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European Union Film Festival 

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The fifth annual European Union Film Festival continues Friday through Thursday, February 22 through 28, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Admission is $8, $4 for Film Center members. For further information call 312-846-2800. All films will be shown in 35-millimeter prints, and those marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22

Venus Talking

Courting publicity, a celebrated novelist agrees to write her forthcoming book under the constant gaze of a Webcam, which leads to unexpected intrigue. Rudolf Thome directed this 2001 feature, in German with subtitles. 95 min. (6:00)

The Piano Teacher

For me, a few of Michael Haneke's features are first-rate (The Seventh Continent, The Castle, Code Unknown), while most of the others are mediocre and/or reprehensible replays of formulas other filmmakers have handled with more style and originality. This 2001 feature about a prim piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives with her mother (Annie Girardot) and develops a sadomasochistic relationship with one of her young male pupils (Benoit Magimel) approaches the latter category, although Liv Ullmann, who headed the jury at Cannes, disagreed. If you like being shaken up and don't care too much why or how, this is probably for you; Huppert gives her all to the part, and you won't be bored. I couldn't help but resent the breast-beating hard sell of the storytelling, which reflects the art-film legacy of Ullmann's mentor, Ingmar Bergman, at its strident worst. Haneke adapted an Austrian novel with some reputation by Elfriede Jelinek, shifting the action to France; the film will open here commercially this spring. In French with subtitles. 129 min. (JR) (8:00)

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23

* Time Out

This powerful feature by Laurent Cantet (Human Resources) has probably generated more buzz than any other European feature shown last fall at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, all of it deserved. With uncanny precision and concentration, it follows the progress of a middle-class, middle-aged French businessman (Aurelien Recoing) who gets fired and hides the truth from his wife, son, daughter, and parents, pretending to be away on business trips while spending much of his time in or near Switzerland. Written by Cantet and Robin Campillo and based on a true story, it manages to register as a resonant contemporary fable while sustaining narrative interest throughout its 132 minutes. In French with subtitles; the native title is L'emploi du temps. The film will open here commercially at a later date. (JR) (3:00)

* Word and Utopia

With Michelangelo Antonioni, Alain Resnais, and Ousmane Sembene still active, one can't call Portuguese writer-director Manoel de Oliveira the only old master we have left in cinema. But how remarkable to see someone in his mid-90s enjoying one of the richest and most productive periods of his career--five extraordinary and very different features since Inquietude in 1998. This is partly thanks to the resourceful producer Paulo Branco (who also sponsors Raul Ruiz); unfortunately, none of the five has found U.S. distribution (unlike de Oliveira's previous releases, The Convent and Voyage to the Beginning of the World, which were less interesting but had bigger stars). The fourth and fifth (I'm Going Home, a superbly unsentimental story about an aging actor, and Oporto of My Childhood, an imaginative documentary about de Oliveira's hometown) haven't even made it to Chicago festivals yet. Word and Utopia (2000) offers another example of how de Oliveira has enlivened his stately style through vigorous direction of actors, mainly through Lima Duarte's performance as Antonio Vieira, an outspoken 17th-century Jesuit priest who championed the rights of Brazilian Indians and won the support of both the pope and Queen Christina of Sweden. Drawn mainly from Vieira's sermons and letters, which director and actor treat like libretti for the settings, the period artworks, and various dramatic scenes, and lusciously shot by Renato Berta, the film epitomizes de Oliveira's profound embrace of history, which deepens and surpasses the wisdom of old age. In Portuguese with subtitles. 130 min. (JR) (3:30)

The Only Journey of His Life

A "poetic speculation" about the final days of 19th-century Greek writer Georgios Vizyenos. Lakis Papastathis directed this 2001 feature. 87 min. (6:00)

