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The Chicago European Union Film Festival Highlights Franco-Belgium Films

Film Series

Life for Real (2023, Belgium, France)

Gene Siskel Film Center
164 N. State Street
Chicago, IL, USA 60601

March 1 - March 10, 2024


Dive into the best of Franco-Belgian cinema, new and old, at this year’s Chicago European Union Film Festival.


For 26 years, the Gene Siskel Film Center has presented the Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF). This year, it introduces a new iteration of the festival: an annual spotlight of the country in the EU Presidency. Featuring the best in Belgian cinema and latest Franco-Belgium productions, presenting Chicago audiences with a potent cultural immersion and showcasing bright new native talents alongside a slice of repertory favorites, this EU Spotlight will also welcome guests and artists and host special events.

Festival Program:

March 1, 2024 – Omen (2023. Belgium, Congo, France, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, USA)

In Omen, the feature debut from Belgian-Congolese artist and musician Baloji, Koffi, a young Congolese man, visits his native Kinshasa after living for years in Belgium. With his white fiancée Alice by his side, the return to his birthplace is troubled from the start, as his family members hold fast to old superstitions, heightened by his appearance and the passage of time. When he suffers a nosebleed during a meal, secrecy and sorcery erupt. With stunningly rich visuals, OMEN is a sensory experience, introducing a daring, imaginative, and visionary filmmaker. Belgium’s submission to the Academy Awards for consideration, OMEN premiered in the Un Certain Regard program at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the New Voice Prize. Baloji in attendance.

March 2, 2024 – Here (2023, Belgium)

In Bas Devos’s unassuming Here, a Brussels construction worker prepares to return home for the holidays, perhaps never to return to his urban lifestyle. Before he leaves, he makes a soup out of the leftover ingredients in his fridge. Delivering servings of soup around the city, he bids goodbye to family and friends whom he may never see again. On a rainy day, quite by chance, he meets a woman studying microbiology, specifically bryology—the study of moss, and the two form a particular, poignant bond. Shot on 16mm and arguably the most romantic movie of the year (spoiler alert: no one consummates anything), HERE is a lyrical, peaceful, and enchanting meditation on the little things: the grass beneath our feet, the act of sharing a meal, the small pleasure of catching up with a friend. In a world where things are loud and complicated, Devos offers a soothing balm…and a bowl of soup.

March 2, 2024 – The Falling Star (2023, Belgium, France)

A former activist and fugitive for 35 years, Boris is tending bar at The Falling Star when his past catches up with him in the form of a mysterious stranger who arrives at the bar armed and wanting revenge. The appearance of a double, the depressed and solitary Dom, provides Boris’ cunning partner Kayoko and their faithful friend Tim with the perfect escape plan. But they haven’t accounted for Dom’s ex-wife, Fiona, a suspicious detective on their trail. With a deadpan sensibility reminiscent of the work of Aki Kaurismäki, beloved Belgian artists Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (Lost in Paris), who are both trained dancers and clowns, infuse this delightful film noir comedy with their trademark physicality, dashes of color, and winking sense of humor.

March 2, 2024 – Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, France, Belgium)

In Chantal Akerman’s hypnotic and methodical Jeanne Dielman, the daily routine and chores of a middle-aged woman are studied. Named the greatest film of all time by Sight and Sound in 2022, and recognized as a singular and astonishing masterpiece, Akerman’s film seems simple, but it encompasses an entire world. Its Chicago premiere was held at the Film Center on November 19, 1976, with Akerman in attendance. In an interview with then Film Center curator B. Ruby Rich, Akerman reacted to the early positive responses to the film, saying, “You know, when you make it, you just make it. After it was finished, when I saw the complete film, I said: ‘Oh my god, people will not be willing to stay!’ Because it is very difficult for me to imagine what they are waiting to see in a film in a commercial theater.” Get your tickets in advance, Akerman devotees: people are indeed willing to stay, and Jeanne Dielman always sells out.

