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Films Without Borders

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

Fuse (unrated) Pjer Zalica. A brilliant black comedy, biting, often hilarious and, in the end, quite moving. A few years after the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the small town of Tesanj is chosen to host a visit by President Clinton, forcing the mayor and the chief of police to hide the ample evidence of their involvement with the local black market, and the residents to endure a pompous U.N. official's efforts to reconcile them with their Serb neighbors. Director Pjer Zalica moves deftly through a series of Altmanesque overlapping plots, most of which involve Faruk, a young painter working as a firefighter, and his father, whose mourning for his other son — killed during the war, but still unrecovered — seems to have pushed him over the edge. Fine performances all around elevate the characters above mere caricature, and the ending, although it is telegraphed rather early on, turns what could have been an entertaining farce into a poignant work of art. If Fuse is not named the best film at this year's festival, it will surely be a crowd favorite. (IF)

Go West (unrated) Ahmed Imamovic. Director Ahmed Imamovic tries to cram too much into this well-meaning film: It is, at various points, a harrowing study of war's inexorable madness, a dark, gender-bending sex farce and an operatic melodrama with a hint of magical realism. Lovers Kenan, a Muslim, and Milan, a Serb, flee Sarajevo for Milan's rural hometown at the outbreak of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. To hide the fact that Kenan is circumcised (i.e., a Muslim), and to disguise both men's sexuality in the deeply homophobic Balkans, Kenan pretends to be Milan's wife — a pretense Kenan must uphold by himself when Milan is conscripted into the army and sent to the front lines. For the film's many faults, none is so troubling as this: Kenan and Milan's love is explored so slightly that Milan's departure, which should be the film's emotional turning point, is flat, and all that follows feels more academic than moving. Still, Mario Drmac's performance as the young, adrift and terrified Kenan is riveting. It softens the film's tonal lurches and adds emotional heft to its somewhat ridiculous climax. A noble failure. Screens at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, November 12, and 7 p.m. Sunday, November 13, at the Tivoli. (IF)

Johanna (unrated) Kornél Mundruczó. Interpreting Zofia Taller's avant-garde opera Johanna, composed explicitly for filmic interpretation, Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó offers a unique but unengaging experience in his surrealistic reinterpretation of the Joan of Arc legend. In a Budapest hospital, a drug-addicted amnesiac, Johanna, revives from a coma induced by a briefly depicted traffic accident. After an enamored doctor trains her as a nurse, Johanna becomes a ministering angel who heals other patients through sexual means. Her self-sacrifice engenders betrayal by the domineering, jealous doctor and a good-versus-evil struggle among other staff. Mundruczó' s coherent, but not terribly progressive vision, shot in drab greens and grays punctuated by periodic halos of light on Johanna, relies on long dolly shots and requires a forgiving love of experimental cinema. In Hungarian with English subtitles. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, November 12, and 5 p.m. Monday, November 14, at the Tivoli. (DC)

Missing in America (unrated) Gabrielle Savage Dockterman. This film, the story of a pack of emotionally damaged Vietnam vets gutting out their lives in seclusion in the woods of Washington State, is set up to be critic-proof. It's written by a novice screenwriter who's a Vietnam vet himself. It casts a cute female child actress in one of its lead roles. It has the infinitely likable Danny Glover in another, and features the similarly affable David (Good Night & Good Luck) Straithairn and Ron Perlman in prominent supporting roles. And, against all odds, it absolutely blows. This is a hackneyed, seventh-rate Deer Hunter-Rambo mash-up destined to end up on the USA Network or worse; the thing that rings truest about Ken Miller's screenwriting is that he's never done it before — the dialogue is horribly simplistic, the plot super-melodramatic and the pacing clumsy. The child actress, fourteen-year-old Zoë Weizenbaum, is also atrocious. This is supposed to be a dreary, somber film, and Weizenbaum is way, way too chipper in spots when it's totally uncalled for. The lone redeeming component of this movie is a classily understated performance from Linda Hamilton as a deep-woods shopkeeper, actively seeking to cure her post-Terminatorhangover. Screens at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, November 12, at the Tivoli. (MS)

Nothing Lasts Forever(unrated) Tom Schiller. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans, have we got a film for you! It's a social commentary about a future New York City ran by the communist Port Authority! It's a coming-of-age fantasy about a young artist on an otherworldly quest to discover both his medium and his muse! It's a hokey romance in black and white...and color...and black and white...and color... by the creator of the Schiller's Reel shorts from the early days of Saturday Night Live! (Check out Dan Ackroyd as a traffic cop and Bill Murray as a tour guide of a city bus...headed to the moon!) And above all, it's a film for SNL-history buffs, the very, very drunk and smart-mouthed gumball machines only. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 12, at Webster University's Moore Auditorium. (JS) The Sisters(unrated) Arthur Allan Seidelman. The emphasis is on "acting" in this adaptation of Chekhov's play The Three Sisters. Possibly because of the ensemble cast, several of them with hit-television-series credentials (ER, Desperate Housewives, Will & Grace), it has the vaguely claustrophobic feel of an overdressed TV drama. Set mostly during various family gatherings at an Ivy League faculty lounge, the Prior sisters — Marcia (Maria Bello), Olga (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Irene (Erika Christensen) — hash out their emotional breakdowns. They struggle with being the offspring of the deceased Professor August, an overbearing figure who's left deep wounds that only lots of overwrought dialogue can salve. It's hard to tell which character is most tragic, although Marcia, the Beautiful One, seems damned to the core. Bello's performance is the stand-out here; she is virtually taut with damage. (Karen Tedesco)

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