Choice Cuts: The St. Louis International Film Festival's eighteenth year brings together films shot around the world and in our back yard

St. Louis International Film Festival, Week 1

The St. Louis International Film Festival
Screenings take place at Webster University, the Hi-Pointe, the Tivoli, Plaza Frontenac and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Visit for more information.

St. Louis came down with a wicked case of Clooneymania earlier this year when the superstar, along with director Jason Reitman, used our fair city as the backdrop for the film Up in the Air. But believe it or not, other movies from across the globe were produced this year: Argentina, Macedonia, Senegal and dozens of other locales are represented at the St. Louis International Film Festival. But yes: The glitziest of the week's festivities are the Up in the Air cocktail party and screening, both on Saturday, November 14. Though that screening's now sold out, read on for a small sample of what else is on deck. For more information, including ticket prices, venues and a complete festival schedule, visit

An Education
The title is a double-entendre in An Education, the film version of British journalist Lynn Barber's memoir about the crash course she received in the "university of life" while studying in early-1960s suburban London. So, too, is Danish director Lone Scherfig's movie something of a deceptively packaged Oscar-season bonbon — a seemingly benign, classily directed year-I-became-a-woman nostalgia trip that conceals a surprisingly tart, morally ambiguous center. The year is 1961, and the place Twickenham, where spirited, sixteen-year-old overachiever Jenny (Carey Mulligan) falls under the spell of David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard, doing a passable British accent), a thirtysomething Jewish entrepreneur with a purposefully vague CV who begins whisking Jenny off to glamorous concerts and art auctions — not, as it happens, exclusively for her erudition. Undeniably designed for mass consumption, An Education elides some potentially awkward bits of business, but Barber's elemental tough-mindedness and lack of sentimentality remain constants, as does Mulligan's enchanting performance. Twenty-two when the film was shot, Mulligan is onscreen for nearly every frame of An Education, and in those 90-odd minutes, her Jenny seems to transform before us, from girlish insouciance to womanly self-confidence, from intellectual posturing to possessing a finely honed sense of personal taste. Mulligan gives us the sense that, right before our eyes, a star is born. Thursday, November 12, 7 p.m., at the Tivoli. — Scott Foundas

As its title suggests, Beeswax has a mild buzz of business — and busy-ness. This loose, low-key, unaccountably fascinating movie has no particular sense of place. There are few establishing shots — Andrew Bujalski's setups are dictated mainly by his characters' relationships, most crucially that of the thirtyish twins played by actual twin sisters Tilly and Maggie Hatcher. Beeswax was inspired by the Hatchers, and their onscreen interaction (slightly infantile, a touch tense) imbues even the most ordinary activities with a strong behavioral subtext. So does Tilly's being in a wheelchair — much of the movie is casually concerned with the nuts and bolts of her daily existence. There's also Maggie's unexplained breakup with her boyfriend and Tilly's deteriorating situation with an estranged business partner, which prompts her to reach out for legal advice to a former boyfriend, played by Alex Karpovsky. Bujalski has always been good at portraying intimacy and social discomfort — making closeness feel exotic and awkwardness seem natural. And though there's nothing labored about Beeswax, it gives the impression of something being worked out — even while it's happening. Friday, November 13, 7 p.m. at Webster University.—J. Hoberman

The stage performers profiled in Brent Meeske's documentary Branson ham it up and gush about their art with such a lack of ironic self-awareness, even mockumentary maestro Christopher Guest couldn't have scripted it better. But unlike the one-dimensional goofballs of Waiting for Guffman, the subjects in Branson are real human beings with very real sadness, money problems and addictions, all of which they bare to the camera with a disarming sincerity. The 52-year-old "Jackson Cash," whose rise, fall and redemption serve as the film's narrative skeleton, rolls into town with a guitar, $25 dollars in his pocket and a Johnny Cash impersonation that's so uncanny it brings the Man in Black's real-life sister to tears on the Jim Bakker Show. But in a weird parallel to his idol that he doesn't seem to appreciate, Cash spirals from marquee headliner to drugged-out no-show within weeks. After a failed attempt to make it in Las Vegas, he returns to Missouri — tail between his legs — and rediscovers both Christianity and success on the strip. If his personal arc doesn't pique your interest, just know that one performer shows off an original dance move dubbed the "Del Shannon" that will more than justify your ticket price. Saturday, November 14, 1 p.m. at the Tivoli.—Nicholas Phillips

