Highlights from SLIFF's Second Week

Highlights from SLIFF's Second Week
Blood Brother

The St. Louis International Film Festival continues this week, with lots more films and special events, before wrapping up at the closing-night awards party at the Contemporary on Sunday, November 24, at 8 p.m. Below are just a few of the films that will enjoy their St. Louis premieres this week. For a complete list of events, films and more, head to www.cinemastlouis.org.

Three Worlds
The characters inhabiting the three very French worlds of Catherine Corsini's emotional thriller bear two common burdens: the weighty residual guilt of hit-and-run homicides and strange compulsions to ruin their own lives for no apparent reason. When designated tragic hero Al (Raphaël Personnaz) accidentally runs over a man on the night of his bachelor party, it is certainly no small psychological matter for anyone involved. However, the upwardly mobile Al commits more than one fatal faux pas — e.g. fleeing the scene, denying it all at the behest of jerkwad friends, engaging in an adulterous affair with the crime's sole witness — that seem perfectly avoidable: If you're not interested in courting ethical torment, then don't invite it upstairs and pour it a glass of wine. The victim's wife, Vera (Arta Dobroshi), a Moldovan immigrant in the country illegally, is the most compelling apex of this teary trifecta, largely because she seems to be the only one who confronts events in a way that's not entirely self-evasive. First she blames Al for her husband's death, then the greater bureaucracy of France, and finally, in a wrenching scene in which she buys the suit her husband will be buried in, her absent expression signifies that she blames herself. Although misplaced, that one sober acceptance of responsibility is refreshing in what feels like an overdrawn soap opera about everyone's simultaneous fear of and longing for consequences. — Heather Baysa
Screens Saturday, November 23, at 4:15 p.m. and Sunday, November 24, at 3:30 at Plaza Frontenac

Approved for Adoption
Watching the animated memoir Approved for Adoption can stir a serenity, like skipping stones on water for a delightfully long time. In 1971, at the age of five, Jung Henin, known in the comic-book world as Jung, was adopted from a South Korean orphanage by a Belgian family, a "chic" thing in Europe at that time. The movie, adapted from his graphic-novel memoir, is his adoption story, a clear-eyed one, and his struggles with identity will be familiar to many adoptees of all origins. Jung's Asian features make his differences inescapable in his large, blond Belgian family and at school, yet his Belgianness (he has no memory of Korea and can't speak his native tongue) also becomes indelible. But Jung doesn't just worry the beads of his adoption; he also recalls those freak-and-geek moments of growing up, soaked with mortification and wonder. This is an inescapably 1970s childhood; even Americans who grew up then will recognize how children were routinely bounced between confusing power struggles and neglect from the grownups in charge of them. The beautiful sepia line-drawing and watercolor animation create a composed environment that nevertheless allows sharp points of anger and dread, and Jung and director Laurent Boileau bring in live-action sequences that are like expertly soldered stained-glass panes in a window. Jung could have dug deeper, but his skipping stone never sinks, it only sinks in.— Daphne Howland
Screens Saturday, November 23, at 2 p.m. at Plaza Fronenac

Blood Brother
Western literature is filled with novels, memoirs and travelogues by and about white men who, seeking adventure or a deeper sense of self, travel the world to some exotic endpoint filled with dusky people who impart spiritual wisdom and share cultural practices that deliver each white man to a more "authentic" version of himself. He, of course, positions himself — and is celebrated as — the dusky people's champion and savior. The documentary Blood Brother is the 21st-century hipster remix of this time-honored narrative. A Sundance Film Festival hit (of course), Blood tracks the journey of twentysomething Pittsburgh native and graphic designer Rocky Braat who, while working in India, stumbled over a home for children with HIV/AIDS and knew he'd found his home and calling. The film, directed by Braat's long-time friend Steve Hoover (who shot it with a golden-hued vibrancy that makes even poverty look like a blessing), tracks our hero as he doles out medicine, teaches the kids English, leads sing-alongs, roughhouses with his charges and leads them in chants of "I was always beautiful." There are lots of images of him looking forlornly into the camera or off into the distance when he's not gushing inanities about the spiritual and cultural superiority of his new home. Neither the film nor Braat gives any political, cultural or historical context or analysis of anything shown onscreen — poverty, beauty, illness. While Braat isn't the Ugly American, he is its obnoxious cousin, the Clueless Yank. It's not until late in the film that he bothers to put the home in the context of the larger village that houses it, and that's only because of the villagers' bigoted response upon learning that the kids have HIV/AIDS. (Their reaction is appropriately denounced by Braat, but the film tells nothing of how or if the tensions are resolved.) There are undoubtedly several moving moments in the film, and the kids are gorgeous and heartbreaking, but none of that is strong enough to balance Braat's galling and enabled narcissism, which pervades the film. — Ernest Hardy
Screens Saturday, November 23, at 1:15 p.m. at the Tivoli

