In the last eighteen months of the pandemic, restaurants have closed, bars have closed and local hangouts have hung by by thread. Many nights a calm weirdness hangs over the Delmar Loop – and not just because it’s Halloween season. Its darkened marquee, its empty ticket booth, the emblem of the Tivoli Theater suddenly seems a little … haunted. For decades, the people of Saint-Louis have watched independent and arthouse films en masse; the lobby was the rare place you could meet your boss, your ex, or your best friend’s dad (hopefully not all the same person). Purchased by One Family Church last spring, the theater has yet to open its doors to the public. From November 4 to 21, everything changes.
At this year’s 30th Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF), the Tivoli screen trio will once again shine as the main venue for a rich selection of narrative and documentary feature films, as well as a range of questions and answers and person inferences. While many of the more than 400 films on offer will also be available virtually – and in person at the University of Washington’s Brown Auditorium, Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium, the Central Library Auditorium. from the St. Louis Public Library and the Grand Center Museum of Contemporary Art – the Tivoli will reign supreme as the ultimate cinema again, at least for moviegoers keen to wear a mask and provide proof of a full vaccination against COVID-19.
As usual, SLIFF brings to the region the best of the best films (and filmmakers) from around the world, and even a selective review of the most notable titles would exceed the pages of any alt-weekly. That said, based on hours of watching movies, directing knowledge, and my own admitted idiosyncrasies, I humbly come up with the following as this year’s highlights (all screened at Tivoli).
Belfast (Friday, November 5): Written and directed by prestige film idol Kenneth Branagh, Belfast explores the troubles of Northern Ireland from the semi-autobiographical perspective of Branagh as a boy. The sometimes sentimental traps are more than balanced by a magnificent black and white cinematography and a score by Van Morrison from Belfast.
go! Go on (Sunday, November 7): Director Mike Mills’ latest drama stars Joaquin Phoenix in what is perhaps his most poignant role to date: a childless radio host who takes care of his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman , a supernatural child actor) during a family emergency. Mills fans 20th century women will love this tender, often existential, black-and-white exploration of parenthood and childhood that takes place in Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York. You will be happy to have the mask to absorb your tears.
France (Saturday Nov 13; Sunday Nov 14): Only the eccentric Bruno Dumont, more recently known for his diptych Joan of Arc, could get away with a film of more than two hours In regards to France, called France, with Léa Seydoux in the role of a presenter named France de Meurs. What begins as a brilliant satire of a media celebrity eventually bowed down to the melodrama, but France is ultimately as fascinating as the country for which it is named after. Come for Seydoux’s impeccable game and stay for his prismatic range of suits and jackets.
Humans (Saturday, November 20): Adapted from his Tony award-winning play, Stephen Karam’s latest is an ensemble film for the ages, starring Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, Amy Schumer and June Squibb. This moving portrayal of Thanksgiving cross-generational dissonance will likely make us all more thankful for the family we have (and don’t!) At the end of November.
Take the road (Wednesday 10 Nov / Friday 12 Nov) Son of the Iranian master of the New Wave Jafar Panâhi, Panah Panâhi made his debut with Take the road, a road movie that mixes family comedy and poignant socio-political realities. It’s the rare film that celebrates the mundane experience of simply being a mother, father, brother or son amid even the most tumultuous narrative contexts. The dog, Jessy, is also noteworthy.
king richard (Thursday, November 18): Reinaldo Marcus Green, who debuted with Monsters and men in 2018, delivers a convincing portrait of Richard Williams (Will Smith), father of tennis icons Venus and Serena. Intoxicating, but never cheeky, this is a sports film for those who don’t like sports films.
Memory (Sunday, November 14): One of the strangest and most hypnotic movies you’ve ever seen, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest is a collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton, which spanned over sixteen years. Set in Bogota and Medellin, Colombia, and ending in the rainforest, the film follows a Scottish expatriate named Jessica (Swinton) who is struggling with a mysterious hearing disorder – the sound she experiences repeatedly becomes a type of character in the movie. This movie will only be shown on the big screen, one theater at a time, over the next year or so, so this will probably be your only chance to see it.
Little mom (Saturday 13 November): Céline Sciamma – with Portrait of a Lady on Fire sold out at SLIFF two years ago – returns with a 70-minute drama that’s as powerful as it is concise. Examine the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship through the experience of two eight-year-old daughters (further explanation will spoil the plot), Little mom reminds us all of the thrills of childhood friendship and the misfortunes of lost love.
The worst person in the world (Saturday, November 13): In the third part of his Oslo trilogy, the Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Thelma, Stronger than the bombs) once again offers an incredibly complex portrayal of modern femininity, this time following Julie (Renate Reinsve), a love-seeking medical student in the Norwegian capital.
Cow (Saturday 13 November): The first documentary by famous British director Andrea Arnold (American honey, aquarium), Cow looks like 2020 Gunda in his incredibly intimate portrayal of a farm animal that most of us dismiss as mere meat. Arnold’s feminist leanings take a bovine turn in this highly anticipated feature film.
To flee (Sunday November 14): A documentary told in animation? Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen achieves this with this gripping tale of Amin Nawabi’s flight from Afghanistan. Riz Ahmed provides the voice of the animated character of Nawabi in what will no doubt join the canon of queer films.
Procession (Thursday, November 4): SLIFF Contemporary Cinema Award-winning director Robert Greene will be in attendance for this incisive examination of six Midwestern men who survived sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy. Collaborating with his subjects (who will also be present at the screening), Greene takes an innovative approach to depicting the trauma experience and the healing process.
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