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Our Picks To Click For The European Union Film Festival

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 25, 2015 5:20PM

Scene from "White God." (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

From the final work of a master French filmmaker to an army of dogs turning against their captors, the 18th Annual European Union Film Festival (March 6 - April 2) offers a wide-ranging schedule of recent EU cinema, from high art to genre film thrills. One of the highlights of Chicago's busy festival calendar, the Gene Siskel Film Center's event features the local premieres of 61 recent feature films from 27 different countries.

Picking highlights of movies as yet unseen is always risky, but some well-known talent, enticing premises and overseas accolades may make these worth marking on your calendar.

The Dark Valley - This Austrian/German western has earned some attention for its stylish take on the classic revenge formula and stars Sam Riley, who made a strong impression playing Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in the British film Control.

Life of Riley - Alain Resnais' films Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad are staples of film schools and repertory cinemas, but the great French director's critical acclaim stretched well into his late career. He died at 91 last spring, just before this final film started playing on the U.S. festival circuit. A comedy based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn (A Chorus of Disapproval, The Norman Conquests), Life of Riley centers on a dying man's unexpectedly lively impact on his friends' lives.

The Hour of the Lynx - If the AMC/Netflix series The Killing led you to the original Danish mini-series that inspired it, you will recognize stars Sofie Gråbøl and Sören Malling in this dark tale of a priest counseling a murderer confined to a psychiatric ward. Director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen made a splash as part of Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 movement with Mifune.

Set Fire to the Stars - Since his years at the top of the box office mountain in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Elijah Wood has largely concentrated on low-budget indies. Here he plays American poet John Brinnin in a black-and-white drama about his grappling with the unpredictability of his idol, the great Welsh writer Dylan Thomas.

Tip Top - It would be easy for Isabelle Huppert to coast on her prolific and highly honored career (The Piano Teacher, White Material, Story of Women, Entre Nous, etc.), but with four movies either coming out or filming in 2015, she doesn't seem ready to do that. This comedy thriller from France has been praised and criticized for its mixture of screwball comedy and more serious elements, but nobody seems to be saying it is in any way dull.

Waste Land - Belgian writer-director Pieter Van Hees caught the eye of international horror fans with his unsettling 2008 feature, Left Bank. The Film Center's description suggests he's working more in noir territory here, but the trailer gives off a similarly dark and menacing vibe.

White God - We all know what God spelled backwards is, and while we don't know how heaven-sent they are, the canines in this Hungarian feature are certainly claiming their place in the pack. Poorly treated mutts join forces to take revenge on those who mistreated them in a film that looks like a suspenseful, fast-moving entertainment, but which also serves as an allegory about the immigration conflicts across Europe.

Soul Boys of the Western World - While Modern Family seemed to nail Spandau Ballet's current place in the culture, there was a time when the band was at the forefront of the New Romantics pop music movement. Whether one cringes or swoons when "True" comes on the radio, the band's story is full of the drama that makes for great behind-the-scenes music documentaries.

The complete European Union Film Festival schedule and details on a reduced-admission festival pass are available here.