The Three Rivers Film Festival | Movie Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Screen » Movie Reviews + Features

The Three Rivers Film Festival

comment
The 22nd annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, runs from Fri., Nov. 7, through Sun., Nov. 23. The program of more than 45 films includes foreign-language works, American independents, experimental cinema and a locally produced feature, The Forgotten. New this year is a competitive, juried component for the Shorts Program, with prize-winners being announced during the festival.

Tickets for most films are $6 each; exceptions are tickets for the opening-night debut ofThe Forgottenand reception ($25); the closing night event with filmmaker Stephanie Beroes ($10); Text of Light, with live music ($15); and the Shorts Programs which are $4 each. A Super Eight festival pass offers 8 single admissions for $35. All films screen at the Harris Theater, Downtown; the Melwood Screening Room, North Oakland; and the Regent Square Theater, Edgewood. For more information, call 412-681-5449 or see www.pghfilmmakers.org.

Following are reviews and descriptions of films screening Nov. 7-13.

ANONYMOUSLY YOURS. This documentary from Gayle Ferraro presents the experiences of four Burmese women who work in the sex industry. The director, a former Pittsburgher, will be present at the screenings to discuss the film. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13; 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14; and 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Harris

ANYTHING BUT LOVE. In this musical romance from Robert Cary, a cabaret singer must choose between a roguish piano teacher and a corporate attorney. The film features an appearance by the legendary Eartha Kitt. 4:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 6 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Regent Square

BLUE VINYL. Filmmaker Judith Helfand's quest to find a less-tacky siding material for her parents' Long Island home leads her on a muckraking journey to discover the hidden social and environmental costs of vinyl in this documentary. Forefronting herself a la Michael Moore, as well as her amusing relationship with her parents, Helfand is a charming and funny if occasionally querulous tour guide, persistent without being judgmental. In the end we're left with the same old modern consumer dilemma: Vinyl siding is as convenient and affordable as it is environmentally and aesthetically ruinous. It's a conundrum Helfand can't really resolve, but the way she defines its parameters is quite engaging. John Sipo, of the New York State Attorney General's office and lead attorney in the successful defense of New York State's GreenBuilding tax credit regulations, will speak at the screening. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Harris (Bill O'Driscoll)


THE BURNING WALL. Surveillance cameras in churches. Elementary school children coached that their parents had betrayed the state. These were just some of the methods of the East German Ministry of State Security -- or Stasi. At its peak it kept files on 5,500,000 people -- a third of the Communist state's population -- and employed 100,000 agents, as well as countless members of the public as informants. In this 2002 documentary written and directed by Hava Kohav Beller, the title subject could be the Berlin Wall, erected to keep one ideology away from another. Or it could be the wall between reality and political fantasy, which the Stasi manufactured and then defended at gunpoint. "We couldn't imagine anyone disagreeing with us," says one Stasi employee. "We had to build the wall," explains a border guard, "or the rulers would have had no one to rule." While the film sometimes employs a ponderous mix of static drawing-room interviews, white-on-black historical explanations that fill entire screens and a way-too-sonorous voiceover, the subject matter -- and the news and archival footage and photos -- can't help but move us once again with images of people freeing themselves. For that is what they feel happened. Nowhere in the film is Ronald Reagan even mentioned. And ironically, the dissidents still cannot be happy. They wanted a better GDR, with true freedoms and actual social programs, not the West. In English and German, with subtitles. 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9; 7:15 Wed., Nov. 12; and 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. Melwood (Marty Levine)


CARNAGE. After a young bullfighter is gored by a bull, the bull is killed and rendered. As the bullfighter lies in a coma, parts of the bull find their way to characters throughout Europe in Delphine Gleize's film. A little girl on Valium, Winnie, gets one of the bull's bones for her Great Dane, Fred; a scientist gets the eyes to study; a middle-aged taxidermist who lives in a trailer with his elderly mother gets the horns; and a Spanish woman dines on meat from the bull in a restaurant. While the film's reliance on coincidence -- the bull-parts-acquiring characters somehow end up interacting not just with each other but with the comatose matador as well -- can be a bit precious, Carnage has a well-developed sense of humor and of the absurd. Chiara Mastroianni is terrific as a kooky actress, as is Raphaelle Molinier, who plays the little girl, Winnie. In French, Italian and Spanish with subtitles. 9:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12, and 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13. Regent Square (Andy Newman)


