it. With Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) and Christiane Paul; in German with subtitles. 100 min. (FC) (8:15)

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16

Classic

Pressured to come up with a best-seller, a writer tries to jazz up his staid life by picking a fight with an itinerant young punk and winds up in a drag race. This 2001 existential satire by Finnish director Kari Vaananen (best known as an actor for Aki Kaurismaki) takes on masculinity, consumerism, police brutality, and the corrosive power of fame--so many targets, in fact, that it soon spins out of control, much like the protagonists' roaring autos. The ranting and raving, though frantically edited and accompanied by loud rock, ultimately add up to little more than a drunken screed against conformity. In Finnish with subtitles. 80 min. (TS) (4:00)

* Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me

A compelling profile of 50s R & B star Screamin' Jay Hawkins (1929-2000), who says he got his stage name when he realized that he couldn't sing but he could "holler." The performance footage included by Greek director Nicholas Triantafyllidis, some of it shot at Hawkins's final concert, evokes the singer's untamed energy, making plausible Eric Burdon's claim that he was "definitely possessed." In interviews Hawkins tells of his mother leaving him to be raised by Blackfoot Indians, his multiple love affairs, and his torture by the Japanese during World War II (he couldn't tell them anything because as a "black in America . . . they don't even tell me what time the chickens wake up"). Triantafyllidis effectively captures his subject's raunchy humor and off-center vision: noticing a cat in an airport, Hawkins says, "That kitty had something to declare" as we see the cat in close-up. With Bo Diddley and Jim Jarmusch. 102 min. (FC) (4:15)

Nobody Knows Anybody

A crossword puzzle columnist (Eduardo Noriega) discovers a terrorist plot to disrupt Holy Week festivities in Seville in this 1999 Spanish thriller, the directorial debut of Open Your Eyes screenwriter Mateo Gil. Stylish and visually arresting, the film builds up suspense from the columnist's point of view as he tries to solve a series of perplexing doomsday threats and begins to suspect his roommate and others close to him. But the story becomes silly and predictable after Gil reveals the conspiracy, which threatens the landmarks of picturesque Seville, and a cop-out ending trivializes his earlier achievement. Alejandro Amenabar, Gil's collaborator on Open Your Eyes, cowrote this script as well and designed the eerie sound track; in Spanish with subtitles. 104 min. (TS) (6:00)

* Nuages: Letters to My Son

A recurring image of swirling clouds, both durable and volatile, provides the central metaphor in this 2001 epistolary documentary, an extraordinarily touching confession of motherly love by Belgian filmmaker Marion Hansel. Charlotte Rampling supplies the voice-over, reading fragments from letters that Hansel wrote to her son from his birth through his 18th year, accompanied by minimalist music. The letters are both poetical and quotidian, expressing pride, pleasure, guilt, and sadness over a relationship frequently interrupted by her career, and the haunting images, some shot around her home and others excerpted from earlier films, counterpose harsh nature and tranquil domesticity. 76 min. (TS) (6:15)

Songs From the Second Floor

See listing for Friday, February 15. (8:00)

Mal

An aptly titled Portuguese feature (1999) that strains for an Altman-esque mosaic. Its most interesting plotline involves an Irish do-gooder who discovers that her Portuguese husband is a chronic philanderer, expels him from their home, and takes in a teenage junkie who robbed her earlier. Unfortunately director Alberto Seixas Santos seldom supplies any narrative context, making the characters' actions unintelligible and their consequences almost meaningless. Though each story seems headed toward disaster, the apocalyptic ending is almost laughably unconvincing. In Portuguese with subtitles. 65 min. (FC) (8:15)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

As White as in Snow

Jan Troell (The Emigrants) directed this ponderous 2001 biopic on Elsa Andersson, the first Swedish aviatrix. An early feminist, Andersson doesn't want to become a "farmer's wife" and disregards her father's objections to enroll in flying school. The scene of her first solo flight is exhilarating, and the sound track's finely honed mix of motors and birdsong subtly suggests Sweden's passage into the machine age. Yet Andersson's multiple affairs (one with a woman) are insufficiently motivated and unconvincingly portrayed, and despite the film's 164-minute length Troell never brings her fully to life. In Swedish and German with subtitles. (FC) (3:00)

In July

See listing for Friday, February 15. (4:00)

The Sky Is Falling

In Tuscany during the waning days of World War II, two orphaned girls move in with their aunt (Isabella Rossellini) and her German-Jewish husband (Jeroen Krabbe). Andrea and Antonio Frazzi directed this 2000 adaptation of the Lorenza Mazzetti novel, in Italian with subtitles. 102 min. (6:00)

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18

* A Place Nearby

Two superb performances anchor this taut 2000 drama by Danish director Kaspar Rostrup. Ghita Norby plays a mother who has raised her autistic son to manhood rather than institutionalize him but now fears that he may have murdered a girl in a local park; nervous and divided, she lies to the police to protect him. As the son, Thure Lindhardt is convincingly consistent, refusing to look at his interlocutors, struggling to control his movements, and taking refuge in memorized facts like the names and magnitudes of stars. Rostrup and cinematographer Eric Kress heighten the tension by presenting the characters in cramped spaces, lit from the side rather than above, the intensely focused images tying together them and their fates. In Danish with subtitles. 98 min. (FC) (6:00)

Classic

See listing for Saturday, February 16. (6:15)

Swimmers in the Desert

Kurt Mayer's 2000 Austrian feature documents the Sahara expedition of adventurer Laszlo Almasy, who inspired Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. In German with subtitles. 104 min. (8:00)

The Sky Is Falling

See listing for Sunday, February 17. (8:15)

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19

As White as in Snow

See listing for Sunday, February 17. (6:30)

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20

Swimmers in the Desert

See listing for Monday, February 18. (6:15)

Amnesia

Fedja van Huet gives a fascinating performance as two very different twin brothers--one a sarcastic petty criminal, the other a photographer who for some reason can no longer stand to photograph people. The latter returns home to care for his ill mother, and flashbacks suggest and ultimately reveal the trauma that has haunted both brothers since their early teens. The psychology of this 2001 drama may be conventional, but director Martin Koolhoven's tight interweaving of past and present captures the twins' sense of entrapment, and there's an original if sour flavor to the particulars, such as the junked cars surrounding the family home or a scene that finds one brother in bed with his addled mom. In Dutch with subtitles. 90 min. (FC) (8:00)

* A Place Nearby

See listing for Monday, February 18. (8:15)

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21

* Word and Utopia

See Critic's Choice. (6:00)

Flickering Lights

The first feature by scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (Mifune), this appealing 2001 comedy is by turns violent and gentle, as a bumbling petty criminal and his accomplices are dispatched by a mob boss to rob a diplomat but then abscond with the loot, heading for Barcelona. After their van breaks down in the Danish countryside they find refuge in an abandoned building, and the leader, deciding that he's tired of the criminal life, buys it in hopes of opening a restaurant. The personality conflicts among the four seem a bit formulaic, as do the flashbacks explaining why each turned to crime, but the narrative is inventive enough to sustain interest. In Danish with subtitles. 109 min. (FC) (8:30)

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