CEUFF 2017: Gozo, Walpurgis Night, & Afterlov
Three films that couldn’t seem more disparate – Two Mediterranean films, one a comedy, one a thriller, and a Polish drama – are also united by their love of film as a form. While the films all have their own way of embracing and/or shirking convention, they are all equally hamstrung by their inability to bend the form to their will, rather than the other way around. The most interesting thing about this trio of films was how cine-literate they all seemed on the surface, yet none of them really pushed the envelope in any meaningful way. The other unifying thing between the three is that they are all the feature narrative debuts of their directors, so there’s obviously room for all three of them to grow. Despite my thoughts on their first features, they all have such strong convictions that their future work will almost certainly be worth seeking out.
All three recently played at the month-long Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF) at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Below are my thoughts on each….
GOZO (2016) – Malta
“I don’t get a reward for saving you?”
This half-cocked thriller is an embarrassingly convoluted mess of a film. Borrowing liberally from films like “Don’t Look Now,” “Vertigo,” and “Blow Out,” writer/director Miranda Bowen’s feature debut ends up with no identity of its own. The film leaves far too much unsaid, thinking that it’s being enigmatic when, in actuality, there’s no ace up its sleeve. Laying on the water metaphors heavily, the film follows a wholly unlikable couple—played by Ophelia Lovibond and Joseph Kennedy—introduced in the midst of a very public bout of infidelity. Things only get worse for the characters and their reputations once they take up residence on the titular island in Malta. Losing itself almost immediately in a mess of “Red Shoe Diaries”-esque needless softcore sex and nudity, the film opts to neither show nor tell but rather constantly infer. Symbolism is ultimately hollow and woefully unnecessary when there’s no there there. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t even capitalize on the gorgeous island scenery, preferring instead to linger in the darker corners of the tourist trap. Mercifully the film is only 80 minutes, so it’s got that going for it… which is nice. (In English).
WALPURGIS NIGHT (2015) – Poland
“In general, people are parasites.”
A chamber piece centered around an aging opera diva (Małgorzata Zajączkowska) and an overeager young music journalist (Philippe Tłokiński). As the evening wears on, their carefully constructed façades begin to break down and looming over it all is the threat of either sex or violence—or some god awful combination of the two. The film slips almost instantaneously into melodrama, and its greatest sin is never fully embracing the possibilities of film. It tells far more than it shows, a fatal flaw that ultimately sinks the film. Saved only by a toweringly theatrical performance from Zajączkowska and some exquisite black and white cinematography by Andrzej Wojciechowski, “Walpurgis Night” is mostly a cliché ridden stereotype of the typical artsy European film. Replete with split diopter shots and poetry recitation, it plays less like the Michael Haneke-meets-Alain Renais drama it seems to think it is, and more like something Count Floyd would be duped into showing. Not a total waste of time, but far more self-important than important.
AFTERLOV (2016) – Greece
“Niko, you have to let me go.”
Billing itself as a “post-love comedy,” this Greek dramedy takes its cues from Woody Allen’s early career, in particular “Annie Hall.” The film follows Nikos (Haris Fragoulis), a man who is bound and determined to discover why his one true love Sofia (Iro Bezou) left him. Moving in and out of the present and past to present a non-linear look at love and, more importantly, the end of love. While it is definitely attempting a more meta approach to filmmaking than Allen tried with “Annie Hall,” writer/director Stereos Paschos doesn’t really cover any ground that wasn’t already covered in a more insightful way in Allen’s film. This, more than anything, makes the film something of a disappointment, but its two leads are so engaging, that spending 90 minutes in their company was more pleasurable than painful. My greatest wish was for them to move beyond a film filled with bromides and towards one that didn’t waste their talents quite so blatantly.