Sampling Europe’s best

There are no breakthroughs, but this year's lineup is decent

EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL from tonight (Thursday, November 14) to November 27 at the Royal Cinema. Subtitled. See Indie & Rep Film. Rating: NNNN

Every autumn, the European Union Film Festival takes over the Royal for two weeks, offering Toronto audiences a sampling of cinema from every country on the Continent – and Ireland, too. All non-English films are subtitled, and admission is free, first come first served.

This year’s slate doesn’t appear to have a must-see TIFF title like The White Ribbon or A Prophet, or even last year’s alluring Byzantium, but there are some enjoyable selections.

In dry German comedy Oh Boy (Friday, November 15, 6:30 pm), disaffected law school dropout Niko’s (Tom Schilling) entire world collapses around him in slow motion. He’s broke, his driver’s licence is suspended and he can’t get a decent cup of coffee anywhere… and those are just the first woes of his day. The black-and-white cinematography and directionless urban-millennial protagonist might suggest a Teutonic Frances Ha, but writer-director Jan Ole Gerster has other angles to explore.

From Finland comes the documentary Alcan Highway (Saturday, November 16, 4:30 pm), director Aleksi Salmenperä’s engaging portrait of Hese Tonolen, a fiercely independent Finn determined to drive an aging truck and Airstream trailer from Alaska to Vancouver. It premiered at Hot Docs earlier this year, so if you missed it there, catch up now.

Michaël R. Roskam’s Bullhead (November 23, 9 pm) might seem familiar it was Belgium’s foreign-language Oscar submission in 2011, losing to A Separation, and has been available on disc for a while. But it never got a Toronto theatrical run, meaning this could be the last big-screen shot for Matthias Schoenaerts’s tour-de-force performance as a steroid-shooting cattle farmer whose sordid deal with the “hormone mafia” leads him into a world of hurt.

Not all the selections are winners, mind you. This year’s Netherlands film, Jackie (November 22, 8:30 pm), has the distinction of being one of the worst movies I saw at last year’s Toronto Film Festival – an achingly saccharine family drama about twin sisters (Black Book’s Carice Van Houten and her real-life sister Jelka) who travel from Holland to America when a woman (Holly Hunter) in a New Mexico hospital is identified as their birth mother.

A textbook example of laissez-faire European commercial cinema, Jackie employs every cliché in the book, shamelessly stealing from Rain Man and Thelma & Louise without understanding either. About a third of the way in, I realized that Hunter’s surly, snappish performance would be just as convincing from Tommy Lee Jones in a shag wig. This is not a compliment. | @wilnervision


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