Up in the Air
You may have heard by now that George Clooney filmed a movie in St. Louis. You may not have heard that's it's actually pretty darn good. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a charmingly callous and sharp-tongued consultant with a commitment problem whose job is traveling around the country firing people for companies "that don't have the balls to do it themselves." He's perfectly happy in self-imposed isolation until he falls for another dashing traveler (played with aplomb by Vera Farmiga) who shares his affinity for hollow status symbols. And when he's ordered by his boss (Arrested Development star Jason Bateman) to help an upstart Ivy Leaguer (Anna Kendrick) master the cold-hearted art of telling people they're out of a job, Bingham is forced to reconsider the unfulfilling life he leads. Much like his debut film Thank You for Smoking, writer/director Jason Reitman has crafted with Up in the Air a bittersweet and compelling picture that manages to wring laughs from pessimism while raising serious questions about the impact that technology and the recession have had on modern American lives and relationships. St. Louis itself is relegated to just a bit part in the movie, but eagle-eyed locals will notice many neighborhood landmarks that serve as stand-ins for other parts of the country, and even lifelong city-dwellers will leave the theater having learned a thing or two about our own Lambert Airport, which is praised by Clooney's character as being among the finest in the land. Saturday, November 14, 7 p.m., at the Tivoli. — Keegan Hamilton

Cloud 9
Seamstress Inge (Ursula Werner), professorial husband Karl (Horst Westphal) and silver fox Werner (Horst Rehberg) form a Berlin love triangle with more than 200 collective years of experience. Rather than a tale of geriatric groove-getting, German director Andreas Dresen's film dwells on Inge's ambivalent compartmentalizing: She's in love with her reliable companion of three decades, yet newly contented with her escape from routine, yet demurring when pressed about her intentions. German theater veterans, the age-appropriate actors improvised their dialogue but often accomplish more through silence and the eloquence of their old faces. The psychology is rudimentary, however, and Werner, the caring Other Man, is little more than a sketch. Besides the frank, blithe sex scenes, a melodramatic ending aims to banish any last hope of gemütlichkeit, but the film comes to feel curiously incomplete, like one long fretful afternoon. Saturday, November 14, 9:30 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac. — Nicolas Rapold

In 500 Words or Less
The stress of applying to college — taking the SATs, gathering applications, writing the dreaded personal essay and waiting breathlessly for an acceptance letter — is the focus of this absorbing documentary. 500 Words follows four high school students and their families during their senior year: Laid-back, theater-loving Michael, who is the opposite of his Harvard-bound older sister; biracial Lindsay, whose mom has fought breast cancer for years and can no longer walk or communicate well; Leo, whose Dominican heritage becomes increasingly important to his college selection as the year progresses; and stressball Molly, who is worried that the wrong class or low test score will hurt her chances of getting into an elite college. Although 500 Words' premise is nothing new, the personalities of the highlighted students make it compelling. The scenes with Lindsay and her mother are especially heartbreaking, especially when she finds out about her college choice, while Molly's increasingly petulant attitude toward her parents — which is obviously borne out of application disappointment and immense self-pressure — will be familiar to anyone with kids. Sunday, November 15, 2:45 p.m. at the Tivoli. — Annie Zaleski

Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement
Edie and Thea are like any old married couple who's very much in love: They finish each other's sentences, reminisce about their first meeting — which didn't turn into dating until several years and a few dances later — and laugh at old photos of themselves. However, the spunky ladies came of age in a time when being a lesbian wasn't as accepted — dismissal from college, disapproval from families, marching for acceptance and pressure to be straight were all part of Edie and Thea's lives. Using a series of faded photos, the very sweet, touching documentary lets the two tell the story of their 40-plus-years courtship, engagement and subsequent marriage in 2008. The shots where the pair looks back at youthful photos of themselves on a projection screen are adorable, and the modern-day shots of Edie taking care of Thea — who uses a wheelchair later in life due to chronic, progressive multiple sclerosis — are touching. Anybody who's ever been in love will be able to relate to Edie & Thea's depictions of deep affection and attraction — proving that love really does transcend gender or sexuality or the physical plane. Sunday, November 15, 1 p.m. at the Tivoli. — Annie Zaleski

