Films Without Borders

The fourteenth annual St. Louis International Film Festival gets off to a great start

 FEATURE FILMS:

Beyond the Rocks (unrated) Sam Wood. Beyond the Rocks was presumed lost for more than 80 years. But then, in April 2004, the Netherlands Film Museum received a copy of the 1922 silent film from a private Dutch collection. Celebration ensued — and with good reason. Based on Elinor Glyn's novel, this lavishly presented melodrama, starring Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in their only cinematic pairing, begins thrillingly, with Theodora Fitzgerald (Swanson) saved from drowning off the English Dorset Coast by Lord Hector Bracondale (Valentino). Unhappily married to a staid millionaire to restore her family's fortunes, Theodora falls passionately in love with the dashing Hector, and he with her. Smoldering and yearning for one another other, Swanson and Valentino give luminous performances in this tale of social propriety and betrayal. Another legend, organist Stan Kann, provides live musical accompaniment. Screens at 5 p.m. Sunday, November 13, at the Tivoli. (Diane Carson)

Bitter Dream (unrated) Mohsen Amiryoussefi. As we all learned from Poltergeist, one should not communicate with otherworldly forces via television set. Especially not when said otherworldly force is Angel of Death Azrael, as is the case for Esfandiar, a prick of an Iranian mortician who receives omens of his impending demise and vows to make up 40 years of jerkitude to his employees. The subtitled religious commentary on TV, tradition, mortality and the need to not be a douchebag is a bit off, timing-wise, though the awkwardness serves well to heighten the darker moments. How much more black could this Farsi comedy be? None. None more comedically black. Screens at noon Sunday, November 13, and 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 15, at the Tivoli. (Julie Seabaugh)

Buffalo Boy: Apocalypse Now, with buffalo.
Buffalo Boy: Apocalypse Now, with buffalo.

Black Wine (unrated) Ryan Rossell. What Psycho did for women contemplating a nice hot shower, Black Wine might do for cocky law students taking a bath — although this particular law student, Trevor Taylor, is already dead. But not dead enough for his soon-to-be-fiancée, who decides a tub full of piranhas is the only way to wash that man right out of her life. Directed, produced and written by Ryan Rossell, this noir thriller begins innocently enough. Trevor, played by Anson Scoville, makes well-rehearsed plans to pop the question to sweet young Ashley (Jennifer Marlowe). Then two gun-toting robbers intervene on a cold New York City night to wreck the couple's lives. A control-freak with a volcanic temper that will prove his undoing, Trevor goes overboard in killing the hoodlums. Soon, everything goes overboard, as Trevor and Ashley make an inexplicable descent into madness. With solid acting and shocking Hitchcockian twists and turns, this dark tale will stick with you, like the long kitchen knife that — oops. See for yourself. Screens at 9:45 p.m., Saturday, November 12, at the Tivoli. (Ellis E. Conklin)

Bombón (El Perro) (unrated) Carlos Sorin. The tale of a man and his dog is as old as both species, but here it's imbued with so much beauty and humor that it seems a new genre altogether. The man is Patagonian mechanic Juan Villegas, and the dog is Bombón, an impeccably pedigreed dogo argentino with the build of a Buick and the temperament of a happy toddler. Both man and beast defy Latin-machismo stereotypes: Villegas is gentle and humble (in one of the film's most charming moments, he tells an unemployment agent that he knows mechanics — "well, simple mechanics"); Bombón (Spanish for "chocolate candy" and "adorable," much to the chagrin of the film's dudely dog-breeders) prefers riding in the car to trotting around the show ring, and is downright bashful about providing his "stud services" to ready-and-willing lady dogs. Bombón is heartwarming without ever once being sappy, and cinematographer Hugo Colace's bleak, beautiful portrayal of the Argentine landscape is more than worth the ticket price. If only more modern films were this lovely, this inspired, this simple and good. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, November 14, and 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, November 15, at the Tivoli. (Brooke Foster)

Buffalo Boy (unrated) Minh Nguyen-Vô. Apocalypse Now, with water buffalo. Set in 1940s Vietnam, Buffalo Boy traces the coming of age of Kim, the teenage son of poor farmers along the country's coastal lowlands. During the annual floods, Kim takes his family's two water buffalos and, with an unsavory gang of buffalo herders, searches upriver for high ground on which to feed. The quest fails, but it is merely the beginning of Kim's transformation from an obedient boy into a restless, angry and lustful adolescent. A slow, quiet film — its pacing, especially at the outset, is almost lethargic, and the water buffalo have the best lines throughout — but it ultimately rewards patience: Buffalo Boy's power comes not from its more or less predictable plot twists, nor its flirtations with sentiment, but from the gradual accumulation of subtle characterization and its refreshingly imperfect hero. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, November 12, and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, November 13, at the Tivoli. (Ian Froeb)

Formosa (unrated) Noah Kadner. Remember those black-and-white 8-mm films from high school, the ones that taught you how to brush your teeth, be a safe driver and say no to alcohol, drugs and premarital relations? If so, wow, you're really old. For those born after the advent of the wheel, the concept of youth-guidance films are primed for hipster revival. Set in 1950s Albuquerque, Formosa's winkingly whimsical plot revolves around a troubled studio president, his dutiful daughter, a gay leading man, a crooked bank president, a shadowy bounty hunter and the charming con man who brings them all together. It's part Cecil B. Demented (without the violence) part Singin' in the Rain (without the musical numbers) and part Pleasantville (without Don Knotts), but most of all Formosa is a smirking salute to those of us who grew up just fine without all the edumacational celluloids, thank you very much. Now excuse us while we chase basketballs into the street and go parking with marijuana-cigarette-smoking greasers. Screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, November 12, at the Tivoli.(JS)

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