March 3, 2024 – Man Bites Dog (1992, Belgium)

In this brutal mockumentary the activities of serial killer Ben are recorded by a willingly complicit documentary team while he terrorizes cities across Belgium and philosophizes about the state of the world. One of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, Man Bites Dog controversially won the International Critics’ Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, stunning audiences with its cynical and unflinching satire of media violence. In 2010, critic Scott Tobias wrote that upon its release, “Most of the arguments centered on whether it should even exist…today, it doesn’t look like provocation for provocation’s sake; it’s a thoughtful, evergreen thesis on documentary ‘reality’ and the grotesque distortions of the movie camera.” Content consideration: NC-17 version presented, includes depictions of graphic violence and sexual assault. Print Courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

March 3, 2024 – The (Ex)perience of Love (2023, Belgium, France)

In Raphaël Balboni and Ann Sirot’s charmer, Rémy and Sandra live a quiet and content domestic life. Struggling to conceive, they seek an explanation for their disappointment and discover they suffer from “Past Love Syndrome,” a bizarre condition which has only one cure: both of them must have sex with all of their exes, and find closure from those past relationships. For Sandra, the list of lovers is long; for Rémy this list is…less so. This festival darling, which premiered at Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival, is an irresistible and whimsical journey of love that considers themes of past lives, sex, and intimacy with an openness and refreshing sense of humor that is sure to spark lively conversations between lovers and exes alike.

March 4, 2024 – When It Melts (2023, Belgium, Netherlands)

 When the isolated and reclusive Eva (Charlotte De Bruyne) learns of a memorial celebration for a long lost friend, she is plunged into the past, recalling her sensitive 13-year-old-self (Rosa Marchant) and the sweltering summer when her life was irrevocably damaged. Adapted from Belgium’s coveted Bronzen Uil prize–winning eponymous novel written by Lize Spit, and winner of a special jury prize for Marchant’s heartbreaking performance as the young Eva, When It Melts is a bitter and unflinching portrait of childhood trauma and its reverberations. Content consideration: contains themes of sexual assault and violence. Followed by a Belgian beer and chocolates reception hosted by Flanders Delegation in the USA.

March 4, 2024 – Mambar Pierrette (2023, Belgium, Cameroon)

Cameroonian born and Belgium based Rosine Mfetgo Mbakam’s (Chez Jolie Coiffure) Mambar Pierrette makes its Chicago premiere after an illustrious festival run, including presentations in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes and the New York Film Festival. Set in Cameroon, the amiable but overworked seamstress Mambar busily prepares clothes for the start of the school year, while dutifully serving as a confidant for her customers and community. After experiencing a series of setbacks, including a torrential rain that threatens to flood her workshop, Mambar struggles to stay afloat. A narrative film deftly balanced with documentary elements (the film’s nonprofessional cast includes Mbakam’s cousin in the lead role), Mambar Pierrette is a graceful and powerfully subtle portrait of the little moments that—compounded by systems of oppression—can suddenly redefine our lives.

March 6, 2024 – Little Girl Blue (2024, Belgium, France)

After the suicide of her mother, writer and photographer Carole Achache, her daughter Mona found thousands of photos, letters, and audio recordings her mother left behind. Academy Award–winning actress Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) plays the director’s mother, and Mona plays herself, generating a delicate yet raw meta portrait of a mother-daughter relationship. Utilizing unconventional, fourth-wall-breaking techniques to boldly exhume and investigate her mother’s sins, Mona vividly blurs the lines between documentary and drama, and Cotillard gives a commanding performance that earned the acclaimed actress a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. Content consideration: contains themes of suicide and sexual assault.

This Young French Cinema program was made possible with the support of Unifrance and Villa Albertine – French Embassy in the United States.

March 7, 2024 – On the Pulse (2023, Belgium, France)

In the grounded and realistic On the Pulse, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Gabrielle, an aspiring cameraperson with no formal training, joins the team of the prestigious reporting show, Reporters. As she quickly finds her footing in the fast-paced and intense newsroom, she comes to consider her fellow journalists not as only colleagues, but as family, pulled closer together by their shared passion for the truth. Inspired by her own experience as a reporter, director Alix Delaporte crafts an authentic portrait of the daily life of journalists and a profession that is under pressure to get the story and audience day after day.

