5:29 PM EST, February 28, 2013
Every March, seven months before the Chicago International Film Festival in the fall, the Siskel Film Center's European Union Film Festival canvasses the best available new work from the EU nations, in all their loosely tied yet gloriously disparate personalities.
A lot of Chicago film lovers prefer the Siskel's festival over the larger local one, for reasons both curatorial- and calendar-related. With so many Chicagoans attending the Toronto festival in September, the Chicago festival has a way of seeming like an add-on (or a jam-in) to the crowded autumn festival calendar. In March it's different: January and February can be bleak moviegoing months, and by now a serious international buffet is just the thing.
This year's edition, the 16th, interpolates the film center's Festival of New Spanish Cinema into the EU fest. Running through March 28, the complete multinational lineup opens with "Stella Days" (from Ireland, starring Martin Sheen) and closes with the latest from Ken Loach, "The Angels' Share." In between?
Well, let's take the sharp Bulgarian romance "Faith, Love & Whiskey" as a heartening reminder of what's out there, and coming here. Barely 70 minutes excluding its end credits, the movie comes from director Kristina Nikolova (an alum of the University of Chicago), who shot it in 23 days in New York and Bulgaria.
The setup is simplicity itself: Neli, played with serious feeling and easy charisma by Ana Stojanovska, has emigrated to New York City and become engaged to what many would see as an ideal ticket up, and out: a nice, dull American. But feeling trapped, Neli embarks on a solo trip back to her hometown, where she falls into her old hard-partying routine, and a boozy, seductive few days with her ex, a bruiser played by Valeri Yordanov.
"America expects you, " demands one airline billboard Neli spies upon returning from her adopted nation. "Faith, Love & Whiskey" wears its larger themes of cultural dislocation and romantic disillusion lightly, letting Stojanovska guide the audience through one woman's honest confusion. Some of the visual technique borders on visual cliche, when director Nikolova switches up film stocks and plays around with slow-motion home-movie-style footage of the lovers and their revels. At its best, though, the unassuming movie feels both true and searching. It did well at previous festivals, including last year's Slamdance adjunct to Sundance. It should find admirers here, too, as one of 61 features in the 2013 EU fest.
The European Union Film Festival
When: Through March 28
Where: Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
Tickets: siskelfilmcenter.org or 312-846-2800.
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