May 9 is the time to appreciate and celebrate European culture, as the 16 European trade and culture offices in Taipei have designated the date European Day.
This year's European Day, however, is special because it has been extended by six days into European Week, to celebrate the opening of the European Commission office in Taipei.
The big event of the week is a film festival showcasing 16 films from each of the 16 European states. A free-of-charge showcase for fans of European films runs May 6 through May 10, at SPOT -- Taipei Film House. (Most of the films will have subtitles in English.)
It is also a good chance to see European films that represent the diversity of European culture. The films are not the self-admiring art films that European cinema is often characterized as producing, but offer a wide spectrum of narratives and filmmaking styles.
Germany's Run Lola Run is a good example of a different kind of German film making. This is the work that lifted Tom Tykwer's reputation in 1999. The story is simple: Lola attempts to help her drug dealing boyfriend raise 100,000 Marks (US$57,000) in four hours before he gets killed. It features sexy dialogue, flashy film techniques and deftly drawn characters.
Bend it Like Beckham is another one of those unconventional English films. Lacking elegance or caustic social critique, the film is filled with kitschy episodes and heavily garnished with Indian music. Following last year's World Cup soccer fever, the film, about an Indian girl's dream of being a football player, it was the best-selling British movie of last year.
The film festival has also selected three films that will be screened for the first time in Taiwan.
Gypsy Soul has been selected by the Spanish Trade Office and is a love story between a city playboy and a traditional Gypsy antique repairer. Ties and Ropes from Belgium details the maelstrom of events that are caused by the death of a rich rubber planter in South East Asia. His associates, friends and daughter Loulou, a singer in a European nightclub, get involved in a fight for possession of the estate.
Rent-A-Friend, from the Netherlands, is a comedy about urban relationships. A scriptwriter cannot stand her boyfriend's passive attitude toward making money, so she decides to leave him without realizing that, at the end of the day, he earns more cash than she does in the money-making competition.
Among the 16 films there are also the works of some revered filmmaking masters. Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe, by Istvan Szabo is a powerful drama about how the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s affected ordinary people.
Emma and Bobe, two Russian-language teachers in elementary schools in Budapest, will lose their jobs if they don't learn English quickly enough. But a difficult economic situation looms and pushes them down an even more difficult road.
Krzysztov Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue, starring Juliette Binoche, is a fitting film on the theme of Europe. It is about a woman trying to finish her late musician-husband's incomplete work: The last chapter of European Community music.
Apart from the film festival, European week also offers an exhibition of European posters and stamps, at the Museum of Post Affairs. At SPOT, there will be two lectures on European filmmaking and its relations with the Taiwanese film scene, specifically on the role of European film funding. The lectures will be given by Professor Isabelle Wu and Professor Dante Majorana.