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European Union Film Festival 

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The seventh annual European Union Film Festival runs Friday, March 5, through Thursday, March 25, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Tickets are $9, $5 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2800. All films will be screened in 35-millimeter, and films marked with an * are highly recommended. The schedule for March 5 through 11 follows; a full festival schedule through March 25 is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY, MARCH 5

* Intermission

See Critic's Choice. Also on the program: Steven Benedict's Irish short The Last (2003, 16 min.). (7:00)

SATURDAY, MARCH 6

* Intermission

See Critic's Choice. Also on the program: Steven Benedict's Irish short The Last (2003, 16 min.). (3:15)

The Reckoning

Paul Bettany reunites with director Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1) for this intelligent thriller set in 14th-century England. Continuing to demonstrate an impressive range, he plays an adulterous monk who finds shelter with a troupe of thespians led by Willem Dafoe, only to be plunged into a thicket of murder and court intrigue during their engagement in a remote town. Peter Sova's wide-screen cinematography juxtaposes the immense and lawless countryside with the cloistered society of the fortified outpost, deftly conveying the darkness of the Middle Ages, while his chiaroscuro renderings of the performers' warm-ups suggest the dawning of the Renaissance. As a whodunit this is clever but fundamentally flawed: when a prominent star's one big scene arrives near the end, there's little doubt who the culprit is. 110 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (5:45)

Low-Flying Aircraft

The human race as we know it seems headed for extinction in this 2001 Portuguese film, directed by Sweden's Solveig Nordlund from a story by J.G. Ballard. Europe's population has plummeted (France is at 49,000) because most couples who aren't sterile are conceiving mutants, which the government forces them to abort. Desperate for a child after six abortions, a pregnant woman flees with her husband to a depopulated seaside resort to seek the assistance of a biplane-flying doctor who has allowed his own mutant offspring to live. The narrative is not gripping, but stylish compositions marked by stark, intense colors effectively evoke a ruined future. In Portuguese with subtitles. 80 min. (FC) (6:15)

* I'm Not Scared

Most American coming-of-age movies focus on sexual awakening, but European films tend to view loss of innocence in a broader context. Based on an internationally acclaimed novel by Niccolo Ammaniti, this extraordinary Italian thriller (2002) is a study in contrasts: light versus dark, youth versus maturity, the playful versus the lethal. A ten-year-old boy (Giuseppe Cristiano) and his pals spend a languid summer in the sun-drenched countryside, mercilessly egging each other on, and after one particularly risky dare the boy discovers something shocking in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse. The ensuing crisis of conscience sets him at odds with a community that may be nurturing but also harbors grave secrets; as with all rites of initiation, knowledge brings peril and pain. Gabriele Salvatores directed. In Italian with subtitles. 110 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (8:00)

Miffo

A hit in its native Sweden, this 2003 romantic comedy about a newly ordained minister and his love affairs--one with an old flame, the other with a wheelchair-bound member of his flock--is effective in parts but cloying and predictable as a whole. The best scenes play off class differences: the reverend, who comes from a privileged background, has difficulty connecting with his poor congregation, but wins them over at a funeral by inviting the deceased's friends to retell his bad, off-color jokes. Director Daniel Lind Lagerlof makes a nice use of 'Scope compositions of multicharacter scenes. In Swedish with subtitles. 100 min. (FC) (8:15)

SUNDAY, MARCH 7

Bon Voyage

Childhood memories of the Nazi occupation inspired this bloated French comedy by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, an uneasy mix of screwball antics and social satire coscripted by Patrick Modiano (Lacombe, Lucien). It's well mounted and lushly photographed, and Rappeneau deftly orchestrates the crowd scenes as Parisian elites flock to Bordeaux, but the large cast doesn't mesh. Leading man Gregori Derangere is so lightweight he's transparent, Isabelle Adjani overacts as a frivolous and conniving movie star, Gerard Depardieu hasn't got much to do as a government minister, and someone should have postdubbed Peter Coyote's atrocious German and shaky French. In French and German with subtitles. 114 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (3:00)

* This Little Life

The imprisoning, hothouse world of a neonatal intensive care unit is explored in this searing 2003 drama. The mother of a boy born at 23 weeks lives at the hospital for months, desperately hoping that her son will beat the four-to-one odds against his survival. Director Sarah Gavron deftly captures the horror and helplessness of the situation with intense, skewed close-ups of the parents and frightening images of the preemie surrounded by tubes and wires, but avoids manipulative bathos by employing restraint at key moments: when the mother consoles another woman who's lost her child, we see them hugging only in long shot. Rosemary Kay based the script on her autobiographical novel, Saul. 80 min. (FC) (3:15)

