The Three Rivers Film Festival | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Three Rivers Film Festival

CP staffers review films screening this weekend

The 34th annual Three Rivers Film festival starts Fri., Nov. 6, and runs through Sun., Nov. 15. More than four dozen films screen at Melwood, Harris, Regent Square and Waterworks theaters. Most tickets are $9, and complete schedule is at 

Write-ups for the opening-night films are on CP’s website: Crocodile Gennadiy, This Changes Everything and Court.

Below are reviews for films screening over the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch

THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION. It’s a smart move to open this documentary about the Black Panthers by having one participant recount the fable of the blind men and the elephant. Just as each man drew a different conclusion depending on which part of the animal he touched, so too, says the interviewee, did each Black Panther member have a different experience. It’s a given for such a sprawling organization, one that had many focuses and varying degrees of participation: Some members were imprisoned, others went to rallies; some joined to foster black pride; others to foment a violent overthrow. And it helps inoculate the film against charges that it is not comprehensive, or missed this aspect or that.

Because even at two hours, Stanley Nelson Jr.’s film functions mostly as a primer, an introduction to who, what and why the Black Panthers were. The structure is linear, beginning with the Panthers’ founding in Oakland, Calif., and moving through significant events such as the gun showdown in Sacramento, the arrest of Huey Newton, the departure of Eldridge Cleaver, the death of Fred Hampton, and the police raid on the Los Angeles office. Nelson conducts contemporary interviews with former Panthers, historians, law enforcement and assorted supporters and colleagues. And there is ample use of archival footage.

That’s a lot of basic ground to cover, but Nelson also makes an attempt to sort out what the larger social, political and culturally impacts were — for the country and for individuals. There is also an examination of how even powerful movements can get derailed, and from both external and internal forces. The story of the Panthers is a complex, fascinating one, touching on so many aspects  — domestic revolution, gun control, the role of women in political movements, the tensions between violent and non-violent protests, the overreach of the police, influence on other protest movements, and so on. For those who may only know about the Panthers from a stylish photo or two, this is a good place to start. (Al Hoff) 1:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 7, and 8:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 11. Waterworks

IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN. Philippe Garrel’s film dissects the relationship between a young married couple, Manon and Pierre, living in Paris. Garrel, whose formative years were during the French New Wave, uses the genre’s style in his treatment of the 2015 film. Shot in black and white, and with long cuts of Manon and Pierre’s emotional struggles, In the Shadow is visually pleasing, and like any relationship drama, keeps you wondering “Will they stay together? Will they break it off?” 

More importantly, Manon and Pierre’s relationship is a laboratory of gender-specific behavior according to how men and women are socialized. What could have been accepted as maybe just relationship problems a generation or two ago are hopefully now recognized as verbal and psychological abuse. Pierre ventures outside of the marriage for pleasure, while Manon sticks by his side, maintaining their romantic partnership and working relationship on his documentary films. When Manon also seeks a lover, Pierre cannot forgive her, even after her incessant apologizing. He continues to beat down any chance of her happiness with guilt-inducing comments (i.e., “Did you fuck him like that?”).  The title of the film remains a mystery because it’s clearly Manon who’s living under Pierre’s shadow. Whether watching through a psychological lens or just to see what happens to the once-happy couple, the pace and visual beauty of the film are more satisfying than its conclusion. (Ashley Murray) In French, with subtitles. 1:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 7, and 6 p.m. Wed., Nov. 11. Regent Square

INFLUENZA. Lukasz Barczyk’s new film (Polish title: Hiszpanka) might be the strangest possible retelling of the 1918 uprising that heralded Polish independence. Briefly, the film revolves around a group of patriotic clairvoyants trying to save the famed concert pianist Paderewski — a real historical figure who symbolized the fight for a free Poland — from an evil clairvoyant hired by the Prussian Army. That the villain is portrayed by Crispin Glover set on high boil gives you some idea, but that’s just the start: Influenza (also set against the backdrop of the global flu epidemic) is a mad hothouse of séances and sorcerers, biplanes and dirigibles, mesmerism, bodily possession, a steamer journey and more, all to a soundtrack of early jazz and Chopin, with shout-outs to Kubrick and Fritz Lang. (It took me nearly an hour of the film’s two-hour running time to figure out what was going on.) Visually sumptuous, even extravagant in its recreation of wartime Poland, it feels rather like an outré sort of alternate-history graphic novel, with the dreamlike progress of its plot and a comic edge that often borders on camp. I don’t know how much history you’ll learn from Influenza, but you’re not likely to forget it. (Bill O’Driscoll) In Polish, with subtitles. 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 7, and 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 10. Waterworks

ENTERTAINMENT. In the opening scene of Nick Alverson’s Entertainment, the comedian, played by Gregg Turkington, kills to a full house. 

The comedian, with his greasy comb-over, and grimy tuxedo, is a throwback to the long-gone Las Vegas lounge comedians who traded in off-color humor in the wee hours of the morning. In this room, he tells sophomoric, unfunny jokes about Courtney Love and Elton John, but the captive audience erupts in laughter.

Unfortunately, the room is a county prison in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and the laughing inmates are a high point for the film’s protagonist. Entertainment is a grim, dark journey into the life of a smaller-than-small-time road comedian who has long lost his humanity, and is on the fast track to losing his mind.

Despite wanting to look away, you can’t. You’re in the middle of this unraveling and Alverson delivers a methodically paced film that makes it impossible for you to abandon him. Why? Because things are so mundanely bad for this person that you are sure that his salvation lies just around the next corner — in the next club, or the next shitty motel room. He plants seeds of hope around the way — a beautiful woman here, a dream gig there. You’re sure it’s the thing he needs to right the ship before it capsizes in the sea of despair that he’s trying to navigate.

Turkington will be instantly recognizable to some, as the comedian he plays here is an almost carbon copy of his lounge-comedian act, Neil Hamburger. While he’s able to communicate and do his act on-stage, offstage he’s an uncommunicative mess who can’t have a real relationship with anyone.

The movie is dark and depressing, but comes with just enough great moments to hold the whole thing together. John C. Reilly plays the comedian’s cousin, a farmer who reconnects with him at one of his shows. Reilly really is a great actor, especially with material that’s weird and off-center, and he doesn’t disappoint here. He provides an unexpected musical interlude that goes down as the film’s best moment. Actress Amy Seimetz provides another great moment in the film, as an audience member pushed too far by a dressing-dwon from the comedian.