March 8, 2024 – It’s Raining in the House (2023, Belgium, France)

In Paloma Sermon-Daï’s narrative feature debut, which premiered at Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival, 17-year-old Purdey and her brother Makenzy live in Belgium’s Wallonia region, where wealthy tourists flock for summer holiday, but where the siblings live in a ramshackle house with few resources and their distracted single mother. When their mother takes off, they have to fend for themselves, with Purdey getting a low-paying cleaning job and Mak turning to petty crime. Starring her real-life half siblings, Sermon-Daï’s film—stylistically evocative of the work of Belgium’s Dardenne brothers—is a matter-of-fact portrayal of poverty, and a compassionate but unsentimental portrait of coming-of-age and the bonds of family. 

March 8, 2024 – The Other Laurens (2023, Belgium, France)

In Claude Schmitz’s moody film noir, small-time, private detective Gabriel Laurens (Olivier Rabourdin) is recruited by his niece Jade to investigate the suspicious death of her father, his estranged twin brother. As he is pulled into a murky world of drug traffickers, motorcycle gangs, and witless cops, while also serving as a substitute father for Jade, Gabriel seeks to discover the truth about the dead man he looks exactly like. Following its premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, The Other Laurens nabbed the Grand Prix Award and Best Actor prize for Rabourdin at the Brussels International Film Festival (BRIFF), and was praised by Jordan Mintzer at the Hollywood Reporter as “an intriguing little family mystery filled with bits of dark comedy and weirdness—this is a Belgian movie after all.” 

March 9, 2024 – Rosetta (1999, Belgium, France)

When the Dardenne brothers’ vérité drama Rosetta won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (their first, later winning the Palme for The Child in 2005), critics were shocked. The film, about the 17-year-old Belgian Rosetta, a poor young woman struggling to hold on to a job to support herself and her alcoholic mother, is starkly realistic and visually raw. (As Roger Ebert noted in his coverage of the win, “Variety‘s grudgingly positive review of Rosetta categorized it as ‘an extremely small European art movie from Belgium.’ Not just European but Belgian.”) Do not be deceived by the seemingly simple film, which endures as a revelatory and affecting portrait of resilience, and exemplifies why the Dardenne brothers are two of Belgium’s most revered filmmakers.

Presented free in partnership with Alliance Française de Chicago

March 9, 2024 – The Belgian Wave (2023, Belgium)

The Belgian Wave is the term for a series of UFO sightings in Belgium between 1989 and 1992. Thirty years later, two gumshoes, Enzo and Karen, set off on a psychedelic-fueled road trip to find the journalist Marc Varenberg, who mysteriously disappeared while investigating the extra-terrestrial phenomenon. On their journey, they encounter a gallery of characters (all of whom would be right at home in an episode of the The X-Files), each more peculiar than the last. Framed as a documentary and laced with found footage, broad comedy, and unreliable narrators at every turn, The Belgian Wave is a neon-soaked bender, and was—fittingly—the winner of the Audacity Award at the Oldenburg International Film Festival. 

March 10, 2024 – The Chapel (2023, Belgium)

Young pianist virtuoso Jennifer is bound and determined to win the world famous Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, arriving at “the Chapel” – an intensive, isolated retreat – with no interest in making friends with her fellow residents. With a childhood marked by trauma, Jennifer is solitary and serious, and the strict rules of the Chapel (no phones, computers, or television), along with the pressure of the looming competition and the friendly – if prying – questions from the other musicians begin to take their toll. As Jennifer practices her craft, memories of her demanding mother and loving but troubled father begin to surface. In Dominique Deruddere’s effective and controlled drama, it is the things that we value—family, passion, and grit—that haunt us the most.

March 10, 2024 – Life for Real (2023, Belgium, France)

Charlotte Gainsbourg shines in this charming Franco-Belgian co-production from comedian Dany Boon (Driving Madeleine). Boon stars as Tridan, a commitment phobe who has spent his life at Club Med, living a life of leisure and trapped in a state of arrested development. Now, at 50 years old, he is determined to find, 42 years later, his great childhood love, Violette. When he enlists his half brother, Louis, to help him find her, Louis asks his friend Roxane (Gainsbourg) to pretend to be Violette, and to break Tridan’s heart so that Louis can be rid of his nuisance of a pseudo sibling. Delightfully, things do not go as anyone plans.

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