Thursday, April 26, 2018


The American Cinematheque’s annual “Starring Europe” series begins next Thursday, May 3rd, running through Wednesday, May 9th between the Egyptian and Aero Theatres. It gathers together fourteen shorts and features from as many countries, giving audiences a unique opportunity to reconsider the continent in a concentrated space. There is no specific directive to their selection beyond that. It’s a chance for each nation to give a snapshot of its culture, and a chance for Angelenos to see a great many films that may not ever see a commercial release here despite finding success in their countries and on the festival circuit.

“The scope of the festival is to present different realities that, when combined, create a picture of Europe,” according to Italy’s Consul General in Los Angeles, Antonio Verde, when I spoke to him earlier this week. The European Union includes twenty-eight countries, and each brings to bear its own histories and priorities. The films selected don’t all share a common theme, tone, or purpose. Some are destined only for festivals like this, others were massive local hits.

The latter is true of Germany’s entry, aptly titled Welcome to Germany. The top-grossing German-language film of 2016 at its box office, it also won Best Production at the highly-regarded Bavarian Film Awards and was nominated for the same prize at the German Film Awards. German Consul General Hans Jörg describes it as “a comedy that addresses the refugee crisis, an issue that is still very important for all members of the European Union. In an entertaining manner, it attempts to tackle this very serious subject by presenting a German family that tries to integrate a refugee into their daily life.” For those who try to follow the development of European cinema, the refugee crisis is a familiar topic in recent years, addressed in films like Happy End, The Other Side of Hope, Dheepan, and The Unknown Girl. Unlike the downbeat portrait that tends to be the pride of film festivals, Welcome to Germany finds a friendlier approach.

Jörg sees Welcome to Germany as part of a large group of films lesser-known to U.S. cinephiles, noting that it is “just one of the excellent German comedies with a lot of depth” that have flourished recently. “It was very much appreciated,” he said of Welcome to Germany, “that all the misunderstandings from both sides [the hosting family and the refugee] were shown in a very humorous way.”

Welcome to Germany
For Verde, whose country’s entry is the short film “Ghetto PSA” that will screen immediately before Welcome to Germany on May 5th, the issue of immigration is one currently foregrounded not just in Europe, but the United States as well, making these films the ideal showcase for this festival. “This story reflects Italy because, like all European countries, it is facing the subject of immigration,” he noted. “The way this boy discovers Italy and integrates in our society, I feel this is something that relates to Italians, Europeans, and Americans.” (“Ghetto PSA” is a short documentary about an immigrant from French Guinea who finds an outlet and connection through his hip-hop group.)

Immigration will further be discussed at the panel “The World Today, Common Challenges – EU and US Responses,” which will include Mary Mucha, the director of “Ghetto PSA."

These are not the only films offering the lighter side of European cinema. The festival opens with the Czech Republic short (and Student Academy Award winner) “Who’s Who in Mycology,” about a trombone player, a drunken dancer, and her fungi-obsessed roommates. Belgium’s entry, Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out, deals with magical candy that gets body parts talking and pineapples flying. “Magical candy” indeed.

Charlie and Hannah's Grand Night Out
Somewhat bridging the gap between the comedic and dramatic selections is Croatia’s Quit Staring at My Plate, which The Hollywood Reporter cites for its “bleak realism, which always includes the possibility of hope and redemption hovering just beyond the frame” after a “cartoonish start.” In a similar vein - indeed, the program notes compare both films to the work of The Other Side of Hope director Aki Kaurismaki - Lithuania’s Miracle brings the mysterious (or perhaps miraculous) arrival of an unknown American to save a small pig farm.

For those seeking action, Kincsem, the most expensive Hungarian film ever made, should fit the bill. It tells the story of the most successful thoroughbred racehorse ever, having won all fifty-four races in which she competed. A 19th-century period piece that includes a good deal of Baz Luhrmann-esque anachronistic touches, Kincsem is now Hungary’s biggest blockbuster of the past ten years.

Poland’s Breaking the Limits has a similar true-life pedigree, this one about a former junkie turned athlete who goes on to become Poland’s Double Ironman World Champion. As with many films in this series, it was wildly successful in its home country, and won prizes for Production Design and Debut Actor at the Polish Film Awards.

Breaking the Limits
On the more dramatic side, you can always count on Romanian cinema these days to bring the heat. Sure enough, their entry Pororoca is a kidnapping thriller that Variety notes “stages every parent’s single greatest fear with nerve-chipping specificity and plausibility.” (This screening is also free with RSVP!)

Though many a think piece will assure their readers that we are living in anemic times for cinema, with too few dramatic films made for adults and too many superhero epics made for children, we are actually enormously blessed to see as many international films receive genuine distribution in this country. Some still fall by the wayside, however, and events like the Cinematheque’s Starring Europe series do a great service to our local culture in bringing them all together. It can be easy to say that such events open our eyes to the way other cultures see the world, but looking over this slate, I’m just as encouraged that we get a wide variety of ways other cultures entertain, move, and challenge us. As Antonio Verde noted, “Europe” isn’t one thing, but a collection of many different things, and the films shown over the course of this long weekend promises quite an array of approaches to engaging their audience.

The film festival is presented by Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, the European Union, the American Cinematheque and Obicá USA, with sponsorship from Platinum Sponsor DWF and Gold Sponsors Bank of the West, Otto Nemenz, SAP and LOT Polish Airlines. With the support of D’Aquino Wines, DUVEL, and Matteo Pasquini Espresso.

Created in the aftermath of World War II, the European Union is a unique economic and political partnership of 28 European countries that together cover much of the continent. What began as a purely economic union has evolved into an organization spanning policy areas and promoting cultural ties. Now in its fifth year, the EU Film Festival provides an opportunity for international cinema enthusiasts in Los Angeles to celebrate and discover contemporary films from across the European Union. The full schedule can be found here.

Scott Nye is the editor-at-large at Battleship Pretension and a contributor to CriterionCast. He can regularly be found at Los Angeles's many repertory theaters, or on Twitter @railoftomorrow.