Pressure Cooker
Anyone looking for a documentary modeled after the competitive cooking shows saturating cable TV should look elsewhere. Instead, the absorbing Pressure Cooker uses the culinary arts program at Frankford High School, an urban high school, as the backdrop for profiles of some resilient students. Erica, a cheerleader with divorced parents, takes care of her younger sister, who is blind. Football player Dudley also cares for his sassy younger sister, while juggling cooking and sports. And Fatoumata — who emigrated from Africa just four years ago — reconciles her background and future with soft-spoken determination. Teaching these kids the ropes is the school's culinary-arts instructor, Wilma Stephenson, a tough-but-kind firecracker who cares for her students like a proud mother hen. Cooker's story arc follows the kids during their senior year, culminating in an intense, city-wide cooking competition whose prizes are scholarship money. (In other words, their tickets out of inner-city Philadelphia.) The movie's glimpses into its subjects' personal lives are gently funny and heartbreaking, while Stephenson's fierce love for her students and desire to make them succeed is both admirable and moving. Oh, and anyone who's not crying during the film's denouement likely has a heart of stone. Sunday, November 15, 5 p.m. at the Tivoli.— Annie Zaleski

Forgetting Dad
In Forgetting Dad's opening moments, a question pops onscreen: "If your father doesn't remember you, does he stop being your father?" "Pfft. No way, get outta here," you'll instinctively think. But the answer comes in the form of yet another question: "When are you going to stop calling me Dad?" asks the filmmaker's father, Richard. Along with his wife, Richard was rear-ended in a car crash in 1990. Though he suffered no immediate effects, within a week, his memory was gone. But neuroscientists can't find anything physically wrong with Richard's brain, his wife wasn't injured at all, and flashes of the "old Richard" surface every so often. As the speculation about the validity of Richard's injury continues, he becomes increasingly distant and paranoid: The old Richard was abusive, always on the run, in financial straits after a string of failed businesses and marriages, and his former employer was being investigated by the federal government. The filmmaker, Rick Minnich, combs through his father's depositions and diaries in the hope of quelling the nagging suspicion that the injuries are a decades-long farce, and the old Richard is still there, hiding in plain sight. Monday, November 16, 9:30 p.m. at the Tivoli.— Kristie McClanahan

Although its feverish opening sequence promises a certain measure of sensation in its treatment of a marginalized community, Adela soon swaps the hysteria for a tone of cool contemplation. A day in the life of an ex–radio star on her 80th birthday, Adolfo Alix Jr.'s film follows its lonely, battle-scarred heroine (Filipino screen legend Anita Linda) on her quotidian rounds through Manila's soon-to-be-demolished Bernardo dump. Leaving her tin-roofed shack, Adela gets a manicure, visits a son in jail and finally stumbles on a karaoke party that's the closest she gets to a birthday celebration. With its art-perfect snapshot of a community-in-flux, Adela calls to mind Pedro Costa's similarly rigorous slum-life portrait Colossal Youth. But whereas that Portuguese film is a prolonged immersion in its own marginalized setting, Alix keeps his incurious distance. Despite the general credibility of this portrait of a transient town — complete with impeccable long-shot images of Bernardo's impending destruction — and a game effort by Linda, the film feels a little too removed, preventing our intimacy with Bernardo life and one of its central figures. Monday, November 16, 5p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.— Andrew Schenker

Possible Lives (Las Vidas Posibles)
En route to a business trip, Carla's geologist husband, Luciano, disappears in vast, bleak Patagonia. Disappearances such as these are common here, says an investigator. Good outcomes are not. Carla checks into the hotel her husband never made it to, and she soon spies — and trails — her husband's doppelganger, a married local resident named Luis. Later, a car resembling Luciano's is found submerged; a waitress cryptically refers to the "South illness." At turns a metaphor for Argentina's haunting Dirty War and a sad and sexy mystery, Possible Lives illuminates how a disappearance — or even death — does not always come with the promise of finality. In Spanish with English subtitles. Tuesday, November 17, 5 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac. — Kristie McClanahan

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