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European Union Film Festival 

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The sixth annual European Union Film Festival continues Friday, March 14, through Thursday, March 27, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Admission is $8, $4 for Film Center members. For further information call 312-846-2800. Films marked with an * are highly recommended. The schedule for March 14 through 20 follows; a full festival schedule through March 27 is available on-line at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY, MARCH 14

Villa des roses

As the clouds of World War I gather over Europe, a beautiful French chambermaid (Julie Delpy) takes a job at an English-run boardinghouse in Paris, where she's seduced by a handsome German gentleman (Shaun Dingwall) and then dumped for a wealthy American tourist. The political allegory promised by this diagrammatic plot never really materializes (which may be just as well), and the characters are too sketchy for this 2001 Belgian feature to rise above melodrama. Delpy is a Gallic angel, ogled by the male guests and appalled by her employers' casual cruelty; the German's shabby treatment of her is neither explained by his rationalizations (she's too good for him, you see) nor excused by his adoration of her picture in a foxhole some time later. Director Frank Van Passel adds fanciful visuals reminiscent of Amelie, and Shirley Henderson, Harriet Walter, and Timothy West deliver some stringent comedy as backbiting Brits; these are small but welcome pleasures in a movie that never quite figures out what it's after. In English and subtitled French. 114 min. (JJ) (6:15)

The Twilight Hour

Hoping for an art-house release in the U.S., director Jason Figgis has been pitching this 2002 digital-video feature as an Irish Blair Witch Project, but it plays more like a slightly overlong History Channel program. Based on a book of photographs by Simon Marsden, the documentary surveys Ireland's haunted castles and Celtic ruins, from the druids' old stomping grounds on the Hill of the Witch in County Meath to Leap Castle in County Offaly, called the most haunted home in Ireland. Marsden leads the tour on-screen and also provides the sonorous voice-over; he collaborated with Figgis on the lighting, and both the color DV footage (shot in "Preternaturalscope") and Marsden's dramatic black-and-white stills conjure a spectral atmosphere. A few home owners appear on camera to tell spooky stories, and Figgis creates some chilling dream sequences for his leonine ghost hunter, but the real pull is Marsden's gloomy obsession with the poetry of death: as in the stories of his hero, Edgar Allan Poe, the primary tone is one not of fear but of classical beauty. 80 min. (JJ) (8:30)

SATURDAY, MARCH 15

To Be and to Have

This documentary sounds like a natural: director Nicolas Philibert spent a year filming life in a one-room country schoolhouse, where a dozen students between the ages of 3 and 11 are taught by a single gifted teacher. Because Philibert's earlier In the Land of the Deaf and La moindre des choses (about a psychiatric clinic) showed great tact and sensitivity, my expectations for this 2002 feature were high--but only partly fulfilled. Although he's good at getting us acquainted with the children, Philibert doesn't adequately acknowledge the intrusion that his camera is making, or the way that his presence may be affecting the comportment of the class. And at times I wondered whether he wasn't guilty of mythologizing rural childhood--apparently these free-range kids live television-free lives. The storytelling is seductive, but as journalism the film is compromised by sentimentality. In French with subtitles. 104 min. (JR) (4:00)

First Light of Dawn

Upon receiving a telegram bearing the news that his parents are dead, Edo, an engineer, returns home to Sicily, where he learns from his brother Saro that they were killed by the mob. Wheelchair bound and subject to hallucinations, Saro is incapable of living on his own; when Edo takes over his care, the film becomes a quiet, only mildly interesting character study of two men becoming reacquainted after years of separation. This 2000 feature was directed by Francesco Giuffrida. In Italian with subtitles. 86 min. (FC) (4:15)

* The Girl From Paris

A single woman (Mathilde Seigner), disgusted with Paris and bored with her career as an Internet instructor, gets herself a degree in agriculture and buys a farm in Rhone-Alpes, though the crotchety former owner (Michel Serrault) reserves the right to stick around for 18 months while his retirement plans firm up. The self-satisfied young go-getter markets her goat cheese on the Web and soon turns the picturesque farm into a tourist destination for schoolchildren and vacationers; the old farmer, resentful of her education and urban upbringing, castigates her at every opportunity and waits for the pitiless mountain winter to break her spirit. I fully expected this to turn into Heidi, but while the antagonists do become close, I was more impressed by the fact that, despite their grudging warmth toward each other, they remain rather unpleasant people to the end. Christian Carion directed this 2001 French feature from a script by Eric Assous, whose asinine relationship comedy Very Opposite Sexes, released the same year, didn't prepare me for his fine work here. With Jean-Paul Roussillon, who's superb as the old farmer's philosophical pal. In French with subtitles. 103 min. (JJ) (6:00)

Me and Morrison

"Morrison" is the legendary Doors front man, worshiped by "me," a bulky Gen Xer and single father who smuggles and snorts heroin. This 2001 debut drama by Finnish director Lenka Hellstedt is seen from the perspective of Milla (Irina Bjorklund), a waif who becomes emotionally entangled with the drug runner and pays the price. A rock-laden sound track tries to compensate for what the script lacks: emotion and credible characters. The wan Bjorklund suffers exquisitely, but costar Samuli Edelmann (a Finnish pop singer) is no Jim Morrison. In Finnish with subtitles. 100 min. (TS) (6:15)

