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The European Union Film Festival 2014 - Part 3

Margherita Buy in 'A Five Star Life.'
Margherita Buy in 'A Five Star Life.'
Music Box Films

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.

Contrary to popular belief, most film critics haven’t seen everything. We all have gaps. And among my many are the films of Lukas Moodysson, a talented Swedish director known for films both gracious (Show Me Love, 1998) and harrowing (Lilya 4Ever, 2002). For his latest film, the uncharacteristically perky We Are The Best! (Vi Är Bäst!) (Sweden, 2013), to be the first of his work I’ve ever seen seems somewhat unfair to each of us, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that it’s a pretty good time at the movies. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) have only recently been able to use numbers that end in –teen to describe their ages, but they already know they’re outcasts from the rest of their mainstream schoolmates in early-80s Stockholm. Starting a punk-rock band doesn’t even feel like an option for them – they’re bitter, they’re isolated, they hate their parents, teachers and fellow students, and they hate western consumerist culture, but they’re not so bitter that they don’t think their experiences aren't worth expressing, despite the fact that they don’t have the foggiest notion of how to work musical instruments. Enter Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a completely different kind of outcast – straight-laced, devoutly Christian, and a classical guitarist who is almost hooted off the school-assembly stage by her (and Bobo and Klara’s) philistine fellow classmates. Bobo and Klara’s open-minded opportunism brings Hedvig into their camp for musical tutelage, and Hedvig turns out to be a fiercely loyal friend and dedicated fellow anarchist in her own big-sisterly way. It’s all a little puffy – there aren't many cultural points being scored here that are particularly original concerning The Kids or The Grown-Ups – but Moodysson never winks, never condescends, and never takes any of it for granted. In many ways, thirteen-year-olds are the perfect vessels for genuine anarchy; they really don’t care about money or being famous, or even whether they’ll still be interested in doing this next week. They just wanna vent. Through amplifiers and P.A.s. In the faces of everyone they hate. And when the film nears its conclusion with them doing exactly that, it’s surprisingly cathartic, and honestly earned. This is the perfect film to pair with Pump Up The Volume in that double feature in your (and/or my) head.

‘We Are The Best!’ screens Friday, March 14th at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday the 15th at 7:00 p.m.

A wealthy corporate CEO’s proclivity for dipping into various adulterous honeypots comes back to haunt him with a vengeance in Paul Verhoeven’s Tricked (Steekspel) (Netherlands, 2012). The film is being promoted on the basis that most of the narrative was crowdsourced; this article reveals that, while Verhoeven got a few fair ideas from the thousands of story entries he received, the final script itself wasn’t nearly that collaborative. Verhoeven, Robert Alberdingk Thijm and Kim van Kooten wrote their own script after all, and it’s a gleefully conflicted potboiler that highlights both the practicality and bad karma that result from the opportunistic applications of greed, lust and personal ambition. The look of the film overall, and the story’s structure of twists, betrayals and revelations, is most certainly the work of an experienced film veteran who makes it look easy, and who provides a fertile environment for the excellent performances all around. Except for a few quick instances of nudity, this could be one of those guilty-pleasure TV movies that networks like USA, TNT or A&E would be happy to feature. Verhoeven seems to be serious about reinventing himself after extracting his career from the high budget Hollywood bombast of Robocop and Starship Troopers (both fine films, don’t get me wrong), and the lurid excesses of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas; he defends those films (Basic Instinct and Showgirls), of course, but this film, and 2006’s terrific Black Book, will have a far more laudable shelf life than those earlier provocations. Tricked is no masterpiece, and not especially original, but it’s certainly a modestly good time at the movies; smart, funny, slick, slyly satisfying, and only 55 efficient minutes long. I highly recommend it.

‘Tricked’ screens on Saturday, March 15th at 3:30 p.m. and Monday the 17th at 6:00 p.m.

I haven’t seen either of director Maria Sole Tognazzi’s previous feature efforts (Past Perfect, 2003, or The Man Who Loves, 2008), but based on the evidence of her most recent, A Five Star Life (Viaggio Sola) (Italy, 2013), she’s an impressively talented narrative filmmaker. Her film follows Irene Lorenzi (a masterful Margherita Buy), a professional ‘mystery guest’ who evaluates the quality of high-end hotels that cater to the super-rich. Following a checklist of scrupulous criteria, and stealthily concealing her true mission, she rates her stay at each hotel, and then concludes by revealing herself to that hotel’s management and sharing her compliments and critiques. The film also presents to us her non-working life; content to be independent and unmarried, she’s nonetheless very close to her sister’s family (and her two nieces) and an ex-boyfriend, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), with whom she maintains a close longtime friendship. One might think the film simply describes how her job informs her life, and vice versa (and that’d be plenty for many films), but the script, which Tognazzi co-authored with screenwriting veterans Ivan Cotroneo and Francesca Marciano, has a more ambitious range of character depth and eventful curve-balls than that simple outline might presume. I won’t go into too much detail here, but this is a superbly shot, assembled and performed examination of intelligent and interesting grown-up lives. Do yourself a favor and make this a Saturday double feature with Tricked. It’s a wonderful film.

‘A Five Star Life’ screens on Saturday, March 15th at 5:15 p.m. and Thursday the 20th at 8:00 p.m.

One Shot (Hitac) (Croatia, 2013) is the feature film debut of Croatia’s Robert Orhel, who’s had fairly extensive experience in television. The film itself is compellingly written, visually forthright, and admirably performed by its lead actors, and his tale of two women (a police detective, Anita [Ecija Ojdanic], and a college student, Petra [Iva Babic]) whose paths intersect over a fatefully tragic night is well-structured and starkly intimate. But, despite its professionalism and good intentions, we've seen this all before – how Anita’s choices of career and self-dependence complicate her personal life, and how Petra struggles to make a life past her broken family. Anita takes rightful pride in being very good at her job, but still has enough empathy to see between the lines of the law. Petra is a fallibly human collection of defense mechanisms and self-preservation whose very few unguarded impulses nonetheless result in irreversible moral dilemmas. There’s a lot to like here – it’s a good film, overall. But I’m looking forward to Orhel aspiring to more in his subsequent work. He’s a good writer, as well as director, and with his obvious rapport with his actors, he’ll do just fine from here.

‘One Shot’ screens on Saturday, March 15th at 9:00 p.m. and Tuesday the 18th at 7:45 p.m.

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