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European Union Film Festival

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The sixth annual European Union Film Festival runs Friday, March 7, through Thursday, March 27, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Admission is $8, $4 for Film Center members. For further information call 312-846-2800. The schedule for March 7 through 13 follows; a full festival schedule through March 27 is available on-line at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY, MARCH 7

Brazilero

Sotiris Goritsas's 2001 feature is meant as a caustic send-up of the corruption and ineptitude in Greek politics, but the satire is undermined by crass commercialism. Vassilis, a sports-loving bureaucrat, receives a lucrative subsidy from the European Union to erect a cultural center on his island but instead uses the money to build up the local soccer team; when EU auditors show up, he tries to conceal his misdeeds. Stelios Mainas has his moments as the beleaguered embezzler, but he and the rest of the cast are hamstrung by inane dialogue, a muddled visual style, and frenetic editing. In Greek and Italian with subtitles. 95 min. (TS) (7:00)

SATURDAY, MARCH 8

Bend It Like Beckham

A teenage Sikh girl in London (Parminder Nagra) sets out to become a soccer star in this 2002 feature, a box-office success in its native Britain. Gurinder Chadha directed; with Keira Knightley, Juliet Stevenson, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. The film will open commercially later this month. 112 min. (3:45)

The Bench

Fleeing her violent husband, a beautiful woman and her young son find temporary lodging with a loony grad student who's obsessed with Kierkegaard and whose neighbor, an alcoholic day laborer, destroys plants during a gardening job because he doesn't like his client. When the woman turns down her host's sudden marriage proposal, he goes berserk, tossing her possessions out a window and leaving her with no option but to return home, where her husband beats her so severely that she winds up in a hospital. As a study of people about to come unhinged, this 2000 melodrama has its moments, and director Per Fly gets fine portrayals from his principals (Jesper Christensen is particularly disturbing as the gardener). But the compositions are sterile and the editing wooden: in a key scene, when the wife learns that the gardener is her long-lost father, Fly's intercutting of her face and a box of her letters is awkward and unconvincing. In Danish with subtitles. 93 min. (FC) (4:15)

Open Hearts

Susanne Bier directed this Danish drama about an auto accident and its repercussions for those involved. With Mads Mikkelsen and Paprika Steen. The film will open commercially later this month. 113 min. (6:00)

Shopping

This 2002 feature from Luxembourg opens with a promising credit sequence: as the camera dollies through a superstore, a wide-angle lens captures the dizzying labyrinth of shopping possibilities. Unfortunately the rest of the movie never quite lives up to that promise. A repo man making his rounds encounters a variety of characters and excuses, from the genuinely poor to a high-living fellow who hides behind a phony address. The drama becomes too calculated to be convincing, but some sequences do get at the theme: as the repo man's wife sits in a BMW with his shopaholic friend, the car salesman's pitch and their responses become decidedly sexual, and after the two consumers end up between the sheets, a TV commercial prompts them to phone in an order. Lauren Brandenbourger and Philippe Boon directed; in French with subtitles. 80 min. (FC) (6:15)

The Stoneraft

Adapted from a novel by Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese author Jose Saramago, this 2002 political parable is premised on a fantastic conceit: Spain and Portugal break away from Europe and float out to sea together. Magical realism is a tough thing to bring to the screen, and Dutch director George Sluizer, who wrote the screenplay with Yvette Biro, doesn't quite achieve the correct subtle balance of the mythical and sociopolitical. Still, the suspense sequences are on par with those in his best-known picture, The Vanishing, and the acting has conviction, especially veteran Federico Luppi as an old man who impregnates two women. In Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles. 100 min. (TS) (8:00)

Irreversible

Gaspar Noe's French feature (2002), one of the most controversial pictures shown at last year's Cannes festival because of its extreme violence, stars Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluci in a nonchronological tale of rape and murder. In French with subtitles; the film will open commercially later this month. 99 min. (8:15)

