One of the weighty pleasures of the annual survey of European films at the Siskel Film Center is how the contributions from the twenty-eight European Union member nations—with sixty-one Chicago-debuting features this year—allows a subjective overview of just what “European” means at this point in the early twenty-first century. Leaving aside the collective cultural suicide behind the lemming-leap to Brexit from soon-to-cleave Great Britain, a sampling of movies made by any diligent moviegoer could reveal hope and passion, fear and dispassion, tragedy and compassion. Sixty movies is a lot—I’ll only be seeing a few—but it’s still fewer than most international festivals take on in their given season, into the low hundreds (the rapidly-evolving Chicago fest) or three hundred or so (the retrenching, monolithic Toronto event). Any cinephile, cineaste, programmer or critic necessarily carves out a passway into what remains of hope for the theatrical feature form when they commit to a festival’s offerings, and this keenly curated twenty-first edition is both narrow and broad. Create your own Europe: confirm your preconceptions or broaden your view. There’s pleasure to be had.
A few diversions: Raoul Peck’s follow-up to his “I Am Not Your Negro” is the period “The Young Karl Marx,” a vigorous engagement with ideas and history, co-starring “Phantom Thread”’s Vicky Krieps. Isabelle Huppert is a washed-up singer in semi-musical “Souvenir,” whose life becomes as perversely detailed as a song. Wim Wenders’ “Submergence” is a grandiose romance with James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander. “Xamou” is a tasty Greek fantasy set in Crete, starring Georges Corraface in a winning role as a luxury hotel manager who joins the grape harvest. There’s also new work of varying reputation by Kornél Mundruczó, Arnaud Desplechin, Barbara Albert, Bruno Dumont, Radu Jude and Armando Iannucci. (Ray Pride)
The European Union Film Festival runs March 9-April 5, 2018 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.