European Union Film Festival 2009: My Synopses - Complete
Note! I haven’t seen any of these films – this is what I’ve gleaned from reviews I’ve read.
Expedition Linnaeus (2007) – Free showings! Fri Nov 6 at 2:30 pm, and Tue Nov 10 at 3 pm. A documentary film made for the 300th anniversary of the expeditions of the Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus. The film is a journey of discovery to seven continents, into space, down into the depths of the oceans and into the future. At the center are crucial questions: How should we behave and act today in order to survive tomorrow? And how can science and research contribute to a better world? The expedition meets some of the world's leading researchers and experts, who try to give answers to these questions.
A Farewell to Hemingway (2008) – Fri Nov 6 at 4:30 pm, and Sun Nov 15 at 3:30 pm. Bulgaria, the night of October 18, 1922. A rampageous young American is forced to get off the Orient Express at a small station. The Station Master and his daughter are quite unwilling to put up the stranger. Gradually the American wins their trust. When the father finds out that his daughter has decided to go away to Paris with the American, he prepares a potion to make him fall asleep and secretly puts him on a train. In the morning all that has been left from the guest is a piece of paper with a military cross attached to it and the name “Ernest Hemingway.”
Obaba (2005) – Fri Nov 6 at 6:30 pm, and Sat Nov 14 at 1:30 pm. A young filmmaker makes an investigative trip to a mysterious, isolated Basque hill town populated by eccentrics, and struggles to capture the feel of the area. A mesmerizing and evocative experience for her and the viewer. The picture has a fresh vision, and a fusion of regional charm with magic realism.
California Dreamin’ (2007) – Fri Nov 6 at 8:30 pm, and Sat Nov 14 at 9:15 pm. Inspired by a Kosovo war incident involving American troops accompanying a NATO train who were stopped at a rural Romanian railway station because they lacked customs documents. Unfinished when the talented 27-year-old director died in a traffic accident, the film spins a complex dark comedy of near-Shakespearean proportions. Deftly juggling a number of story strands that intersect in ways that accumulate meaning, the ambitious, large-scale film pivots on cultural misunderstandings. Provides a damning portrait of a Romania where corruption is endemic and officials thrive by avoiding responsibility. Equally devastating is the picture of self-righteous Americans who stir up a bloodbath but manage to leave the scene with their hands clean.
Christmas Story (2007) – Sat Nov 7 at 11:50 am, and Tue Nov 10 at 4:30 pm. A film for the entire family that tells the touching tale of how a little boy called Nikolas came to be Santa Claus. Hundreds of years ago in Lapland, little Nikolas loses his family in an accident. The villagers decide to look after the orphaned boy together. Once a year - at Christmas - Nikolas moves to a new home. To show his gratitude, Nikolas decides to make toys for the children of the families as good-bye presents. Over the years, Nikolas' former adoptive families become many, and soon almost every house has presents on its doorstep on Christmas morning, bringing children joy every Christmas, in a tradition even continuing to today.
Love Is All (2007) Shown with Thai and English subtitles – Sat Nov 7 at 1:30 pm, and Wed Nov 11 at 5:15 pm. This romantic comedy was tops at the Netherlands box office for local films in 2007. Colorful, touching, and funny, this can be considered as a Dutch version of Love Actually. The stories and situations are very Dutch (including a gay marriage and a vehicle carefully locked to a bridge), with the all-star cast playing the roles they do best. And the movie shows the best side of Amsterdam.
Irina Palm (2007) – Sat Nov 7 at 3:45 pm, and Thu Nov 12 at 3 pm. Rock icon Marianne Faithfull stars as a mousey woman who takes a job in a sex club to pay for emergency medical treatment for her grandson. It belongs to a sturdy and very British genre: the naughty-granny comedy, in which an older woman is liberated and rejuvenated by an excursion into vice. But sleaze and salaciousness are quickly banished in favor of sentimental good cheer.
