There are many great films to see at Chicago’s European Union Film Festival (CEUFF), which takes place March 8 through April 4 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. This is the largest festival in North America that shows films from various parts of Europe. There are a total of 60 films this year. What amazes me in this year’s CEUFF is the selection of female-directed films. I am impressed by the fact that there are 22 films directed or co-directed by women. We are a step closer to helping female directors get the exposure and recognition they all deserve.
I had the honor to see two great female-directed films, which I closely relate to – “Little Harbor” from Slovakia and “The Ex-Wife” from Sweden. As a Bulgarian and a European, I understood and related to these films more than any American film I had seen. Watching them, I could tell they were directed by women right off the bat without even looking at the credits, by the way the story was told and by the emotional details portrayed in every moment of the script. Both films shared a dark, heavy subject of motherhood where mothers see parenting as a burden but they still go out and party like youngsters despite their age.
“Little Harbor” directed by Iveta Grofova, is the winner of a Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The film is set in a small Slovakian town in a run down apartment and a house in a garden. It is about 10-year-old Jarka who is abused and neglected by her mother and then after an incidental encounter with another neglectful mother, she ends up taking care of two baby twins on her own. The theme in this film, in my opinion, is so out there and foreign for the American audience. I heard the audience gasp during some of the scenes. We don’t get to see child abandonment and neglect in the same innocent and almost fairytale way as in this film where Jarka’s abandonment becomes her only way to escape. It does seem awkward to watch two little kids take care of twin babies on their own role playing mom and dad, but for some Eastern Europeans, this is the harsh reality and something I understand as someone who grew up there.
Theater Two at the Gene Siskel Film Center was packed because it was a female-directed film and because it came from Slovakia, a country very few people have even heard of. Watching it, I felt as if I was back in my homeland. The director had beautiful shots and scenes of the garden, the city and playgrounds I once used to play in. As a mother, I felt the emotions throughout the film from the perspective of the child.
“The Ex-Wife” by Katja Wik, was filmed in Sweden. I was an Erasmus student in Gothenburg, Sweden in my college days, so the Swedish culture is very familiar to me and I could understand this film, which again, may seem a bit out of the box for the American culture. It was shown in Theater Two, as well, and it was packed with mostly older audience.
The film was about the simultaneous lives of three women – an ex-wife, a wife and a girlfriend. The ex-wife, Vera, struggles to raise her two kids on her own and with a low income. The wife Ana is tired of her husband’s flirtatious ways and inability to help her as a parent. The girlfriend, on the other hand, is enjoying a nice, fun dating life.
The parallel between the three universes really shows us, as women, that life can go from a fun and light dating to a heavy, life-changing marriage. As the ex-wife puts it in the film, “It all changes when he comes in our lives.” Only a female director could have followed and shown so intensely the emotions, feelings and thoughts of these three women. I could see myself in each one of them, just like I am sure many women can. I have never seen a film that shows the inner world of broken women like this one did to a point where I saw my inner thoughts and experiences on the screen.
What I loved about my experience in watching this film is remembering my days in Sweden and seeing the culture I once was part of on the big screen. It also made me realize that no matter where we come from, as women, we all share the same issues and problems and insecurities. What I also loved about this film is that it showed our world, not the men’s and how we see men act as husbands, ex-husbands and boyfriends. It felt real, honest and raw and very close to the truth that we rarely get to see in films directed by men, especially in America, where the men seem to be almost always the hero. In this one, the hero is the woman, the mother, the wife because she takes on the daily struggles and responsibilities and keeps on going despite everything while the men tend to have fun, cheat, ruin lives and act like children.
Other great films directed by women that I recommend are “Alexis” from Croatia and “The Little Comrade” from Estonia showing in April. For more information, visit: https://www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
© Nikoleta Morales (3/29/19) FF2 Media
Photo credits: Gene Siskel Film Center