The St. Louis International Film Festival continues this week and wraps with a closing-night party at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room at 8 p.m. on Sunday, November 23. We've reviewed a few of the films that are on deck here, and you can find more details, including complete show listings as well as venue and ticket information, at www.cinemastlouis.org.Stranded
A team of Uruguayan rugby players whose plane crashed in the Andes was immortalized in Piers Paul Read's novel Alive. Some 35 years later, the survivors return to the site and recount the harrowing weeks spent in the mountains. In simple yet powerful words that are characteristic of this stunning film, one survivor describes the terrain as, "A totally indifferent world of snow, so calm, extraordinarily peaceful, but that peace was lifeless and inorganic." Stranded, a mashup of actual photos and news broadcasts, reenactments and present-day interviews, offers even more insight into their microsociety at the end of the world. They struggled with questions of lawlessness, morality, chaos and faith, struggling to live while at times believing death was the preferred option. But even now, the men can remember marveling at the beauty of the moonlight and the hope that can be found in absolute desolation. In Spanish with English subtitles.
— Kristie McClanahan
Wednesday, November 19, 9 p.m., at the Tivoli.
Not By Chance
Two seconds can mean the difference between life and death, no matter how much one seeks to control his environment. This is the message of the Brazilian film Not By Chance, and it's illustrated by the characters Pedro, a pool-table maker, and Enio, a traffic controller. Tragedy befalls both of the men, and they try to carry on with a life that they no longer control. After the film's sluggish beginning, there's some interesting camera work here, especially during some of the snooker scenes, where the ghostly images of the billiard balls and their expected destinations mirror the lives of the two men who have to deal with the reality that, more often than not, life comes down to much more than simple geometry. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Wednesday, November 19, 9:30 p.m., at the Plaza Frontenac.
The Wedding Director
As far as subtitled foreign films go, The Wedding Director is light on reading, which works out wonderfully for those longing for an Italian vacation — there is plenty of time to drink up the beautifully rich scenery in between lines. In the film, Franco Elica is a director who winds up in Sicily and is hired by a prince to direct his daughter Bona's wedding film. Elica falls in love with the betrothed, and a plot to spoil the wedding develops. But The Wedding Director isn't your typical madcap comedy of errors, and the film doesn't feel particularly lighthearted (though, on the surface, the subject matter certainly is). With an ambiguous ending, this film leaves viewers with some questions unanswered, but it somehow still doesn't feel like a waste of time.
— Alison Sieloff
Thursday, November 20, 7:15 p.m., and on Saturday, November 22, at 2:15 p.m., at Plaza Frontenac.
You know the four guys in Say Goodnight — or, at least, guys like them. And because this film was shot in St. Louis, you might have even met these actors. One plays the loudmouth (read: douchebag), another is the more sensitive follower (played by the super-cute Christopher Gessner, swoon), one has the role of the mature guy and, of course, there's the grad student. Throughout the film, the first three recount stories of love lost, and sometimes found, to the never-gets-out-anymore grad-school guy, and these tales help highlight how happening St. Louis can look at night. Places like the Third Degree Glass Factory, Maryland House, Atomic Cowboy and Bar Italia definitely do our city proud. And while the setting shots (and the leading ladies) are a highlight, the gay jokes are definitely a low point — are these still a requirement for comedies? Even still, Say Goodnight shows the ups and downs of dating and captures the high of that first moment when you fall in love (or, perhaps, in like) and kind of makes you want to do your early- to mid-twenties all over again. And then again, kind of not; the bar dating scene can be so, so tough.
Thursday, November 20, 9:45 p.m., at the Tivoli.
The pain of boredom is explored with a fine-toothed comb in The Custodian. The plot contrasts a politician's life and that of his bodyguard, Ruben. We follow Ruben as he is shut out of every meeting, reprimanded for smoking in the hallway, humiliated by the minister, his friends, even the man's teenage daughter. When Ruben does speak, it's a monosyllabic response. His expression rarely changes from the blank mask he wears on his face every day, but beneath the surface it's clear something is boiling. The Custodian asks the audience to be patient, patient, then wait a little longer. When you start to question why you are sitting there watching Ruben's life unfold in every pathetic way possible, you realize, Wow, I feel for this guy. — Matt Kasper
Thursday, November 20, 9 p.m., at Plaza Frontenac.
Don King and Julianne Yamamoto's adorable, towheaded young son, Beau, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a toddler. In looking for treatments, the pair discovered a whole movement of parents who feel that elevated mercury levels (caused by vaccines, and more specifically, the presence of the preservative thimerosal) trigger the disorder. Through footage of other families, interviews with parents and experts — all while chronicling Beau's treatments and progress — the fascinating Beautiful Son explores the realities of living with autism. The anecdotal evidence in favor of mercury chelation therapy is strong — several children in Son are allegedly "cured" — although not entirely persuasive. Still, Beau's evolution from a distant child to one that functions at age-appropriate level is heartwarming, no matter how it occurred.
