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CEUFF 2017: Truman, Sami Blood & The Son of Joseph

March 23, 2017

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The 20th annual Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF) heads into its final week offering more powerful and compelling cinema from far away. It’s been exhausting albeit fulfilling to try to keep up with 62 films from 28 countries, shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center in 4 weeks. But continuing to discover such luminous and illuminating films from the EU, tells me that my tenacity and resilience (or insanity) has continued to pay off. This trio of films toured the recent festival circuits with two of them winning some awards, all hail from three different countries, yet tackling three totally different genres. “Truman” is a poignant comedy, while “Sami Blood” and “The Son of Joseph” could both be considered teen coming-of-age tales, they couldn’t be more different from each other. Below are my thoughts on all three films….

 

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TRUMAN (2015) – Spain

I’m always interested in the work of Argentinian actor Ricardo Darín (“The Secret in Their Eyes”) and I found it a delight to see him front and center in “Truman” as Julián (his dog is named Truman) a fading actor in Barcelona who receives a final visit from his lifelong best friend Tomás (Javier Cámara) who lives in Toronto.  Tomás has arrived to support his friend, who has incurable cancer and has decided to stop treatment instead of continue with chemotherapy. This is concerning to Tomás and Julián’s cousin, Paula (Dolores Fonzi), and although he cannot come up with any arguments against his friend’s decision, it doesn’t make it any easier to be around a dear friend who is certain to die. The stubborn and vital Tomás is more concerned with wrapping up his affairs before he goes, including how his dog will deal with loss/grief and who will adopt him.  Co-writer/director Cesar Gay (“In the City”) deftly balances comedy with the uncomfortable reality of terminal illness, creating a relatable look at the uncertainties of those afflicted with such an illness and the people close to them. Like a mashup of “Umbert D” and “50/50”, here is a film that tackles difficult subjects in an unsentimental mature manner. “Truman” premiered at TIFF 2015 and since then it has worked the festival circuit vigorously, earning Best Film, Actor and Director at the 2016 Goya awards. (in Spanish with English subtitles)

RATING: ***1/2

  • Fri, Mar 24th 2:00pm
  • Sun, Mar 26th 5:15pm

 

 

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SAMI BLOOD (2016) – Sweden/Norway/Denmark

An absolutely fascinating story, superbly shot with an enthralling lead performance, the award-winning “Sami Blood” is the feature-length debut from Swedish-Sami writer/director Amanda Kernell and it’s the kind of viewing experience that leaves me grateful such a film was made.  Loosely based on her grandmother’s life, Kernell’s story, set in the 1930s, is bookended by an elderly woman, Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi) who reflects on a seminal period in her life when she was 14-years-old, then known as Elle-Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok), as she attends her sister’s funeral in Sweden’s far-north Lapland. The majority of the film is spent in her memory, as we learn of a bright girl who yearns to separate herself from the segregation and discrimination of her Sami ethnic heritage (the indigenous people of Arctic Europe, specifically Scandinavia, known for their yoiking and reindeer-herding) to free herself from the oppression and abuse she endures by her harsh and stern Swedish-led school. The two actresses playing Elle-Marja/Christina are utterly fascinating and the coming-of-age story Kernell tells is a sweet, heartbreaking and educational (I knew nothing about the Sami people or this part of the world) experience that touches on grief and guilt in an authentic manner. This is my favorite film of the CEUFF (so far) and Kernell will definitely be on my radar. (in Swedish and Saami with English subtitles).

RATING: ****

  • Fri, Mar 24th 6:00pm
  • Sat, Mar 25th 8:15pm

 

 

 

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THE SON OF JOSEPH (2016) – France

By the end of “The Son of Joseph” (or “Le Fils de Joseph“), I found myself appreciating the material and the approach American-born French filmmaker Eugène Green (who brought “La Sapienza” to 2015 CEUFF) brought to his unique coming-of-age tale. It took me a while to get used to the quirky vibe that’s generally associated with American directors trying to emulate Wes Anderson, but I grew to appreciate Green’s commitment to his approach, but even a greater appreciation for the parallels he tries to draw from Biblical inspirations, such as the Mary and Joseph story and the story of Abraham and his son, Isaac (we even see Caravaggio’s painting of the latter). Those recognizable stories fit nicely alongside the story of teenager Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), a sullen teenager who doesn’t know who his father is and is frustrated when his mother (Natacha Régnier) states he doesn’t have one. Maybe he’s better off not knowing, but it doesn’t take for Vincent to learn that his father is Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), a well-to-do publisher, who cheats on his wife and all-but disowns his decent brother Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione, “La Sapienza”). Green provides a personal and spiritual journey, not just for Vincent, but also his mother and the titular father figure as well. There is humor here, but there are also underlying themes, such as questioning one’s identity and learning to accept who and where you are.  (in French with English subtitles)

RATING: ***

  • Fri, Mar 24th 6:00pm
  • Wed, Mar 29th 6:00pm

 

 

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