Romania has been a curious cradle of film culture in the past decade, a developing country with a filmmaking industry but essentially no film distribution or exhibition trade. Some filmmakers have taken their movies around the country, showing them from vans fitted with projection equipment. While superb local technicians may have learned their craft from working on runaway B-movie productions, Romanian films can be both obstinate and obtuse. Cristi Puiu’s “Aurora” breaks a different sort of light of day, telling the story of thirty-six hours in the life of a killer (played by Puiu) without the signposts we’d expect from such a story if it were cloaked in genre trappings. Puiu told Film Quarterly that his first cut of the film explained how the characters fit together, told more story for the audience’s benefit, all of which he shed in cutting it from six hours to its current three. Festivalgoers who had admired his 2005 “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” have been divided on “Aurora”: despite its bleakness and asperity, the film is thrilling for its exquisite balance of mystery and sudden, inexplicable actions. (The ending is an inspired formalist joke: how Romanian.) More of the sixty-four movies from twenty-four countries showing this week: from Greece, Renos Haralambidis’ “4 Black Suits” is amiable picaresque, exploring the convoluted business of burial in that country, which involves problems with both land and bureaucrats. While not on the daring level of recent successes like “Dogtooth” and “Attenberg,” it’s the kind of fair entertainment that can define whether or not a country can sustain a local production industry. Another economically challenged country, Portugal, provides Pedro Costa’s “Change Nothing,” the noted minimalist’s portrait of actress-singer Jeanne Balibar and her guitarist collaborating on music, largely in a studio setting. Its simple frames, black-and-white images and patience with revealing process aren’t for every taste, but for some, it’ll be a concentrated dose of beauty. João Pedro Rodrigues’ “To Die Like A Man” embellishes the extravagance of earlier films like “Odete” (2005). “Vertigo pop” is critic Johnny Ray Huston’s keen summa. Sex, sexuality, transsexuality and misery clamor in a boldly imagined rush of setpieces and striking imagery. Camp and drama flow into one onrushing stream.
The Fourteenth European Union Film Festival continues through March. Full schedule at siskelfilmcenter.org.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.