As debates over Brexit and CETA continue to swirl about, don’t assume the 19th annual European Union Film Festival is a navel-gazing, art-house exercise.
While the festival, presented by EU Vancouver consulates and Ottawa embassies, does offer opportunities to appreciate cinematic artistry, topical issues remain an integral component.
Journalism is central to two features. In Belgium’s Image, directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, a TV news reporter begins shooting a documentary about Molenbeek, the Brussels suburb linked to Islamic terrorists who carried out Paris and Brussels attacks. When she enlists the help of a young Moroccan guy, she becomes unexpectedly enmeshed in his life.
Meanwhile, Vlad Păunescu’s Romanian thriller Live also riffs on TV journalism with a story about a reporter who puts herself at risk when she becomes embroiled in a political scandal.
As immigration and migration have been hot-button topics, the Swedish-Norwegian coproduction Underdog takes a look at power reversals in Scandinavia. During Sweden’s economic downturn and Norway’s boom, a 23-year-old Swede leaves behind the mass unemployment in her homeland and heads to Oslo. After becoming a housekeeper, she finds her personal and professional lives entwined in an unusual love triangle.
Domestic issues remain eternal themes in film, as a plethora of picks at the festival attest. It’s evident even in the titles: Cyprus’s Family Member, Germany’s Family Party, and Hungary’s amusingly named Mom and Other Loonies in the Family.
Familial identity is key to the Austrian-German coproduction Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs, about a nine-year-old Austrian girl whose grandmother reveals their family is actually Jewish, and Ireland’s My Name Is Emily, which follows a 16-year-old girl in search of her institutionalized father.
Actors falling from grace play a role in both Bulgaria’s While Aya Was Sleeping, in which a mother and daughter help a father to recover after he loses his part in a stage production, and the opening film, Eva Nová from Slovakia, about a fading film star and recovering alcoholic who tries to reconnect with the son she abandoned as a baby.
While the Second World War continues its hold over contemporary cinematic imaginations, wartime dramas aren’t as numerous in this year’s lineup, with only two offerings: Luxembourg thriller Tomorrow After the War and the Latvian-Lithuanian coproduction Exiled. For other historical dramas, there’s the visually innovative film In the Crosswind, an artful take on Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of Estonia that combines tableaux vivants with live action.
Other selections cover diverse topics, such as the indigenous stories of Finland’s Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest; Portugal’s Gelo, a sci-fi fantasy about DNA; and the lesbian love story Dual, a coproduction by Slovenia, Croatia, and Denmark. Winter-sport fans will appreciate Italy’s The Move of the Penguin, an underdog drama about a 30-year-old Roman man who hopes to lead a motley-crew curling team to the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
Needless to say, the diverse subjects and cultures on offer (there are selections from 23 EU members) provide an all-inclusive appeal that should get a myriad of Vancouverites down to the Cinematheque for the festival’s run from November 18 to 30.