Splinters (2008) Shown with Thai and English subtitles – Sat Nov 7 at 5:45 pm, and Thu Nov 12 at 7 pm. – Slices of contemporary Polish life in a dreary industrial town in Silesia – generally conceived as a gray, dirty region inhabited by unhappy people who live in poverty and have bleak prospects. There are three intertwining narratives about three young people, all living in the same dreary town, and all stuck in dead-end relationships.
Corridor # 8 (2008) – Sat Nov 7 at 7:40 pm, and Wed Nov 11 at 9:30 pm. – A road movie for a road that doesn't exist – the planned, but never built, highway project that would have connected populations that have been separated for generations. All the ironies and absurdities of the Balkans come into play in this documentary, which both delights in the illogicality of the situation in which the neighboring nations of Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania have no means of common transportation, and pointedly comments on the retarding effects of isolation.
Crossed Tracks (2007) – Sat Nov 7 at 9:30 pm, and Fri Nov 13 at 9:15 pm. – An engaging thriller about murder and romance with plenty of stylistic panache. Has been released commercially, with generally favorable reviews. Rated R in the US for brief language and sexual references.
Good Morning Heartache (2008) – Sun Nov 8 at 12 noon, and Wed Nov 11 at 7:30 pm. – Alternately emotional and funny, a fresh voice emerges from Italian cinema in the person of director and co-writer Anna Negri, as the marriage of an actor and a freelance film editor breaks up unexpectedly in front of her camera. Quite experimental, with camera angles and techniques shifted around to mirror guerrilla film-making. An interesting presentation of a tale dealing with the vagaries of the heart.
Zozo (2005) – Sun Nov 8 at 2 pm, and Thu Nov 12 at 5 pm. – The affecting story of a young Arabic boy who escapes the turmoil and tragedy of the 1980s civil war in Lebanon by emigrating to Sweden to join his grandparents, and where he has difficulty in fitting in to his new world.
Citizen Havel (2008) – Sun Nov 8 at 4:15 pm, and Thu Nov 12 at 9 pm. – A documentary revealing former Czech president Vaclav Havel's private moments and backroom dealings. A fascinating cinema verite-style portrait, made over nearly a decade. Vaclav Havel confirms his status as one of the most likable men to ever win office in this intriguing film.
Adventurers (2008) – Sun Nov 8 at 6:30 pm, and Fri Nov 13 at 5 pm. – This sprightly take on that old warhorse the road movie has a hapless trio of father, son, and grandson making an increasingly mad and wildly comical trip across the Hungarian-Romanian border. The ensemble acting from the three protagonists is a delight to watch.
Silent Wedding (2008) – Sun Nov 8 at 8:45 pm, and Fri Nov 13 at 7:35 pm. – A Romanian emotional roller-coaster which pictures that country’s recent history in a tragical and comical frame. In a small town, a happy young couple is about to be wed, and the community is ready to celebrate the happy event. All is well, until a number of militant communists enter the town to declare a period of national mourning after the death of the party leader. The wedding party is forbidden and the community searches for a way to have it go on anyway. The solution: the feast will go on but everything, including the music, will be in mime.
La Paloma - Longing Worldwide (2008) Shown with Thai and English subtitles – Mon Nov 9 at 3:30 pm, and Sun Nov 15 at 8 pm. – The melody of La Paloma has traversed the globe since its composition, and while the original music has survived the trek, the lyrics have not. Each culture that adopts the song transforms its meaning, and this malleability is the cornerstone of SigridFaltin’s staggering contemplation on the power of music.
Mataharis (2007) – Mon Nov 9 at 5:30 pm, and Sun Nov 15 at 1:30 pm. – Three women carry the three stories that intertwine in the course of this film. All three work at a private detective agency in Madrid; their bullying boss is male, but it's Carmen, Eva, and Ines who do the dirty work, bringing back evidence of marital infidelity and business chicanery for paying clients. A bittersweet tale of frustrated lives and loves.
