28th European Union Film Festival Begins Nov. 14!

Today I attended the media launch for the Canadian Film Institute’s annual European Union Film Festival (EUFF). This year marks the 28th edition of the EUFF and the strong line-up that the CFI revealed today hints at a very good festival. The EUFF, easily the CFI’s largest and most popular event of the year, is one of Ottawa’s must-see events for local cinephiles.

This year’s line-up offers twenty-seven films in total. All member states of the European Union, save for Malta, have films in this year’s programme. (But film buffs can add a screening of the Maltese co-pro World War Z in their own living rooms if they want all the stamps on their passports.) Picking only one film to represent a nation cannot be an easy task, especially if that one film may be the only piece of national cinema that screens in the local film scene until the next festival. Many of the screenings at the EUFF are truly films you won’t see anywhere else. Diodora Bucur, one of the members of the EU Delegation to Canada whom I had the chance of speaking to at the festival, emphasized that the team effort of the EUFF is equally apparent in the two sister festivals held in Toronto (beginning Nov. 14) and Vancouver (beginning Nov. 22). The EUFF, as Bucur remarked, serves as a strong opportunity to share arts, culture, and experiences between nations. The films at the EUFF introduce filmgoers to corners of world cinema they might not find elsewhere. Even for a Romanian-born filmgoer like Bucur herself, the festival helps create fans of European cinema by showcasing films that might be hidden by Hollywood hits in the cinemas of their own country. (The latter point is something Canadians can certainly relate to.)

The diverse programme demonstrates the team effort that goes into the festival, as the EUFF enjoys a collaboration between both the programmers of the CFI and the officers of member states. European Union Ambassador Marie-Anne Coninsx, making a timely remark in her introduction of the event, noted that the efforts of the member states to bring their films to the festival in Canada shows that the EU is not all about trade. “We’ve always supported free trade in terms of ideas and images,” added the CFI’s Executive Director Tom McSorley. The announcement of the festival selections concluded with the premiere of the festival’s trailer (see below), made by CFI programmer Jerrett Zaroski, which connects the diverse styles and themes on display in this year’s festival.

This year’s EUFF opens November 14th with the Lithuanian documentary, The Other Dream Team. As is the tradition with the EUFF, the festival is organized under the Presidency of the Council of the European and the submission of the presiding member, in this case Lithuania, is the first film of the festival. The Other Dream Team is one of four documentaries at the festival this year, which is a notable expansion for the presence of documentary film at the EUFF. Other docs include Finland’s Alcan Highway (screens Nov. 23; Hot Docs review here), Ireland’s Natural Grace: Irish Music and Martin Hayes (Nov. 26), and Spain’s Bajarí: Barcelona (Nov. 29). The programme also includes three Oscar submissions for Best Foreign Language Film: Solvenia’s A Trip (Nov. 22) was submitted last year, while Luxembourg’s Blind Spot (Nov. 17) and Sweden’s Eat, Sleep, Die (Nov. 22) are competing in this year’s race. The Oscar submissions are always the first films on my festival schedule and are recommended starting points for anyone seeking the hottest titles in world cinema. The festival closes on December 1 with the delightful road movie Jackie from The Netherlands, which stars Oscar winner Holly Hunter and sisters Carice and Jelka Van Houten. (TIFF review here.)
Grand Central's Tahar Rahim will attend the EUFF on Nov. 18

This year’s EUFF also includes two exciting guest appearances that are sure to draw line-ups at their respective screenings. Producer Matthias Drescher will attend the screening of Germany’s Shifting the Blame (Nov. 28), while actor Tahar Rahim (whom film buffs will remember from the 2009 hit A Prophet) will appear for the presentation of France’s Grand Central (Nov. 18). Co-starring alongside Rahim in Grand Central is one of the stars of another of France’s most acclaimed films of the year, Léa Seydoux from Blue is the Warmest Color. Seydoux won’t be at the festival herself, but many of the film’s at this year’s EUFF will include video messages from directors and stars.

Among the highlights of this year’s festival are:

The Other Dream Team
Dir. Marius A. Markevicius | Lithuania | 89 min.
Thursday, November 14, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania's independence movement, and - with help from the Grateful Dead - triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics. As the Berlin Wall fell, the newly freed nation turned to its national basketball team and basketball stars, many having won gold wearing USSR colours in 1988, to give hope to its people and to make dreams a reality. A documentary that is as inspirational as it is enlightening. As the New York Times observes, it “...merges political history and sports mania into a triumphant timeline.”  


Dir. Ole Christian Madsen | Denmark | 99 min.
Friday, November 15, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: Christian is a Copenhagen wine seller on the brink of bankruptcy. Equally unsuccessful in love, it has been 17 months since his wife, Anna, left him. Anna works as a soccer agent in Buenos Aires and now lives a life of luxury with Argentina's top player, Juan Diaz. One day Christian and 16-year-old son Oscar get on a plane to Buenos Aires. Christian arrives under the pretense of wanting to sign the divorce papers, but what he really wants is to win Anna back. Short-listed for the Denmark’s foreign language Academy Award nomination, Superclásico is a winning comedy, from the director of Flame and Citron (2008). Starring Anders W. Berthelsen and Paprika Steen.

