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The Three Rivers Film Festival 

Beyond the Rocks

 

The Squid and the Whale

 

 

SQUONKumentary

 

Reel Paradise

Breakfast on Pluto

 

 

The 24nd annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, runs from Fri., Nov.4, through Thu., Nov. 17. The program of more than 40 films includes foreign-language works, American independents, documentaries, experimental cinema and a restored silent classic, as well as new works from local filmmakers.

 

Tickets for most films are $7 each; exceptions are tickets for the opening night film, Beyond the Rocks ($10); the "nickelodeon shorts" program on Nov. 5 (5 cents); X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, with live music by Pere Ubu ($15); Film Kitchen on Nov. 8 ($4), and the closing film, Blackmail ($10). A Six Pack festival pass offers 6 single admissions for $35, plus a free T-shirt.

 

Except for the opening night feature at the Byham Theater, Downtown, all films screen at the Harris Theater, Downtown (809 Liberty Ave.); the Melwood Screening Room, North Oakland (477 Melwood Ave.); or the Regent Square Theater, Edgewood (1035 S. Braddock). For more information, call 412-681-5449 or see www.pghfilmmakers.org.

 

Following are reviews and descriptions of films screening Nov. 4-10.

 

 

BEYOND THE ROCKS. It's a rare moment when any lost silent film is found and presented again in a restored form, but the discovery of Sam Wood's 1922 film is particularly noteworthy. Beyond the Rocks starred not one, but two, of the silent era's legendary actors: Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. At that time, such a pairing of A-list stars was rare, and this two-fer finds the couple at the peak of their talents. The story, based on the popular novelist Elinor Glyn's work, is typical of her class-obsessed melodramas: A sweet girl (Swanson) marries a dull but rich old man to appease her cash-strapped family, while in truth she pines for Lord Bracondale (Valentino), who cannot honorably pursue a married woman. Students of film history will also note the obsessive claim to high culture within the film -- a tíªte-a-tíªte at Versailles -- indicative of the industry's self-propelled ascension out of the muck of its working-class and immigrant roots. The film will be accompanied with live piano music performed by Philip Carli. 7:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 3. $10. Byham Theater (Al Hoff)

 

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO. This year's go-to bad-boy, Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Red Eye), gets naughty again, this time as an Irish transvestite in the early 1970s who gets mixed up with the IRA while searching for his birth mother. Director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) adapts Patrick McCabe's novel. Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea also star. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 4, and 5:15 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6. Harris

 

Cí”TE D'AZUR. It's a summer beach holiday as sexually liberated as only the French can make it. Between bottles of wine and succulent shellfish, one family comically unravels under the Mediterranean sun. Dad's uptight (or is he?), Mom's imported her affair south for the summer, teen-age son Charly might be gay -- his visiting best friend sure is -- and everybody spends too much time in the malfunctioning shower. Clearly, it's going to take a totally hot local plumber to sort out this mess. Olivier Ducastel's lighthearted domestic sex-comedy (with the occasional musical number) is a sun-lit bon bon -- not particularly filling or nutritious, but enjoyable. And certainly its pan-sexual heart is in the right place. In French, with subtitles. 9:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 9, and 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10. Harris (AH)

 

DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE. Hupert Sauper's documentary examines the devastating human costs of globalization by focusing on one bit of trade -- the importing of Nile perch from impoverished Tanzania bound for European supermarkets. The film will be preceded by the short film "Flight and Fight," by local filmmaker T. Foley. In English, and Russian and Swahili, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7. Melwood

 

DAS BUS. Out on the gridded prairie of Kansas City, documentarian Benjamin Meade asks, What are these ships of the city that move among us, these buses? We meet drivers and passengers, who share lore including that of "trolley dollies" -- women hot for a man in a bus driver's uniform. Meade examines attitudes about transit, which are somewhat predictable yet significant: intimate ambivalence from the bus-bound and ignorant scorn from the car-contained. Also: a revealing 1969 municipal film, a pointless-yet-entertaining Tech N9ne bus-themed performance, a bittersweet montage with KC alum Iris DeMent, and other interludes that beg for the express treatment. In Das Bus, KC-MO holds out a mirror and a warning to Pittsburgh: Neglect buses, and they become a parsimoniously patronized social service. Maybe we need a Yinz's Bus to appreciate what we've got and demand more. Director Meade is scheduled to appear at the screenings. Das Bus will be preceded by the short film "Kundalini Rising," by local filmmaker John Allen Gimble. 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6. Melwood (Julie Mickens)

 

DEAR WENDY. (See review.) 9:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 9, and 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10. Regent Square

 

DORIAN BLUES. There's a lot to like about writer/director Tennyson Bardwell's first feature film.  In many good ways it's a small movie, touching in its sincere treatment of two brothers, one gay and one straight, and how they navigate their rocky relationship with a domineering, emotionally abusive father. The performances are as heartfelt as the script, especially Michael McMillan as the despondent gay brother, Dorian, and Stephen C. Fletcher playing the smug righteousness of the dad. (Of local interest is the appearance of several actors with a history in the Pittsburgh theater scene, including McMillan, Lea Coco, Portia Kamons and -- a big blast from the past -- Jeff Paul.) As with some first-time outings, Bardwell relies a bit too heavily on narration to move along his story, and the film's ending is abrupt; this is a movie that stops, rather than ends. But it's to Bardwell's credit that he leaves us wanting more. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 9:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7. Harris (Ted Hoover)

 

