Every year in the month of March, the Gene Siskel Film Center hosts the Chicago European Union Film Festival. I’ll give capsule reviews of as many of the films as I can. All films are shown at the Film Center, 164 N. State Street, right across State St. from the Chicago Theater. See you there!
Part 1 is here.
A single subject in a single location over almost two hours (… really…?!), but here the subject is Louis XIV, France’s most legendary King, the “divinely ordained” Sun King, and we spend that two hours (representing weeks and weeks) in his bedchamber, watching him slowly succumb to, among other inevitably lethal ailments, gangrene, and witnessing his slow diminishment from divine to mere mortal. The surprising thing about Albert Serra’s The Death Of Louis XIV (La Mort De Louis XIV) (France, 2016) is how compelling it all is; exquisitely elegant cinematography, opulently and painstakingly art-directed, presenting us with the company of his closest confidantes, his loyal valet, an array of doctors of varying talent, and a coterie of courtiers who applaud encouragingly at his every exhausting attempt to doff his feathered cap or swallow a bit of pastry. Jean-Pierre Léaud, himself legendary royalty of a sort, gives a flawlessly minimal and fiercely expressive performance, and he’s well-served by Serra and his young cinematographer, Jonathan Ricquebourg. Serra’s other films, unseen by me, have up until now featured non-professional actors, very long static camera takes and very regimented production strategies. This work, clearly a notch up in aspiration, conception and budget, is vaguely reminiscent of Peter Greenaway, Lech Majewski or Pedro Costa, but I don’t want to diminish Serra’s own unique approach by unfair comparison. This is a pretty rigorous film for the casual filmgoer, but it rewards the genuinely engaged, and Serra’s just turned forty – there’ll be plenty more where this came from, and I’ll look forward to it.
“The Death Of Louis XIV”, regrettably, will only be shown at the EUFF once, on Sunday, March 5th at 3:00 pm. A regular theatrical run elsewhere, later this spring, seems likely.
Another helpful item on Albert Serra’s work: http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2009janfeb/serra.html
I like that the EUFF consistently features mainstream international films as well as those that might be considered more “arthouse” or unconventional. The young Mikko Kuparinen, a writer/director with some apparent cinematic storytelling chops, brings us 2 Nights Till Morning (2 Yötä Aamuun) (Finland, 2015), an insistently intelligent and engaging strangers-in-the-night romance featuring attractive and intelligent adults whom not once need to refer back to their own adolescences for emotional bearings. This happens so rarely in American films – real adults perfectly comfortable within their own experienced adult skins – that films like this one are worth highlighting. The EUFF perennially features a few of these every year – Hilde Van Mieghem’s Madly In Love (Smoorverliefd) in 2011, or My Worst Nightmare (Mon Pire Cauchemar) from Anne Fontaine in 2013, and I’m grateful. Here we meet Caroline (the reliable Marie-Josée Croze), a travelling professional architect/designer who meets Jaakko (Mikko Nousiainen, very charming and little-seen by U.S. filmgoers) and his entourage in a hotel lounge in Vilnius, Lithuania. Jaakko is a popular DJ touring Europe, and actually seems relieved to spend some less-involved time with an attractive stranger who, seemingly, doesn’t share a common language with him. But, like most of these snarled-but-charming romantic encounters, withheld knowledge is all part of the ongoing chase. With the common wavelength they establish being no guarantee of a future beyond their (surprisingly chaste) Vilnius hotel encounter (their flights home are grounded by a giant cloud of ash produced by an Icelandic volcano eruption), we slowly learn more about each of them, and grow to like them for the same reasons that Kuparinen demonstrably does. This is a lovely film with some down-to-earth adult appeal, straightforward with a few unpredictable shifts – obviously better seen than having it described. I recommend it here, but I hope this film, too, sees some after-fest distribution. Hollywood’s a bit short on these.
“2 Nights Till Morning” will be shown on Monday, March 6th at 6:00 pm and Wednesday, March 15th at 6:15 pm.