BIG-SCREEN EPIC

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

Tivoli

1:30 p.m.: The Lighthouse (El Faro). Eduardo Mignona, Argentina, 1998, 110 min. Somewhere in the middle of this meandering movie, it makes a point: We should cherish what is crooked, not try to straighten it out. This idea dawns on Meme (Ingrid Rubio), an orphan with a crippled leg and missing lung, so she should know what she is talking about. And this movie that follows the rhythms of Meme's aimless life in Uruguay with her kid sister and cigarette habit does, occasionally, cherish the crooked. At times it feels like an oddball delight -- like actually enjoying the friendship of this offbeat, lovely person. Then all charm disappears without warning into flat dialogue, simpering stares and soap-opera-esque plot turns (unenlightening boy trouble and stagy pregnancies). What could have been a nifty, crooked short film gets straightened out into an overly long yawner. In Spanish with English subtitles. (CK)

2 p.m.: DS: Keepers of the Frame. Mark McLaughlin, U.S., 1999, 70 min. This information-packed documentary is a reminder of the urgent need for film preservation: There is still not nearly enough being done to stop the ongoing deterioration of materials, particularly (but not limited to) the volatile nitrate-based film on which all cinema before the '50s was shot. Although there have been a number of fine documentaries explaining these issues, McLaughlin's covers the standard turf quickly and moves on to areas not as well known. Everyone talks about the legacy of Hollywood features and of newsreels, but McLaughlin goes on to consider less obvious categories, like home movies, experimental shorts and jukebox "music videos" from the '40s. Even more important, he sounds the alarm about the impermanence of even the "preserved" material. Transferring film to video not only involves an obvious loss of visual quality but is a very temporary reprieve: Whereas properly preserved film can last for decades, videotape has a much shorter life. Digital transfer is one solution, but even that has its problems. (AK)

4 p.m.: AA: Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. Leslie Harris, U.S., 1992, 92 min. Smart-as-a-whip, aspiring, assertive Chantel (a brilliant Ariyan Johnson) falls for smooth- talking Tyrone and ends up a pregnant 17-year-old, "just another girl on the I.R.T." (referring to the subway line). Confrontational at school and work, Chantel is more facade than assurance. Tirades meant to hide her vulnerability reveal more about the frustrations of this trapped young Brooklynite's conflicted feelings. The film was shot in just over two weeks on a shoestring budget, and some of the seams fray as a result of weak performances and melodramatic preachiness. Writer/director Harris admits that Chantel's in-your-face, troubled behavior is sometimes "a little hard to take." But Johnson's charisma fuels this flawed but fascinating look at one young urban African-American woman, her compromised dreams and tenacious spirit. No simplistic description quite captures Chantel's confusion and resiliency. She's a fighter we root for. (DC)

4:15 p.m.: The Third Miracle. Agnieszka Holland, U.S., 1999, 120 min. Holland (Europa Europa, Total Eclipse) directs the story of a cynical priest who investigates a series of what appear to be miracles and finds that a dead woman is behind the events. With Ed Harris, Anne Heche and Armin Mueller-Stahl. NR.

6:30 p.m.: The Lost Man. Robert Alan Arthur, U.S., 1969, 118 min. While on the run from the police, a robber briefly meets and affects the lives of many people. With Sidney Poitier, Paul Winfield and Richard A. Dysart. NR.

7 p.m.: Boys Don't Cry. Kimberly Peirce, U.S., 1999, 114 min. The life and death of a young woman named Teena Brandon, who sought to be recognized as a man named Brandon Teena, has been the subject of a first-rate documentary called The Brandon Teena Story. In fact, so good is that film that I scarcely expected a fictionalized version of the events it covers could have anything to add. But it does. Peirce, the director and co-writer (with Andy Bienen) of Boys Don't Cry, and an extraordinary young actress named Hilary Swank get right to the beating heart of this tale of crossing the transsexual divide in that most dangerous of all places -- the American heartland. Chloe Sevigny -- giving a real performance rather than serving as art object for Harmony Korine's designs -- co-stars as a much-abused teenager who finds love in the arms of a woman who is more of a "real" man than any of the others she's known. Peter Sarsgaard and Brendan Sexton III are chilling in the most matter-of-fact way possible as would-be friends who engineer Brandon's doom. But it's Swank's show all the way in a performance you're not likely ever to forget. Introduced and discussed by Peirce. (DE)

9:15 p.m.: You or Me (Kalozok). Tamas Sas, Hungary, 1998, 105 min. With the Iron Curtain gone and the fruits of modern capitalism pouring through their gates, Eastern Europe has evidently discovered our most unsung export, the '80s direct-to-video teen comedy. In between bland pop numbers by a band called JAZZ + AZ, the young heroes of You or Me hang out in coffeehouses, play practical jokes at the expense of their square elders, quarrel over an attractive new neighbor and run a pirate radio station. As with many of its Western counterparts, the film spends all of its time trying to convince the audience that the characters are having fun but only succeeds in irritating. Can Kalozok 2: Electric Boogaloo be far behind? In Hungarian with English subtitles. (RH)

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