— Annie Zaleski
Friday, November 21, 7 p.m., at Webster University.
Advertising for the Mob
It sounds ridiculous: Hopeless failure of an adman gets canned from his twelfth agency and starts a crime family. The whitest white guy this side of the Mississippi, said adman, happens to be adopted, with no union-labor lineage to speak of. One chosen brother in crime is Filipino, another, African American. But wait, there's more! The new mobsters christen themselves "La Familia," don neon-colored zoot suits and — insert drum roll here — attempt to take over the "protection business" on the Hill. A ridiculous plot line, yes, served up with a hokey score to match. Yet director Scott Wibbenmeyer nonetheless manages to yield a lot of laughs with Advertising for the Mob. The fabulous casting includes a number of local celebrities in off-color positions: Kim Tucci liberally dropping F-bombs as Godfather of the Hill; Victoria Babu mocking a blowhard of a newscaster while on air; Tony Twist wreaking environmental havoc while simulating a sex act, and Adriana Fazio maiming La Familia with a handheld bottle of fertilizer. All in all, this romp of a crime flick pays off. — Kristen Hinman
Friday, November 21, 9:15 p.m., at the Tivoli.
Nights and Weekends
Nights and Weekends begins and ends in much the same way — with Mattie and James together in the sack. (Yep, you'll see everything within the first six minutes.) At the beginning of the film, they're dating long-distance between New York City and Chicago, and amid all their late-night talks about life's big questions and fleeting minutia, Mattie becomes disenchanted with their relationship's lack of luster, which she expects to be inherent when you travel hundreds of miles to be near your beloved. Though the couple comes thisclose to being a well-matched pair, the ebb and flow of their conversations eventually becomes replaced by awkward breakers that dissolve their relationship entirely. Though at times earnestly performed, Nights and Weekends' plot doesn't go the distance: The characters aren't terribly relatable, and rather than sympathize with them, you're puzzled how they put up with each other for as long as they did in the first place.
Friday, November 21, 9:45 p.m., at the Tivoli.
Beaufort is the kind of war movie that most filmmakers strive to make but never can. There is an unforced intimacy among the characters that doesn't translate into love: Everyone is stuck here, but whether you regard your work as patriotic service or callow subservience puts you in one of two camps. The minimalist dialogue and stark setting communicate the pain of defending a fort long past its expiration date. It is a place where even the alert of a mortar shell "incoming, incoming" sounds banal. Left to this uninspiring task, the soldiers talk about family and lovers overseas. They contemplate the meaning of the fort within the overall Lebanese occupation. Beaufort could easily resort to the kind of softheaded war protest movie viewers have come to expect. But the soldiers' disconnectedness from battle, paired with the possibility of escape, casts their mission in an ambiguous light. It's not a question of sink or swim. The question is: When do you quit trying to swim when the shore's in sight?
Friday, November 21, 4 p.m., at Plaza Frontenac.
Guest of Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman, she, the fantastically famous, chameleon-like fine-art photographer. Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, he, the creator of New York City's public-access TV show Gallery Beat and the codirector of this documentary. What? You haven't heard of Paul? Apparently, neither had NYC gallery owner Sean Kelly, thus the title of the film. For Gallery Beat, which ran through the '90s, Paul would travel to art openings, talk to both attendees and artists, and then air these impromptu interviews, some of which are part of this film. It was through his show that he met Cindy, and they dated for many years. Art fans will enjoy seeing Cindy from a unique perspective while viewing tons of her work — she certainly has a prominent role in this documentary — but truly this is a film about the guest of Cindy Sherman. It's really about Paul H-O. Those who have a partner whose light shines brighter than their own will empathize with Paul; he often felt like he lingered in the shadows when he was around Cindy. A discussion with Paul and codirector Tom Donahue follows the screening.
Saturday, November 22, 9 p.m., at the Tivoli.
I've Loved You So Long
As Juliette, a Frenchwoman newly released from prison, Kristin Scott Thomas is so relentless unbending, so full of necessary enigma that she almost had me believing Philippe Claudel's domestic drama had something brave to say about mothers who murder their children. Whey-faced, gray-skinned and devoid of makeup, Juliette camps out with her eager-to-please younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) and sets about rebuilding her life with brutal honesty and a fierce intolerance for tact from well-meaning liberals who have no idea how to approach her. By turns belligerent and indifferent, Juliette is a stubborn refutation of movie mothering down the ages, making us feel what it might be like to live out the rest of your life after you have killed your own child. I've Loved You So Long is a modestly satisfying tale of sisterly love weighed down by family betrayal. Soon, though, the movie starts preparing us for the warming trend that will let both its anti-heroine and its audience off the hook. Bent on making his story as softly inoffensive as the beloved French lullaby from which it takes its title, Claudel strands us in the shallows of the therapeutic women's novel, forcing his magnificently intransigent Hedda Gabler to gently weep just when she should be baying at the moon.
Sunday, November 23, 6:15 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.