An offering from the U.K. is predictably missing from the bunch, but with 23 features from 23 nations left to choose from, moviegoers are still going to feel a tad overwhelmed by the size of this year’s European Union Film Festival. We can help with these surefire picks. The EUFF begins at the Cinematheque on Friday (November 18) and runs until the end of the month.
The one unequivocal must-see at this year’s EUFF, Eva Nová gives 74-year-old Emília Vášáryová (playing 10 years her junior, remarkably) the role of a lifetime. And what a lifetime. Dubbed the first lady of Slovak film and theatre at home, Vášáryová draws on subterranean and often unbearably painful resources as the title character, an alcoholic soap-opera star long since faded from her ’80s heyday. Writer-director Marko Škop frequently frames Eva’s worn features and threadbare dignity alongside images of the actor in her strikingly beautiful youth, and the film is unremitting in its gaze and the cruelties it visits upon such a flawed and seemingly hopeless character, observing every microscopic flicker of despair that crosses Eva’s face as she’s forced through one humiliation after another—leaving rehab for a third time; confronting the son who despises her; taking a job in a supermarket where she’s frostily recognized by former costars. It gets even worse, but we’ll leave all that for viewers to discover, while adding that even inside a narrative that could have been dreamed up by John Waters trying to trashify Douglas Sirk—minus any of the laughs, of course—redemption for Eva still isn’t out of the question. Vášáryová’s fearless, compassionate, and deeply honest performance, complete with ironic asides about young directors who “don’t want emotion”, is where it begins.
Friday, November 18 (6:30 p.m.)
This Portuguese effort is meant for those who like their nuts-and-bolts sci-fi salted with a little mindfuckery. In Gelo, the lives of a film student in Lisbon and a lab-raised woman hatched from some frozen prehistoric human DNA turn out to be not exactly parallel, but porous. Time, identity, and the nature of storytelling get a lively metaphysical workout in the crisply shot collaboration between—this is surely relevant—the father-son team of Luis and Gonçalo Galvão Teles.
Saturday, November 19 (8:30 p.m.)
In the Crosswind
Powerfully elegant and subtle, In the Crosswind approaches the horrors of the Soviet holocaust—Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of native Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians in 1941—by merely hinting at its contours. Filmmaker Martti Helde traces the story through the diary entries of a single woman separated from her husband in a Siberian labour camp, and depicted in a series of startling black-and-white tableaux vivants through which his camera implacably floats. Some, like the frozen moment of death by firing squad, achieve a kind of hideous beauty that allows just enough of the darkness to register, as if a fuller apprehension of its tragedy is too much to bear. Spellbinding.
Thursday, November 24 (6:30 p.m.)
Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest
Another tale of displacement, focused on a single, remarkable woman. Compelled by a feverish vision brought on by TB, Swiss writer Robert Crottet travelled to remote Arctic Finland in 1935 in order to find the indigenous Skolt Sami community—or the “Tribe of Lapland”, as he put it. His subsequent 40-year-plus friendship with Kaisa, an indefatigable, mystically imbued matriarch, is captured here with extraordinary archival footage and recordings, assembled by Kaisa’s own great-granddaughter Katja Gauriloff. World War II would begin a devastating process of “Finlandization” for the Sami. The impish Kaisa’s animistic world-view—she saw “divinity in everything”, and routinely communicated with the spirits—would endure. We could probably use some of that today.
Sunday, November 27 (6 p.m.)