American Film Institute: 2018 European Union Film Showcase

The American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre held the 30th edition of its European Union Film Showcase this December. Always a highlight, the 2017 Showcase screened 44 new movies from the 28 EU member nations. Here is a brief recap of this year’s Showcase.

THE SUBLIME

The Workshop (Laurent Cantet, France)

On Body and Soul (Ildiko Enyedi, Hungary)

November (Rainer Sarnet, Estonia)

In the Fade (Fatih Akin, Germany)

Cantet’s intense drama about artistic endeavor and hyper-nationalism is something of a follow-up to The Class. Enyedi’s quirky love story set in an abattoir is a real gem, recently short-listed for the Foreign Language Oscar. I’ll admit up front that if you are not a fan of Estonian surrealism, November may not be for you. But if you are into it, Sarnet’s version is a delight. Akin’s searing examination of the effects of terrorism has also been shortlisted for the Oscar.

THE VERY GOOD

Ice Mother (Bohdan Slama, Czech Republic)

Borg McEnroe (Janus Metz, Sweden)

Custody (Xavier Legrand, France)

A Ciambra (Jonas Carpignano, Italy)

Little Harbour (Iveta Grafova, Slovakia)

Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, France)

Ice Mother is a coming-of-age love story about a 67 year-old woman. If you enjoyed Battle of the Sexes earlier this year, Borg McEnroe is a significantly better movie about tennis – though not as funny. Custody is a reverse ”Law and Order” scenario, and is among the most tension-filled films of the year. In A Ciambra, Carpignano picks up the story of one of the supporting characters from his Mediterranea (2015) and creates a neo-neo-realist story along the lines of Ramin Bahrani’s Chop Shop (2007). In Little Harbour, Grafova adapts part of Monika Kompanikova’s novel “The Fifth Boat” and builds a beautiful story about the clash between carefree youth and adult responsibility. And Bonello’s Nocturama is among the year’s most stylish thrillers, exploring a group of young homegrown terrorists and the aftermath of their destructive plot.

WORTH A LOOK

Goran (Nevio Marasovic, Croatia)

A Violent Life (Thierry de Peretti, France)

Let the Corpses Tan (Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzoni, Belgium)

Spoor (Agnieszka Holland, Poland)

The Miner (Hanna Slak, Slovenia)

Marasovic’s shaggy dog dark comedy builds to one of the most audacious climaxes of any movie this year. De Peretti’s Corsican gangster story does not break any new ground, but delivers its suspense in a professional manner. In addition to having the most intriguing title, Let the Corpses Tan offers a hyper-stylized Italianate Western-style thriller for fans of Tarantino and last year’s In a Valley of Violence. Holland delivers a strong environmentally-conscious suspense story in Spoor. And if Slak’s The Miner lags at times, the story it tells is so compelling, and so important, that it makes up for any narrative quibbles.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

Happy End (Michael Haneke, Austria)

Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis, France)

Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel, France)

Song of Granite (Pat Collins, Ireland)

Law of the Land (Jussi Hiltunen, Finland)

Miami (Zaida Bergroth, Finland)

Haneke’s meandering tale of a rich family feels like a slightly muted version of Peyton Place. Denis has a quirky wit, but Let the Sunshine In is so slight that it barely registers, despite star Juliette Binoche’s valiant efforts to make something of the neurotic rom-com. If you are a fan Garrel’s, you might find pleasures in the spare Lover for a Day, but it moves in fits and starts which undercut its intriguing premise. People applauded after the screening of Song of Granite, but unless you walk in already a fan of traditional Irish folk singer Joe Heaney, or of traditional Irish folk music in general, this part-documentary is extraordinarily opaque, designed to appeal to a very narrow audience. The final two films are disappointments primarily because Aki Kaurismaki’s latest movie (The Other Side of Hope) reveals just how deep and potent Finnish cinema can be, and neither of these – the first, an atmospheric police investigation along the lines of Wind River, and the second a pop music/crime story/sisterly bonding mash-up – comes anywhere close to that level of subtlety, depth, or wit.

