18th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival
It’s not often that St. Louis gets to be called an “international hub,” but every year, our venerable city dons the title for a week and a half in mid-November. That’s right, the 18th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) is upon us! So steady that boom mic, and load up the reel! SLIFF is back and bigger than ever, boasting more than 270 movies, documentaries and shorts this year. The festivities start this Thursday, Nov. 12, and run through Sunday, Nov. 22.
The festival’s big headliner is Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” a bona fide Oscar contender that stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman and a whole slew of fantastic actors. On top of that, the movie was mostly filmed in St. Louis, so if some backgrounds look a little familiar, it’s for good reason. Unfortunately, the lone screening on Saturday, Nov. 14, is already sold out, along with Reitman’s follow-up question-and-answer session, but if you’re one of those lucky enough to have a ticket, you’re in for a treat.
The rest of the lineup is just as strong. “Precious” paints a fearless portrayal of the overweight and illiterate teenager who lives in 1987 Harlem, and it looks phenomenal. It shows at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Hi-Pointe. Michael Cera’s newest awkward-fest, “Youth in Revolt” screens at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15, also at the Hi-Pointe, and the ambitious “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” captures Heath Ledger’s final appearance in film, alongside Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, otherwise known as the Trifecta of Handsomeness. You can watch it at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Tivoli.
Of course, this is an international festival, and there are a plethora of quality intercontinental movies that will surely grab your attention. “Laila’s Birthday” comes from the acclaimed Palestinian writer-director Rashid Masharawi. It’s a wry take on ordinary people in difficult situations, and with two screenings, there’s little reason to miss it. From Sweden, there’s “Ciao Bella,” the story of a lovesick teenager who poses as an Italian soccer player to increase his chances with the lady-folk.
But so far, I’ve only discussed movies, recorded videos that can be viewed anywhere. SLIFF also offers “shows” that can’t be seen anywhere else: I’m talking about panels. To all the film critics out there, make sure to attend the free screening of “For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism” at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Tivoli. It’s a documentary followed by a panel on film criticism, which includes Harper Barnes, Kent Jones, Patrick McGilligan, and Gerald Peary and Joe Williams. Or maybe you’re feeling nostalgic. There’s a free showing of Ang Lee’s director’s cut of “Ride With the Devil” at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15, in our very own Brown Hall, followed by a discussion with Missourian novelist Daniel Woodrell, author of the novel the movie was based on.
And if you’re looking to see something that’s not “Up in the Air,” tickets are easy to come by. Advance tickets for screenings and panels at the Tivoli and Plaza Frontenac can be bought at their respective box offices or online at www.tickets.landmarktheatres.com. In fact, you can buy advance tickets for the Hi-Pointe from the Tivoli, too. If you’re buying tickets on the day of the show, box offices open a half hour before the screenings. And of course, all shows at Wash U. are free and don’t require a ticket.
And now, without further adieu, let me introduce a few mini-reviews for some of the more notable, but smaller, films that can be seen in the festival, plus a schedule of events. For more information, visit www.cinemastlouis.org.
Thursday, Nov. 12
“An Education” 7 p.m. Tivoli
Friday, Nov. 13
“St. Nick” 7:15 p.m. Tivoli
“Terribly Happy” 9:15 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“Beeswax” 7 p.m. Webster University
“XXY” 9:30 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
Playing: Friday, Nov. 13, 7:15 p.m. at The Tivoli
Real-life siblings Savanna and Tucker Sears play sister and brother in this movie. Their simple character names—The Girl and The Boy—contrast the complexities of this film. For some unknown reason, the two are runaways in the middle of Texas, which means these kids can’t act like kids, and they’re forced to grow up fast. The Boy cares for his sister and brings “home” tomato sandwiches foraged from a dumpster. She, always coughing, drifts into a playground party, in search of her old home. When real adults appear, they aren’t helpful; they’re belligerent or literally out of focus. This makes it easier to understand why they ran away in the first place.
“St. Nick” is gorgeous. Every sequence has its own color palette that sets the mood. Although the dialogue is sparse, the effect never feels gimmicky, and the sounds of juicy tomatoes and ripped family photos roar from the screen, but only every now and then. The children are isolated and tense. Usually, the film is quiet but never silent. The ample empty space lets the mind wander. What are the siblings thinking? Why can’t they go home? It’s a sobering picture, and it’s a great one.
Playing: Friday, Nov. 13, 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 15, 1 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac
Few films are able to eloquently express the awkwardness, uncertainty and heartbreak of an adolescent’s exploration of self, yet the 2008 Argentinean film, “XXY,” artfully accomplishes this and much more. Written and directed by Lucia Puenzo, “XXY” tells the story of a 15-year-old intersex (possessing both male and female genitalia) person, Alex, as she develops physically, emotionally and sexually on a small fishing island in Uruguay. Alex’s exploration of self is only further complicated by the arrival of a talented surgeon and his family, who “illuminate her options,” and by the mutual attraction between her and the surgeon’s son Alvaro. Although the dialogue is sparse, the talent of the cast skillfully carries the weight of plot, and the cinematography and soundtrack are beautiful and enchanting. “XXY” is a thought-provoking film that encourages the audience to question previously held assumptions about the process of discovering one’s sexuality. Although the film resolves with more questions than answers, the intellectual stimulation is worth it.
Saturday, Nov. 14
“Branson” 1 p.m. Tivoli
“For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism” 11 a.m. Tivoli
“Up In The Air” 7 p.m. Tivoli
“Precious” 7:30 pm Hi-Pointe
“For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism”
Playing: Saturday, Nov. 14, 11 a.m. at the Tivoli, free program
In defense of the film criticism industry comes a new documentary titled “For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism,” by Gerald Peary, a film critic himself. The film is a standard chronicle of the history of film criticism, from the early black-and-white films to the current ones, and it spends much of its time exploring the important debates and chasms formed between the intellectual and the spontaneous, the professional and the amateur, and the old and new generations.
