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St. Louis International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

A schedule and capsule reviews of the fest's offerings

Wednesday, Sept. 15

4:45 p.m.: Fire. Deepa Mehta. Canada/India, 1994, 104 min. Lesbianism as a powerful tonic to the suppressions of Indian culture is the subject of Mehta's contemporary melodrama. Radha (played by megastar Shabana Azmi) is the traditional "good wife" who never questions her husband, a sect-follower who tests his libido by forcing her to lie naked next to him every night so that he can resist temptation. Sita (Nandita Das) is her younger, more modern-thinking sister-in-law, whose arrival coincides with Radha's increasing alienation. Sita is horrified by her own marriage to self-absorbed philanderer Jatin (Jaaved Jaaferi): "This devotion thing is overrated," she says flatly. The film, a deft mix of pathos and humor, lovingly details their increasingly indiscreet trysts. A wizened, judgmental granny provides a wordless black-comic Greek chorus (she's mute from a stroke); the high point occurs when the house servant nervously masturbates to a video called The Joy Suck Club while Granny watches in horror. Fire was shot in India at the same time Mira Nair's Kama Sutra was causing a scandal; Fire's upfront treatment of lesbian amour, normally a taboo subject in the country, went happily unnoticed. (GM)

7 p.m.: Siblings/Parents & Babies. A program of shorts featuring Carl Pfirman's "Boy Next Door" (U.S., 1998, 13 min.), Catherine Crouch's "One Small Step" (U.S., 1999, 29 min.), George Camarda's "The Olive Tree" (U.S., 1999, 26 min.) and Geoffrey Nauffts' "Baby Steps" (U.S., 1999, 25 min.). NR.

9:15 p.m.: Edge of Seventeen. David Moreton. U.S., 1998, 100 min. Neither gay-activist agitprop, nor a tale of homophobic horrors filled with insensitive parents and brutal schoolmates and ending with a pistol-whipped corpse tied to a fence by a highway, nor a socially conscious polemic about one youth's effort to challenge the establishment, Edge of Seventeen is instead a calm, clear-eyed portrait of a particular kid trying to figure out — like teenagers of all kinds the world over — who he is and where he fits in. Eric (Chris Stafford) is a whole lot luckier than any number of gay kids today. His parents love him unreservedly. He has a best friend (Tina Holmes) to confide in. And when he Takes the Plunge and goes to the local gay disco, he walks right into the open arms of the most wonderful lesbian den mother the world has ever known (the irrepressible Lea DeLaria) Still, his first affair with a sexy smoothie (the very, very hot Anderson Gabrych) ends badly. A subsequent fling with a casual pickup is no better. And he fails to face up to the fact that his best friend is desperately in love with him. Everything turns out happily by fadeout time, but not before screenwriter Todd Stephens and director Moreton have made any number of important points about what growing up gay really means in white middle-class America. Edge of Seventeen is reaching wide release at a most auspicious moment. The theaters are filled with gay teenage coming-out stories. But they're all British in origin, and none of them deal with sex as frankly and (thank goodness!) as erotically as this one. (DE)

Thursday, Sept. 16

4:45 p.m.: Alive and Kicking. Nancy Meckler. U.K., 1996, 100 min. Britain's Channel 4 excels at engaging, literate gay dramas, and in this case also manages to avoid the maudlin air of most "AIDS movies." Tonio (Jason Flemyng from Hollow Reed), an ego-driven gay dancer, fights and makes up with his troupe, has a tortured affair with an overweight psychiatrist and is just beginning to suffer from AIDS. The dialogue is alternately snappy ("My face is leaving in five minutes — be on it") and sober ("My body betrayed me"). One of the best scenes is a comic hetero flirtation between Tonio and a lesbian pal when both are sick of their mates. He suggests she go down on him. "Lick your willie?" she says. "That's heinous!" When he complains that her tits "get in the way," she rails at his lack of comprehension: "They're supposed to get in the way!" (GM)

7 p.m.: Show Me Love. Lukas Moodysson. Sweden, 1999, 89 min., in Swedish with English subtitles. We've just been through a cycle of gay male teenage coming-out films (Edge of Seventeen, Get Real and Like It Is), so it's more than appropriate that Show Me Love should spotlight the travails of lesbian teenagers. And this tale of a scorned outsider (Alexandra Dahlström) falling for the most popular girl in school (Rebecca Liljeberg) is as sensitive, insightful and unsensational as you could wish. (DE)

9:15 p.m.: When Love Comes. Garth Maxwell. New Zealand, 1998, 94 min. When Love Comes deals with a middle-aged pop diva (Rena Owen), trying to put her singing career on track, who joins forces with a lesbian punk-rock duo (Nancy Brunning and Sophia Hawthorne). But the emotional core of this New Zealand mood piece belongs to her gay best friend (Simon Prast), who's trying to figure out what to do about a substance-abusing wild-child lover (the gorgeous Dean O'Gorman) who keeps rushing in and out of his life. Writer/director Maxwell aims for (and often achieves) the emotional texture of Antonioni — which is a far cry from his day job as one of the main movers and shakers behind the Hercules and Xena television series. (DE)

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