It's dangerous to generalize about an event as vast and sprawling, and with such disparate elements, as the European Union Film Festival (on view at the Pacific Cinémathí¨que between November 27 and December 9), although the temptation to do just that is well nigh irresistible. Most of the titles on view will, at first glance, be unfamiliar to the average Vancouver viewer. So are these just castoffs that representative governments tossed into the pot to fulfill some sort of communal obligation? Hardly.
If one looks closer, one will spot titles such as Frenchman Jacques Audiard's A Prophet (grand-prize winner at Cannes, 2009) and Brit Franny Armstrong's The Age of Stupid, probably the most eagerly awaited ecological polemic since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Bouli Lanners's delightfully hangdog road movie Eldorado was dubbed best European film during the Cannes Directors' Fortnight last year, as well as being Belgium's official entry for the best-foreign-language-film Oscar. Other features in that latter category include Petr Zelenka's The Karamazovs (Czech Republic), Martin Koolhoven's Winter in Wartime (Netherlands), Arash T. Riahi's For a Moment, Freedom (Austria), and Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex (which came within an ace of actually winning the damn thing for Germany earlier this year). Other films enjoy significant “local hero” status. Johan Kling's Darling garnered virtually all the local prizes in his native Sweden (the country that is hosting this year's event); Petri Kotwica's Black Ice did pretty much the same thing in Finland; and Marko NaberÅ¡nik's Rooster's Breakfast wound up third on Slovenia's all-time top box-office list, being outearned only by Titanic and Troy.
Clearly, these are not throwaway movies. Nevertheless, one is left wondering whether they are meant to appeal primarily to foreigners or to diasporic fans.
When this question was posed to Helle Marienlund Andersen, the communication and cultural-affairs officer at the Danish Embassy in Ottawa, the diplomat did her best to smooth out any unnecessary complications. “First of all,” she said, “we need to reach as wide an audience as we possibly can. These movies also need to reflect the culture and traditions of the countries they represent, and if that means blockbuster movies, then so be it.”
Fighter, this year's Danish entry, might not be a “blockbuster”, but it's certainly a groundbreaker. A drama about a spunky immigrant girl whose love for the martial arts is constantly threatened by her father's insistence on Turkish decorum—this movie could have been entitled Bend It Like the Karate Kid—Natasha Arthy's crowd pleaser features choreography and wire work courtesy of Xian Gao, the guy behind the moves in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And, despite my earlier warnings, this generous sampling of an entire continent's motion-picture output does lead us to certain conclusions, no matter how ill-founded they might be. As a general rule, the countries with the strongest film industries have the best subtitles. Adultery, the theme of many of this year's films, is no longer treated like a subject for bedroom farce but as a catalyst for tragedy. And except for in prisons, western Europeans don't seem to be smoking very much at all anymore, while eastern Europeans are puffing away like the stars of a Hou Hsiao-Hsien drama. In the west, there seems to be a certain placelessness, while in the east, borders still cut off human contact like spiritual barbed wire, despite the death of Communism and the theoretical unification of most of the region.
And then there's”¦ To complete the previous sentence in a knowledgeable fashion, I guess you'll just have to attend this year's European Union Film Festival.