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European Union Film Festival

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The eighth annual European Union Film Festival, with entries from all 25 member states, continues Friday, March 11, through Thursday, March 24, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800. Tickets are $9, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members. Following are listings through Thursday, March 17; a full schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY 11

Step by Step

This 2004 debut feature by screenwriter Philippe Blasband (Thomas in Love) follows the investigation into the murder of a crime lord (Philippe Noiret). A coproduction of Belgium and Luxembourg, in French with subtitles. 86 min. (6:15)

Brides

Veteran Greek director Pantelis Voulgaris teamed up with screenwriter Ioanna Karystiani on this 2004 drama about the fate of two Greek mail-order brides. In English and subtitled Greek. 128 min. The Chicago-based associate producer of the film, Valerie Gobos, will attend the screening. (8:00)

Suburbs

Reeling from his wife's recent suicide, a gruff middle-aged security guard (Renato Jencek) tries to escape his depression by drinking with his colorful bowling buddies and eavesdropping on his new neighbors' seemingly constant sexual escapades. What starts out as a humorously quirky character sketch soon becomes a dark and caustic take on contemporary eastern Europe. Slovenian writer-director Vinko Moderndorfer transfers the murderous anomie of suburban teens, a familiar conceit in American movies, to a group of blue-collar workers whose sense of social displacement causes fits of brutality, misogyny, and xenophobia. At times the sex and violence border on gratuitous, yet there's something compelling about the central characters' mix of earthy charm and repulsiveness. In Slovenian with subtitles. 90 min. (Reece Pendleton) (8:15)

SATURDAY 12

South

The manager of a laundry, artfully played by Monic Hendrickx, gradually turns into a monster in this 2004 Dutch drama. She makes out on the job with her new driver, he leaps up after discovering that one of her breasts is a prosthesis, and her employees, thinking he's assaulted their beloved boss, lock him in the boiler room. Which is where the manager leaves him--for days. He's still screaming with thirst when she visits his wife to find out more about him. Director Martin Koolhoven treats the manager's wildly implausible behavior so nonjudgmentally he almost seems to endorse it--his film has an odd power but also an unpleasant aftertaste. In Dutch with subtitles. 88 min. (FC) (2:00)

R Born to Film

Director Frederic Sojcher wisely avoids any condescension in this 2004 French-Belgian profile of three eccentric filmmakers whose passion and professionalism compensate for their nonexistent budgets. The most fascinating is Jean-Jacques Rousseau ("My real name," he avers), who wears a ski mask out of respect for the superstition that a photograph steals one's soul. That witty gesture and his ideas about cinema suggest a self-educated Godard; though not quite in this class, teacher Jacques Hardy and retired projectionist Max Naveaux are also interesting as they explain how and why they make movies. In French with subtitles. 66 min. (HSa) (2:15)

5x2

This 2004 portrait of a marriage by French director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) follows the lovers through five stages of their relationship, beginning with divorce and ending with the first sparks of romance. Austere and formally complex, the drama may nevertheless be Ozon's most accessible film due to the physical attractiveness and vitality of the intelligent couple (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Stephane Freiss), whose actions and pain resonate more deeply as windows open onto their motivations. The narrative power actually increases as the savagery of their love plays out backward through time, charging their final walk into the sunset with a quiet catharsis. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (AG) (3:45)

R Aftermath

Paprika Steen--a fine actress who's worked with Suzanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, and Lars von Trier--makes her feature directing debut with this sober, intelligent Danish drama about a husband and wife coming unhinged after their 12-year-old daughter is killed in an accident. The wife (Sofie Grabol), a caseworker for a social services agency, compromises herself professionally by striking up a secret friendship with a neglectful young mother whose baby she covets; meanwhile the husband (Mikael Birkkjaer) begins stalking the alcoholic real estate agent who ran over their child. Despite Steen's long history with the wild and woolly Dogma 95 architects, this 2004 release is more reminiscent of traditional Scandinavian social drama--quietly and precisely told, its narrative development as smooth and pristine as a china plate. In Danish with subtitles. 104 min. (JJ) (4:00)

Unconscious

A woman searches for her psychiatrist husband in this comic detective story (2004) set in 1913 Barcelona. Directed by Joaquin Oristrell. In Spanish with subtitles. 104 min. (5:45)

