I am really excited to be seeing and reviewing films from this year’s Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I’ve been to the festival in the past; I usually catch one film or so each year. This year, I had the chance to see three films by women. It’s really exciting that the film festival decided to make an effort to have a better representation of female directors with 22 movies out of 60. I hope that the number will get closer to 50/50 in upcoming years. But this is an extraordinarily good start so we can celebrate the viewpoints of everyone in this EU film festival.
The first film that I saw was Homo Novus (2019) or “New Man,” directed by Anna Viduleja. The film is a period piece taking place in 1930s Riga, Latvia about art and artists. It features young artist, Juris, who comes from the provinces to start his artistic career. He ends up meeting a critic who decides to make Juris into his pet project, introducing him to the right people, pushing him into the right circles. It’s got your typical portraits of artists, the ne’er do-well dandy who wants to live off his uncle’s estate, the alcoholic mess of an artist, and others.
The story isn’t exactly novel - it’s the typical story of a young country boy who finds fame and fortune but has to find his way back to himself. But it was an entertaining ride watching the artists scheme and try to outmaneuver one another while occasionally making work. There are occasional sparks of insight about making art that do push the film into the sublime. Also, I’m a sucker for anything with an art deco feel. However, I should mention that it was frustrating that the movie had a character dress in black face for a costume party. This seems to happen in European entertainment (movies, plays, even TV shows) and it is extremely inappropriate to continue to perpetuate the trope.
I should point out that the screening I went to was sold out before I even got to the theater that day. I believe Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming, noted that the film was well-received on Sunday, March 24, and might be a contender for best of the festival.
The second film I saw was Whatever Happened to My Revolution?, a French film directed and acted by Judith Davis. I have a background in history, focusing on socialist/communist movements so I was keen on seeing this movie about Angele who holds strong revolutionary principles, but the world hasn’t kept up pace. Her parents were Maoists who met trying to work with workers at a factory but they’ve been separated for 15 years. I think the moment that really spoke to me was when Angele, an urban planner, is getting laid off by her leftist bosses. When her boss and former teacher goes on a lecture about how things were different in his day, Angele loses her temper, yelling about how his generation has left nothing for her and others in her generation. It was a beautiful realization of millennial rage that I haven’t seen in film form yet. The rest of the movie tracks Angele as she tries to find her way in the world while encountering people are who not as committed as she to the movement. I do wish the film was a bit longer (something I rarely say) because it ended abruptly and left some themes hanging without wrapping them up.
The third and final film was the Spanish documentary The Silence of Others. Directed by Robert Baha and Almudena Carracedo, the film focuses on victims and their families working to get justice in Spain for the crimes against humanity committed by the Franco regime. In 1977, Spain passed an Amnesty Law that has prevented any investigations thus far. One of the people tracked in the film takes the filmmaker to the door of the man “Billy the Kid” who tortured him.
The film largely centers on a case filed by Argentine federal judge Maria Servini to look into the allegations raised by the increasing number of people stepping forward. In 1998, Spain ordered the extradition of former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. There’s some irony that Argentina, a Latin American country with its own history of murderous dictators and legions of disappeared people, was the one to file charges against Spain. The motivations of the victims and their family are diverse but all heartbreaking. Some people want to exhume mass graves to find their loved ones, while others are looking for children stolen by the regime. Others want justice by the people who tortured them.
It’s also striking to see the opposition to any investigation into the crimes of Franco. There’s a scene that shows Franco supporters at a rally holding their hands up in salute. Chilling to behold. Some are holding up signs “Let’s Make Spain Great Again.” Ugh.
The film helped me better understand a brutal part of history that is often glossed over. I had no idea that there are mass graves throughout Spain and torture centers. The film also showed the power that ordinary citizens can have. The Amnesty Law hasn’t been repealed as of the end of the film but the film shows that there is hope that victims and their families might be able to find peace and justice for past crimes of the government.
Thanks to the EU Festival for bringing these thought-provoking movies to Chicago! I can’t wait until next year!
© Elisa Shoenberger (4/1/19) FF2 Media
Featured photo: The Silence of Others
Photo credits: Gene Siskel Film Center