Following up on my previous report, here's my capsule takes on five more films playing at the 19th Chicago European Union Film Festival, March 4-31. Do check the Siskel's website for more information.
Ingrid Bergman: In Her own Words
Stig Bjorkman’s moving documentary (Sweden, 2015) engages most when it lives up to its title and draws from Bergman’s own diaries (as read by Alicia Vikander). Her voice is so vivid that we are slightly disappointed when the film resolves into a conventional talking heads documentary. Still, given the decision to see her through her four adult children’s eyes, it makes sense to talk to them. (Other formidable guests include Sigourney Weaver, Liv Ullman, and Jeanine Basinger.) Along with her journals, Bergman recorded much of her own life on film. She got this habit from her father, who instilled in her the importance of memories, and of photography as memory. We see some sad memories, such as her days of unfair ignominy due to her controversial marriage to Roberto Rossellini. We see happy memories. Her kids fondly recall idyllic childhood summer days at the villa in Santa Marinella, and mom’s happy life with her third husband on his Swedish island, Dannholmen. (They would often visit.)
This documentary includes a moment I will never forget: a young woman sits in front of a camera. It is her screen test for Selznick. Radiant, warm, she allows every emotion to play over her face. Suddenly she smiles, and the world lights up. Her eyes fall on the camera; she’s looking right at us. What is this feeling, I asked myself? Then, I realized: oh, it feels like falling in love. And we all did.
As a child, Bergman looked through the lens at her father. Later, she looked out at us. Always, the lens was a channel for her love. She knew all her life that, as she said, “I belong to the make-believe world.” This film contains some of the sadness of life, but much more of the joy. (115 m) ***1/2
Liza, the Fox Fairy
Entertaining as all get-out! It’s a sexy black comedy by Karoly Ujj Meszaros (Hungary, 2015). The time and place is 1970s Budapest, but in pop-fantasy form. Monika Balsai is a delight as a lonely nurse looking for love, for whom real life cannot measure up to her favorite Japanese romance novel. David Sakurai is a hoot as the ghost of a bespectacled Japanese pop star from the 50s. Wearing a striking green suit, he entertains her as he haunts her apartment. Turns out he’s actually Death, who can appear in any form he wants, and he’s trying to seduce her—to get her to commit suicide, so they can always be together.
Actually, this movie is practically a musical-comedy. Ambruj Tavishazi, billed as Erik Sumo & His Fox Fairies, invented its delightful pastiches of 60s-style Japanese pop. (“Dance Dance Have a Good Time” is my new jam.)
Death’s plan is to make her believe she is a fox fairy--a creature from Japanese mythology, doomed to kill the thing it loves. Accordingly, he causes horrible—and horribly funny--“accidents” to befall any of her potential suitors. The deaths attract the attention of the police, including a delightfully poker-faced sergeant (Szabolcs Bede-Fazekas), unflappable no matter how much abuse he takes. He’s intrepid and, though she doesn’t notice, steadfast in his love. Based on the play Liselotte és a május by Zsolt Pozsgai. (98 m) ***1/2
Summertime (La Belle Saison)
Catherine Corsini’s drama (France, 2015) is watchable yet familiar. In 1971, a provincial farmer’s daughter, a gay woman (Izia Higelin), moves to the big city, Paris, and falls in with a group of militant feminist pranksters. She’s swept up in the heady times, electrified by the lively debates. Much of this material feels received, rather than lived.
She becomes smitten with one of her fellow activists (the sunny Cécile De France), and her fiery, forceful kisses make this comrade recognize herself, reluctantly at first, as a lesbian.
When her father has a stroke, she must return to the farm. Her girlfriend soon joins her; now she is the fish-out-of-water. The women have a good summer outdoors, working the farm hard, enjoying each other’s bodies in the sun-kissed countryside. Still, the daughter fears discovery of their passion by her conservative community, where feminism is not even a thing, much less lesbianism. Will she choose her lover, or the farmer’s life?
The movie is at its best when it feels like it is discovering itself, instead of replaying scenes from other films. The lovers’ spats feel melodramatic, even tired, but there is a sharp, painful scene between the girlfriend and mother (Noémie Lvovsky) that feels true, that hurts. The story accumulates tenderness as it goes, and its two leads are charming and natural. Hegelin’s visage is open and dewy, and she has a big, disarming smile. De France registers strength and vulnerability. We may think we know whose heart is more endangered, between the guileless farm girl and the one from the big city, but Corsini refuses to develop her characters quite as expected. (101 m) **1/2
The word “documentary” feels too prosaic for this imaginative, elegant phantasmagoria (France, 2015) about the Louvre. A personal essay, it’s strange and mischievous, subterranean and yearning, sometimes thrilling. It’s by Aleksandr Sokurov, who famously made an entire feature film in one unbroken shot in the Hermitage Museum’s Winter Palace (“Russian Ark,” 2002).
Essentially, the film explores the relationship between the Louvre and war, through the lens of the German occupation and administration. We zero in on two figures, a German and a Frenchman: Count Wolff Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) was charged with documenting and conserving the cultural treasures of occupied France. Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) was director of the Louvre during occupation. The two men struck up an uneasy relationship--ironic, yet civil. Neither wished for a sequel to WWI, and monuments, art, and culture destroyed.
Sokurov’s stately, fluid camera floats above the streets of Paris and through the grand halls of the Louvre, where we encounter the ghost of “Marianne”: the national symbol of France (Johanna Korthals Altes). Espousing her mantra “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” she meets Napoleon himself (Vincent Nemeth). He also wanders these halls, the man who transformed the Louvre into an official museum—and a repository for his war trophies.
Sometimes the theme seems to be the soul of Europe. Sokurov interrogates the past, calls upon those who sleep most deeply. They cannot awaken.
Floating through the room with the Assyrian treasures, the winged bull with the cuneiform between its legs, I was taken back to my own time stirring time, strolling through the Louvre. “Messages from 700 BC summon strange feelings,” Sokourov murmurs. The membrane between past and present is porous. We meet a happy-looking sculpture from 9,000 years ago.
This description barely scratches the surface of a film brimming with urgent ideas. (88 m) ****
I am such a sucker for Julie Delpy. Now she’s made a straight-up comedy (France, 2015), and it’s very funny--cheerfully frank, even vulgar. I’d characterize its humor as black and blue, by turns. She plays a sex-starved, insecure woman, successful at her career (directing TV commercials), unsuccessful at love. She’s yearning for “genuine romance.” On a spa vacation in the southwest she has a torrid affair with a local (Dany Boon). When he moves to Paris, promoted for inventing new trading software for banks, they get together. Her pampered 19-year-old son (Vincent Lacoste) regards him a “hick from Biarritz,” and hatches increasingly diabolical plots to get rid of him. The kid is a real pill--a sociopath, actually--yet she regards him as “the future of humanity.” The movie makes much hay of the fact Delpy is 45 years old--same age as me. Thus, she carries a lot of baggage I recognize, and some which I might not get, as a man. I liked the relationship with her best friend (Karin Viard), who says something like, 25 years and it’s always the same thing with you. This comedy is as light and enjoyable as a bubbly apertif, albeit one spiked with a truly dark twist. While the movie is no stylistic breakthrough or great leap forward in Delpy’s directorial career, it’s a pleasure from beginning to end. (99 min) ***1/2
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)