The 2009 St. Louis Film Festival is almost here; it runs November 12th-22nd. Every year when the SLIFF booklet comes out, I end up spending days pouring over all the options. It takes some real strategy to figure out what films to see and when, especially when they’re spread out over five different movie theaters. There’s just no way to see all the good ones! And unfortunately, the Cinema St. Louis folks have made it even harder for me this time by having both a Spanish-Language Sidebar and an Argentinian one. Sheesh. After my first read-through of the line-up, here are a couple that jumped out at me right away.
Adrian Biniez, Uruguay, 2009, 84 min., Spanish
Sunday, Nov. 15, 3:15 p.m., Frontenac 1
Tuesday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m., Frontenac 1
In this gentle comedy, Jara is a shy and lonely 35-year-old security guard at a supermarket on the outskirts of Montevideo. He works the night shift, monitoring the surveillance cameras of the entire building. One night, Jara discovers Julia, a 25-year-old cleaning woman, through one of the cameras. Immediately attracted to her, Jara watches Julia night after night on his video screens while she works. Soon he starts following her after work: to the cinema, the beach and even a date with another man. Jara’s life becomes a series of routines and rituals built around Julia, but eventually he finds himself at a crossroads and must decide whether to give up his obsession or confront it. “Gigante” was named Best First Feature and awarded the Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival.
Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008, 87 min., Spanish
Sunday, Nov. 22, 1 p.m., Hi-Pointe
In the dazzling third feature from Lucrecia Martel (“The Holy Girl,” “La ciénega”), a startling car accident on a vacant road disrupts the life of Verónica (María Onetto), a wealthy dentist from the northwestern part of Argentina. She flees the scene, uncertain as to what (or whom) she may have hit, but is haunted by the possibility that she might have killed someone. Comparing the film to Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic “L’avventura,” the New York Times’ Stephen Holden called “The Headless Woman” a “brilliant, maddeningly enigmatic puzzle of a movie.” Co-produced by Augustín and Pedro Almodóvar and co- starring Inés Efron (“XXY”), “The Headless Woman” topped IndieWire’s poll of the best undistributed films of 2008.
Lucía Puenzo, Argentina, 2008, 86 min., Spanish
Friday, Nov. 13, 9:30 p.m., Frontenac 6
Sunday, Nov. 15, 1 p.m., Frontenac 6
Winner of the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, “XXY” deftly examines the ways in which an intersex teenager’s physical and sexual developments affect the dynamics of family. After raising their child as a girl for 15 years, a marine biologist and his wife invite a gifted surgeon and his family to visit them on their secluded island in order to allow Alex (Inès Efron) the freedom to explore her options in terms of gender identification. However, the mutual attraction between Alex and the surgeon’s teenage son intensifies the already difficult concerns of the two families. “XXY” was awarded Best Picture, Actress and Adapted Screenplay by the Argentinean Film Critics Association and won the top prizes at both the Athens and Bangkok film festivals.
Joe Berlinger, 2009, U.S., 104 min., Spanish & English.
Sunday, Nov. 15, 6:30 p.m., Tivoli 1
Three years in the making, this epic cinema vérité documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (“Brother’s Keeper,” “Paradise Lost,” “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster”) chronicles one of the planet’s largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits. “Crude” – which premiered at Sundance and has since won nearly a dozen festival awards – follows a landmark case that originates in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, pitting 30,000 indigenous and colonial rainforest dwellers against the U.S. oil giant Chevron. The New York Times writes: “Rarely have such conflicts been examined with the depth and power of Joe Berlinger’s documentary ‘Crude.’ These real characters and events play out on the screen like a sprawling legal thriller.” Rolling Stone calls the film “a powerhouse of a documentary! This one means to shake you. And in Berlinger’s hands, it does.”
With director Berlinger.
Followed by a Q&A between Big Sky Documentary Film Festival director Mike Steinberg and Berlinger, recipient of SLIFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Documentary.