THE EMBALMER. Peppino (Ernesto Mahieux), a dwarfish middle-aged embalmer, recruits a young assistant, Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo), at the zoo (a scene oddly shot from the point-of-view of an ostrich). Valerio, whose face and form look as if they have been hewn from marble by the most skillful of the classic sculptors, soon becomes Peppino's playmate on lurid double-dates, and doesn't seem to care about some side deal Peppino has running with the mob. Their party relationship takes on subtle, then overt homosexual tensions: The embalmer -- who creates beauty literally out of dead flesh -- casts his practiced and longing eye upon the inert Valerio. But when Valerio brings the ballsy Deborah (Elsabetta Rocchetti) into their odd mentor-son set-up, psychosexual conflict naturally ensues. Matteo Garrone's film is quirkily dark (the pair live in a gray, unattractive beach town), a little creepy, and at times feels undeveloped: Valerio is so vapid as to be inscrutable. In Italian with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7; 5 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8; and 9:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Harris (Al Hoff)


ETOILES: DANCERS OF THE PARIS OPERA BALLET. In this documentary by Nils Tavernier, we go behind the scenes at the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the world's oldest companies, founded by Louis XVI, and famous for its level of talent and fierce physical training. We watch the rehearsal of a few pieces from the repertoire as well as the creation of a new work (performed in a stadium seating 15,000 people!) with occasional talking-head shots of the dancers, one of whom sums up the dedication needed to work with this company: "Love is not the word ... it's something that devours you." Made, I assume, with the sanction of the company, Etoiles, however, never goes beneath the surface; Tavernier cuts away, or refuses to follow, any conversation or incident which might reveal the darker side of this artistic pursuit and its administration, one which takes control of the dancers at age 9, exhausts them with constant classes, rehearsals and performance for the whole of their artistic lives and then kicks them to the curb when, at age 35, their bodies can no longer meet the insane physical demands. While a beautiful film to watch, Etoiles is more of a sunny brochure than a truthful examination. In French with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8; 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9; and 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 11. Harris (Ted Hoover)


EVERYBODY SAYS I'M FINE. A hairdresser in affluent, Westernized Bombay, Xen (Rehaan Engineer) possesses a curious gift -- when trimming hair, he can read people's minds. Though he's quite hunky and personable, Xen's a shut-in; he tentatively begins to play god, using his secretly acquired knowledge to set his customers' lives in order. Only when he encounters Niki (Koel Purie), whose thoughts he cannot hear, does he finally break free from his self-imprisonment. This ensemble comedy-drama is the debut directorial effort from actor Rahul Bose (who here plays an irritating actor). In his frantic desires to combine all things Indian cinema (dance, music, class-based melodrama, pretty costumes) with a contemporary MTV sensibility and pop-psychobabble, Bose's film slips from his grasp. The almost sole location, the hair salon, grows tiresome, sub-plots stutter and stop, and some shifts from silly comedy to hoary drama are awkward. This film is really a transitional piece as the massive Indian film industry finds its way onto the popular circuit worldwide (its characters speak only English, wear plastic jeans and presumably eat at the Domino's Pizza opposite the salon). Not loopy enough to be a satisfying fantasy, and too thin to be an enjoyable melodrama, but such growing pains are to be expected. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8; 4 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9; and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Regent Square (AH)


FILM KITCHEN. Producer Jim Newman's dream of making a concert film about jazz giant Sun Ra and His Arkestra was grafted to director John Coney's love for cheesy science fiction and desire to address Nixon-era social turmoil, and the result was 1974's Space Is the Place, a tres bizarre, laughably campy and deadly serious feature film suggesting how avant-garde jazz might contribute to black empowerment. After descending to earth in a spaceship, Ra simultaneously prepares for an Arkestra concert and, over a magical card table in the middle of the California desert, battles a villainous, pimped-out African-American named the Overseer for the souls of black folk (or at least the fate of the planet). Sun Ra, wearing a gold-coin headdress, plays keyboards, runs the Outer Space Employment Agency, revives a mummy, gets kidnapped, and answers a casual query of "What's happening?" with a grave "Everything's happening." (Ra also wrote all his own lines.) Government surveillance, gunplay, Huey Newton posters and blaxploitation tropes including gratuitous nudity share the screen with Ra's signature Egyptian motif, including followers in golden ibis masks, as he tries to make good on his promise to found a black colony in the starry reaches. "Everything you're denied on this earth ... will be given to you in outer space," Ra proclaims -- and it might sound like Massa's promise of heavenly rewards, if only Ra weren't claiming the power to make it happen right now. This special installment of the monthly Film Kitchen screening series will include a post-film discussion featuring local filmmaker and educator Billy Jackson. The discussion will be followed by a concert by Opek. 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 11, only (7 p.m. reception). $6. Regent Square. (BO)

