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.
There’s a weirdly slapdash flavor to Mika Kaurismäki’s The Girl King (Finland, 2015). It’s modestly but impressively designed, capably shot and generally well-performed. Parts of it have refreshing intellectual and moral weight, healthy doses of palace intrigue and political maneuvering and some genuinely-expressed passion and urgency. But it’s wildly inconsistent – there’s so much of real interest here that it’s a shame Kaurismäki can’t hold it together better.
Six-year-old Kristina was the only legitimate heir to the Swedish throne when her father, King Gustav II Adolph, died in battle during the Thirty Years War (Swedish Protestants vs. the Catholic Holy Roman Empire). Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna (Michael Nyqvist) headed up the ruling Privy Council and oversaw Kristina’s education, which was prodigious – Gustav had arranged early in Kristina’s life for her to have every educational option accorded to any comparable male in the country. Coronated Queen after turning 18, it soon became clear that her education had fiercely liberalized her – Kristina (Malin Buska) was a staunch defender of Luther and Protestantism, but quickly aspired to end the wars against the Catholics and fostered the free exchange of religious and philosophical ideas. She railed against her country of “miners and lumberjacks, peasants and soldiers,” and promoted huge upswings in education and cultural creativity, all while being reviled as a traitor to her God by hardliners in her own court and fending off a series of opportunistic suitors. Much of the film refers us to her correspondence, and later friendship, with René Descartes (Patrick Bauchau), chronicles the progress of her love affair with her lady-in-waiting Countess Ebba Sparre (Sarah Gadon) and features a ferocious turn from Martina Gedeck as Kristina’s unhinged mother, Maria Eleonora. Unfortunately, Kaurismäki just tries to cover too many bases without having an elegant structure to negotiate it all. We always know the contemporary film crew is just inches outside the frame, and that the actor we’re watching now just finished having a smoke two minutes ago. This is a far better movie than Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, which suffered from the same dearth of gravity and commitment, but there’s still an unfortunate sense of people working way too hard to play dress-up.
“The Girl King” will screen on Friday, March 25th at 6:00 pm and Saturday the 26th at 2:00 pm.