BIG-SCREEN EPIC

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

9:30 p.m.: West Beirut (West Beyrouth). Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon/France, 1998, 105 min. Adolescence is tough under the best circumstances, but imagine adolescence in a war zone, as your country falls to pieces. Such is the situation for Tarek (Rami Doueiri), a middle-class teenager in Beirut in 1975. When tensions -- between Moslems and Christians, among other sets of enemies -- divide the city into Islamic West Beirut and Christian East Beirut, Tarek and best friend Omar (Mohamad Chamas) are energized, moving their prankish exploits out of the schoolyard and into the real world. They should be worried about getting killed, but they're obsessed like hormonally driven boys everywhere. First-time writer/director Doueiri -- a Lebanese émigré who went to UCLA and worked on all of Quentin Tarantino's features -- has fashioned his memories of youth into a surprisingly entertaining and accessible film, with excellent performances from all his young actors, including his own little brother in the lead. For American audiences, the film sometimes assumes too much knowledge of the situation in Beirut a quarter-century ago, and one plot development at the very end is slightly confusing. But these are the only minor missteps in an otherwise first-rate film. In Arabic and French with English subtitles. (AK)

Tivoli

7 p.m.: DS: Pop and Me. Introduced and discussed by Richard Roe. See Oct. 29, Tivoli.

7:15 p.m.: Tumbleweeds. Gavin O'Connor, U.S., 1999, 100 min. Tumbleweeds is as surprisingly fresh as it is touching in its presentation of a symbiotic but never naively idealized relationship between single mother Mary Jo and her precocious 12-year-old daughter, Ava. A committed codependent, Mary Jo runs from one abusive male relationship into another -- driving from her home in the Deep South to Starlight Beach, San Diego, to make yet another optimistic start. Predictably, geographical change fails to repair her emotional problems, especially her knack for connecting with volatile men who initially seem irresistibly seductive but who eventually become aggressively controlling. Ava's determination to succeed at school provides a revealing contrast to Mary Jo's mercurial conduct at her job. Angela Shelton and director O'Connor adapted Shelton's childhood memoir, creating carefully observed, fully realized individuals and events. Though at times relentlessly chirpy, through entertaining performances (especially Janet McTeer as Mary Jo) and lively dialogue Tumbleweeds unsentimentally presents flawed personalities as entertaining as they are cautionary. (DC)

9:30 p.m.: AA: Shaft. Gordon Parks, U.S., 1971, 106 min. Set in collective memory by Isaac Hayes' theme and Richard Roundtree's swagger through the title role, Shaft is due its reconsideration as part of the "Sights and Sounds of Urban Realism" sidebar. Photographer-turned-director Parks shot the chill New York cityscape and close interiors as an environment hostile to any organism not specifically adapted to it. For the purposes of the sidebar, the money shot occurs up front. Three minutes in, John Shaft surveys his natural habitat with a head shake and quick grin of bemused affection; it's a moment. Pay attention as well to the extended hostage-rescue sequence that (abruptly) closes the action. A kind of condensed caper film, it blasts through generic conventions with the same brutal efficiency displayed on the screen. Plus, dig Drew Bundini Brown as Willie. (JH)

9:45 p.m. Bobby G. Can't Swim. See Oct. 29, West Olive.

West Olive

7 p.m.: Such A Long Journey. Sturla Gunnarsson, Canada, 1998, 113 min. This is a film that is shot in India with Indian actors but in English; based on a novel by Rohinton Mistry, an Indian-born American; and directed by Gunnarsson, a Canadian born in Iceland. Mistry's novels usually involve microscopic details about the lives of ordinary Indians against a backdrop of political upheaval. The ordinary Indian here is Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth), a bank clerk in Bombay, who is blissful when the film opens because he loves -- and feels loved by -- his family. The political backdrop is the impending 1971 war between India and Pakistan, which ended with the establishment of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). The conflict intrudes into Gustad's life when a mysterious old friend, Jimmy Billimoria (Naseeruddin Shah), asks him to do a favor. Jimmy works for the secret service trying to help the rebellion in East Pakistan. Gustad's life begins to fall apart as the favor turns to trouble, his son runs away, his daughter falls ill and his wife (Soni Razdan) begins to dabble in black magic. Although the pacing is slow, the film has plenty of surprising plot twists and intensely emotional scenes. An added plus are scenes of Bombay in all its unvarnished glory. (SA)

7:15 p.m.: Dreaming of Joseph Lees. See Oct. 30, West Olive.

9:30 p.m.: Shorts Program 1. See Oct. 30, West Olive.

9:45 p.m.: Three Men and a Leg (Tre Uomini e Una Gamba). Aldo Baglio, Giovanni Storti, Giacomo Poretti and Massimo Venier, Italy, 1998, 89 min. This Italian farce represents the feature-film debut of a popular team of TV comics known in Italy as Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, who also directed. The three play bumbling hardware-store clerks who are scheduled to marry their boss' three daughters. But on the way to the wedding, they must pick up a tacky sculpture -- a crudely carved wooden leg -- that their boss is certain will increase in value on the sculptor's imminent death. Trying to hang onto the leg and get to their destination safely proves a challenge for these well-intentioned but hopelessly inept bozos as they stumble into one absurd situation after another. Billed as sort of an Italian Dumb and Dumber, the film is indeed very silly, but there are enough genuine laughs to make its brisk running time easy to tolerate. A scene with a car and a dog is probably ripped off directly from National Lampoon's Vacation, and countless other scenes recall lowbrow American comedies that have already been there, done that. Still, the energy level is high, the opening sequence is a minor classic, and the direction is efficient enough to maintain viewer interest. Don't look for multiple layers, though; this film is all surface shenanigans. In Italian with English subtitles. (KR)

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