THE FORGOTTEN. Wretching, trembling and just plain losing it -- up to and including an act of mutiny -- the half-dozen soldiers in Vincente Stasolla's shot-in-Pennsylvania Korean War miniature bear the full burden of warfare on their unsteady shoulders. Most of this feature-length film concerns a single Army tank crew separated from its company. Specifically, it explores the struggle of devoutly religious Corp. William Byrne (Randy Ryan) to remain a moral being in circumstances where all morality seems to have fled. Byrne, thrust into a command role, narrates the film in earnest voiceover, writes poetic letters to his young wife, seeks comfort in morphine tablets, and tries to keep his frightened, fractious crew from eating itself alive. Writer and director Stasolla's commitment to an unvarnished portrayal of the costs of warfare is impressive, even if the script isn't always up to it: Two characters die before we know enough about them to care, and most of the others don't develop enough to hold the screen. Meanwhile, though Stasolla's decision to leave the North Korean enemy unseen is a neat gambit, the tight focus on the handful of protagonists draws out a certain stiltedness in many scenes. Even that is largely redeemed, however, by the message of brotherhood illustrated (albeit tragically) by Byrne's relationship with the lone Korean we see, a wounded prisoner with a secret of his own. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7, and 2 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Regent Square. Tickets for the Fri., Nov. 7, screening are $25 and include a Q&A with director Vincente Stasolla and producer Henry Simonds, and a reception. Ed Vogel, president of the Korean War Veterans Association of Western Pennsylvania, will lead a discussion after the 2 p.m. screening on Nov. 10. (BO)


HORNS AND HALOS. "I'm mad at God," author J.H. Hatfield says in this documentary. It's not the first time Hatfield takes on an authority figure outside his weight class: Hatfield's 1999 book Fortunate Son -- which accused George W. Bush of abusing cocaine and his father's political ties -- was destroyed by its original publisher when Hatfield proved to have a criminal record. Directors Suki Hawley and Michael Galinksy never really get to know Hatfield, an affable ex-con who tried to kill a co-worker but feels (with some justice) he's gotten a raw deal. The film's real protagonist is Hatfield's new publisher: Sander Hicks, a maintenance man who runs his underground firm in a basement. (We see Hicks alternately talking with printers and promising to fix toilets, appearing on 60 Minutes and performing in his punk band.) It's in Hicks' dazzled eyes that you understand celebrity is as addictive as cocaine -- and in Hatfield's suicide that you learn it can also be as destructive. While arguing convincingly that there was more to Hatfield's book, and less to Bush, than the mainstream media gave credit for, Horns and Halos portrays an unflattering side of the left. But as Hatfield argues, "There were lots of books that were just pure junk about Clinton." Why are they still for sale? 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7; 2:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8; and 4:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Melwood (Chris Potter)


IN MY SKIN. It might resemble a morbid psychodrama, but the best way to regard this film about a case of self-mutilation in the new corporate Europe is probably as a comedy so dark you'll forget to laugh. Esther, young, healthy and in love, is a rising star at her marketing firm; one night she trips on some metal junk, fails to notice she's badly injured her leg, and goes to the hospital only hours later. It's like a lycanthropic transformation, without the extra fur: She commences an obsession with deepening and even causing her own wounds, which director and star Marina de Van presents as a function of progressive disassociation from her own body. Rather than explicitly offering any explanation for Esther's self-abuse, de Van focuses on the disgust it produces in Esther's best pal and boyfriend. But it's safe to assume Esther's tenuous climb up the corporate ladder has at least something to do with what eventually evolves into autocannibalism. De Van is compelling as Esther; as a director, her Buñuelian wit and near-clinical detachment make for a film that's both graphically disturbing and bitingly funny. In French, with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9; 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10; and 9:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 11. Harris (BO)


KEDMA. In 1948, European Jewish refugees from the Holocaust have the misfortune to arrive in their new land during the week that it is changing from Palestine to Israel. When they disembark their ship, the Kedma, they instantly step into chaos and violence: They are fired upon by retreating British troops and whisked away by underground Jewish Palmach forces. Directing in a lean style with remarkably long takes, Israeli director Amos Gitai follows these confused, weary and damaged souls as they literally stumble across their new homeland -- a barren landscape punctuated by troubling encounters with Palestinians Arabs. And so one displaced people displaces another, and individuals lucky -- or cursed -- enough to have survived the horrors of one war are immediately plunged into another. Gitai in his spare manner illustrates these ironies of history that, unfortunately, continue to play out, unresolved, today. In several languages, with English subtitles. 6:45 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8; 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9; and 9:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Regent Square (AH)