The Welts

A Polish Catholic schoolboy (Waclaw Adamczyk) endures the stony anger and physical abuse of his widowed father (Jan Frycz) but ultimately runs away from home; years later he's still trying to work through his trauma and keep a lid on his own explosive rage. This 2004 debut feature by Magdalena Piekorz is seriously upsetting in its first half, as the father's emotional tyranny combines with the ridicule of teachers and classmates to make the kid's existence a living hell. The story grows more turgid in the second half, however, as Piekorz hammers home the psychological effects of the childhood abuse and the grown son (Michal Zebrowski) is patiently seduced by a pretty young woman (Agnieszka Grochowska). Anyone with a lick of sense would stay away from this guy--but she's supposed to be a Madonna figure, so she doesn't have much choice. In Polish with subtitles. 91 min. (JJ) (6:00)

The Edukators

Two young anarchists break into homes, rearrange the furniture, and leave vaguely threatening notes about capitalist excess. But when a break-in by one (accompanied by the other's girlfriend) goes wrong, the trio ends up kidnapping a wealthy businessman and holding him captive in a remote mountain cabin. While the three radicals try to sort out their romantic triangle, the businessman reveals himself as a former SDS member and engages them in political debate. This 2004 Austrian feature by Hans Weingartner promises taut psychological suspense, but its tone is sadder and more earnest. Though the story drags for the first hour, this becomes a solid character study once the principals arrive at their hiding place. In German with subtitles. 126 min. (HSa) (8:00)

A Hole in My Heart

The latest feature (2004) by Swedish eccentric Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever) looks at the sex trade from the perspective of a pornographer. In Swedish with subtitles. 98 min. (8:15)

SUNDAY 13

Black and White

This 2003 Portuguese feature by Jose Carlos de Oliveira begins as a no-frills war film set in 1972 Mozambique, then evolves (or devolves) into a fairly good action adventure flick as a black prisoner and a white soldier trek across the bush, joined eventually by a white military nurse. From that point it becomes a fairly thin if irony-laden study of the endlessly bickering characters, which ultimately capsizes with fatuous American Graffiti-style texts explaining their respective fates. Oliveira is never sure-footed enough to stick with a single genre, and the music, which ranges from African to Portuguese pop and rock, only adds to the distraction. In Portuguese with subtitles. 110 min. (JR) (2:45)

Look at Me

A French comedy by Agnes Jaoui (The Taste of Others) about an overweight 20-year-old singer (Marilou Berry). Jaoui plays her voice coach, and Jaoui's usual writing collaborator (and significant other), Jean-Pierre Bacri, plays her novelist father. This won the prize for best screenplay at the 2004 Cannes film festival. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (3:00)

R The Destination

Piero Sanna, a former assistant to Ermanno Olmi, made his feature debut with this solid 2003 Italian drama about a young Rome policeman (Roberto Magnani) assigned to a remote Sardinian outpost. The first half focuses on the difficulties he faces in adjusting to an ancient, insular culture that views outsiders with suspicion, while the second concentrates on the pursuit of two local men suspected of murdering a shepherd. Sanna contrasts the island's serene beauty with the inhabitants' aloofness and penchant for violence, credibly dramatizing the events from the cop's isolated perspective. His loneliness is briefly assuaged by a romance with a local woman (Elisabetta Balia), though her initial reluctance is borne out by tragic events that overtake them both. In Italian and Sardinian with subtitles. 124 min. (JK) (5:00)

Wolfsburg

A smug luxury-car salesman finds his personal life thrown into turmoil after he seriously injures a young boy in a hit-and-run accident. Guilt stricken, he decides to confess to the boy's mother at the hospital but then poses as a comforting bystander; soon they're having an intense affair even as the mother searches methodically for the person who struck her son. This 2003 German feature offers exceptionally good performances by Benno Furmann and Nina Hoss in the lead roles. Writer-director Christian Petzold (The State I Am In) has created a quietly suspenseful tale, though it's hampered by some contrived coincidences and a fatalism that's much too calculated. In German with subtitles. 90 min. (Reece Pendleton) (5:15)

MONDAY 14

Unconscious

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (6:00)

Wolfsburg

See listing for Sunday, March 13. (6:15)

Step by Step

See listing for Friday, March 11. (8:00)

The Welts

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (8:15)

TUESDAY 15

R Born to Film

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (6:00)

Black and White

See listing for Sunday, March 13. (7:30)

WEDNESDAY 16

5x2

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (6:00)

Suburbs

See listing for Friday, March 11. (6:15)

R The Destination

See listing for Sunday, March 13. (7:45)

R Aftermath

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (8:00)

THURSDAY 17

The Edukators

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (6:00)

South

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (6:15)

A Hole in My Heart

See listing for Saturday, March 12. (8:30)

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