Let the Fire Burn
In the documentary Let the Fire Burn, there's never enough information. Director Jason Osder has pieced together from archival film clips the story of the radical Philadelphia–based urban group MOVE and the 1985 bombing of its West Philadelphia headquarters by city police. The mostly white police force let the buildings burn to the ground, destroying a residential neighborhood and killing six MOVE members and five children, all African American. Using footage from news coverage of the bombing and the public hearing that followed, videos made by MOVE sympathizers and depositions from survivors, Osder conveys the force, anger and passion of the MOVE members' belief in their leader, John Africa, without quite articulating what they believed in. Members say that John Africa taught "absolute truth," and the footage demonstrates that MOVE believed in happiness through simple communal living, without electricity or gas. Cryptic, too, are the answers of city police and officials about the exact choreography of individual incidents, possession of weaponry and decision-making. Osder lets his subjects' guarded speech and furious yet careful word choice convey the ambiguity of the intentions of both police and MOVE members, while highlighting disturbing dynamics of race, brutality and privilege. The opening shots of the film, which are its clearest moment, are pulled from an interview with the one child bombing survivor, Michael Ward. The interviewer asks him if he knows what happens when you lie. Michael pauses, then calmly responds: "People get hurt." — Diana Clarke
Screens Saturday, November 23, at 4 p.m. at Webster University

Running from Crazy
In Barbara Kopple's documentary Running from Crazy, Mariel Hemingway (actress, model, granddaughter of Ernest) does an admirable job of stripping away any romantic notions that Americans may harbor about her family's tragedies. She displays a rare level of honesty about the traumas of her childhood and how they affected her later behavior, for good and ill. Hemingway, who does work for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, may never be done "running from crazy" (her partner, Bobby Williams, reveals himself to be a controlling prick, for one thing), but she's clearly a survivor. Unfortunately, this movie mostly reflects the surface of her personal journey, territory better tilled elsewhere by Oprah Winfrey, one of the film's executive producers. But Kopple doesn't step up. The possible hereditary nature of suicide in general, and of the seven known Hemingway suicides in particular, is lazily poked at; decades of research go unmentioned and unexplored. For the film's most saturated moments and deepest insights she depends heavily on a documentary shot in the 1980s by Mariel's sister Margaux, who committed suicide in 1996. Mariel reportedly gave Kopple 54 hours of footage from that enthralling work, and it seems that something more could come from that than this. — Daphne Howland
Screens Sunday, November 24, at 1 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac

Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution
On a snowy night in late November 1973, Paris was burning, as first-time filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper shows in her rough-hewn, repetitive, yet still lively documentary on the "Battle of Versailles," in which five top French couturiers faced off against an equal number of American ready-to-wear designers at the royal château. Team USA consisted of Halston, Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Stephen Burrows, one of the many veterans of the event Draper interviews. Behind mirrored sunglasses, Burrows speaks nonchalantly about the chilly reception the Yanks got; more animated recollections issue forth from the models, several of them African-American, who recall the absence of toilet paper, heat and food. Despite these privations, the New World destroyed the ancien régime. A tacky, creaky, and bloated variety show, the French presentation included pumpkin coaches, waltzes and a mechanical rhino pulling a cart filled with gypsies. The U.S. segment, in the words of model Alva Chinn, favored simplicity: "Beautiful clothes on good-looking people just moving across the stage" to the sounds of Barry White and Al Green. "It was the presence of these African-American models that really animated the stage," notes Harold Koda of the Met's Costume Institute — a sentiment that fashion historian Barbara Summers expresses more memorably: The crowd was "peeing in their seats because these girls were so fabulous." — Melissa Anderson
Screens Saturday, November 23, at 4 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac

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