* Lilya 4-Ever

Lukas Moodysson's powerful third feature is a rigorously structured, unforgettable work, dominated by the performance of Oksana Akinshina as a Russian teenager abandoned by her mother and forced into prostitution. Its circular narrative is unsettling, and Ulf Brantas's cinematography is excellent. In English and subtitled Russian, Swedish, and German. 110 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (8:00)

Ingredients for Dreams

In this wistful 2001 romantic comedy by German director Gordian Maugg (Olympic Summer), a middle-aged woman (Renate Krossner) rekindles her passion for cuisine when an old flame asks her to help him win a cooking contest. Wisely, Maugg soft-pedals the overworked foodie-movie cliche that equates kitchen mastery with sensual abandon. The shimmering waterways of the Spreewald forest provide a dreamy backdrop for Krossner's eloquently deadpan performance. In German and Polish with subtitles. 97 min. (TS) (8:15)

SUNDAY, MARCH 16

* Mondays in the Sun

Laid-off shipyard workers in a northern Spanish town congregate in a bar, each responding to his plight according to his character. Lino (Jose Angel Egido) forlornly pursues jobs he's too old for while trying to learn computer skills from his son; the blustery Santa (Javier Bardem) indulges in impotent fantasies about emigrating to Australia. Writer-director Fernando Leon de Aranoa resists blaming the shipyard bosses in this 2002 drama, suggesting that the men are partially responsible for their own fates. In Spanish with subtitles. 114 min. (FC) (3:15)

* The Reunion

The joys, anxieties, and regrets of a high school reunion are inventively rendered in this 2002 suburban satire, directed by Mans Herngren and Hannes Holm. As a misfit teen, Magnus (Bjorn Kjellman) had a crush on a female classmate from Africa but never acted on it. Twenty years later, he's a suit trapped in a loveless marriage with a controlling woman. At the reunion he looks for his first love but finds instead an assortment of classmates who, though on the cusp of middle age, still behave like their old selves (bully, clown, loser, flirt). Although some of the characters are stereotypes, the flashbacks to the 80s are dead-on and the humor is poignant and sly. In Swedish with subtitles. 103 min. (TS) (3:30)

Gebertig

Rather than consider Austria's complicity in the crimes of the Third Reich, many Austrians regard themselves as Hitler's first victims. Directors Robert Schindel and Lukas Stepanik target the complacency of their countrymen in this 2002 film, which brings together four legatees of the Holocaust: the son of a Mengele-like Nazi physician, a Jewish cabaret artist who sings of Vienna as "the capital of forgetting," a concentration camp survivor turned Broadway tunesmith, and a journalist whose left-leaning father opposed the Nazis. Schindel and Stepanik try to bring the past to life with scenes from the characters' childhoods, but the intercutting is crude and the imagery sometimes cruder: it hardly seems necessary to show the dissection of a live patient, however briefly. In German with English subtitles. 115 min. (FC) (5:30)

MONDAY, MARCH 17

Ingredients for Dreams

See listing for Saturday, March 15. (6:00)

* The Reunion

See listing for Sunday, March 16. (6:15)

The Seventh Sun of Love

Greece's catastrophic 1922 rout by Turkey and the ensuing revolt within the Greek military provide the historical backdrop for this 2001 drama, but the sexual politics are a lot more interesting. A 17-year-old girl, rejected by her mother for losing her virginity, becomes a maid in the household of a rigid army major, where she's nearly raped by his hot-blooded adjutant. The major punishes his charge with a brutal flogging, but he's less concerned with the girl's honor than his own, and before long he himself is taking her by force across the dining room table. Once the men are called off to battle, the major's wife befriends the girl, and by the time the major returns home, minus a leg, the two women are sharing a bed. From what I've read about Vassiliki, the previous film by Greek writer-director Vangelis Serdaris, he seems to have a thing for soldiers and rape; in this case, however, the sham marriage and the tug-of-war over the lovely young cipher provide an interesting snapshot of the era's sexual hypocrisy. 124 min. (JJ) (8:00)

Me and Morrison

See listing for Saturday, March 15. (8:15)

TUESDAY, MARCH 18

The Twilight Hour

See listing for Friday, March 14. (6:15)

Gebertig

See listing for Sunday, March 16. (8:00)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19

* Mondays in the Sun

See listing for Sunday, March 16. (6:00)

Me and Morrison

See listing for Saturday, March 15. (6:15)

Villa des roses

See listing for Friday, March 14. (8:00)

First Light of Dawn

See listing for Saturday, March 15. (8:15)

THURSDAY, MARCH 20

* The Girl From Paris

See listing for Saturday, March 15. (6:00)

The Seventh Sun of Love

See listing for Monday, March 17. (8:00)

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