Seven Selections from the St. Louis International Film Festival's First Weekend 

click to enlarge A still from Breathe.

Courtesy SLIFF

A still from Breathe.

Now in its 24th year, the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival​ (SLIFF)​ continues to impress with its breadth and depth of content. From November 5 through 15, nearly 450 films will be shown — to say nothing of the special-event programming, master classes and parties that will also take place. There are films for families, ones that are totally free and others that ask hard questions: Below, we take a closer look at seven of them. See the end of this story for ticketing information and a link to the Cinema St. Louis website, where you can find the festival's complete schedule.

Deep Web
Directed by Alex Winter
7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 5
Landmark Tivoli Theatre
6350 Delmar Boulevard

Deep Web is a straightforward documentary about a subject so timely that, unfortunately, it has already been rendered out of date by more recent events. Alex Winter's film tells the story of the dark-net website Silk Road, the dark net being the untraceable twin of the more benign Internet that brings you your daily dose of kitten pictures and George Takei quotes. Silk Road was the Amazon of illegal drugs, a place where, for a period of slightly more than two years starting in 2011, anything could be purchased as long as the user could come up with enough Bitcoin to buy it. Silk Road's fortunes changed with the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, who founded the site and ran it using the Princess Bride-derived handle "Dread Pirate Roberts." Winters looks at Ulbricht's prosecution from a distance — there are interviews with his parents and a Silk Road dealer, but not with Ulbricht himself — and seems largely sympathetic to the case, but offers little more than mentions of his supporters' arguments. These include the claim that Ulbricht sold the website and was framed by his successor, and charges that the FBI illegally gained access to the site's servers. Ulbricht was convicted earlier this year, just weeks before the film premiered, and in subsequent statements appears to have more or less admitted guilt on some of his charges. Narrated by Keanu Reeves, Deep Web makes for an interesting story, but more recent events (including a lengthy and far less sympathetic account of Silk Road in Wired last spring) make it seem incomplete.

Breathe
Directed by Mélanie Laurent
2 p.m. Friday and Saturday (November 6 and 7)
Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema
1701 South Lindbergh Boulevard

Based on a young-adult novel, Mélanie Laurent's Breathe is best when it simply documents the unpretentious behavior of young French teenagers mapping out their own social connections, or more often trying to stay out of the way of the adult world. The story — the on-and-off friendship between a bored teenaged girl and a mysterious, rebellious new classmate — offers few surprises. It disappointingly wanders into the YA equivalent of the New Brutality at the end, but the performers (Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge) are charming, and the direction makes often inspired use of wide-screen compositions that are unexpectedly intimate.

click to enlarge Longwave. - COURTESY SLIFF
  • Courtesy SLIFF
  • Longwave.

Longwave [Les grandes ondes (à l'ouest)]
Directed by Lionel Baier
2:45 p.m. Friday and 12:15 p.m. Monday (November 6 and 9)
Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema
1701 South Lindbergh Boulevard

Longwave, a slight but appealing comedy inspired (if that's not too strong a word) by historical events, is about a team of Swiss radio journalists who are sent to Portugal to prepare a puff piece about good relations between the two countries. They happen to land in the center of the April 1974 Carnation Revolution, when a military coup brought a peaceful end to the regime that had ruled for 40 years. It's short, simple and fun in a loopy deadpan way, although occasionally the humor overreaches and misfires (as when characters spontaneously break into a West Side Story-inspired dance-off set to Gershwin's "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing"). Despite the largely irrelevant political setting, Longwave works best when it plays off the friction between an ambitious feminist reporter and an older, egotistic and battle-worn veteran, played respectively by Valérie Donzelli and Michel Vuillermoz. The '70s setting may justify some of Vuillermoz's old-school macho, but the rivalry between the two is timeless: Think of it as Anchorman Lite.

click to enlarge Who Am I. - COURTESY SLIFF
  • Courtesy SLIFF
  • Who Am I.

Who Am I — No System Is Safe
Directed by Baran bo Odar
9:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:40 p.m. Tuesday (November 7 and 10)
Landmark Tivoli Theatre
6350 Delmar Boulevard

Flashy, fast-paced and mostly ridiculous, Who Am I presents its creators with the increasingly common problem of finding a visual method for a generally stationary behavior — computer hacking. Their solution — staging the uploading of a file as if it were a physical confrontation between two individuals wearing Guy Fawkes-like masks — is more silly than satisfying, and the overall ambience of chest-beating hackers sticking it to the (unnamed, unidentified) man is tiresome. The film would like to raise its heroes to the level of Occupy-inspired anarchists, but its view of social activism comes off more like a boorish frat party.

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