SLIFF 2010 Preview | Alice Telios

Numerous animation styles reveal Tulip’s layers as a childlike “mistress of the house,” a companion and a puppy-making prostitute.

 
 
Films are gratifying on many different levels. They may offer a psychological thrill or a glimpse into an unfamiliar culture. Sometimes they are a quest to answer empirical questions that deal with the nature of life and the world. The St. Louis International Film Festival provides an opportunity to enjoy films that have their own way of framing how people are surviving on this complex planet. Each film has its own style and strategy for tackling different aspects of human life.
 
In the documentary Louder than a Bomb (11/16 Tivoli 7:00 pm), Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel attempt to understand how peace and rivalry coexist in a Chicago poetry-slam competition. They follow four high school poetry teams that have their own cultural perspectives. Jacobs and Siskel are merely the camera operators and editors; the students they film are the storytellers. Through complex rhymes and rhythms, these young poets compete to change their world by using their words. It may be the only kind of battle I have seen where opponents hug, cry and cheer for one another. Some of the performances are a little too exhaustive, but most are necessary.
 
Another adolescent skirmish is captured in Matthew Leutwyler’ s The River Why (11/20 Tivoli 4:15 PM). Gus (Zach Gilford) struggles with his transition into adulthood. His overly eccentric, fishing-enthusiast parents, Henning Hale Orviston (William Hurt) and Ma (Kathleen Quinlan) don’t help his situation. With a rod and johnboat, he takes to nature in search of his unknown destiny. The Oregon waters are a beautiful escape. Luetwyler may be able to turn any city slicker into a lover of the outdoors. Gus throws himself into nature hoping to meet his meaning, but he meets some weirdoes instead. This may be a peculiar take on a Shakespearean comedy, because there are some strange supporting characters out there in the wilderness—almost strange enough to distract you from the never-ending water and fish metaphors.
 
Paul and Sandra Fierlinger find the natural relationships between dogs and humans in J.R. Ackerley’s memoir, which drives their animated adaptation, My Dog Tulip (11/13 Hi-Pointe 1:00 pm; 11/14 Hi-Pointe 5:00 pm). Their vibrant drawings show the primeval connections between a loner, Ackerley, and his German Shepherd, Tulip. Numerous animation styles reveal Tulip’s layers as a childlike “mistress of the house,” a companion and a puppy-making prostitute. Graced by the voices of Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave, My Dog Tulip is dependably cast. The story is humorous and doesn’t focus on the tragic loss of a pet like the depressing animal-themed films like Old Yeller. Ackerley and Ruby’s relationship is as basic as it is complex. The juxtaposition of a prehistoric dog-and-master team with the landscape of industrialized England shows the strength of ties between the species. Dog people will surely love Ackerley’s tale, and maybe cat people will finally get what makes pups so perfect.
 
Sometimes humans can act like dogs. In Jonathan Ogilvie’s The Tender Hook (11/16 Frontenac 2:15 pm; 11/17 Frontenac 9:15 pm),the shady Australian Jazz Age is corrupt. Living in Sydney, Iris (Rose Byrn) falls under the spell of jewels and promises of a mobster, McHeath (Hugo Weaving), who bootlegs booze and runs a barbaric boxing circuit. This deceptive story is dark and reveals a glimpse at a distinct period in history. People dressed in lavish attire and lived the high life until their liquor bottles were empty. Iris gets sick of this lifestyle, and finds comfort in a young and talented boxer (Matthew Le Nevez). The pacing was a little off throughout the film, but it is drenched in enough drama and deceit to keep your attention.
 
Searching for life’s answers can bridge time and hemispheres. The Italian Hayfever (11/13 Frontenac 6:00 pm; 11/14 Frontenac 6:15 pm), directed by Laura Luchetti, seeks to understand opportunities for love connections. The Roman winds are romantic and serendipitous. A young student named Camilla (Dianne Fleri) is blown into a job at a kitschy vintage shop called Twinkled, where she gets close to an artistic idealist, Stefano (Giuseppe Gandini). The store is failing to draw in customers and can’t get by solely on the enthusiasm of the quirky owner, workers and odd regulars. This film is sweet without being overkill. The antique odds and ends in Twinkled are as treasured as the small details that add to the enjoyment of Luchetti’s film.
 
Iranian Alireza Rofougaran’s Chasing Che (11/16 Tivoli 9:00 pm) is a documentary that is filmed all over the world. After acquiring a passion for the international revolutionist Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Rofougaran decides to translate an esteemed Che biography into Farsi. While he delves into the translation process, he drops everything to travel the world to conduct interviews with people who knew Che and explore the many places that impacted his life and history. The film is simply made with a home video camera. Poor image and audio quality, which Rofougaran practically apologizes for, forces him to use a first person narrative for the majority of the film, but his makes the film more raw and realistic. Rofougaran’s story comes through, too, and he constantly reaches to make connections between Che’s life and his own. Che’s life and death touch those who were close to him and even strangers, and Rofougaran’s passion for the iconic figure turns into an obsession with understanding Che.
 
The ultimate concept of “getting it” is addressed in film historian Chuck Workman’s Visionaries (11/20 Tivoli 5:30 pm). He chronicles the history of “mostly American” avant-garde cinema. These films offered a new way of recording thematic or nonsensical masterpieces. Organizing film scenes and interviews with experimental greats, like Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage and David Lynch, Workman compiles a tribute to directors who challenge the mainstream. Jonas Mekas is a perfect example. He dedicates his life to film preservation and doesn’t give a crap about making money. Workman is known for his historical film montages and crafts another hypnotic and well-educated film lesson. | Alice Telios

 

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