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Overseas titles invade Film Center during European Union festival

Now in its 18th year, the European Union Film Festival brings the city’s best selection of new cinema across the Atlantic. Friday through April 2, programmers Barbara Scharres and Martin Rubin book both screens of the Gene Siskel Film Center with 61 Chicago premieres.

That includes U.S. premieres from Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. A handful were submissions for best foreign language film Oscars. Consulates, consuls general, embassies and film institutes in 27 European Union countries worked with the Siskel Center.

New York distributor Kino Lorber has five dramas and one documentary in this year’s lineup. Chicago’s own Music Box Films — U.S. distributor of “Ida,” “The Wall” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — is screening yet another drama about a European woman: “Gemma Bovery.”

Notable auteurs with new work: Roy Andersson, Pedro Costa, Bruno Dumont, Alain Resnais and Ulrich Seidl. The closing night film is a free-form remembrance of an Italian master: “How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini.”

Friday

6 p.m. “The Golden Horse” (Latvia): The opening night film is the most kid-friendly entry. Reinis Kalnaellis directs a touching animated tale based on a 1909 play by the poet Rainis. Enabled by a kind wizard and the title steed, a village lad frees a sleeping princess atop an ice mountain. By the end, a sorceress who collects sad tears to fuel her cruelty is left with only tears of joy. ” This stuff is undrinkable,” she cackles. (Also, 3 p.m. Sunday.)

Saturday

3 p.m. “L’il Quinquin” (France): Bruno Dumont departs from his earlier serious, mysterious spiritual features — “Humanity” and “Outside Satan” — and bewitches with a four-part TV series presented as a single film. Amidst a rural murder spree, there’s a love story between the title boy and the girl across the lane. Oddly inept investigators suspect cows, pigs and the devil. Into this peculiar policier, Dumont inserts comic details, from a tittering priest to a facial tic, that never cease to surprise. Highly recommended. (Also, 6:30 p.m. Monday.)

8:30 p.m. “Block 12” (Cyprus): The weakest entry previewed here is a madcap lark about a wacky family defending its forlorn land from oil interests. For global zest, there’s Cypriot heavy metal, tango, MI6 agents, and a Hindu maid doubling as a love goddess. Despite conspirators in London and Athens insisting “Don’t let the Americans find out,” Kyriacos Tofarides is letting Chicago see his 2013 directing debut. (Also, 8 p.m. Monday.)

Sunday

3 p.m. “Gemma Bovery” (France): In 1856 Gustav Flaubert serialized the story of Emma Bovary in a Paris magazine. In 1999 Posy Simmonds serialized a related cartoon titled “Gemma Bovery” in a London newspaper. Now Anne Fontaine casts Gemma Arterton (“Quantum of Solace,” “Clash of the Titans”) as a contemporary Londoner who moves to Normandy. Infatuated with her romantic fate, a local Flaubert buff and baker observes: “A boring woman who can’t stand her boring life is not that boring.” (Also, 6 p.m. Thursday.)

Wednesday

7:45 p.m. “White God” (Hungary): By far my favorite of the fest’s first week is this intriguing allegory about “mixed breed” dogs mistreated in Budapest. Kornel Mundruczo (“Delta”) relates a 13-year-old girl’s loyalty to her best friend. Arguing that “the dog is the symbol of the eternal outcast whose master is his god,” the auteur/provocateur evokes the liberatory climax of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” This highly recommended film comes to the Music Box on April 3.

Bill Stamets is a local freelance writer.