Flickering Lights

The first feature by scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (Mifune), this appealing 2001 comedy is by turns violent and gentle, as a bumbling petty criminal and his accomplices are dispatched by a mob boss to rob a diplomat but then abscond with the loot, heading for Barcelona. After their van breaks down in the Danish countryside they find refuge in an abandoned building, and the leader, deciding that he's tired of the criminal life, buys it in hopes of opening a restaurant. The personality conflicts among the four seem a bit formulaic, as do the flashbacks explaining why each turned to crime, but the narrative is inventive enough to sustain interest. In Danish with subtitles. 109 min. (FC) (6:15)

Late Night Shopping

Director Saul Metzstein describes this 2001 British feature as "a comedy about a bunch of losers. . . . Thatcher's children, people who are now completely apathetic." Set mostly in a drab all-night cafe, it concerns four young people working graveyard shifts who spend their free time aimlessly chatting and debating whether or not they're actually friends. The editing rhythms and artificial colors give a good sense of the late-night manic depression endured by these alienated laborers, but many elements seem contrived, from the car radio that won't turn off to the girlfriend of a comatose hospital patient who takes advantage of her visits to have sex with the porters. 91 min. (FC) (8:00)

Venus Talking

See listing for Friday, February 22. (8:15)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 24

The Tunnel

An escapee from East Berlin resolves to tunnel under the Berlin Wall and free his sister and niece. Roland Suso Richter directed this 2001 feature, in German with subtitles. 150 min. (3:30)

The Most Fertile Man in Ireland

An Irish sex comedy (2000, 91 min) about a male virgin living with his mother in Belfast who discovers he has the highest sperm count in Ireland. Dudi Appleton directed; with Kris Marshall and Tara Lynn O'Neill. (4:00)

Flickering Lights

See listing for Saturday, February 23. (6:00)

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25

The River

Jarmo Lampela directed this 2001 feature, an intertwining narrative about various personal relationships. In Finnish with subtitles. 106 min. (6:00)

The Tunnel

See listing for Sunday, February 24. (6:30)

The Most Fertile Man in Ireland

See listing for Sunday, February 24. (8:00)

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26

The River

See listing for Monday, February 25. (6:15)

The Only Journey of His Life

See listing for Saturday, February 23. (8:15)

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27

* Time Out

See listing for Saturday, February 23. (6:15)

Ignorant Fairies

After her husband dies, a doctor (Margherita Buy) discovers for the first time that her husband had a male lover. Ferzan Ozpetek directed this 2001 Italian drama, which will open here commercially later this year. In Italian with subtitles. 105 min. (8:30)

Amnesia

Fedja van Huet gives a fascinating performance as two very different twin brothers--one a sarcastic petty criminal, the other a photographer who for some reason can no longer stand to photograph people. The latter returns home to care for his ill mother, and flashbacks suggest and ultimately reveal the trauma that has haunted both brothers since their early teens. The psychology of this 2001 drama may be conventional, but director Martin Koolhoven's tight interweaving of past and present captures the twins' sense of entrapment, and there's an original if sour flavor to the particulars, such as the junked cars surrounding the family home or a scene that finds one brother in bed with his addled mom. In Dutch with subtitles. 90 min. (FC) (8:45)

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28

Ignorant Fairies

See listing for Wednesday, February 27. (6:15)

* Swimmers in the Desert

Austrian filmmaker Kurt Mayer tries to locate the route taken by explorer Laszlo Almasy, who inspired Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, during his 1929 expedition from Cairo through the Libyan desert. Mayer's father was a newsreel cameraman accompanying Laszlo, and the director intercuts the earlier footage with his own, examining both the colonial past and its vestiges in present-day Egypt. Old-time European adventurers trek through the desert, blustering about their prewar days in the exclusive men's clubs of London, Vienna, and Cairo, while Mayer weaves in family history and muses about the process of discovery. His soporific voice-over can be distracting, but this 2000 documentary benefits from his irony and his firm grasp of time and place, and its aerial cinematography of the desert is terrific. In German with subtitles. 110 min. (TS) (8:30)

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