The tenth European Union Film Festival continues through Thursday, March 29, 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 selected films screening through Thursday, March 16; for a full festival schedule visit chicagoreader.com.
RBefore Flying Back to Earth Arunas Matelis's moving 52-minute 2005 documentary on children with leukemia shows them playing, taking medication, talking of the future. One boy says he'd like to become a doctor, though not for leukemia patients because he sees how tough it is for his doctors. The rough-edged, fragmentary form and occasional use of black-and-white stills indicate Matelis's understanding that ultimately these kids' stories are impossible to tell. Also on the program is Janina Lapinskaite's The Widows' Coast (2006, 26 min.), which captures the lives of elderly Baltic coast residents, though with a bit too much self-conscious artiness. Both are in Lithuanian with subtitles. (FC) Matelis will attend the 3/11 screening. a Sun 3/11, 5 PM, and Wed 3/14, 6:15 PM.
Dead Long Enough Two brothers--one a glib rock star (Michael Sheen), the other a mopey divorce lawyer (Jason Hughes)--return to their childhood haunts in a picturesque Irish seaside town and duke it out over the gal they each dumped two decades earlier, much to the consternation of the now-married woman. This lightweight 2005 romantic comedy features a good ensemble cast playing an assortment of stereotypes, mostly eccentric locals, amid beautiful scenery and a seemingly endless series of montages set to random pop tunes--in other words, typical festival-circuit fodder. Tom Collins directed. 82 min. (Reece Pendleton) a Sat 3/10, 4:45 PM, and Wed 3/14, 8 PM.
Every Other Week A prime example of European movies being Americanized, this 2006 romantic comedy about Stockholm yuppies could easily be set in New York or LA. A doctor with marital problems (Mans Herngren) moves in with his brother, a neurotic and divorced director of TV commercials (Felix Herngren); first the siblings can't decide who they really love, then their women can't, and meanwhile their kids get bounced around the households. Meant to be sophisticated and charming, this ends up labored and not very sexy, with gags like a Matrix parody falling flat as a lingonberry pancake. Hannes Holm and Hans Ingemansson penned the rapid-fire but shallow screenplay and also directed with the Herngren brothers. In Swedish with subtitles. 95 min. (AG) a Sat 3/10, 8:15 PM, and Mon 3/12, 6 PM.
Flies on the Wall In this engaging but ultimately unconvincing Danish thriller (2005), a respected documentary filmmaker (Trine Dyrholm) is hired by a national political party to profile one of its rising stars, a powerful and charismatic mayor (Lars Brygmann). Though promised unfettered access to the mayor's activities, she finds herself stymied and resorts to unorthodox filming methods that uncover a possible criminal conspiracy. Writer-director Ake Sandgren uses the filmmaker's raw footage to tell a significant chunk of the story, a gimmicky conceit that serves largely to paper over the more predictable and implausible elements. In Danish with subtitles. 92 min. (Reece Pendleton) a Fri 3/9, 6:15 PM, and Tue 3/13, 7:45 PM.
RGrbavica: The Land of My Dreams No one said they were good dreams. The title of this modest, heartbreaking debut feature by Jasmila Zbanic refers to a Sarajevo neighborhood where Serbian forces maintained a torture camp during the military siege of the early 90s, and the horror of those days still haunts the movie's protagonist (Mirjana Karanovic), a single mother working two jobs to support her beloved 12-year-old daughter (Luna Mijovic). For years the mother has protected the child from the true story of her parentage, and though viewers will probably guess it immediately, Zbanic's story of an ordinary life stained by extraordinary cruelty pierces like a blade. In Serbo-Croatian with subtitles. 90 min. (JJ) a Wed 3/14, 6 PM.
The Heart of the Beast Writer-director Renos Haralambidis stars as a discharged Greek soldier who returns home to a mountain of debt incurred by his late mother; his advanced degree in philosophy does nothing for his job prospects, so when he reconnects with two high school buddies, he goes along with their scheme to rob a bank. This 2005 comedy strains at the beginning but picks up steam as the thieves' characters emerge. The dimmest and coarsest of them (well played by Giorgos Voultzatis) also winds up being the wackiest and most endearing, which underscores Haralambidis's populist, antimaterialist sentiments. In Greek with subtitles. 79 min. (AG) a Fri 3/9 and Mon 3/12, 8:15 PM.
RHostage A plane hijacker befriends a seven-year-old American boy, who serves as his voluntary hostage after a forced landing in Riga. Latvian filmmaker Leila Pakalnina likes to compose portions of her mise en scene in circular pans and other seemingly unmotivated camera movements, so part of the kick of this absurdist comedy and antithriller (2006) is that you're never sure what's coming next. Pakalnina's Tati-esque pleasure in both animals and people is contagious. In English and subtitled Latvian. 74 min. (JR) a Fri 3/9 and Mon 3/12, 8 PM.
