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!
Kevin Meul’s feature film debut, My First Highway (Belgium, 2016) tells a seemingly typical coming-of-age story with some real tension and teeth. 16-year-old Benjamin (the impressively malleable Aaron Roggeman) is on a trailer-park beach holiday in sunny Spain with his family when he meets Annabel (Romy Louise Lauwers), the teen daughter of the owners of the local convenience store. The usual testing-the-waters flirtations ensue, but then things suddenly escalate, and we find ourselves in some pretty dark and thick film noir intrigue. On the surface, she’s quite manipulative, and he can be quite gullible, but Meul takes each of them to vaguer, and meaner, places. His script is surprisingly dialogue-free – he and cinematographer Menno Mans are quite good at using the visual narrative to express behavior, feeling and overall moods – showing us, rather than telling us, the story. There’s a shortcut here, a missed opportunity there and some dubious soundtrack choices, but overall this debut film leaves a strong impression. I liked it a lot.
“My First Highway” will be shown on Saturday, March 25th at 2:00 pm and Tuesday the 28th at 6:00 pm.
Croatian star of stage, TV and film, the prolific character actress Ksenija Marinković has been featured in two films here at CEUFF. The first was the 2016 comedy All The Best (Sve Najbolje), a generally amusing but indifferently structured bit of Christmas fluff (that she was very good in). Her talents are put to far better use in the solemn but intriguing On The Other Side (S One Strane) (Croatia, 2016). Here Marinković portrays Vesna, a hard-working nurse-caregiver who receives a bolt from the blue one day; a phone call from her husband, Zarko (Lazar Ristovski). Zarko has been imprisoned for twenty years in The Hague for committing war crimes on the Serbian side of the Balkan civil wars, but is soon to be released. He’s eager to reconcile with the family, but that turns out to be a pretty tall order; they’d been shamed and devastated by his actions, and the now-adult children want nothing to do with him. Vesna is resistant as well at first, but a series of late-night phone conversations with him chip away at her empathy, and she considers a reunion. But the news of his release travels fast, and other agendas, both right-minded and sinister, start to emerge.
Veteran director Zrinko Ogresta, with co-writer Mate Matišić, tells an efficient story, only explaining snippets of the history while giving full expression to the emotional stakes for all involved. There’s a real contrast, scripted and visual, between Vesna’s work-driven days and the nights at home weighing her feelings and shared history with Zarko. It’s a well-measured, involving drama with a twisty and serious conclusion, quite well done, and highly recommended.
“On The Other Side” screens on Saturday, March 25th at 6:00 pm and Monday the 27th at 6:15 pm.