My Town

Originally broadcast on Polish television, this 2002 first feature by writer-director Marec Lechk takes an unremittingly grim look at the wayward souls, unemployed and bereft of hope, who inhabit a rat-infested tenement in a dreary industrial town. The putative hero is an awkward, sweet-natured man in his mid-20s (Radoslaw Chrzescianski) who still lives with his mother and alcoholic father and contents himself with playing amateur hockey (though the only indication that he actually plays is a brief scene in which he carries several hockey sticks). Cameraman Przemyslaw Kaminski drains the color from most shots and occasionally pans across the gray sky or the weed-infested landscape to remind us of the desolation--as if we needed reminding. In Polish with subtitles. 60 min. (Joshua Katzman) (5:15)

* Something to Remind Me

More than one reviewer has touted this 2001 German TV movie as ripe for a Hollywood remake, which is another way of saying that it's heavily derivative of Hollywood movies. Christian Petzold, whose troubling drama The State I Am In played at last year's festival, wrote and directed this story of a fetching and mysterious blond (Nina Hoss) who seduces a moody attorney (Andre Hennicke), steals his laptop computer, and disappears to another town, where she befriends a hulking, emotionally wounded factory worker (Sven Pippig in a fine performance). Some of my colleagues were impressed by the devious plot twist at the end, and while it certainly caught me by surprise, in retrospect I think it reduces an engrossing and powerfully acted character drama to the level of a Perry Mason episode. 90 min. (JJ) (5:30)

MONDAY, MARCH 8

The House by the Canal

Based on a Georges Simenon novel, this 2003 made-for-TV drama is conspicuously short on sympathetic characters. After her father dies, 16-year-old Edmee (the beautiful Isild Le Besco) goes to live on her aunt and uncle's farm. Director Alain Berliner (Ma vie en rose) strings pretty pictures together but never makes the girl's moody behavior--which includes flirting with her two male cousins, one of whom is an aggressive boor--psychologically credible; the superimposition of a dead boy's face to signify guilt looks a lot hokier today than it did when D.W. Griffith used the device back in 1914. In subtitled French and unsubtitled Flemish. 100 min. (FC) (6:00)

Blue Moon

This amiable Austrian road film (2002), about a German courier who double-crosses his crooked boss, offers an interesting look at several post-communist locales--notably Bratislava, the most cosmopolitan city in Slovakia, and the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. The first half is pretty interesting, as the laconic courier (Josef Hader in a nicely understated performance) encounters such fringe characters as an enigmatic Russian hooker (Viktoria Malektorovych) and a garrulous small-time crook (Detlev Buck) in a hotel bar. But the story stalls after Hader goes on the lam, arrives in Odessa, and gets involved with the hooker's twin sister (Malektorovych again), as first-time director Andrea Maria Dusl focuses on the symbolic encounter between East and West. In German and Russian with subtitles. 91 min. (Joshua Katzman) (6:15)

The Reckoning

See listing for Saturday, March 6. (8:00)

* Facing the Truth

Beautifully shot in black-and-white 'Scope, this haunting memory play by Danish writer-director Nils Malmros re-creates the life and crimes of his father, Richard Malmros, an eminent neurosurgeon disgraced late in life for having administered a known carcinogen to patients during the 1940s. The filmmaker's personal agenda couldn't be clearer as he maps out the extenuating circumstances that guided his father's actions (he used the drug, a coloring agent used to facilitate brain X-rays, only to treat life-threatening illnesses). But this 2002 feature is compelling for its clear-eyed portrait of the doctor, afflicted in childhood by poverty, in adulthood by hubris, and in old age by the consequences of his earlier decisions. In Danish with subtitles. 98 min. (JJ) (8:15)

TUESDAY, MARCH 9

Miffo

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

Low-Flying Aircraft

See listing for Saturday, March 6. (8:00)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10

* Facing the Truth

See listing for Monday, March 8. (6:00)

* This Little Life

See listing for Sunday, March 7. (6:15)

* Something to Remind Me

See listing for Sunday, March 7. (8:00)

My Town

See listing for Sunday, March 7. (8:15)

THURSDAY, MARCH 11

* I'm Not Scared

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

The House by the Canal

See listing for Monday, March 8. (6:15)

Blue Moon

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

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