Hunting for Englishmen Set against the waning of the Hapsburg Empire, this handsome but sluggish 2006 period drama centers on a dashing British nobleman, inventor, and engineer (Marcin Kwasny) who's hired by a Hungarian count to build a railroad on his estate. The Englishman arouses the suspicion of the Austrian secret police and the ardor of the count's Polish niece (Magdalena Gorska), who's engaged to a much older Hungarian aristocrat; romance and espionage follow, as the complicated plot touches on Russia's imperial designs and the role of industrialization in the march toward war. Director Bertalan Bago tries to juggle all this with an international cast, but the bad dubbing of non-Hungarian actors is distracting. In Hungarian with subtitles. 83 min. (AG) a Sat 3/10, 6:30 PM, and Thu 3/15, 8 PM.
The Iceberg After a traumatic experience inside a frozen locker, the manager of a fast-food outlet leaves her family and heads north on a sailboat with a mute companion. Written and directed by three of the main performers (Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy) and working with a minimum of dialogue, this 2005 Belgian comedy wears its strangeness on its sleeve. I found it striking but often strident, and neither funny nor edifying. In French and Inuktitut with subtitles. 84 min. (JR) a Sat 3/10, 6:15 PM.
RInto Great Silence German filmmaker Philip Groning spent six months filming inside the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, and at 162 minutes his pictorial study of the Carthusian monks' still, quiet, deeply spiritual existence gradually enveloped me. Shot in natural light, the meditative images range from endless stone corridors cloaked in shadow to glittering snow-covered mountains, and the anonymous sequences of monks going silently about their work are dramatically punctuated by prolonged close-ups of the men, their faces shaded by the wisdom of their years and the power of their devotion. This 2005 feature is demanding to say the least, but it leaves a real sense of peace. In German with subtitles. (JJ) a Sat 3/10, 3 PM.
Little Secrets This lightweight 2006 coming-of-age story from Luxembourg begins conventionally, but an agile cast makes it fitfully absorbing. By 1962, Esch-sur-Alzette has emerged from the war's shadows to become a tranquil, prosperous town; the biggest terrors faced by the 12-year-old hero (Ben Hoscheit) are school bullies and a disciplinarian father (Andre Jung of Das Experiment) who prizes order and respectability. The characters' small subterfuges--dad dyeing his hair, his daughter sneaking out on dates, his son buying smokes and comics--are bathed in the same nostalgic glow as the scandal surrounding Nazi collaborators, which diminishes the force of the film's climax. Pol Cruchten directed. In Luxembourgish and Italian with subtitles. 86 min. (AG) a Sun 3/11, 3:15 PM, and Tue 3/13, 6 PM.
Manual of Love In the style of La Ronde, this frothy 2005 Italian comedy by Giovanni Veronesi consists of four overlapping stories, each covering a different aspect of love: infatuation, crisis, betrayal, and abandonment. All four contain hilarious moments, but the most endearing is the first, about an unemployed young man (Silvio Muccino) smitten with a beautiful woman (Jasmine Trinca). Undeterred by her brush-offs, he pursues her until she agrees to date him, and the story gradually begins to explore how attraction can become indistinguishable from obsession. In Italian with subtitles. 108 min. (JK) a Sat 3/10, 2:45 PM.
RMe and My Sister The French title of Alexandra Leclere's 2004 debut feature translates as "The Angry Sisters," but in fact only one of the siblings qualifies as such. Louise (Catherine Frot), a beautician from Le Mans, has written a first novel and comes to Paris to meet her publisher, full of positive energy; Martine (Isabelle Huppert), a miserable fussbudget, hates her upper-middle-class husband, her empty life, and herself, and her sister's happiness fills her with rage. Leclere lays on the contrasts with a trowel, but each actress does a fine job making her character believable. In French with subtitles. 94 min. (JR) a Sun 3/11, 3 PM, and Thu 3/15, 6 PM.
Red Road If we agree that Rear Window, Blowup, The Conversation, and A Short Film About Love belong to the same erotic-thriller subgenre, then this adroit, sexually explicit Glasgow-based tale (2006) of an obsessive surveillance guard (Kate Dickie) tracking and stalking a locksmith and former convict (Tony Curran) qualifies as a minor entry, at least until it becomes an elusive psychological study. Despite the thick Scottish accents, filmmaker Andrea Arnold kept me intrigued, but beyond a certain point the movie's ambiguity fades into indifference. 113 min. (JR) a Fri 3/9, 6 PM, and Sat 3/10, 8 PM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Me and My Sister.