Week of November 13, 2002

 Cinema in the City. Webster University sponsors once-a-month Wednesday screenings in Beatnik Bob's Cafe. This month features Broken Lullaby (1932). Ernst Lubitsch's classic anti-war movie starring Lionel Barrymore. Set shortly after the Great War, a French soldier wrestles with guilt for killing a German with whom he shared a love of music. Plays at 7:30 p.m. November 6 at Beatnik Bob's at the City Museum. NR

St. Louis International Film Festival. Cinema St. Louis presents the eleventh annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which runs from November 14-24 at multiple locations. What follows are reviews of some of the offered films. For more reviews, see pages 38-39, and for a full schedule of the festival refer to the SLIFF pullout section of this paper.

American Gun. Alan Jacobs. Part movie-of-the-week soap opera, part socially conscious problem drama, American Gun offers an unexpectedly avuncular James Coburn, a New England factory worker trying to come to terms with the shooting death of his daughter (Virginia Madsen) by tracking the history of the weapon that killed her. If the only things wrong with the film were the mawkish voice-over narration (Coburn's letters to the deceased) and the excessive, overdone flashbacks, you could dismiss this as a well-intentioned but fatally awkward melodrama. Unfortunately, the whole story turns out to rest on an unconvincing trick ending that insults the audience and essentially deflates the 85 minutes or so that precede it. Plays at 4 p.m. November 16 at the Hi-Pointe and 4 p.m. November 17 at the Tivoli. (RH)

Autumn Spring. Vladimír Michálek. Beautifully acted and strikingly original, Autumn Spring proves that the landscape of the human face and the impenetrable depths of the soul have more impact than a thousand car chases. Seventy-five-year-old Fanda and his former theater (and still theatrical) pal Ed impersonate subway-ticket inspectors and hard-to-remember old friends, filthy-rich ex-opera stars shopping for a palace and philanthropists. Their playful inventions run from charming to cheeky, amusing to insulting, depending on our perspective. Fanda's wife, not amused after years with her monetarily and emotionally irresponsible husband, takes decisive action when one impetuous trick leaves her stunned. Ultimately, veteran director Vladimir Michalek invites us to consider what makes life worth living and what keeps an individual at eighteen or 80 eager to head out the door in the morning. The performances and easy rhythm create the feel of reality effortlessly, skillfully captured. In Czech with subtitles. Plays at 6:15 p.m. November 17 and 7:30 p.m. November 20 at the Tivoli. (DC)

Flowers of Shanghai. Hou Hsiao-hsien. When social structure severely restricts control of one's destiny, interpersonal power plays produce maximum damage. In the late nineteenth century in Shanghai's most elegant brothels, called "flower houses," strict rules of etiquette and ritualized courtship hold sway. The golden hue that suffuses every scene in in Flowers of Shanghai beautifully masks the truth that a barbed tongue effects destruction as surely as any other weapon. Five "flower girls" and their "auntie" madams vilify the competition and manipulate the male elite who frequent their enclave to gamble, eat and drink. Again Hou Hsiao-hsien uses his mesmerizing minimalist style to convey the feel of suffocating, restrictive relationships. The camera never does more than pan across the dimly lit rooms as relationships progress toward freedom or erupt in jealous conflict. Flowers requires patience but rewards all who enter this fascinating, devious world. In Mandarin (Shanghainese) with subtitles. Plays at 6:30 p.m. November 20 at the Tivoli. (DC)

G. Christopher Scott Cherot. He's a solemn hip-hop entrepreneur nursing some private sorrow; she's the woman who left him for a richer man ten years earlier. The central premise of G -- The Great Gatsby set in a contemporary Long Island whose luxurious mansions are now owned by newly rich rap stars with names like B. Mo Smoov -- is hard to resist, at least by those of us who consider Fitzgerald's novel the definitive romance of American literature. Not everything fits perfectly -- the ending doesn't quite do justice to the bitter climax of the novel -- but for the most part G is an intriguing variation on Fitzgerald's themes, peppered with a few satiric swipes of hip-hop culture, attractively filmed in widescreen and with Chenoa Maxwell making a fine modern version of Daisy Buchanan. Director Cherot wisely avoids playing up the anachronistic potential of his adaptation and offers a subtle reconsideration of the novel as an archetypal modern tragedy. Plays at 7 p.m. November 18 at the Tivoli. (RH)

In the Bosom of the Enemy. Gil M. Portes. Set in the Philippines during World War II, In the Bosom of the Enemy charts the dangerous, shifting affections of the Japanese Captain Hiroshi and the Filipino Pilar, wife of guerilla fighter Diego. After Hiroshi's wife dies in childbirth, Pilar saves her captive husband and becomes wet nurse to Hiroshi's son. The complicated, conflicted relationship exposes the suppressed humanity of the occupier and the defiant brutality of the occupied. Events gain impact through director Portes' frequent cross-cutting between the Japanese compound and the insurgent community. Technically efficient rather than elegant, scenes often play out in long shots and long takes instead of more conventional editing. Entertaining but unconvincing, the narrative works better metaphorically than literally as circumstances push Pilar to make impossible choices, pressured by the impending showdown between Japanese soldiers and Filipino guerillas. In Tagalog with subtitles. Plays at 4 p.m. November 16 and 9 p.m. November 18 at the Tivoli. (DC)

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