Flesh for Fantasy

Get your groove on at this year's St. Louis International Film Festival

The St. Louis International Film Festival

The thirteenth annual St. Louis International Film Festival, presented by Cinema St. Louis, runs November 11-21 at the Tivoli Theatre (6350 Delmar Boulevard, University City), the Hi-Pointe Theatre (1001 McCausland, St. Louis) and Webster University's Moore Auditorium (470 E. Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves). For complete schedule and pricing information, call the festival hotline at 314-367-3378. For more RFT recommendations and reviews, see our SLIFF capsules.

Not a lot of people know this, but the word "dildo" most likely comes from the Italian word for delight, diletto, which in turn emerges from the Latin delectare, or "to allure." Obviously, these roots also give us fine, wholesome American words such as "dilettante" and "delectable," so clearly the happy dildo resides in good, morally sound linguistic company.

Thank you for your attention.

This little etymological adventure is brought to you in service of The Dildo Diaries, paired with The Pursuit of Pleasure to compose a dazzling double dip of daring documentary at the 2004 St. Louis International Film Festival. Directed by Laura Barton and Judy Wilder, the rough-hewn but unabashedly saucy Diaries dives straight into the dubious heart of Bible-thumpin' Texas to explore strict legislation against the erotic toys and those who enjoy them. (For instance, did you know that owning more than six of them makes one a felon? Talk about a penal code!) Cheeky yet smart, the doc makes telling and rather hilarious visits to Austin's sex-toy boutique Forbidden Fruit (where one can legally purchase an "educational model" or "personal massager" -- by signing a mandatory release form) as well as the Texas House of Representatives for a rollicking, rather hilarious 1993 debate that has become the most requested tape in Lone Star history. Offers paternal porn producer and free-speech advocate Bill Margold (quoted at an adult-entertainment convention in somewhat more relaxed Las Vegas), "This is a nation predicated on guilt and frustration when it comes to sexuality." (And probably not the only one, alas.) While quite amusing, Dildo's thrust really comes from the contempt for government spawned by invasive, sometimes quite absurd obscenity laws.

On the same bill, Maryanne Galvin's Pleasure visits seven disparate women who muse aloud upon their societal roles, their hidden passions and their sexuality (or even -- whoa -- their celibacy). Sleeker and more somber than its counterpart, this doc thinks way outside the box (and the tube), offering the insights of a surgeon, a former sex addict and a sociologist/stripper, a not-naughty nurse and even brazen bowling babes. Their common trait? That "opportunities for deep and abiding pleasure must be seized."

Hey, speaking of which, there's a Johnny Depp movie in this year's fest, but we'll leave that as a teaser for a few more paragraphs.

While we're on the subject of outrageously sexy dudes, though, how's about the Bill Condon features? Haven't seen the director's new Kinsey yet, starring lofty Liam Neeson as the famed sex researcher, but if Condon's haunting 1998 feature Gods and Monsters is any indication, plenty of intrigue should be on hand. The latter features Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen, as legendary fantasy director James Whale, with strapping Brendan Fraser as the landscape technician who inadvertently steals his wizened heart. Post-Dispatch critic Joe Williams will demonstrate proper Condon usage by interviewing the director after both films.

Continuing the thread of romantic obsession, the fest delivers very diverse entertainments such as Argentinean director Federico Hidalgo's A Silent Love and Martian animator Bill Plympton's Hair High, two utterly unrelated features that may both please you nonetheless. The former, a formulaic but ultimately surprising romance co-written with Hidalgo's wife Paulina Robles, concerns a middle-aged Canadian film professor (Noel Burton, Stardom) whose young Mexican Internet bride (Vanessa Bauche, Amores Perros) adjusts to urban living while her tagalong mother (Mexican veteran actress Susana Salazar) battles loneliness and introduces her own desires, revealing love to be crazy and unpredictable stuff.

Meanwhile, the romantic revenge flick Hair High is just plain crazy, the mad-scientist animator Bill Plympton's follow-up to Mutant Aliens coming across as a freakshow phantasmagoria on Grease and its entire generation. The stellar voice cast includes the Carradine half-brothers, Ed Begley Jr., Martha Plimpton and even Simpsons creator Matt Groening, but the copious grotesquerie mixed with affectionate nostalgia may leave you too dizzy to note who's who. Wanna see the most amusing impromptu fingernail removal in cinema this year? Right here. Wanna watch a huge chicken with a boner go apeshit at a football game? Ditto. (Even funnier is the accompanying reverie and dialogue: "Hey, wait a minute -- I'm human; so why am I having a chicken's flashback?") Definitely not a cartoon for the kiddies, but you can take them to the sweet, effervescent Euro-fantasy Jester Till (Till Eulenspiegel) instead. Dubbed into comfy American, it's a pleasingly old-fashioned folk-fantasy à la classic Disney, blending traditional 2-D styles with CG enhancements, and should easily entertain the little ones.

Beyond this year's fest's many lascivious, semi-risqué and potentially quite grody features (Inbred Redneck Alien Abduction, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?), there's actually a lot of fine family fare afoot. Take 'em to The World's Greatest Fair, a scintillating local classic documenting the wild -- and yes, truly fantastical -- event that was the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Or take 'em on a grand tour of the mythic Mediterranean in A Talking Picture (way to go, 95-year-old director Manoel de Oliveira!) Also highly recommended is Her Majesty, a splendid fantasy in its own right, about a little Kiwi girl (Sally Andrews) whose wish may come true when young Queen Elizabeth II (Rachel E. Wallis) visits New Zealand in 1953. There are a few saccharine moments, but overall Mark J. Gordon's engaging film sits beautifully beside Whale Rider (with which it shares Maori co-star Vicky Haughton) as a sweet and poignant consideration of race, class, childhood whimsy and the power of dreams.

If you like the sound of that, definitely secure tickets for Finding Neverland from director Marc Forster (celebrated for the very fleshly Monster's Ball), a fictionalized account of author J.M. Barrie's creation of Peter Pan. Like Her Majesty, there's a surplus of syrup here, but it's quite pardonable as we partake of wunderkind Johnny Depp's charming turn as Barrie, a dapper Edwardian child-man with a robust brogue whose efforts to sustain the imaginations of four fatherless "lost boys" (and their mother, a steely Kate Winslet) result in one of the most enduring fantasies of all time. Ultimately, this subtle and elegant film strikes a fine balance of adult concerns and magical intervention -- for all ages -- making it a superb centerpiece for a festival as rich and diverse as this one.

May you be fully delighted.

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