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The European Union Film Festival 2014 - Part 1

Christos Stergioglou in 'The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas.'
Christos Stergioglou in 'The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas.'

The 17th Annual European Union Film Festival is at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It’s one of my favorite film events of the year, and I’ll give some quick capsule reviews on the films I manage to see throughout the fest.

An interesting examination of the extremities and malleability of personal identity, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas (Η αιώνια επιστροφή του Αντώνη Παρασκευά) (Greece, 2013) is filmmaker Elina Pyskou’s debut feature film. It features the dry and darkly surreal tone of other Greek New Wave filmmakers like Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) and Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg), but features a more schematic visual narrative (lots of deliberate, almost static long takes, drawing a little more from recent Eastern European films) and a few seemingly incongruous but effective Kubrickian flourishes.

Antonis Paraskevas (Christos Stergioglou, a very good Greek film regular) is the host of a popular morning news and entertainment program on Athens’ TV3. He’s been doing this for quite a few years now - reporting the news, ringing in New Year after New Year after New Year, and hosting the occasional beauty pageant - but feels he’s being taken for granted by his employers and his once-adoring public. So he stages his own ‘mysterious’ disappearance, holes up in a deserted off-season resort hotel, and watches the reactions of his fellow newscasters, who, of course, express, and report as fact, their most lurid and sensational fears. He’s plotting a melodramatic return, which he hopes will reinvigorate his career, but, once removed from the artificially earnest, and/or earnestly artificial, world of big fish – small pond celebrity, Paraskevas’ own sense of who he is, and what he’s really a part of, takes a few intriguing psychological turns. There are some understated, and quietly effective, deadpan comic elements to the story, but the film gains gravity as it progresses, and we slowly realize that Pyskou isn’t interested in creating a comedy here. There’s a studied deliberateness that exposes Pyskou’s lack of visual storytelling experience, but she has a firm grip on the varying tones of the film, and all of her good ideas make it through. It’s a bit of a slog – it’s short on rhythmic dynamics – but I liked this film a lot overall.

The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas’ is the opening film for the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival. It screens on Friday, March 7th at 6 p.m. and Monday, March 10th at 8:00 p.m.

The Strange Little Cat (Das Merkwürdige Kätzchen) (Germany, 2013) is an odd and wonderful little film. A family starts their day, and a meal is prepared for additional visitors later; friends, family. The film takes place in their small apartment, primarily in the kitchen, with a few adventurous excursions into the laundry room and the hallway leading to the apartment’s door. Very little of the film makes reference to their outside lives – the little girl’s school experiences, or what any of them do for a living. They simply act and react to who they themselves are within this small group, in this specific milieu. Often, director Ramon Zürcher keeps key events offscreen, and registers their impact in the reactions of others. Zürcher’s camera seems to discover events just as we ourselves experience them, rather than constructing a larger visual narrative that we can then pick and choose from. I’m not sure how much casting variety he had to draw form, but he gets extraordinarily evocative mileage from the faces he found, and/or the mimetic talents of the cast available to him – a lot of bemused affection, veiled tolerance and general familiarity, positive and negative, hums underneath the seemingly mundane activities. It’s a very unique, and, at times, genuinely amusing film that’s one of the damndest things I’ve seen in a while. I’m quite looking forward to seeing it again – and, at a very efficient 72 minutes, it’s a lot of food for thought in very little time. Highly recommended.

‘The Strange Little Cat’ screens on Saturday, March 8th at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday, March 12th at 6:00 p.m.