2012 SLIFF Film Festival capsule reviews

SLIFF Picks Up Speed: the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival has never looked better

Teddy Bear. (Not Rated) A Danish character study of a bachelor bodybuilder living outside of Copenhagen with his mother, director Mads Matthiesen's Teddy Bear emphasizes muscle mass as an agent of isolation, a padding that keeps the world away. Thirty-eight-year-old competitive bodybuilder Dennis, played by Kim Kold, is introduced on a zero-chemistry date, grasping for straws. One wonders how any man could approach middle age and be so totally hapless with women. The question is immediately resolved when Dennis comes home to his mother, Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), a white-haired, slightly wraithlike woman with ramrod-straight posture who waits up on her son and grills him on his whereabouts like a jealous lover. Aside from his towering, enveloping mass, Kold has an eloquently open face. Dennis's downcast eyes broadcast his inchoate desire for companionship so clearly that only his mother could possibly miss it, blind to everything but the dictates of her maternal covetousness, her frail frame seemingly wasted away by the intensity of her need. Through Matthiesen's felicitous selection of telling details, we quickly comprehend that the absolute boundaries of Dennis's life are home and the gym, where we see him smile for the first time, greeting the image of his flexing body in the mirror. Matthiesen adheres to contemporary Eurozone realism and Dennis's POV, self-imposed limitations that prevent Teddy Bear from having the breadth of a great work, while they give it the coherence of a good tale, simply told. (Pinkerton) 9:30 p.m. Sunday, November 11, at Plaza Frontenac.

This Is Not a Film. (Not Rated) In 2010, internationally celebrated Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested at his home and sentenced to six years in prison for "[participating] in a gathering and carrying out propaganda against the system." The sentence included a 20-year ban on directing and writing films, giving press interviews, and leaving Iran. Billed as "an effort by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb," This Is Not a Film was shot entirely on the grounds of Panahi's Tehran apartment in March 2011 while Panahi was under house arrest. It's a dispatch from Panahi's life behind closed doors. In its most thrilling sequence, we see Panahi brainstorm ways to express himself using his filmmaking talents without actually violating the ban against filmmaking itself. But after excitedly reading aloud and blocking out a screenplay's first scene, Panahi's enthusiasm wanes. "If we could tell a film, why make a film?" he frets. If "why make a film?" is one question that haunts This Is Not a Film, "what is film?" is the inevitable follow-up. The title is a literal description of methodµshot on a video camera and iPhone, this "effort" could only exist in a digital age. This is pointedly not cinema, but it's breathtakingly cinematic. It's a political statement, an act of defiance, a master class in one auteur's body of work and process, and a document of a life unseen. But above all, it's a gripping entertainment, swinging wildly from manic highs to somber lows, every moment of levity shadowed by anxiety. (Longworth) 9 p.m. Tuesday, November 13, at Plaza Frontenac.

Three Stars. (Not Rated) When you're trying to figure out what to eat, it's completely natural to tap your upper lip, gaze off into space, and say, "I wonder what a company that manufactures high-performance tires would recommend?" But who are you going to ask? Firestone?! Please. And Goodyear gave Guy Fieri's Tex Wasabi restaurant five whole stars. Serious gourmands who also demand superior rolling resistance and gripping power on slick roads have always relied on Michelin for braking, handling, and reliable starred restaurant reviews. Lutz Hachmeister's 2010 film Three Stars documents nine restaurants in seven countries, all of which boast three stars in the Michelin Guide, and examines what that rating means to diners and how it influences chefs and owners in the evolution of their businesses. Do you become more adventurous? Or maintain the status quo for which you were cited in the guide? The film captures the thin membrane separating the theatricality with which patrons are treated in the dining rooms from the chaos, noise, and impressive culinary heroics in the kitchens. Unlike reality shows such as your Kitchen Nightmares, Three Stars maintains narrative distance from its subjects, who are actually documented, rather than encouraged toward professional histrionics. But Hachmeister's understatement results in a narrative plateau somewhere in the last third of the film, and viewers who showed up hungry may become impatient. (Packham) 4:30 p.m. Sunday, November 11, at the Wildey.

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