toronto european union film festival

5 films to see at the European Union Film Festival 2012

I look forward to The European Union Film Festival every year. It's a collaborative effort between the consulates and cultural institutions that make up the EU's presence in Toronto, and it brings to the public, free of charge, the very best in European cinema, both contemporary and classic. Now in its 8th year, the EUFF 2012 features 30 national and internationally acclaimed films, including Q&As and special presentations, all of which will be screened at The Royal Cinema at 608 College Street from November 14-27. When you can get a group of people as strait-laced as those found in a consulate (or in this case, several) to name their festival something as tongue-in-cheek as the Eh? U Film Fest for any lengthy period of time, I give you props (but they don't do that anymore, boo).

The festival's mandate is to feature diverse European cinema showcasing excellence in the form, and this year marks the Canadian premiere of over ten award-winning European films. To get an idea of the sheer variety, the EU countries participating are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom. Try saying all that quickly.

This year is also noteworthy because all 27 EU member states are represented for the first time, and it further marks the anniversary of a couple of classic films screening at the fest. Specifically, one of the UK's two contributions is Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992), which is 20 years old this year, and German horror classic Vampyr (1932) which marks its 70th anniversary.

Speaking of Neil Jordan, the other UK contribution is also his--2011's Byzantium, starring Gemma Arterton and Hanna's Saoirse Ronan. It's introduced by legendary British film producer Nik Powell (who is also director of the UK National Film and Television School). He's known for films such as The Crying Game (1992), Little Voice (1998), and Calendar Girls (2003). You may also know him as the co-founder of a little company called Virgin Records, with some guy, Richard Branson.

One of the key elements of the festival for all you budding filmmaker types is not just the films themselves, but also a pair of master classes that Powell will be presenting (again, free of charge - thanks EU!) on screenwriting and producing, respectively. These will take place between 1pm - 5pm on Sunday, November 18, at Ryerson's School of Image Arts.

With such an incredible array of films to choose from, it's with a lot of deliberation that I present my top five (but seriously, if you can, just go watch all of them).

Hot Hot Hot (2011, Luxembourg)
My first selection comes from the tiniest nation in the EU. Luxembourg is a country better known for its most recent royal wedding than for...well...anything. But with BĂŠryl Koltz's Hot Hot Hot, it's making me consider adding that to my Eurotrip list! This film begins with Ferdinand, a small, bald, forty-year old with anxiety issues and an obsessive fondness for the fish in his care at his job at Fish Land, an aquatic centre within a larger leisure complex called Worlds Apart. When Fish Land closes for six months of repairs, Ferdinand is transferred to another section, the Finnish-Turkish Delight Spa, and his solitary world is turned upside down. He is suddenly faced with a world where nudity, sensuality, relaxation and letting go are de rigeur--and this is terrifying to him. Hot Hot Hot looks like a colourful, comical depiction of what happens when worlds collide, and when you allow yourself the freedom to change.
Screening: Sunday, November 25, 6pm

Byzantium (2012, United Kingdom)
Neil Jordan's latest film stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as a pair of seemingly aimless drifters who chance upon a run-down coastal resort. Arterton promptly befriends lonely owner Noel and turns the resort--the titular Byzantium--into a low-key brothel, while Ronan's Eleanor enrols quietly in school and befriends kindred spirit, Frank. But when it is revealed that they are a pair of 200-year-old vampires, their secret past returns with a vengeance to haunt them.
Screening: Saturday, 17 November, 8.30pm

By Miracle (2010, Cyprus )
Mysterious, haunting music underscores the beautiful, dark visuals in this film from director Marinos Kartikkis. It tells the story of Aliki and Andreas, a couple in their thirties, who try to have a baby a year following the death of their 4-year-old daughter. After she hears a news item about a weeping icon of the Virgin Mary, Aliki begins to develop an interest in miracles.

Meanwhile, Marios, a man in his late twenties who lives with his mother Demetra, tries to satisfy his sexual needs with casual encounters with men in the park, until he meets a young man at the swimming pool who holds his attention. His mother Demetra is constantly concerned about her son, but one day while visiting her husband's grave, she sees Aliki in front of her daughter's grave and becomes intrigued by her. Intersecting lives, longings and loss are the underpinning themes of this Greek (with English subtitles) film, and it also serves as the festival's opening night film.
Screening: Wednesday, 14 November, 8.30pm

Sonny Boy (2011, The Netherlands)
Love that conquers against all odds is an archetype in all human stories, from folklore to film, and Sonny Boy is one such story. But this is one that has its roots in fact. It is the true story of an extraordinary love between two ordinary people in early 20th century Netherlands. Rika is a Dutch mother of four children, and Waldemar is a man from Suriname, 17 years her junior. They begin a relationship that is frowned upon on many levels--from the age difference to the racial divide of the time--but against all odds their love survives the cruelty of the outside world. However, when the brutality of war invades their lives, the strength of their love is pitted against the burdens of fate. This film from director Maria Peters was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (it's Dutch and German, with English subtitles) at the 2012 Academy Awards.
Screening: Monday, 26 November, 8.30pm

The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Portugal)
A ghost story, a love story, a mystery...or all three? The Strange Case of Angelica, directed by Manoel de Oliveira, tells the story of Isaac, a young photographer living in a boarding house, who is summoned in the middle of the night to a wealthy family's home. They want him to take a final portrait of their daughter, Angelica, who died suddenly just days after her wedding.

When he arrives at the family home and sees Angelica, lying very life-like on a chaise lounge, holding a bouquet of flowers, he is entranced by her beauty. But when she seems to come alive (literally) through the lens of his camera, he falls instantly and obsessively in love with her. The Portugese (with English subtitles) film has been described as "a comic masterpiece," "a radiant ghost story, and a tale of cinema itself." But ignore these other reasons--the man who made this film is 103 years old. Go watch it.
Screening: Saturday, 17 November, 6pm

Writing by Gesilayefa Azorbo. Lead photo from Sonny Boy.

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