The European Union might have received the Nobel Peace Prize, but that doesn’t mean its beneficiaries feel like winners. Financially, everyone is still struggling, while full-scale economic meltdown continues to threaten Spain, Portugal, and (especially) Greece. Nevertheless, despite this avalanche of adversity, the European Union Film Festival bravely trundles on, the 15th edition of same playing the Cinematheque between November 23 and December 6.
This time around, 26 of the EU’s 27 member nations are participating, only Malta being absent (with just cause, seeing as the country doesn’t have a feature-film industry of its own. Still, as I discovered this past summer, the island nation does make amusing advertising shorts that they show in their movie theatres, each one screened in unsubtitled Maltese).
Programmed and organized by the Canadian Film Institute and serving as Ottawa’s de facto international film festival, the EUFF remains, as always, very much a mixed bag, both chronologically and otherwise. Most of the movies on view are relatively recent, although Denmark’s Waltzing Regitze (December 6, 8:10 p.m.) received its original release in 1989. Auteurist cinema is not neglected, as Portugal’s entry, The Strange Case of Angelica (November 30, 6:30 p.m.), makes clear, with the film being helmed by Manoel de Oliveira, world cinema’s only centenarian master (he will turn 104 in December). There are also a number of slick, first-rate entertainments on view, including Polisse (November 24, 6:30 p.m.), a fascinating French drama about the officers who serve in the Parisian Child Protection Unit (the film won the jury prize at Cannes last year).
And for those interested in charting recent European trends, it should be pointed out that saunas figure not only in the Finnish documentary Steam of Life (December 3, 8:10 p.m.) but also in the English-language Luxembourg comedy Hot Hot Hot (December 2, 6:30 p.m.). Another interesting coincidence is that both Nisos 2: The Hunt for the Lost Treasure (November 25, 6:30 p.m.) and Small Crime (November 23, 8:30 p.m.; November 25, 4:30 p.m.), from Greece and Cyprus, respectively, are both carefree comedies. A number of other entries play like frothier versions of established European classics, especially A One-Way to Antibes (December 2, 4:30 p.m.), a Swedish film that plays like Wild Strawberries Lite.
Perhaps the most unusual movie, though, is Silence. Disguised as a documentary, this Irish feature follows an émigré Irish soundman (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride, who also cowrote the script with director Pat Collins) on an odyssey into the wilds of Galway in search of landscapes unpolluted by human noises. When contacted by phone in Ireland, this native Gaelic speaker explained that Silence “wasn’t autobiographical at all, although certain elements happen to be true to my own life. It was based loosely on the kind of person I am, although I’m neither a soundman nor a returning exile.”
As for the structure of the film, the writer-star explained: “The people that you see are real people, and the stories they tell are real stories. But the point of view of the main character is entirely fictional.” Somewhat surprisingly, government funding apparently still exists in Eire. “We’re lucky still to have it,” the filmmaker said with some satisfaction. “They’ve done away with that in England.”
And the Celtic Tiger purrs on.