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Series/Festivals 

Week of February 12, 2003

Chronically Unfeasible. Sergio Bianchi. All values are market values in this exposé of corruption and hypocrisy set in an upscale São Paolo restaurant. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Screens at 7 p.m., Thursday, February 13, in Webster University's Moore Auditorium. NR.

God Told Me To. Larry Cohen. Released on the drive-in circuit under the title Demon to simultaneously quell Bible Belt complaints about its original name and capitalize on the success of The Omen, Larry Cohen's horror film/religious rant/cop movie is over-the-top looniness told with a deadpan earnestness, the cinematic equivalent of a street-corner conspiracy aficionado rapping about how the Bavarian Illuminati kidnapped Jim Morrison. It starts like a police procedural, with New York cop Tony LoBianco investigating a string of random murders, all committed under the titular excuse. Before long, he's dealing with Catholic guilt and his own troubled family history, getting the lowdown on alien abductions and virgin births and following the trail of a glowing, long-haired, hermaphroditic messiah with some very particular plans for the future. Cohen's made better films (It's Alive and the rarely seen Perfect Strangers and Special Effects, back-to-back thrillers from the early '80s) but none is quite so deliriously audacious. And if that's not enough, there are brief but effective supporting performances from Sandy Dennis and Sylvia Sidney and an appropriately twisted cameo from a pre-Taxi Andy Kaufman. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 18, in the Fontbonne University library's Lewis Room. For information, call 314-719-8061. (Robert Hunt)

Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees. It took five challenging years to make a film about the chimpanzees of Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park -- five years of Imax-camera-damaging humidity, early mornings and uncooperative primates. In the end, the footage of chimps shrieking, playing, leaping through the trees and picking nits is interesting, but was the large-format camera really necessary? The opening shots from a plane, capturing herds of zebra and wildebeest running across the green hills and savannahs of Africa, are awesome. But why project close-ups of hairy chimps (and their distended assholes) on the inside of a giant dome? Dramatic it ain't. Still, the material on Goodall's 40-year effort to understand these long-lived animals is inspiring, and it's interesting to see chimps' diverse personalities and complex jungle pecking order. When viewers are informed that 99 percent of the DNA of humans and chimps is identical, and then the film shows the male chimps patrolling their "borders" and killing every animal in a rival community, it explains a lot about human behavior. At the St. Louis Science Center's Omnimax Theatre until May 2. (Byron Kerman)

Safe Conduct. Bertrand Tavernier. Epic film, focused on the French film industry, set in 1942 Paris during the German occupation. In French with English subtitles. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday, February 14-16, in Webster University's Moore Auditorium, 470 E. Lockwood. NR

Unchained Memories: Readings From the Slave Narratives. The words of slaves are brought to life through the voices of African-American actors, including Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. This HBO documentary screens at 7 p.m., Thursday, February 13, at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 225 N. Euclid; and at 7 p.m., Monday, February 17, at the Central West Branch, 1415 Olive. NR

War Photographer. Christian Frei. For more than 25 years, award-winning photojournalist James Nachtwey has, with heartbreaking precision, successfully captured what he calls "people's authentic emotions." In a quiet, poignant documentary that complements Nachtwey's gentle personality and enviable centeredness, Christian Frei perches a microvideocamera over James Nachtwey's 35mm still camera. Footage immerses us in Kosovo, South Africa, Ramallah, Nicaragua and Jakarta. Through tear gas in Palestine and choking sulfur fumes at a hellish mine in Indonesia, Nachtwey models a humane, thoughtful presence, touching our hearts and minds. In voiceover, he speaks eloquently of days spent face to face with famine and destruction, poverty and injustice. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, War Photographer answers the question "Why photograph such misery and brutality?" As Nachtwey observes, the strength of such photography evokes humanity, "a timely, powerful ingredient in the antidote to war and indifference." Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 18, in Webster University's Moore Auditorium. (Diane Carson)

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