NO NO NO

3/4 (Ilian Metev, Bulgaria)

Ravens (Jens Assur, Sweden)

You Disappear (Peter Schonau Fog, Denmark)

Barrage (Laura Schroeder, Luxembourg)

Daphne (Peter Mackie Burns, England)

Metev’s feature debut is a meandering stroll through a Bulgarian Summer which seems to drag on forever. Ravens, a difficult examination of a farmer and his son, wins the award for most depressing movie of the Fest. Fog’s psychological thriller is based on a strong premise about diminished capacity, but it moves about rather listlessly and is saddled with a maddening narration track that slows it down even further. Barrage is getting some attention for pairing real life mother and daughter Isabelle Huppert and Lolita Chammah in a study of three generations of mothers and daughters. But despite a strong effort from Chammah in the central role, the drama remains oddly detached. And with Daphne, I confront the fact that my least favorite movie of the festival has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with many raves. Though Emily Beecham battles gamely in the title role, this remains a portrait of an egotistical, reckless, and dull young addict who flashes a few kinder impulses, but primarily seems to be of interest because she is very pretty. Spending time with Daphne is a real chore, with no apparent reward.

AWARDS

Actress

Marina Fois, as a sophisticated outsider struggling to maintain her composure in The Workshop

Alexandra Borbely, glorious as the on-the-spectrum quality inspector in On Body and Soul

Diane Kruger, who won this award at Cannes, for In the Fade

Zuzana Kronerova, as a 67 year-old woman learning the joys of love and ice swimming in Ice Mother

Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka, as the potent and vengeful earth mother in Spoor

Actor

Denis Menochet, as the manipulative and volatile father battling it out in with his ex in Custody

Pio Amato, as a 14 year-old petty criminal looking to grow up fast in A Ciambra

Franjo Dijak, as the bewildered cabbie at the heart of the mayhem in Goran

Geza Morcsanyi, the perfect foil to Alexandra Borbely’s unique love interest in On Body and Soul

Sverrir Gudnason, playing an icon and doing it so well in Borg McEnroe

Supporting Actress

Maria Heiskanen, the only glimmer of light in the ultra-bleak Ravens

Isabelle Huppert, as the oldest member of three generations in Barrage. If only she had a larger role

Laure Valentinelli, as the most accessible of the gang in Nocturama

Supporting Actor

Johannes Krisch, as the defense attorney you’d most like to punch in In the Fade

Vaclav Neuzil, the ultimate in buttoned-down passive aggression in Ice Mother

Jean-Louis Trintignant, as the patriarch valiantly trying to hold a mess together in Happy End.

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS OF NOTE

Lauren Cantet’s screenplay for The Workshop

Mart Taniel’s black & white cinematography in November

Manuel Dacosse’s color cinematography in Let the Corpses Tan

Per Kirkegaard and Per Sandholt’s editing in Borg McEnroe

And finally, a special recognition for Hamza Meziani lip synching Shirley Bassey’s “My Way” in Nocturama as the most indelible moment from this year’s Fest.

Jonathan Eig has taught Screenwriting and Film History at Montgomery College (MD) for the past ten years. In that capacity, he has hosted the popular Montgomery College Film Series at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD. He has been a regular contributor on Huffington Post and his writing about film can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-eig/.

6 thoughts on “American Film Institute: 2018 European Union Film Showcase

  1. Well I voted to leave the EU, and voted against going into it 1975 too.
    I had many reasons, none of which were xenophobic or patriotic. So, I expect it will be a hard ride on our own, but better than being a part of that awful euro-conglomerate run for the benefit of France and Germany.
    As for films and cinema, I am sure we will continue to have a stable industry, even it it becomes classified as ‘World Cinema’ in the EU. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Thanks Pete. We are all kind of curious as to what will become of U.K. participation in the showcase in the year’s to come. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2018.

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