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BIG-SCREEN EPIC

Comprehensive coverage of the Eighth Annual St. Louis International Film Festival

9:30 p.m.: Bandits. See Oct. 29, Tivoli.

9:45 p.m.: Naturally Native. See Oct. 30, Plaza Frontenac.

Wednesday, Nov. 3

Plaza Frontenac

7:30 p.m.: DS: Speaking in Strings. Paola di Florio, U.S., 1999, 73 min. Whoever first thought of the metaphor "heartstrings" must have had the violin in mind, and after viewing this portrait of the tempestuous Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, it is the violin manipulated by her frenetically precise hands that most graphically expresses that image. Salerno- Sonnenberg appears possessed by spirits when she plays -- a singularly compelling, and frightening, figure. Musical purists find her mannerisms affected -- a criticism that follows exuberance around, it seems. But those willing to enter into her passion in the concert hall are mesmerized, as those who take in this intimate documentary will be as well. This performance is sold out. (ES)

9:30 p.m.: P. Tinto's Miracle. See Oct. 31, Plaza Frontenac.

Tivoli

7 p.m.: CC: Down by Law. Jim Jarmusch, U.S., 1986, 106 min. Jarmusch's minimalist comedy pares its jokes -- a slightly raised eyebrow, a contemptuously repeated phrase, a shock of hair left uncombed, an empty-eyed stare -- to the funny bone, inducing both laughter and pain. The film's troika of stars -- out-of-work DJ Zack (Tom Waits), goodtime pimp Jack (John Lurie) and happy-puppy Italian tourist "Bob" (Roberto Benigni) -- land, through setups and mishaps, in a Louisiana prison cell, where they form a grudging union and eventually escape into the surrounding swamp country. After much backbiting and circular trudging, the trio miraculously happens on a safe haven in an Italian diner glowing warmly on a backwater road. The film not only traces a journey but arrives at a destination: Without promising a better existence for its protagonists, it strongly implies that their lot has improved through trial and mutual trust. As its open-ended conclusion indicates, Down by Law -- for both heroes and audience -- doesn't dramatically alter but enhances our perceptions. Presented by Joe Holleman. (CF)

7:30 p.m.: DS: American Movie. Chris Smith, U.S., 1999, 104 min. With the success of The Blair Witch Project leaving the vogue for "indie" product with nowhere to go but down, the latest trend in independent chic appears to be the self-reflexive documentary in which struggling young filmmakers film other struggling young filmmakers as they speak earnestly and/or ironically about the long, hard road to Sundance. Mark Borchardt, the subject of the sad, funny American Movie, is no less earnest, but somehow the motivational speeches come out scrambled. Borchardt wants to make movies in the worst way, as the joke goes. Living in Menomonee Falls, Wis., where he drinks, piles up debts and works at the local cemetery, he refuses to let these or any other obstacles -- his apparent lack of talent, for example -- get in his way. With a cast of characters that resembles a live-action episode of Beavis and Butt-head, American Movie follows Mark over several years as he struggles to finish his horror featurette Coven (which he pronounces "koe-ven"; when a cast member corrects him, he thinks it's a joke) ... and a struggle it is. As absurd as Mark and his friends are, American Movie never seems to ridicule them (though some would argue that its exploits their dull-wittedness). So what is it saying? Although the film lacks a coherent point and drags in spots, behind the low comedy and spectacle it offers a glimpse of -- to use one of Borchardt's favorite clichés -- the American Dream, but wrecked and abandoned in a trailer park. Unfortunately, the joke becomes strained if you've actually seen Coven, which accompanies American Movie at both festival screenings. Although Smith's film holds out the possibility that Mark might actually make a worthwhile film, Coven shatters that promise. For all of Borchardt's pretensions, he proves to be so totally inept and his film so misguidedly awful on every level that I began to wonder how Smith resisted the urge to step in and take over. Introduced and discussed by Smith, Borchardt and American Movie producer Sarah Price. (RH)

9:45 p.m.: DS: Creature. See Oct. 29, Tivoli.

West Olive

7 p.m.: CC: Unmade Beds. Nicholas Barker, U.S., 1997, 93 min. An acidly funny group portrait of four lonely, self-deluded New Yorkers looking for love through the personals, Unmade Beds exploits and empathizes, abuses and exalts, distorts and clarifies. Although technically a documentary, the film presents such a highly mediated view of its subjects -- images refracted through the sharp lens of director Barker -- that they become fact-based fictional creations: characters carefully shaped as much as persons closely observed. The film divides its time between two men -- an intense, humorlessly self-deprecating 40-year-old who believes he owes his bachelorhood to his short stature and a gruff, laconic would-be screenwriter who dresses like a Scorsese wiseguy -- and two women -- a young, savvy but overweight professional grimly determined to marry before she's 30 and a buxom, hilariously forthright divorcée who's on the hunt for a man with money. Although Barker gleefully shares his subjects' uglier traits and views, he constantly undercuts our first impressions by providing a fresh perspective, by softening a hard edge, by opening emotional veins and letting these people messily bleed. Unmade Beds may provoke its share of laughter, but it's at all of our expense. Presented by Ellen Futterman. (CF)

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