Blind Spot
Dir. Christophe Wagner | Luxembourg | 96 min
Sunday, November 17, 2013, 4:00 pm
Synopsis: The mysterious and charismatic Inspector Hastert takes on one final case before he retires: the death of a fellow cop. He is helped by Oliver Faber, who is also the brother of the slain officer. Corruption and deceit are on the menu, and that’s just for starters... The case develops as a complex and smart game of manipulation where nothing and no one are what they seem.
-Luxembourg’s official submission for the 2013 Academy Awards

Grand Central
Dir. Rebecca Zlotowski | France | 94 min
Monday November 18, 2013, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: Gary (Tahar Rahim) has a high-risk job in a nuclear plant and lives with the other workers, struggling to make ends meet. His life gets complicated, and dangerous, when he falls in love with Karole (Lea Seydoux), the wife of his co-worker. Grand Central takes a familiar story of a love triangle and places it in an unusual, politically and environmentally charged context. Zlotowksi’s film features superb performances by Rahim and Seydoux, and it crackles “with a young and reckless energy that mirrors the characters” (Hollywood Reporter), and weaves in a convincing depiction of the contemporary underclass. Nominated for the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard award, Grand Central is compelling viewing.
-Star Tahar Rahim will attend the screening

Living Images
Dir. Hardi Volmer | Estonia | 135 min
Thursday, November 21, 2013, 8:30 pm
Synopsis: Living Images is a sweeping drama that takes us through the 20th century by telling the stories of two Estonians, Helmi and Julius. The film begins with their birth in 1908, in a house belonging to Baltic Germans, and ends in the end of the century in a newly liberated Estonia and the arrival of neo-capitalist values. Impressively, it manages to both tell an intimate love story while chronicling Estonia’s turbulent 20th century. As we move through time, the film’s look changes, too, from a classic silent era film style, to full colour and sound, revealing the history and development of cinema itself. An ambitious, remarkable film.
-Note: Estonia, which had the best film at last year’s festival with Demons, also had the best post-screening reception last year, so film buffs who enjoy a good mingle, drinks, and free noms should attend.

Eat, Sleep, Die.
Dir. Gabriela Pichler | Sweden | 104 min
Friday, November 22, 2013, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
Synopsis: Grounded in the director’s own experience growing up in a working-class immigrant family in a small Swedish town, Eat Sleep Die is gritty and affecting. Raša (the magnetic Nemina Lukac) lives with her father in a working-class town and has a job at a food processing plant. She’s a hard worker and well-liked by her colleagues, but when the plant announces layoffs are coming, she’s knows that her Montenegrin background may make it difficult for her to find other employment. When her father is forced to relocate temporarily to Norway to find work, she hides the news of her layoff from him as long as possible. This stunning directorial debut is Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Picture at the 86th Academy Awards in 2014.

I’m an Old Communist Hag
Dir. Stere Gulea | Romania | 98 minutes
Monday, November 25, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: Starring Luminita Gheorghiu (Child’s Pose), director Stere Gulea’s (Weekend With My Mother) film tells the story of Emilia, a 60-year old woman who lives peacefully with her husband Tucu in a small town. The couple is joyful when they receive a phone call from Canada: their daughter, Alice, will visit them together with her American fiancé, Alan. Things could not be better for Emilia, who looks forward to basking in the young couple's happiness. Moreover, Emilia, who is famous in the neighbourhood for her communist nostalgia, is asked to be part of a documentary about the extensive festivities organized on August 23, the national holiday before the '89 Revolution. The family reunion turns complicated when questions of memory and history demand answers. 

Shifting the Blame
Dir. Lars-Gunner Lotz | Germany | 93 minutes
Thursday, November 28, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: A violent young criminal and his victim come face to face in this tightly wound study of guilt and redemption. The twist is that Eva, a social worker at an experimental rehabilitation centre for young prisoners, is unaware that angry young inmate Ben Graf is the thug who once brutally attacked her. Scared of eventually being recognized, Ben is forced to confront the demons driving his aggression and consider feelings of guilt and remorse for probably the first time in his deeply troubled life. Tautly constructed, Shifting the Blame is tough, tender and compelling.
- Producer Mattias Drescher will attend the screening.
God Loves Caviar
Dir. Yannis Smaragdis | Greece | 101 minutes
Saturday, November 30, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: The compelling story of Ioannis Varvakis, who ascends from humble Greek pirate to international caviar millionaire. His wealth and power, however, do not give him contentment, and his boundless ambition only brings suffering until meets a true love. This epic tale, based on Varvakis' real life, moves from the Greek island of Psara to the court of Catherine the Great in Russia and the shores of the Caspian Sea, and then back to Greece, a country torn by civil war and the fight for independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. The highest grossing Greek domestic film last year, God Loves Caviar also features legendary performers John Cleese and Catherine Deneuve.

Dir. Antoinette Beumer | The Netherlands | 100 min.
Sunday, December 1, 7:00 pm
Synopsis: Jackie follows twin sisters Sofie and Daan (played by sister actresses Carice and Jelka van Houten) as they learn that their birth mother, Jackie (Holly Hunter) is ill and decide to travel to America to see her. When they arrive, they are surprised at what they find: a rather cantankerous woman with a broken leg and a pierced eardrum living in the vast landscapes of New Mexico. To get her help, Sofie and Daan must drive Jackie to a rehab facility 800 kilometres away. What could possibly go wrong? Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy, and amusing, ride.
-Review from TIFF.

All films screen in the Auditorium of Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street.
Tickets are $8 for CFI members, seniors, and students, and $12 for general admission.
Members may also (re: should) buy a five-film passport for $35.

The European Union Film Festival screens in Ottawa November 14 – December 1.
Please visit www.cfi-icf.ca for the complete line-up and for more information.
(And check back here for reviews!)