St. Louis International Film Festival

Week of November 10, 2004

Ganges: River to Heaven (unrated) Gayle Ferraro. Gayle Ferraro's documentary is an intimate portrait of the holiest stretch of the sacred Ganges River. According to Hindu belief, those who die there will be taken directly to Heaven, and the film follows four families who have brought ailing elders to a hospice on the riverbank as well as those who minister to the dying: those who work at the hospice, those whose caste duty it is to perform last rites, those who make a living selling kindling for the funeral pyres. It also explains the central role of the Ganges in the Hindu mythology and touches upon the threat that the river now faces from pollution: It is not only a holy place but a place to bathe, to do laundry and -- as a scientist makes clear with a single, almost unbelievable statistic -- to defecate. Ferraro wisely refrains from comment, allowing her subjects and her stunning, although by its nature grim, cinematography to tell a story that is somber without being sentimental and fascinating without being exploitative. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 16, and at 9 p.m. Wednesday, November 17, at Webster University's Moore Auditorium. (Ian Froeb)

Girl Play (unrated) Lee Friedlander. Why do the red states hate us so? Is it because our insistence on a welfare state is at odds with their values of hard work and personal responsibility? Or is it because our progressive attitudes offend their evangelical Protestant sensibilities? Maybe it's because we continue making movies like Girl Play. An adaptation of a stage play, Lee Friedlander's film stars Robin Greenspan and Lacie Harmon as, respectively, Robin and Lacie, two comedians cast in a play in which they are lovers. Of course, they fall in love, jeopardizing Robin's six-year marriage and Lacie's dread of commitment. A stale plot, made worse by the film's adaptation of the source material's staging: Robin and Lacie stand side-by-side on a bare stage, delivering long-winded monologues of banal self-analysis. In fact, each woman is so busy analyzing herself that we never get to know either character, nor do we believe in her love for anyone but herself. At any rate, it's difficult to take much of the two women's self-analysis seriously. Would anyone really think so hard when she has a perky boob pressed against her face? At last, something the red and blue states can agree on. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 12, and at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, November 13, at the Tivoli. (Ian Froeb)

Hard Goodbyes: My Father (unrated) Penny Panayotopoulou. In her psychologically perceptive feature debut, writer/director Penny Panayotopoulou does an extraordinary job of charting the journey of one ten-year-old boy as he comes to terms with his father's death. Set in Athens in 1969, the film focuses on Elias (Giorgos Karayannis), who shares an adventurous spirit and a love of Jules Verne with his father Christos (Stelios Mainas), a traveling salesman whose long absences from home have strained his marriage. After promising Elias that he will be back in time for Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing, Christos is killed in a car accident. Elias refuses to believe it and takes to wearing his father's clothes, holding conversations as if his father were still there and writing letters to his grandmother in his father's name. Panayotopoulou and her remarkable cast get every emotion and every action right. This sad, humorous, sensitive, but never sentimental film should appeal to fans of the exceedingly charming Spanish film Valentín and Lasse Hallstrom's delightful but heartbreaking 1985 film My Life as a Dog. In Greek with English subtitles. Screens at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, November 14, and at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 16, at the Tivoli. (Jean Oppenheimer)

Inbred Redneck Alien Abduction (unrated) Patrick Voss. Ever wondered what would happen if a bunch of thirteen-year-old Midwestern boys in the throes of puberty were handed a Super8 and told to make a ninety-minute film about alien abductions in Arkansas? If this has been a burning question of yours for some time, prepare to have it answered by this locally produced Patrick Voss schlockfest. But for the vast majority who have paid little mind to the thirteen-year-old-with-camera predicament, this film is best left skipped. Voss' abominable creation comes up short on just about every level: not funny enough to succeed as sci-fi camp, not gory enough to live up to Sub Rosa Extreme's much-ballyhooed blood-'n'-guts standards, not gratuitously sexy enough to titillate and not well-acted enough (save for Robert Lloyd as a government-agency head known as "Mr. Butt") to justify ever making it to the big screen. If there's any question as to whether SLIFF's curators owe some debt to Eric Stanze and his mildly successful lower-than-lowest-common-denominator production house, this film answers it, and the answer is a resounding no. Screens at midnight Saturday, November 20, at the Tivoli. (Mike Seely)

Last Goodbye (unrated) Jacob Gentry. A thoroughly engrossing, nonlinear, darkly comic cliffhanger by Atlanta filmmaker Jacob Gentry that should be required viewing for aspiring local filmmakers. Gentry turns Atlanta into a southeastern version of Tinseltown, complete with a burning romance between a rock star and a TV starlet whose character is loosely (and rather hilariously) based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Turns out theirs is a love quadrangle, with a has-been, alcoholic stage actor and a jailbait-Avril Lavigne type getting emotionally dumped on by the aforementioned duo. Short but sterling appearances by David Carradine and Faye Dunaway lend considerable gravitas to this infectiously peculiar indie genre-buster, which makes cosmopolitan Atlanta look as ice-cool as Gotham City. Had David Lynch directed the overlooked Southern psychedelic gem Big Bad Love, this is about what you'd get, and the gettin' is really, really good. Screens at 9:45 p.m. Friday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (Mike Seely)

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