Between chapters, Peary smartly interposes snippets of amusing anecdotes from a variety of critics and Q&As, and this lets his documentary avoid being didactic and tedious. He sets an impartial tone for the film, without reinforcing his status as a professional or bashing the new, amateur generation, which would have been easy for him to do. In a laudable move, he instead suggests a possibility of co-existence of both camps and acknowledges the legitimacy of the new amateur form of film criticism. Nothing groundbreaking can be found in this documentary, but it is a decent and informative entry in the film criticism documentary genre. One unnecessary feature of the film: Patricia Clarkson’s rather dull narration.
“How I Got Lost”
Playing: Saturday, Nov. 14, 2:30 p.m. at the Tivoli; Sunday, Nov. 15, 6 p.m. at Webster
“How I Got Lost,” an expanded version of director Leonard’s 2005 short film, tells the story of Andrew (Aaron Stanford) and Jake (Jacob Fishel), friends who both have lost their footing in life. Andrew’s father has just passed away, and Jake is still heartbroken from his last breakup. In an attempt to regain control over their lives, they take a road trip from New York City to Pennsylvania and realize that maybe they just need a change of environment. This film is overall a great watch. It is entertaining from start to finish and, for the most part, beautifully shot. It isn’t a particularly groundbreaking plot or film, but “How I Got Lost” is nonetheless a worthwhile watch. Bonus: It was filmed in Kirkwood, Miss.
Sunday, Nov. 15
“Crude” 6:30 p.m. Tivoli
“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” 5:30 p.m. Tivoli
“In 500 Words or Less” 2:45 p.m. Tivoli
“Laila’s Birthday” 5 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“XXY” 1 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“Youth In Revolt” 8 p.m. Hi-Pointe
“In 500 Words or Less”
Playing: Sunday, Nov. 15, 2:45 p.m. at The Tivoli.
“In 500 Words or Less” is about stress, suffering and disappointment and people accepting their fate and finding their place in life. That’s right. It’s about applying to college. This documentary traces four American high school students in their struggle through the whole painful process and beyond.
“500 Words” does a great job of conveying the frustration of college applications, the strain it puts on families and the conflicting feelings of triumph, remorse and helplessness once all the letters come in. And although each student comes from a different background and has his or her own trials to overcome, the film does its best to universalize the experience. And its happy conclusion, “everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be,” is one that you’ve likely heard too many times from your parents.
However, the film’s accuracy is also what makes it so difficult to recommend. Even as a junior, I’m still not far enough removed so that “500 Words” wasn’t painful to watch. You know this movie, because you’ve lived it. Do you really want to do it again?
Monday, Nov. 16
“Drool” 9 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“Waiting for Hockney” 9:30 p.m. Tivoli
Tuesday, Nov. 17
“Ciao Bella” 4 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“What a Wonderful World” 9 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
Wednesday, Nov. 18
“The Wonder of it All” 5 p.m. Tivoli
“Everybody’s Fine” 7 p.m. Frontenac
Thursday, Nov. 19
“Storm” 4:15 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“Marcello Marcello” 7:15 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“Say My Name” 9 p.m. Tivoli
Playing: Thursday, Nov. 19, 4:15 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac; Friday, Nov. 20, 5 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac
Hans-Christian Schmid’s new movie, “Storm,” is an evocative tale about war crimes and international justice. This film is especially pertinent to St. Louis because the war crimes it explores are ones that were committed in Bosnia during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, and St. Louis is home to one of the largest Bosnian communities in the United States.
The story focuses on prosecutor Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox), who works at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In the movie, she is looking to convict a former Yugoslavian army commander of committing ethnic cleansing against Bosnians during the Yugoslav wars. The case is almost lost when the key witness commits suicide. His suicide causes Maynard to venture to the Republika Srpska region of Bosnia, where she looks to enlist the witness’ sister (Anamaria Marinca) to testify against the former Yugoslavian general. Without her, Maynard is afraid that the whole case could fall apart and a murderous general could walk free.
The resulting film is intriguing and very powerful. It truly makes one think about ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and the effectiveness of the international justice system. Though the movie feels a little long-winded toward the end, it is a worthwhile exploration into a horrific war that is often neglected or given poor treatment in Western media.
Friday, Nov. 20
“Three Monkeys” 9:15 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“The Missing Person” 9:30 p.m. Plaza Frontenac
“The Missing Person”
Playing: Friday, Nov. 20, 9:30 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac
“The Missing Person” isn’t like normal film noir, and that’s exactly what director Noah Buschel was going for. The story—which revolves around loneliness and desperation—is told in a way that is very stripped down, opting not to use most of the features usually make up a noir film. The ending is so amazing precisely because it is an atypical noir film.
Academy Award nominees Michael Shannon (the lead) and Amy Ryan are the ones to watch in this dark film about the aftermath of a horrible event and the lengths to which someone will go to be reunited with his or her loved ones. I don’t want to give too much about the plot away, but it is safe just to say that what you expect will not be what is given, but what is given will be more effective. It’s without the affectations of “Chinatown” or “A Touch of Evil,” yet it is told with a plain honesty that still hits home on the darkest points.
Saturday, Nov. 21
“The Hollywood Cartoon” 7:30 p.m. Brown 100
“2:22” 9:30 p.m. Tivoli
Sunday, Nov. 22
“The Choir” 1 p.m. Tivoli
“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” 5:30 p.m. Tivoli
“Me and Orson Welles” 6:30 p.m. Tivoli