SUNDAY, MARCH 9

The Discovery of Heaven

The characters in this 2001 adaptation of Harry Mulisch's epic philosophical novel are nearly rich enough to sustain the fablelike plot, but ultimately this bows under the weight of its own portent. Stephen Fry and Greg Wise, both delightful, play best friends and brilliant academics--one a linguist and the other an astronomer--who both fall in love with a beatific cellist (Flora Montgomery) in 1960s Amsterdam. The three seem made for one another, and in fact they were: the triangle has been arranged by God, working through a rookie angel (shades of It's a Wonderful Life). The Lord has given up on mankind and wants to take back the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were originally engraved; the blue-eyed golden child miraculously cofathered (in separate couplings) by the two scholars is fated to retrieve the stones from their hiding place in Rome. Director Jeroen Krabbe (Left Luggage) excels at the early comic sequences and the drawing of the romantic triangle, but the story turns exceedingly dark in the last hour, and from what I know of the Mulisch novel, its intellectual underpinnings haven't survived the translation to the big screen. 134 min. (JJ) (3:00)

The Dauphin

Adapted from a novel by Jose Cardoso Pires, this allegorical mystery from Portugal (2002) focuses on a duck hunter who discovers a double murder on the grounds of an aristocrat's estate. In Portuguese with subtitles. 83 min. (3:15)

One-Way Ticket to Mombasa

A 17-year-old Finnish guitarist with a shot at joining a successful rock band collapses onstage; he learns that he has lymphatic cancer and his prognosis is uncertain. His young roommate at the hospital, who's dying, dreams of journeying to Mombasa, Kenya, and losing his virginity. The two of them steal a bag of painkillers, escape from the hospital, travel instead to Lapland (where the rocker knows a girl), and wind up performing for Japanese tourists at an inn. This 2002 road movie is intermittently effective in portraying the restlessness of two young friends eager to live life to the fullest while they can, but director Hannu Tuomainen fails to match his leads' antic energy; the best thing in the film is its concluding song about the glories of Mombasa's beaches. In Finnish with subtitles. 87 min. (FC) (5:00)

If I Should Fall From Grace

Like Dylan Thomas near the end of his life, singer-songwriter Shane MacGowan has become a sort of Celtic train wreck, celebrated as much for his epic alcoholism as for his art. In that context, calling this 2001 video portrait fascinating isn't necessarily praise; my eyes were glued to the screen, but I was transfixed less by MacGowan's boozy slurrings than by his efforts to direct a drinking straw into his mouth. Inspired by Irish hellion Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, MacGowan and his English band the Pogues bucked the synth-pop trend of the early 80s with their lively marriage of traditional Irish music and punk defiance. Director Sarah Share wisely minimizes the band's uneven live performances in favor of music videos that better convey MacGowan's gift as a lyricist. Former Pogue Philip Chevron and doom rocker Nick Cave make some acute observations about MacGowan as an artist and as a man, but the documentary's most revealing and uncomfortable moments involve his longtime companion, Victoria Clarke, who argues that drinking is necessary to his work. She's a classic enabler, though perhaps no more culpable than the fans who cheer him on. 94 min. (JJ) (5:15)

MONDAY, MARCH 10

Bend It Like Beckham

See listing for Saturday, March 8. (6:00)

Shopping

See listing for Saturday, March 8. (6:15)

Hop

Set in Brussels and shot on digital video, this 2002 Belgian feature concerns a teenage illegal immigrant from Burundi who winds up alone and on the run after his father is deported. A truck driver (Jan Decleir) who gives him shelter turns out to be a veteran radical with a cache of dynamite; together they wage a campaign of bomb threats against city landmarks in the hope of forcing the authorities to bring the boy's dad back. The title refers to an indelicate technique supposedly used by Pygmies to subjugate male elephants, which is flogged to death by director Dominique Standaert as a metaphor for the rebels' defiance. That's just one among many annoying flaws--implausible plot twists, blatant stereotypes, and uneven tone--that drag the picture down. In French and Flemish with subtitles. 100 min. (TS) (8:00)

Brazilero

See listing for Friday, March 7. (8:15)

TUESDAY, MARCH 11

One-Way Ticket to Mombasa

See listing for Sunday, March 9. (6:15)

The Bench

See listing for Saturday, March 8. (8:00)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 12

The Dauphin

See listing for Sunday, March 9. (6:00)

Irreversible

See listing for Saturday, March 8. (6:15)

The Discovery of Heaven

See listing for Sunday, March 9. (8:00)

If I Should Fall From Grace

See listing for Sunday, March 9. (8:15)

THURSDAY, MARCH 13

Hop

See listing for Monday, March 10. (6:00)

If I Should Fall From Grace

See listing for Sunday, March 9. (6:15)

The Stonecraft

See listing for Saturday, March 8. (8:15)

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