EUFF 2016 – The Tree, Liza The Fox-Fairy

I always look forward to the Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center every year – this one is their 19th annual, and it runs from March 4 – 31.

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Katarina Stegnar in “The Tree.”  credit: monoo.si

 The Tree (Drevo) (Slovenia, 2014) can be very slow going for many viewers, but it’s an impressive film for its modest presentation. Director Sonja Prosenc creates an atmosphere of dread and inevitable tragedy with as few overtly narrative elements as possible. Milena (Katarina Stegnar) is the recently widowed mother of two sons, teenaged Alek (Jernej Kogovšek) and the younger Veli (Lukas Matija Rosas Uršič), who is anxious to celebrate his ninth birthday. Prosenc’s characters present a saddened but stubborn resilience in the face of what may be a cascading series of tragedies that involve this family, other families, and their community as a whole, the nature of which we’re left to put together on our own. If you’ve an ear for it, the spoken-language transitions between Slovene and Albanian provide valuable clues as well. Some may find Prosenc’s withholding one-thing-at-a-time approach pointlessly opaque, but visually and structurally there are strong, deliberate choices made here. This is clearly the film she wanted to make. It’s not without its problems, but I ended up liking it a lot.

“The Tree” screens on Saturday, March 5th at 6:00 pm and Monday, March 7th at 6:00 pm as well.

 

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Mónika Balsai and David Sakurai in “Liza, The Fox-Fairy.”   credit: filmteam.hu

 Liza, The Fox-Fairy (Liza, A Rókatündér) (Hungary, 2015) is drawing comparisons to the recent work of filmmakers like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Wes Anderson and Sweden’s Roy Andersson for its amusingly antic visual formalism and its inventive use of eccentric contrivance as a hard model for personal psychology. Hungarian film is typified by the long, deliberate and pensive works of Miklós Jancsó or Béla Tarr, but it’s nice that directors like Károly Ujj Mészáros (here) are opening up to more fanciful narrative experimentation.

Mousy Liza (Mónika Balsai) is a young Budapest live-in nurse tending Marta (Piroska Molnár), the widow of a former ambassador to Japan. Marta has infused Liza with her regard for all things Japanese – pop-rock, romance novels and offbeat cultural legends. Subsequently, the always-swingin’ specter of Tomy Tani (David Sakurai) follows Liza around while she creates romantic rendezvous with a few wildly varied suitors, including a Zen-like police detective and a lascivious heir to Marta’s fortunes. But when the suitors start meeting grisly fates, Liza suspects she’s become a Japanese fox-fairy – a beautiful woodland creature that lures smitten men to their deaths. 60s kitsch meets groan-inducing slapstick violence, but it’s all smartly orchestrated and performed with real commitment. This is a rewardingly fun Saturday night movie, and I suspect the clearly talented Mészáros, a short-film-and-advertising veteran, will move quickly onward and upward from here.

“Liza, The Fox-Fairy” screens on Saturday, March 5th at 8:00 pm and Thursday, March 10th at 8:00 pm as well.

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