BIG-SCREEN EPIC

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

West Olive

1 p.m.: AA: Dumbarton Bridge. Introduced and discussed by director Charles Koppelman. See Oct. 30, West Olive.

1:30 p.m.: DS: Kurt Gerron's Karussell. Ilona Ziok, Germany/Netherlands/Czech Republic, 1999, 65 min. This documentary, which mixes videotaped material with archival film footage, follows Kurt Gerron from his days as the corpulent darling of Berlin cabarets to his debarkation at Auschwitz as a skeleton too ill to work -- he was therefore put to death immediately. As the man who first sang "Mack the Knife" onstage and played opposite Marlene Dietrich on the screen, Gerron was a celebrity when the Nazis came to power and sequestered Jews in ghettoes. He ran his own cabaret in the concentration camp (the "Karussell" of this film's title) and even collaborated with the Nazis by making a propaganda film about the ghetto, wrongly thinking it would save his life. His actors began disappearing during the filming, and when the film was finished -- it included his last performance of "Mack the Knife" -- Gerron himself was sent to Auschwitz to die. The power of the subject more than compensates for some lazy editorial moments, and the archival material is haunting beyond words. Introduced and discussed by distributor Udy Epstein. In German and English with English subtitles. (CK)

3:30 p.m.: CC: Postman Blues (Posutoman Burusu). Sabu, Japan, 1998, 110 min. While delivering mail, weary Japanese postman Sawaki recognizes boyhood pal Noguchi, now a reckless drug dealer. Following yakuza code, Noguchi has just severed a finger as atonement for a botched assignment. After Noguchi stashes a drug package in Sawaki's bag and the digit accidentally rolls in with it, a cascading series of seriocomic errors ensues. Sawaki gets drunk, reads undelivered letters and becomes emotionally attracted to a young woman dying of cancer. Visiting her at the hospital, Sawaki befriends an aging hitman. This exuberant satire of modern-day crime, Japanese conformity and romantic yearning soon involves bumbling police, an incensed crime boss, incompetent yakuza and a National Hitmen Contest. The delightful, absurdist humor culminates in a wild bicycle race through city streets and a violent conclusion. Through an unusual mix of villainy and gentleness, this superbly edited and beautifully acted film redeems the alienated postman of the title with moments of touching sentiment. In Japanese with English subtitles. Presented by Diane Carson. (DC)

3:45 p.m.: DS: Photographer (Fotoamator). Dariusz Jablonski, Poland/Germany/France, 1998, 80 min. With a camera confiscated from a Jewish prisoner and a supply of Agfa's newly developed color slide film, Walter Genewein, the Reich's chief accountant, documented the quotidian reality of Nazi Germany's "achievement" in the Lodz Ghetto. In 1987, some 400 of Genewein's slides were found in a bookstore in Vienna. Those images, along with contemporaneous accounts and interviews with Dr. Arnold Mostowicz, a Lodz survivor, make up Photographer. Proceeding by the accretion of detail, Photographer presents a riveting picture of the bureaucratization of atrocity. Finding horror in the discrepancy between events and their documentation, it is also a meditation on how, and why, we record. The film's flaws -- a bombastic score, some stagy added footage -- seem the result of attempting to heighten the drama of a story that doesn't need it. The last image of Genewein's that we see, his final slide, is artlessly devastating. (JH)

6 p.m.: The Terrorist Santosh Sivan, India, 1998, 98 min. Trained from birth to believe in "the cause," a beautiful young woman is tapped for the suicide-assassination of a prominent politician. NR.

7 p.m.: Under California. Introduced and discussed by director Carlos Bolado. See Oct. 30, West Olive.

8:15 p.m.: Zacharia Farted. Michael Rohl, Canada, 1998, 110 min. The title of this production might lead you to believe it's a lowbrow comedy filled with adolescent antics, but nothing could be further from the truth. Zacharia Farted is actually a thoughtful, leisurely paced road movie about what happens when two friends, Brian (Benjamin Ratner) and Michael (writer/producer Colin Cunningham), embark on what's supposed to be a simple weekend fishing trip and find an unmarked gravestone that serves as the catalyst for an unexpected journey. On a rambling trek across the Southwest, the two friends encounter a variety of folk who shape their destiny in some way; each character is given distinguishing traits that elevate them above being merely plot-squatters, and their dialogue and behavior have the unmistakable feel of real life. In fact, the most notable thing about the film is the authenticity of the action and the pacing. Although nothing truly astonishing or spectacular happens, the film accurately captures the small surprises and fateful developments that occur on a loosely planned road excursion such as this. A compassionate, subtly meditative experience, Zachariah Farted wants to say something about fate, about keeping an open mind about people and places, about embracing the notion that although the destination you may set out for is not necessarily the one you'll reach, that doesn't mean you'll have any fewer life-enriching experiences along the route. Introduced and discussed by Cunningham and actor Madison Graie. (KR)

9:30 p.m.: The Buttoners. See Oct. 30, West Olive.

Monday, Nov. 1

Plaza Frontenac

7 p.m.: Man of the Century. Adam Abraham, U.S., 1999, 95 min. Man of the Century, a charmingly bizarre little film, is the story of a newspaper reporter named Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) who speaks and acts like it's the 1920s though he lives in present-day Manhattan. The film is shot in black-and-white, the soundtrack consists entirely of swing tunes from the '20s and '30s, and Johnny dispenses anachronistic observations like countless wiseacres from Hollywood's golden age. At one point, a frustrated photographer asks, "Do you spend all day watching old movies on cable?" But that's virtually the only acknowledgment by anyone that Johnny is, well, different; otherwise, his machine-gun banter is met with either impatience or bemused tolerance. This contrast between Johnny's film noir witticisms (and behavior!) and the normalcy of everyone else ranges from amusing to cloying, but you have to admire the single-mindedness of the conceit. Johnny works at the New York Sun-Telegram, but his cocky self-assurance is jeopardized when he's told that poor circulation figures may make his position obsolete. He promises the "scoop of the century" if he's given one more chance, and indeed, when approached by some lowlife thugs claiming to have the dirt on a public official, that scoop materializes. Those nostalgic for old movies should enjoy Man of the Century; for others, it'll be little more than a harmless diversion. (KR)

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