St. Louis International Film Festival

Week of November 10, 2004

Merci Docteur Rey (unrated) Andrew Litvack. Dianne Wiest is either playing willfully campy or merely aware she's sniffing bad cheese in this Franco-American comedy that's no laughing matter. She's an aging opera diva performing in a Parisian production of Turandot and blissfully unaware that her son, Thomas (Stanislas Merhar), is renting himself out to male personal-ad pickups. Thomas, meanwhile, is unaware that the father (Simon Callow) he thought dead is actually the same man who rented him to hide in his closet; Thomas sees his old man stabbed, which sends him into therapy with an actress (Jane Birkin) who believes she's Vanessa Redgrave and assumes the identity of Doctor Rey, who drops dead during a session. If that ain't enough, Redgrave herself shows up, as does Jerry Hall, and if all of this sounds like a nutty mishmash, that's giving it too much credit. Wiest in particular seems baffled in this debut from writer-director Andrew Litvack, whose inability to direct is outweighed only by his inability to write anything remotely witty, enlightening or engaging. Calling this a farce would be, well, a farce. Screens at 9:45 p.m. Sunday, November 14, at the Hi-Pointe. (Robert Wilonsky)

Mix (unrated) Steven Lovy. The "American in Europe" film has been done to death, and Mix, the story of an American DJ finding himself in Budapest, carries a lot of bad baggage: It's overly arty and carries more portent than it ought to. However, the film also has enough sex and drug use to fill a Bret Easton Ellis novel and an intriguing soundtrack that mixes, if you will, Eastern European tunes with drum & bass and other club styles. Dorka Gryllus' performance (as Bea, that dark, mysterious girl whom every American boy dreams of meeting in Europe, but never does outside movies like this), combined with the flash and heat of the night-world setting, makes it easy to ignore the pretentious notes and keeps Mix very watchable. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 18, and at 9:45 p.m. Saturday, November 20, at the Tivoli. (Jordan Harper)

Sexual Life (R) Ken Kwapis. For a movie with such a provocative title and such arousing talent (Tom Everett Scott, Anne Heche and Azura Skye, for starters), Sexual Life is downright boring. That's what's so infuriating about it. If we wanted to watch something more boring than our own sex lives, we would rent a Vivid Video, for God's sake! Pursuing ground previously trod more eloquently by 2004's underrated We Don't Live Here Anymore, Sexual Life follows the infidelities of one disenchanted lover to the next, until -- surprise! -- cheating hearts come full circle. The cast is generally solid, although Skye is unbelievable as a prostitute, and especially as a nineteen-year-old one. Veteran Belleville, Illinois, director Ken Kwapis (He Said, She Said, episodes of Freaks and Geeks and The Bernie Mac Show) obviously knows what he's doing -- the pacing is good and the shots are often pretty -- but he's gone for the Woody Allen ensemble love-epic when he should be taking the Richard Linklater minimalist approach. But it's not all bad -- Steven Williams (21 Jump Street) shows up for a cameo! Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 11, at the Hi-Pointe. (Ben Westhoff)

Since Otar Left (unrated) Julie Bertucelli. In the Republic of Georgia, elderly Eka Goguebachvili (90-year-old Esther Gorintin, stooped and slow-moving but full of life) nostalgically pines for the Stalin era, when her water and power worked. Her son Otar is doing better for himself financially, but to do so he's had to go west, to Paris. Otar will soon leave in more ways than one -- Eka's daughter Marina (Nino Khomasuridze) is the first to hear the news that her brother has died. Convinced that the news would be too unbearable for Eka, who may not live much longer anyway, she conspires to keep the death a secret. This requires some planning, as the letters from Otar need to keep coming, and anyone else who knows must either be avoided or brought in on the secret. Similar to Good Bye, Lenin! in setup and allegory to the lies of Stalinism, Otar is a whole lot slower, almost unbearably so for the first half. Hang in there, though; there's a strong emotional payoff at the end. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 17, and at 6 p.m. Sunday, November 21, at the Hi-Pointe. (Luke Y. Thompson)

State's Evidence (unrated) Benjamin Louis. With his debut film, director Benjamin Louis aspires to more than the average angst-ridden teen flick and ends up with one long, though not totally unbearable, public service announcement. Set in the LA suburb of Glendale, State's Evidence introduces fifteen-year-old Scott Beyers, a brainy high school sophomore who, out of sheer boredom, decides to commit suicide and capture it all on videotape. Upon hearing his plan, Scott's five best friends want in -- each for their own reason -- but must agree to film every moment of their last day on earth. Inspired at first by the notion that once faced with the reality of death they would be free, the teens soon learn that once faced with the reality of death, we do, in fact, become our true selves. And it is here where this film is most poignant -- and most frightening. Screens at 1 p.m. Sunday, November 21, at the Tivoli. (R.L. Nave)

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