BREXIT, war in Ukraine, fascism in Poland, Germany in the throes of a paralyzing constitutional crisis—if Europe itself appears to be fracturing before our very eyes, the European Union Film Festival keeps ticking along like some sort of cheerily unflappable diplomat out of Brussels. Now in its 20th year, the EUFF returns to the Cinematheque on Friday (November 24) with Estonian comedy The Dissidents and ends 25 films later, on December 4, with Jan Hřebejk’s critically acclaimed Czech drama The Teacher. Here are a few picks from the Straight’s Europhiles.
A gem of the fest, Adrian Sitaru’s realist drama parlays hallmarks of Romanian new-wave cinema into a smart foray into a moral minefield. Multilingual Radu is working as a fixer—a local journalist hired by a foreign correspondent (in this case, Agence France-Presse) to help arrange a story. When he gets a potentially career-boosting scoop on a Romanian teenager trafficked into sex work in Paris, Radu and two French TV news staffers try to get an interview with her once she’s repatriated back to Romania. But with the trio facing numerous roadblocks and the girl’s vulnerability becoming more apparent, Radu realizes they risk becoming as exploitive as her former kidnappers. Rather brilliantly, the film defies expectations with its relaxed approach, and the ethical issues raised by this thought-provoking piece have relevance for everything in our screen-saturated lives, from reality TV to social media.
In Romanian, French, and English, with English subtitles; November 25 (6:30 p.m.)
> Craig Takeuchi
11th A Grade
If this Sofia-set flick proves anything, it’s that substitute teachers get it bad around the globe. The kids in this unruly Grade 11 show up high, heckle the instructor, and mock each other—standard stuff whether you live in Bulgaria’s capital, Baton Rouge, or Brixton. What makes director Michaela Komitova’s light and glossily commercial take a little different is that the teacher—Lina Nikolova (Yana Marinova)—is a dancer who is striving on her off-hours to open her own studio. That means she can challenge her students to dance battles and meet them on their own terms, making her less easy to mock than the school’s stricter instructors. But North American audiences will cringe at the ways the boys in the class repeatedly ogle her—and the way she seems to accept it as flattery. And let’s not even talk about the scene where she meets them at a bar. As for the dance? The kids show some mad hip-hop skills but Ms. Nikolova is straight outta Solid Gold. Maybe subs here don’t have it so bad after all.
In Bulgarian, with English subtitles; November 27 (8:45 p.m.)
> Janet Smith
Familial boundaries aren’t just blurred, they’re obliterated in this domestic drama about an unnervingly close relationship between a mother and her adult son. The asthmatic, animal-loving Flëpp not only runs a store but shares a bed with his codependent mother in the wake of his father’s suicide. When Flëpp meets Leena, a street-smart Bosnian gal who is as ablaze with life as her red locks, an emotional love triangle develops. As the two women vie for Flëpp’s devotion, Leena’s presence kindles Flëpp’s latent desire for independence and a life beyond his dead end town. Although comptently constructed, the film, like Flëpp himself, tends to play it safe. With material as richly idiosyncratic as this, Mammejong would’ve benefitted from developing a more distinct, possibly even comedic voice of its own. In Luxembourgish and English, with English subtitles; November 26 (6:30 p.m.)
> Craig Takeuchi
Boy on the Bridge
This compelling mystery-drama follows 12-year-old Socrates through his initially carefree days in a placid Cypriot village. His firecracker-lighting ways with cousin Marcos soon awakens Socrates to his uncle’s abuse of his wife and children. When he takes matters into his own hands, Socrates gets far more than he bargained for and becomes increasingly enmeshed in the unearthing of what seems to be a bottomless pit of dark secrets. For his feature-film debut, filmmaker Petros Charalambous captures a strong sense of age and place, deftly conveying the nuances of small-town life from an adolescent point of view and weaving a story that bristles with convincing details, genuine surprises, and natural performances.
In Greek, with English subtitles; November 29 (8:30 p.m.)
> Craig Takeuchi
(Slovenia/Macedonia/Bosnia and Herzegovina)
The same day that he manages to aquit an obviously guilty client on a technicality, to his partner’s wary admiration and his wife’s disgust, a high profile lawyer turns up unconscious, naked, and covered in blood on a busy thoroughfare in Ljubljana. We know that savage dogs and a huge dildo were involved, but there's also some bad news (ZING!) God only knows what happened to the guy; any further information is barely inched out in quietly tense scenes charged with dread while lurid suggestion proliferates, which is precisely what makes Nightlife so riveting. It's all seen through the eyes of the spouse (fantastic Pia Zemljic), already troubled by something unrevealed about their marriage, but reluctantly prepared to go all out to protect the reputation of her child’s father. Meanwhile, cops and doctors close ranks (as does the film itself, seemingly) and the media sniffs around a politically hot scandal that may or may not have been a set-up—a not entirely unreasonable suspicion if you’ve been paying attention to the seamier machinations of state for the past 2000 years. This is a dark, dark movie. In Slovenian, with English subtitles; December 1 (6:30 p.m.)
> Adrian Mack