By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
There’s bit of uncertainty these days surrounding the European Union, but that hasn’t affected the content off the annual European Union Film Showcase at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, now in its 31st year.
Forty-nine films represent 25 of the EU countries in the festival, which runs Nov 30 through Dec. 19.
“When we started, the size of EU membership was much smaller, like 10 to 12 countries,” said Todd Hitchcock, director of programming? at AFI.
Many of the films are prestigious, Hitchcock said: 12 were their countries’ 2018 Oscar submissions for Best Foreign Language Films. Some are totally new to this country; the showcase marks their U.S. premieres.
These days, family members and friends may be avoiding political discussions during holiday get-togethers but many of the offerings in the film showcase at AFI Silver have some aspect of politics along with an emphasis on personal relationships. Some are dramas, while others are comedies.
The opening film is on Nov. 30 is “Cold War,” a black-and-white movie set during the 1950s about star-crossed lovers and recent Polish history from Oscar-winning director Pawel Pawlikowski. The closing selection is Jon S. Baird’s Laurel and Hardy biopic “Stan & Ollie,” from the United Kingdom, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the beloved comic duo – focusing on their vaudeville roots and long association.
Among the other films in the film festival include “Everybody Knows,” (original title: Todos lo saben) a movie from Spain featuring real-life married co-stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Asghar Fahadi, who has previously won two Foreign Language Oscars, directed.
“It’s about a family reunion and a love triangle – a domestic melodrama combined with a psychological thriller about local corruption,” said Hitchcock.
On a lighter note is Portugal’s entry, “Diamentino,” in which a “not-very-bright football player” is used as a pawn by a right-wing group.
“It’s farcical and silly, but communicates something about politics today and rising nationalism,” said Hitchcock.
More directly political is “The Waldheim Waltz,” which explores the scandal surrounding Kurt Waldheim’s run for the presidency of Austria. Previously, he had been U.N. Secretary General.
“His attempt to become president was very controversial considering his past as a German officer during World War II, which he concealed,” Hitchcock explained. “But he still won. It’s a fascinating documentary by Ruth Beckermann, one of the activists who opposed him and is looking back at the controversy.
“Transit,” a German film by Christian Petzold, is set in Marseille, about a group of refugees trying to transition out of France to safety because of World War II.
A panel discussion about the film led by the German Historical Society will take place on Saturday, Dec. 8.
“The director set the film in modern-day Marseille rather than recreating ‘40s Marseille to suggest the proliferation of modern refugees,” Hitchcock suggested.
Probably the “biggest star component” of the festival, in his words, is French actress Juliette Binoche, who appears in “Nonfiction” by Olivier Assayas.
“It’s a Woody Allen-esque film, set around the publishing industry in France, which contains a rolling debate about the future of publishing, with romantic entanglements and people’s foibles. It’s great fun,” he said.
“We bring the best of new films, some of which will open locally,” said Hitchcock. “Our opening and closing films really fit the bill.”
“Stan & Ollie” will open at AFI in January post-showcase, and may enter the Oscar competition.
AFI Silver is located at 8633 Colesville Road, in downtown Silver Spring. AFI Silver and Cultural Center strongly recommends the purchase of tickets ahead of time. Tickets are already sold out for opening night, but there is a stand-by line.
For tickets and other information call 301-495-6700.
For more details of the films, panel discussions and receptions scheduled in the European Union Film Showcase, visit the AFI website at www.afi.com/silver.