It’s time I came out of my book-buried retirement, at least temporarily, to cover the St. Louis International Film Festival, one of my favorite local events of the year. Showing remarkable restraint, in my own opinion, I saw only 13 screenings. I’ll do capsule reviews of them over the next few days.
This year’s festival had more than 250 films and my guess is that it was the best-attended year yet. Most screenings I attended were pretty packed and almost every major film and even some not-so-major films sold out (good for the festival, bad for audiences). I was too slow to get tickets for “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” which goes on my list of regrets along with accidentally missing the undistributed “The Headless Woman” due to my own clerical error. In retrospect, I also wish I’d seen “Beeswax” by mumblecore icon Andrew Bujalski, but I’ll look for it on DVD.
The best films I saw were “Terribly Happy” (a highly engrossing dark-comedy noir) and “Three Monkeys” (a Turkish masterpiece also of a noirish persuasion). Nothing I saw this year was particularly bad, though my least favorite is the current metacritic darling “35 Shots of Rum.” I lived up to the goals I laid out about a year ago: I saw documentaries (“24 City,” “We Live in Public”), shorts, local St. Louis work (“Edgar Allen Poe’s Ligeia”), the latest by several great directors (Jia Zhangke, Claire Denis, Nuri Bilge Ceylan) and a film from a country whose cinema I’ve never seen before (Ecuador).
For the first time in three years, I did not see or predict the winners of the main festival prizes. “Precious,” which I actively avoided (I am willing to admit I may have been wrong, but it was coming out in regular theaters the very next day so there was no rush), took the top prize. “Marcello, Marcello,” which I actively avoided because it looked overly cute and corny, took the ‘Best International Feature’ award. Best documentary went to “9500 Liberty.”
As usual, the commercials were the only really bothersome aspect of the festival, especially odious to viewers like myself who have to see them repeated 10+ times (maybe I wouldn’t be bothered if I watched more TV). Stella Artois continues their theme of misguided pretentiousness, Metromix St. Louis has not backed down from (or even changed) their loud and obnoxious ad claiming that St. Louis has a nightlife and SLIFF’s Coolfire Media spots again focus on genre movies (although to be fair they had many more this year and the ad was much better), but the standout newcomer is a cheesy promotion from some St. Louis culture center which has the gall to suggest that a weekend in St. Louis is the equivalent of touring the great cities of Europe. Incidentally, a live volunteer came out before each showing to ask that we all thank these and other sponsors. So, um… thanks.
Anyway, it really was a good time. Three of my friends from out of town stayed with me for the first weekend and we kept up a pretty constant diet of fine films, delicious food and erudite conversation (like whether Hugo the Hippo could beat Razorback in a fight). I was satisfied with the films I saw without exhausting myself utterly. I look forward to next year!