Gene Siskel Film Center’s 18th annual European Union Film Festival runs from March 9 to April 5 with 61 films from 27 nations, the largest showcase for the European Union nations in North America. Nine films were directed by women (roughly 14.8 percent, down from last year’s record high of 25 percent). Recommending films ranging from dramatic narratives to compassionate documentaries, FF2 Media has compiled individual “Best of the Fest” lists from three Chicago team members. Click HERE for more coverage.
Here are Brigid K. Presecky and Georigana E. Presecky’s Best of the Fest list.
Miss Kiet’s Children - Netherlands
In Dutch with English subtitles, Miss Kiet’s Children is a touching documentary of a remarkable woman who teaches classes of immigrant students from different nations. The film’s intimate look at the work of this singular educator, Kiet Engels, will have viewers reflecting on their own upbringing and the steadfast teachers who inspired them. Although the timeframe of the documentary only spans a matter of days in a Dutch village, impact is powerful. The close-up look at these vulnerable, loving elementary school students will resonate with audiences of every age and make them appreciate their teachers for granted. From FF2 Media review, “Writer/director Petra Lataster-Czisch, through complete neutrality, shows us Kiet’s strict but never cruel methods of teaching children who have just escaped a war-torn country. Through Lataster-Czisch’s unbiased lens, audiences are able to experience what it is like to learn a new language in the eyes of a child.” To read the full review, click HERE. Courtesy of Icarus Films. (4.5/5)
Messi and Maud - Chile
Messi and Maud (La Holandesa) follows a grief-stricken woman grappling with the fact that she can’t conceive children who sets off on an aimless adventure through Chile. Following a tipping-point miscarriage - one of many - Maud (Rifka Lodeizen) meets Messi (Cristobal Farias), an adorable child who seems equally aimless, and the two journey together in what could easily venture into an archetypal road movie - but never does. It’s too realistic for that, avoiding stereotypes of road trip mishaps (unlike recent indie The Leisure Seeker). Young Messi is a light in an otherwise dark narrative, with well-balanced heartwarming moments between the two that outweigh the sad fact that Maud is clearly overcompensating for not being a mother herself. It’s sad - and somewhat uncomfortable at times - but makes for a meaningful and beautifully-shot feature directorial debut for Marleen Jonkman. (4/5)
Montparnasse Bienvenue - France
First-time director Leonor Serraille and the film’s star Laetitia Dosch are a force to be reckoned with in Montparnasse Bienvenue, a captivating story of woman-on-the-loose Paula returning to Paris after being dumped by her longtime photographer boyfriend - and little else but her cat to her name. Determined to make a new start (with gusto and style), Paula attempts to rebuild her life by bouncing from one friend’s apartment to the other. With a colorful, humorous script and visually stunning cinematography and costuming, this amusing story can be relatable to any viewer who feels like they need to start over - even if they have an attitude. French with English subtitles. Courtesy of UniFrance Films and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. (4.5/5)
Number One - France
Written and directed by Tonie Marshall, French drama Number One (Numero Une) is decidedly feminist in the traditional sense - perhaps too traditional, considering a modern rise in new feminism. Emmanuelle Devos stars as an ambitious business woman (also named Emmanuelle) who faces obstacles in her quest to become the first female CEO of a major French company at the urging of a prominent feminist group. Though well-intentioned and meaningful in its message, Emanuelle’s political and personal journey is sometimes too melodramatic and heavy-handed; the obstacles women face when reaching beyond the glass ceiling aren’t always so complicated. They’re often - and unfortunately - simple, and Number One is not. (4/5)
Miracle - Lithuania
The first feature for Lithuanian director Egle Vertelyte, Miracle (Stebuklas) is a somewhat-manic dramedy about a pig farmer whose land is seemingly “saved” by a loud, ignorant American who claims his ancestors used to own it. Bernardas (Vyto Ruginis) is a useful expository tool to the audience - when we meet him, the plot finally starts to take shape - though whether it pays off or not will be up to the viewer. What’s supposed to be a commentary on American entitlement has echoes of The Levelling (2017), but complex family drama is replaced with high-brow humor and dragging drama. Not without its funny moments and with a sophisticated political message for the savvy audience member, Miracle overuses irony and metaphor that sometimes gets lost in translation. (3.5/5)
The Miner - Slovenia
Based on a true story, Hanna Antonina Wojcik Slak directs a dark film about a miner who discovers the remains of thousands of executed people in Barbara Pit massacre. When Alija digs up skeletal evidence of World War II in an abandoned mine, he risks his job to alert the police against the pressure of his employer. Leon Lucev carries the film, perfectly capturing the inner conflict of a man balancing his own well-being with his country’s heartbreaking, secretive history. The tense, albeit slowly-paced film is loosely based on Mehmedalija Aliç’s memoir "Nobody.” Courtesy of Nukleus Film. (4/5)
While the percentage of female filmmakers at this year’s Chicago European Union Film Festival is disappointing, the quality of the films created by women shown here rivals and exceeds any of its male counterparts. These are beautifully told stories of various genres to entertain, enlighten, and engage viewers—exactly what films (no matter the gender) are meant to do.
For ticket and film information about all of the films playing at the CEUFF, go to http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/ceuff/2018/festivalfilms
© Brigid K. Presecky and Georgiana E. Presecky (3/27/18) FF2 Media
Photos courtesy of Gene Siskel Film Center