European Union Film Festival Toronto

5 films to catch at the European Union Film Festival

The European Union Film Festival kicks off this evening with a variety of free screenings at the the Royal Cinema. All told the festival will feature 24 films, many of which have already been decorated with various awards at other festivals across the world. A number of the films on offer also serve as their country of origin's entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Academy Awards.

The festival commences with director Wieslaw Saniewski's, "The Winner" (2009), a Polish film that tells the tale of the unlikely friendship that's forged between an American pianist of polish descent and retired math teacher who's passionate about horse racing. Due to the political nature of Saniewski's past films, his works were previously banned in Poland until the fall of the socialist regime in 1989.

If you can't catch every film (which would be nice to try given that they're all free and a great way to spend those increasingly colder November nights), here are five that stand out from the pack.

TILT (2011) Bulgaria

A comedic drama (dramedy if you will), TILT follows a similar path as Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting." Set in early 90's Bulgaria after the fall of communism and during the rise of the mafia, TILT focuses on four young men trying to find funds to open their own bar. Being young and low on career options, they become involved in an illegal porn distribution ring. The foundation for the story revolves around Stash, one of the four friends, and his love for Becky, the daughter of the police chief investigating their illegal dealings. The police chief, none to pleased that a young hooligan type is dating his daughter, discovers that Stash and his friends are involved in the porn distribution. Using this as leverage, he threatens to charge the group unless Stash breaks off contact with his daughter and skips town with his friends. TILT won best editing at the Woodstock film festival, and is Bulgaria's official entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Academy Awards. Friday, November 18th, 6:00 pm.

Protector (2009) Czech Republic

Taking place in Prague, 1938, Protector is a period drama that focuses on the deterioration of a relationship due to extreme circumstances. Hana, a major Jewish movie star, is married to Emil, a radio reporter who is happy residing in his famous wife's shadow. However, as the Nazis begin to infiltrate the city and gain power, Hana's Jewish background becomes a danger for them both. In an effort to protect her, Emil fakes loyalty to the Nazis, who have taken control of his radio station. Emil eventually begins to grow closer to the enemy, enjoying the attention that he is now receiving. Emil's loyalty towards his wife begins to falter, putting her life in grave danger. Protector won several awards including Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Actress and was showcased at a number of film international film festivals. Protector follows TILT, Friday, November 18th, 8:30pm.

Lapland Odyssey (2010) Finland

Lapland Odyssey is a quirky, humorous tale about Janne, a lazy boyfriend on his last leg with fed-up girlfriend Irina. Janne is given one last chance with Irina, but only if he acquires a digibox for their cable set by morning. What ensues is an all night odyssey in search of the cable receiver that promises to save his relationship. Car chases, a lot of snow, wild animals, beer and naked men with guns are just a few of the fun hi-jinks to see along the way. Lapland Odyssey won awards for best cinematography, Best Direction, Best script and was featured at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Wednesday, November 23rd, 6:00pm.

Breathing (2011) Austria

It's easy to see why Breathing is Austria's entry for best foreign film at the 2012 Academy Awards, and took home the Best European Film award at Cannes, under the Director's Fortnight section. Breathing focuses on Roman, a troubled 19 year old orphan serving a prison sentence for causing the death of a young boy four years prior. Roman is finally given a chance to enter a work release program and gains a job at a mortuary, transporting corpses from the morgue to funeral homes. Shot primarily in grey and blue, the cinematographic choices allow the audience to see the hollowness that resides at Roman's core. There does come a change within him, however, when a dead woman is brought in that shares the same last name as his. Roman questions whether or not this woman could have been his biological mother, and sets out to find her. This event is the catalyst that brings Roman to open his eyes to discover who he is, where he came from, and what he could be in the future. Saturday, November 26, 6:00pm.

Stricken (2009) Netherlands

Stricken is a dramatic and realistic look on how we as humans sometimes deal with the tragedies that occur in our lives. Stijn, is a successful business man with a wonderful wife and daughter, and thinks he's set in life. When his wife informs him that she has been diagnosed with cancer, however, Stijn's seemingly perfect life starts crumbling around him. Unable to deal with the turn his life has taken and the pressure he feels, Stijn turns to escapism. Drowning himself in drugs and a passionate affair, Stijn begins distancing himself from his wife and family when he is needed most. As the tension builds to a breaking point, he has to choose which life he'd rather live, and what leaving his family behind would cost. Tuesday, November 29th, 8:30pm @ The Royal

All films are showing at the Royal from November 17th to November 30th and are 18+. The full schedule can be found here. There's no cost to view the films, so seating will be on a first come first served basis.

Writing by Lauren Morocco

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