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European Union Film Festival 2016: Phantom Boy, by Aaron Pinkston

1 Apr


I’ve come to learn that when an animated film is distributed by GKIDS, that’s a pretty assured sign of quality. Since 2008, the company has allowed for many smart, independent animated films to be seen in the U.S. You may not recognize the name GKIDS, but you likely know many of the films they have released—including Studio Ghibli films that weren’t released by Disney (The Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There most recently) as well as Oscar nominated films like Boy & the World, Song of the Sea, Ernest & Celestine and A Cat in Paris. The filmmakers of that last film, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, have returned with Phantom Boy, an intriguing blend of hard-boiled detective thriller, superhero film, and sick kid melodrama. It doesn’t quite blend those aspects together perfectly but it fits in with other GKIDS releases as an enjoyable and artistic film outside of the animation mainstream.


European Union Film Festival 2016: The Girl King, by Aaron Pinkston

29 Mar


A brief history lesson: In the mid-17th Century, Sweden was a protestant nation, often at war with nations who were aligned to the Pope and Roman Catholicism. In 1632, upon the death of King Gustav II Adolph at the Battle of Lützen, his only heir, six-year-old daughter Christina, was made queen. Given her unique situation, Christina was raised “as a prince,” schooled in philosophy and physical activity, which was often criticized in creating a gender neutrality for the young girl. At the age of 18, Christina took rule of her country. Mika Kaurismäki, the elder brother of Finnish cinema favorite son Aki Kaurismäki, tells Queen Christina’s story in The Girl King, looking at her tough rule, scandalous lesbian affairs, and ultimate denouncement of her country to convert religion and reside with the Pope in Rome. Christina is likely one of the most interesting world leaders who is not widely known in the West—which makes it very disappointing that The Girl King is such a dull depiction of her life.


European Union Film Festival 2016: Chevalier, by Aaron Pinkston

28 Mar


I’m not sure if the new wave of films coming out of Greece has been formally synthesized, but a small group of filmmakers have made some very interesting cinema lately. Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of Dogtooth, Alps, and the upcoming The Lobster has (rightfully) gotten most of the attention, but his frequent collaborator Athina Rachel Tsangari is an important figure as well. Tsangari is most known for her 2010 film Attenberg, an appropriately weird (for Greek cinema) but emotionally resonant film. Her follow up, Chevalier, may not be as outwardly bizarre as its counterparts, but it is just as committed to its high-concept premise. Chevalier may also be the most accessible film in this recent run—though given the standard, I’m not sure if that might not be a compliment.


European Union Film Festival 2016: Mediterranea, by Aaron Pinkston

27 Mar


Likely because of a very brief and limited theatrical release late last year, Mediterranea was pretty much absent from the year-end critic film discussion. Strangely, though, it had a pretty good presence at various film festivals and award shows—first-time director Jonas Carpignano won Breakthrough Director at the Gotham Awards, was nominated for two prizes at the Cannes 2015, and the film had an impressive showing at the Independent Spirit Awards with three nominations. As the film didn’t play in Chicago last year, it was picked up to run in the European Union Film Festival, highlighted as a film underseen in 2015.


European Union Film Festival 2016: Therapy for a Vampire, by Aaron Pinkston

26 Mar


When looking at a horror comedy (and particularly a vampire comedy) in 2016, there are two major criteria which I will judge: 1) Is the film able to do something new? and 2) Even if the film isn’t necessarily scary, does it take the horror elements seriously? We have seen enough great examples of horror comedy recently that it is becoming a crowded field, hence the first criterion—What We Do in the Shadows alone exhausts every creative play on vampire lore. Austrian filmmaker David Rühm’s Therapy for a Vampire doesn’t pass the test with flying colors, but it is light enough and amusing enough to entertain for its 90 minute runtime. And as more of a comedy of manners than an all-out satire, it is distinguishable enough from most in the horror comedy genre to not feel like it is retreading jokes and ideas.