Week of January 30, 2002

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African Voices. Webster University's "African Voices" series concludes with two films. The first is Claudette Coulanges' extraordinary hour-long documentary Looking for Life. Following Anne-Rose into the busy Croix des Bossales marketplace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, watching preparation of the meals Anne-Rose sells daily (usually with payment deferred) at the local industrial park and visiting with Anne-Rose and her husband at home, Coulanges lets powerful visible evidence and candid conversations speak volumes. Gliding wordlessly through streets and markets to observe diverse activities, only a trusted friend could capture such revealing footage, which includes a sweatshop factory. The Haitians realize food imported from Miami and piecework from several countries have devastated the local economy, exacerbating existing problems. A resourceful group, Anne-Rose and others use a self-designed credit system, cooperating to survive, quite aware that "this is economic slavery." In Creole and French with English subtitles.

The Desert Ark follows, which is the familiar Romeo-and-Juliet story set uniquely in Algeria but with universal and contemporary relevance. The cautionary tale of Amin and Myriam unfolds against a deliriously beautiful but harsh desert landscape. Through apt but occasionally heavy-handed metaphors (one group literally divides a house with barricades), Algerian director Mohame Chouikh isolates warring factions in an oasis where fights ensue over scarce water, relatives chain Myriam in a cave, soldiers invade and a madman builds an ark. Contrasting expansive landscapes with confining streets and cramped houses, the cinematography visually reinforces what Amin shouts, "Look at the vastness of the world; narrowness is only in the heart." Desert Ark resonates with mythic elements though some cultural details and events remain confusing due to the absence of explanation. In Arabic with English subtitles. Looking for Life plays at 7 p.m. and Desert Ark at 8 p.m. on Jan. 31 at Webster University. (DC)

Black History Month Film Series. The St. Louis Art Museum presents a program of films in honor of Black History Month. This week features Dudley Murphy's Emperor Jones (1933). An adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play of the same name, Emperor Jones tells the story of a Pullman porter (Paul Robeson) who escapes from a chain gang and makes his way to the Caribbean, where he manages to become the ruler of an island. Also features comedian Moms Mabley in a bit part. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the St. Louis Art Museum. NR

Cinefeminism: Three Decades of American Female Directors. Fontbonne College presents a series dedicated to underappreciated films by female directors. It kicks off with Shirley Clarke's The Connection (1960). Based on a Jack Gelber play of the same name, The Connection is set in a one-room NYC tenement, where a handful of junkies and jazzmen (including alto-sax master Jackie McLean) are waiting for their man, the Cowboy (Carl Lee), to deliver their fix. Stylistically innovative -- in the film, director Jim Dunn is making a cinema verité documentary about junkies, and we watch him as he pushes the men to "act natural" in front of the camera -- The Connection often seems way too contrived and clumsy. The camera jiggling and jump-cuts are as unnatural as Dunn's pleas, and the viewer is never fully convinced that we're watching a filmed reality. We're not, of course, and William Finnerty's overacting (as Leach) only reinforces this. Still, The Connection successfully captures the junkie haze as well as a movie featuring non-junkies possibly can, and is worth a watch if only to witness some brilliant, menacing acting by Lee and James Anderson as Sam. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Fontbonne College library. -- Randall Roberts

Cinema in the City. Webster University sponsors once-a-month Wednesday screenings in Beatnik Bob's Cafe. This month features Edward Dymtryk's Captive Wild Women (1943). A doctor turns an ape into a woman but he's less successful at controlling her libido. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Beatnik Bob's Cafe, City Museum, 15th and Lucas streets. NR

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