Irrespective of whether you’re choosing Team Brexit or Team Bremain, the fact remains that the EU is a key funder of films, and while it rarely stumps up all the cash for a project, it helps several get off the ground with sums that often cover 10% of their budget. Its Creative Europe programme has €1.46bn (£1.14bn) to help fund creative and cultural work in 2014-20, with 56% of this (£638m) dedicated to cinema and audiovisual projects.
British projects received £75m in 2007-13, helping support films as diverse as Mr Turner, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, The Iron Lady and Steve McQueen’s Shame. More recently, Florence Foster Jenkins received help with EU-wide distribution, which is key to helping British films recoup their costs, and to getting some of the best EU films screened in Britain.
In celebration of this enjoyable slice of EU bureaucracy, here are five of the most notable EU-funded films from the past 25 years, all available to stream, ahead of the June 23rd referendum.
1994: Three Colors White (Poland/France)
The final three films directed by Polish exile Krzysztof Kieślowski, the Three Colors trilogy, consisted of Blue, White and Red – the colors on the flag of his adopted France – with each part respectively providing a slanted take on the themes of the French national motto: liberty, equality and fraternity.
Forced to move abroad because of a lack of film-funding possibilities in post-Communist Poland, Kieślowski tells the story of another Polish exile in White, the second, and most humorous – darkly humorous – part of the trilogy. Bumbling and impoverished Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is left by his French wife (Julie Delpy) after being unable to consummate their marriage, but (spoiler alert) eventually gets revenge by swindling his ex-bosses and using his newfound fortune to fake his death and frame his ex-wife.
Partially an investigation of Western European perceptions of the inferiority of Eastern Europe, it’s also a reflection of Kieślowski’s view of the 20th century approach to equality. “I don’t think anybody really wants to be equal. Everybody wants to be more equal.”
While White is the least celebrated film of the trilogy, that’s more a reflection of the way in which Blue and Red are so highly revered than because of any shortcomings on its part. Twenty-odd years later though, with migration arguably the issue of our time, White’s themes have a particular resonance. There’s no need to watch Blue before watching White, although Red certainly should be watched last.
2000: Dancer in the Dark (Denmark)
“I used to dream that I was in a musical, because in a musical, nothing dreadful ever happens.” So says Selma Ježková, an impoverished Czech immigrant to the US who is slowly going blind because of a degenerative eye condition. Played by Björk – who allegedly found the filming process with director Lars Von Trier so infuriating that she ate her own cardigan and greeted him every morning with the words “I despise you” – Selma is trying to save up for an eye operation for her son so he can avoid the same fate as her.
During her days working at a factory, she slips into fantasies based on musicals as a way of forgetting her misfortunes. Industrial sounds blend with the tunes, most notably in “I’ve Seen It All”, which features Radiohead’s Thom Yorke on the soundtrack (but not in the film itself) and was nominated for an Oscar for best song. It didn’t win that award, but Björk was named Best Actress at Cannes, where the film also won the Palme d’Or.
Shot by Von Trier on a handheld camera (in line with his anti-Hollywood “Dogme 95” philosophy of film-making) there’s a grubby, documentary quality to proceedings that, along with the film’s ending, takes the rose-tinted glasses of the musical genre and treads them viciously into the dirt.
2005: Hidden (Austria)
Featuring Juliette Binoche, star of Kieślowski’s Blue, Hidden built on the themes Michael Haneke had focused on in his previous seven films – the repression of emotion by the upper classes; racial tensions; the distorting effects of film on our attitudes to violence. However, it won much wider acclaim than his previous films – earning him the Best Director gong at Cannes – and catapulted him into the realm of the star auteur.
With Hidden, the clue is in the name, but, like with most of Haneke’s filmic clues, the reveal often does little more than expose just how many other clues are being concealed. “The audience completes the film by thinking about it,” he said of his most recent film Amour, but it’s just as true here. “Those who watch must not be just consumers ingesting spoon-fed images.” Hidden feeds us a range of plot points that all revolve around an act of concealing: hidden camera footage of the protagonists’ house is posted through their door; Binoche’s husband, played by Daniel Auteuil, goes behind her back to try and find out where the tapes are coming from; Binoche’s son suspects her of having an affair.
Like Haneke, I’ll keep the most crucial plot point hidden here, although I will tip you off that the final scene obscures a potentially revealing encounter, in true Haneke style, within a crowd as densely packed as a Where’s Wally illustration.
2008: Slumdog Millionaire (UK)
The fourth-highest-earning British film this century (behind the two Inbetweeners movies and The King’s Speech), Slumdog Millionaire made a profit of more than £31m after costing about £8.5m to produce.
However obviously commercial and westernised the gaze of its camera might be at times, it is a part of the line of British box-office successes (East is East; Bend it Like Beckham) that reflected the multi-culturalism of the country that made them.
With the end of empire and the decline of manufacturing, films are arguably a key part of Britain’s battalion of soft power on the world stage (the other being the Premier League). It might sound far-fetched, but films and football keep the world looking to Britain, and provide a significant boost for the economy, not only through Harry Potter tours, but through attracting film-makers to come and work in Britain – an option that became more enticing last year when the EU approved an increase in Britain’s tax breaks for the film industry.
Slumdog won 119 awards in total, eight of them Oscars. It’s the kind of movie ambassador Britain needs once every few years.
2014: White God (Hungary)
The received wisdom of never working with animals or children obviously wasn’t passed on to Kornél Mundruczo. Taking a pack of dogs and letting them loose in Budapest, his tale of a teenage girl trying to retrieve her pet after her father dumps it because of an unaffordable tax on mixed-breeds makes for one of the most visually arresting films of this decade. All the more so because there is not a drop of CGI in the mix: every emotional doggy expression and sensational canine stampede is 100% real.
A fairly blatant allegory of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigrant policies, that doesn’t stop White God being one of the most original thrillers to have ever emerged from any country. After the four-legged protagonist’s unceremonial dumping on the edge of the city, he gets caught up in a world of underground dog-fighting and government pounds, before whipping up a group of his compatriots and rounding on their oppressors. The fighting scenes are genuinely stomach-churning, and it is hard at times to believe that no dogs were harmed in the making of the film. In fact the makers went one better, with all the animals in White God being rescued from the streets or shelters to star in the film and being placed in homes afterwards.