LONG GONE. "The people out here are the castaways, the throwaways, the people that nobody wants," a train-riding hobo called "New York Slim" explains early in this documentary that follows a group of wanderers over the course of several years. Filmmakers David Eberhardt and Jack Cahill, who lived and rode with these castaways, present a surprisingly nuanced portrait of a lifestyle that popular culture often either demonizes or romanticizes. Footage of the train-jumper's view of the American landscape, shot in the last light of day, is gorgeous, especially when accompanied by original music by -- who else? -- Tom Waits. But while it's hard not to share the filmmakers' affection for the subjects, you won't want to leave your leaf-blower behind to join them. There is camaraderie around the fire, sure, but there is also the sudden unprovoked kick in the mouth, the sadness and squalor that come with the life's rampant alcoholism and drug abuse. Still, what's most affecting about the film, and what you're thinking long after you see it, is how, even as they've fled their families, they seem to have formed their own. "We're just lost souls," says New York Slim. "We ain't got no one but each other." Filmmakers David Eberhardt and Jack Cahill will present and discuss the film. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 6:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Melwood. (AN)


MILK AND HONEY. A marriage goes awry in this film about lost loves, intersecting lives and missed opportunities. Directed by Joe Maggio and shot on digital video, this film was presented at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The film's producer, Matt Myers, a former Pittsburgher, will present and discuss the film. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 6:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Melwood

SEASIDE. This debut feature from Julie Lopes-Curval surveys the varied inhabitants of a small French, now slightly shabby, beach-resort town. This contemplative study of intersecting lives won the Camera d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. In French with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13; 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Harris

THE SINGING DETECTIVE (See review.) 8:15 p.m., Sun., Nov. 9, only. Regent Square

SHORTS PROGRAM NO. 1. Featuring works submitted by artists around the country, the Shorts Programs includes narrative, experimental, animated and documentary short films. Filmmakers include Keum-Taek Jung, Chris Pouty, Jay Golden, Tony Gault, Elsi D. Caldeira Mendes, E.S. Wochensky, Sarah Bowen, Joyce Oats, Bryn Zellers, Levi Abrino and KC Milliken. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Melwood

SHORTS PROGRAM NO. 2. This program includes short films from Liana Dragoman, Caleb Smith, Mike Bonello, Erik Brandt, Licia Slimon, AndreFake, Peter Rose, Nicole Koschmann, Eric Fleishauer, Gary Adelstein, Smilen Savov and Anna Kelly. 9:15 p.m., Mon., Nov. 10, and 7:15 p.m. Thu. Nov. 13. Melwood

SPACE IS THE PLACE. (See "Film Kitchen.") 7:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 11, Regent Square

THE STONE READER. The director Mark Moskowitz reads a book he picked up nearly 30 years ago, and becomes intrigued to learn what be came of the author. Thus begins his quest -- documented in this film -- not only in search of the forgotten author, but of the excitement that reading and literature can generate. 7:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12, and 9:45 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13. Regent Square

THE THREE MARIAS. It opens with a scene set in a small town in Brazil where corpses hang by their guts, spleens ripped out, eyeballs sitting next to heads riddled with bullet holes and blood splattered, almost fashionably, across ripped clothes. The unfortunate victims: Filomena's murdered husband and two sons. Reeling for revenge, she sends her remaining offspring -- three drop-dead gorgeous daughters, each named Maria -- out to kill the murderers of their father and brothers ... their heads cut off ... and mailed back to her. Is it a prequel to Kill Bill? Filomena's Angels, maybe? Once Upon a Time in Brazil? Lately it's been hard to make an assassin flick without incorporating three killer women in it. Initially though, Filomena sends the sisters out to find three of the most difficult-to-cooperate-with henchmen in Brazil to do the killings. The sisters, each on her own separate path, find the designated assassins-for-hire, but when each guy drags his feet for one reason or the other on their hits, the girls end up doing the jobs themselves. Directed by Aluizio Abranches, The Three Marias fits in snuggly with the current crop of other shoot-'em-up-slice-'em-down flicks out -- and just as slick and stylish. Only thing I'd say is missing is Lucy Liu. In Portuguese with subtitles. 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7; 9:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8; and 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Harris. (Brentin Mock)


THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER. This 1959 film directed by Jack Sher follows Jonathan Swift's Gulliver on his travels through Lilliput (very small people), Brobdignag (very large people), and England. Withdrawn from circulation soon after release, this is a lesser-known work featuring special effects by the master of "dynamation," Ray Harryhausen. 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, only. Regent Square

WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF. Gloomy Glaswegian Wilbur (Jamie Sives) bungles another suicide attempt and returns to the care of his older brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), who manages their late father's cluttered old bookshop. A kind soul, Harbour soon takes in a young single mother (Shirley Henderson) and her 9-year-old daughter. The four manage an odd sort of household-in-disarray until a sad twist of fate forces them to be a real family. This bittersweet domestic drama from Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) nonetheless has wonderful moments of mordant comedy (Wilbur is much beloved for being a dreadful nursery-school aide), and the story manages to be charmingly odd without compromising the real humanity of its players. 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7, and 4:30 p.m., Sat., Nov. 8. Melwood (AH)

 

 

Add a comment