CEUFF 2017: Personal Shopper, The Death of Louis XIV & Just Drop Dead
Two French films, one a historical drama (“The Death of Louis XIV”) and one a psychological thriller (“Personal Shopper”), along with a satirical dramedy (“Just Drop Dead”) from Hungary, all playing during the first week of the annual month-long Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Two of them I liked, one I wound up just barely appreciated, which is how it goes when immersed in festival films and that’s the joy of experiencing unique and different films from other countries. It’s an opportunity to broaden the film enthusiast’s mind and form an appreciation for some of the best movies from the European Union within the last year.
Below are my mini-reviews of these three films. “Personal Shopper” is getting a limited theatrical release on March 17 in Chicago and you can expect a full review from me around then.
PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016) – France
This new film by writer/director Olivier Assayas (“Carlos” and “Clouds of Sils Maria”) was booed by critics at Cannes last year, but if you know some history behind films that have been booed there, such an infantile response means very little. Despite that, anyone who’s seen his films, knows that a new Assayas film is one to anticipate. The French filmmaker reunites with his “Clouds of Sils Maria” actress, Kristen Stewart (who continues her streak of delivering great performances of fascinating roles), for a mysterious genre mashup that becomes more and more intriguing as it unfolds. Stewart plays Maureen, an American working in Paris as a (you guessed it) personal shopper for a demanding celebrity fashion model. There’s more to her than that, however. She’s also a medium, as was her recently deceased twin brother, who she shares a heart defect with and is waiting around for a sign from the afterlife from her sibling. Her routine takes a strange and unnerving turn when she receiving mysterious texts from an unidentified source who happens to know a lot about Maureen as he/she/it follows her closely. Assayas and Stewart balance quite a bit her in terms of story development and character. There’s also a murder mystery thrown in and a protagonist who questions her own identity, while navigating suppressed and confusing emotions. (in English, French, and Swedish with English subtitles).
- Wed, Mar 8th 6:00pm
THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (2016) – France
I’ll be in the minority when it comes to this deathbed dirge, which I found an extreme challenge to sit through. As you may surmise from the title, this historical drama, written and directed by Albert Serra (“Birdsong” and “Story of My Death”), focuses on the last days and hours of King Louis XIV of France (Jean-Pierre Léaud “The 400 Blows”), who falls seriously ill upon returning from a hunting trip in Versailles, August 1715. Taking place almost entirely in the Sun King’s sleeping chamber, surrounded by his doctors, counselors and valets, Serra incorporates sound (the ticking of the clock, chewing of fruit, labored breathing and flies buzz around the king’s gangrene rotted foot) and vision (a rich, painterly palette, lit by candlelight), to emphasize what it’s like to be there and await the end of the greatest king France ever knew. Critics are calling the film “mesmerizing” and “gripping”, but for the life of me, I cannot get on board with that. I respect the film, but lost interest and become bored quickly – seeing it through was really like witnessing someone’s death. (in French with English subtitles)
- Sun, Mar 5th 3:00pm
JUST DROP DEAD (2016) – Hungary
A surprisingly funny film that starts out as something we’d expect to be a tragedy. When recent widow Pócsné (Adel Kováts) tracks down the address she found in her dead husband’s pocket, she is shocked to learn it is the home of Marcsi (Ester Ónodi), a woman her husband, Gabor (György Cserhalmi) had a secret affair with for twenty years. That’s not the only revelation Pócsné receives, she also meets Gabor’s illegitimate daughter, Vali (Virág Alma Pájer) an abrasive, tattooed irreverent young woman who further complicates matters. More surprises comes when she learns her train engineer spouse had a side business with a suspicious character, dealing in artwork and antiquities. The three woman are contentious at first, but soon must learn to work together once bumbling gangsters show up wanting to close off Gabor’s business ties. Director Zoltán Kamondi, co-wrote this satirical dramedy with László Márton and it relies and succeeds on the charisma of Kováts in the lead role and her two female costars, who play equally engaging and strong characters. As more stories from Gabor’s past are revealed,, Kamondi takes an interesting reenactment approach to what is essentially memories and recent revelations, as these women discover that the man (spouse/lover/father) in their life was quite the lothario. (in Hungarian with English subtitles)
- Tue, Mar 7th 8:15pm