Hannah Hannah (2007) Shown with Thai and English subtitles – Mon Nov 9 at 7:30 pm, and Sat Nov 14 at 5:30 pm. – The story is a textbook example of a romantic drama, and its an emotional roller-coaster, as highs and lows, drama and comedy, tears and happiness, alternate with great rapidity.
Gibellina – The Earthquake (2007) – Mon Nov 9 at 9:15 pm, and Sat Nov 14 at 11:50 am. – The Sicilian town of Gibellina was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968, then rebuilt years later at a distance from its original location. This was not done in a conventional way, instead in line with a Utopian vision of renewal. Things didn’t quite work out as planned, as this fascinating documentary details.
The Viceroys (2007) – Tue Nov 10 at 6:30 pm, and Sun Nov 15 at 5:15 pm. – Beautifully set, gorgeously shot, this is one of the best costume dramas to come from Italy in the past two decades. It takes place in southern Italy in the 18th-19th centuries, where a noble family of Spanish origin faces an intense internal struggle to survive the political movement, led by Garibaldi, that condemns the noble families and seeks to unite Italy as one nation. In the film, you can see how dysfunctional this family was, and how it seeks to keep the power and authority it has always had even under the new political system. Based on a novel by Federico De Roberto that set off a scandal at the end of the nineteenth century, and which was banned for 100 years, the film recounts the history of Sicily through the history of one its noble families, along the lines of Visconti’s great classic, ‘The Leopard’.
The Collectress (2008) – Tue Nov 10 at 8:45 pm, and Sun Nov 15 at 11:50 am. – Gaile is a speech therapist for children living in Vilinus. Upon the death of her father, Gaile loses the ability to feel emotions, morphing into a cold, blank shell of a human being. She encounters an amateur film maker and editor, and, surprised by his artistic talent, Gaile finds that only by watching his films can she feel true emotions. After watching one movie, Gaile becomes addicted to the films and the emotions they produce. She demands more, and when real-life events unsatisfactorily fill her emotional vacuum, Gaile decides to create scenarios for the film editor to capture, so that she may once again begin to feel.
At first Gaile’s simulated situations are humorous and awkward; her relatively harmless pranks include passionately kissing a groom as he leaves a church, just minutes after his wedding—his bride a few feet away. Soon, however, Gaile decides that “laughter is not enough” and craves to feel darker emotions. Her planned situations take an almost evil, sociopathic turn; Gaile needs sadness, disgust, and betrayal, and succeeds by physically or emotionally hurting innocent bystanders. In doing so, she becomes alienated from her family and friends. The Collectress, though fascinating, nearly becomes painful viewing: painful because of the knowledge that human beings are capable of such deeds.
Sounds Like Teen Spirit (2008) – Sat Nov 14 at 3:30 pm. (only showing) – Ten to fifteen-year-old kids compete in the 2007 Junior Eurovision Song Contest, undeniably a garishly colorful event. And of course the kids are cute. The event is treated with just the right mix of affection and amusement without condescension, making this an irresistible crowd-pleaser. There's major kitsch value in most of the performances, complete with gaudy costumes and choreography redolent of high 1980s New Wave/spandex tackiness. But the earnest creative naiveté is endearing, the personalities even more so. Such likable contestants are easy to root for, whether their talents suggest viable adult careers or not. Director Jamie Jay Johnson (who provides funny narration on occasion) charts their thrills of victory and agonies of defeat in a thoroughly entertaining film.
Ben X (2007) – Sat Nov 14 at 7:30 pm. (only showing) – Generally favorable reviews. Ben is different and his life is a universe all unto itself. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism that prevents normal communication, and while he is a courageous hero—“BENX”—in the fantasy on-line gaming world that consumes him, in his daily life Ben is tormented by bullies and ignored by apathetic teachers. As the bullies’ relentless attacks push him over the edge and out of control, his on-line dream girl appears to him and helps him devise a perfect plan to confront the bullies and make them pay for their torment. Director Nic Balthazar’s dazzling debut blends fantasy and harsh social realism. Based on a true story, this is an utterly original film.