Week of June 4, 2003

Unfair Competition. Ettore Scola. Beginning in Rome in 1938, a carefully delineated rivalry between a Jewish tailor and a Catholic haberdasher evolves unexpectedly as increasingly punitive racial laws take their toll. Consequences range from the personal to the institutional: a clerk's arrogant insults, Jewish children barred from schools, radios confiscated, a Gentile maid forced to leave her Jewish employer, official indifference to vandalism, a young couple's romance ended and two boys' friendship disrupted. In a calm but deeply moving voice-over reminiscence, Catholic Pietruccio describes events with unsentimental precision, knowing that the microcosm of these two families mirrors larger Fascist struggles. One uncle, a minor role played by Gérard Depardieu (badly dubbed), challenges his relatives with the crucial truth: "Either we have the courage of our convictions or we don't." Italian director Scola uses lovely, layered compositions and marvelous sound to express the community's interdependence and to capture the strength of good people showing grace under pressure. In Italian with English subtitles. Screens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 11. (Diane Carson)

Heroes: I Am 1 ... With Israel and First in Space: Ilan Ramon. The unifying theme of this program is that heroes, of diverse professions and personalities, rise to meet challenges and, as one observes, "still choose life." The Jewish Agency's brief (18 minutes), unabashedly admiring "Heroes" weaves together inspiring commentary by five Tel Aviv citizens, including an ambulance driver who speaks of holding his emotions in check, a woman wounded in a June 2001 disco bombing and a Defense Forces reservist. More restrained, "First in Space: Ilan Ramon" extensively documents the first Israeli chosen for a NASA flight. Footage of Ilan's family, of fellow astronauts on flight 107, of backup Israeli astronaut Itzhak Mayo,and of commentary by Ilan himself offers a fascinating picture of the demanding preparations for space flight and of many particulars during flight. The music lacks subtlety, but knowing of Columbia's re-entry breakup makes this a heartbreaking film. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12. (Diane Carson)

Epstein's Night. Urs Egger. Powerfully written and acted, beautifully composed and edited, Epstein's Night plunges close friends Adam, Karl and Jochen, all survivors of Birkenau, into a nightmarish confrontation with a sadistic SS officer -- or, more accurately, a modern-day priest whom Jochen Epstein believes to be that officer. Effectively integrating tender memories, especially of Adam's consuming but paralyzing love for Hannah Liebermann, with periodic flashbacks to traumatic betrayals in the camp, director Egger confirms, as Hannah says to Jochen, "Nobody's way to survival was easy." That Egger understates the depth of that pain makes it all the more heart-wrenching in this superb dramatization of the psychological and emotional torment that resonates for life. The seamless flow, the surprising but credible revelations and the dynamic probing of human nature make Epstein's Night a particularly poignant film. In German with English subtitles. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 12. (Diane Carson)

All films in the above series screen at Plaza Frontenac, beginning with the St. Louis premiere of Amen at 3:15 p.m. Sunday, June 8. For tickets and information, call 314-442-3299.

Made in the USA: The Story of East St. Louis. Documentary examines the rich history of East St. Louis and its growth, racial struggles and decline. Andrew Theising, a political-science professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville who is featured in the documentary, will introduce and discuss the documentary, which is scheduled for later broadcast on KETC-TV (Channel 9). The show is part of the Missouri History Museum's "Second Sunday Celebration" series. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at the Missouri History Museum. NR

Midnights at the Tivoli. Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade, directed by Mamoru Oshii, has police and the military arrayed against subversives and terrorists in an animated alternative-history postwar Toyko. A secret policeman's unquestioning loyalty to the state is challenged. Also showing: Pretty in Pink, the 1986 film starring Brat Pack sweetie Molly Ringwald. Screens midnight Friday-Saturday, June 6-7, at the Tivoli. NR

Naqoyqatsi. Godfrey Reggio. Despite concentrated efforts, it's tough to make Godfrey Reggio's third and final Qatsi installment (after Koyaanisqatsi and Powaaqatsi) seem deep, but it is reasonably nifty-looking, if the least of the trilogy. Building on the theme that the modern world is modern, Reggio employs now-common video trickery to deliver decaying architecture, endless digital squiggles (à la Beyond the Mind's Eye) and plentiful stock shots of athletes grunting in slow motion. Presumably most people already know that the world is wired and stymied by aggression (the title, in Hopi, means "life as war"), so discerning audiences are left to chuckle and play what's-the-connection among cameos from Hitler, Bush Jr. and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. If you plug your ears against that damned Philip Glass doodle-doodle-doo music (here massively assisted by cellist Yo-Yo Ma), you may savor some moving moments (women talking with their hands, juxtaposed battalions, fleeing wild beasts). But still, the most alive I felt in this whole cold movie was when the guy behind me sneezed. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, June 6-8, in Moore Auditorium, Webster Hall, 470 East Lockwood Avenue. (Gregory Weinkauf)

This Is Spinal Tap. Going on twenty years old -- and aging like a fine Gouda. Screens Wednesday, June 4 at Beatnik Bob's Café, on the third floor of the City Museum, 701 North 15th. NR

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