DUMPSTER. Slam a moony, disconsolate and over-privileged frat boy into a sardonic and financially strapped campus janitor and, if the screenwriter is Carnegie Mellon prof and working-class poet Jim Daniels, you get an often-incisive microcosmic study of social class in America. Francis (David Conrad), who's long overdue for his diploma, and Jim (Jeff Carpenter), who's got a skeptical live-in girlfriend (Elena Pasarello) with a kid, see each other simultaneously through the lens of cliché and all too clearly. This 64-minute featurette -- shot, cast and crewed in Pittsburgh, and directed by John Rice -- is hamstrung by exceptional talkiness, some muffed stabs at comedy and the visual limitations of its three settings. But on a literary level, the protagonists' inability to agree on anything -- the meaning of "servant," The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, even the desirability of snow -- combines with subtler parallels between them, and with Daniels' refusal of easy resolution, in an intriguing package. The director, cast and crew will attend the screenings. 6:30 and 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5. Melwood (Bill O'Driscoll)  

 

ELECTRIC EDWARDIANS: THE LOST FILMS OF MITCHELL AND KENYON. Early British film pioneers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon shot numerous scenes of everyday life during the early 20th century: life on the street, sporting events, parades, local industries. These films were exhibited simply for the marvel that they were: "moving pictures" of real life. This 90-minute compilation culled from more than 800 films has been assembled from the original negatives, recently found in a basement. To be preceded by the short film "Two If By Sea," by local filmmakers George Davis and Brian Dean Richmond. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10, and 7:15 p.m. Fri., Nov. 11. Melwood

 

FILM KITCHEN. (See preview.) 8 p.m. Melwood

 

FILMIC ACHIEVEMENT. Kevin Kerwin's mockumentary follows several "UNY" film students through the academic year, skewering many of the foibles and conceits of this subset of artists. Kerwin, a former Pittsburgher, is scheduled to appear at the screenings. 9 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10, and 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 12. Melwood

 

HARLAN COUNTY, U.S.A. Barbara Koppel's heartbreaking 1976 documentary about a year-long coal-miner's strike in Harlan County, Ky., in the early 1970s. In places the film seems unreal -- folks couldn't be that poor, big companies couldn't be that criminally selfish, unions couldn't be that corrupt -- but every shocking grim thing is true. Small victories are won, but at terrible costs, and ultimately, the viewer comes to understand that the strike is just one hard time in a life -- in generations of lives -- of desperately hard times. Tough, but compulsory viewing. Koppel's now-historic film won the Academy Award for Documentary Film, and will be presented in a newly restored print. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7. Harris (AH)

 

IRON ISLAND. In this black comedy from Iran's Mohammad Rasoulof, a group of homeless men, women and children, under the control of Captain Nemat, live in an abandoned and sinking oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. In Persian, with subtitles. 4:45 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 7:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 9. Harris

 

JESUS, MARY AND JOEY. In this romantic comedy, two young lovers find their families can't get past the difference in their religious backgrounds: He's Catholic from an Italian-American family; she's a fundamentalist Christian. James Quattrochi directs, and the cast includes Olympia Dukakis, Charles Durning and Stacy Keach. 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6, and 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 8. Regent Square

 

THE LAST VICTORY. John Appel's documentary follows the hopes and dreams of Tuscans as "Il Palio," the local historic horse race, approaches, and as the long-standing desires and rivalries both unite and divide the community. In Italian, with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10, and 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 12. Harris

 

MUTUAL APPRECIATION. A young musician moves to New York City to start a band, but finds himself easily distracted by girl troubles and employment woes. This low-key improvisational comedy is directed by Andrew Bujalski, who tackled similar themes and techniques in Funny Ha Ha. To be preceded by the short film "Ruthless," by local filmmaker Michael Maraden. 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6, and 9:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7. Melwood

 

NICKELODEON SHORTS. One hundred years ago, the world's first nickelodeon opened in Pittsburgh. Such venues were named for their admission price -- one nickel -- and helped introduce people to the cinema with an ever-changing selection of short films. Relive the experience with this selection of short silent films, ranging from comedies, westerns, dramas and documentaries -- all for the price of a nickel, natch. Philip Carli will provide live accompaniment on the piano. 2:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5. Harris

 

THE NINTH DAY. During World War II, a Catholic priest from Luxembourg is forced to choose between his ideals and his fellow clergymen, still imprisoned in Auschwitz, in this drama about faith, responsibility and guilt from Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum). In German and French, with subtitles. 2:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6. Regent Square

 

The President's Last Bang. Writer/director Im Sangsoo won't add much to your scant knowledge of Korean history, but he may have created a whole new film genre: slapstick political thriller. Last Bang is based on the real-life 1979 assassination of Korean dictator Park Chung Hee by the head of his security service, Kim Jaegyu. But the film completely eschews political content -- partly because introductory material was deleted by Korean courts, but mostly because Sangsoo doesn't really care. Kim (Baik Yoonsik) seems more driven by his bad liver than by his occasional revolutionary rhetoric, and his co-conspirators appear as surprised by the plot as Park himself. Sangsoo convincingly depicts the banality of evil -- Park's regime comes across as a cadre of vulgar womanizers -- but his broader argument seems to be that all of history is banal. As you watch Kim duck out of the assassination half-way through (so he can get more bullets) you wonder if the real force driving human events is sheer ineptitude. In Korean and Japanese, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 9:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7. Regent Square (Chris Potter)

 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. It's a timeless story -- will the star-crossed lovers unite? -- but told with such wit and clever observation that Jane Austen's novel of social manners easily supports yet another film adaptation. Joe Wright's film is lovely and well made, with location shooting in old English manors and marvelously fluid camerawork that'll have you immersed in the social swirl. Pride boasts meticulous production details -- I can't say for sure, but the hair, clothes and interiors look truly authentic (I loved the shaggy 'dos, Napoleonic mullets and matted wigs, and the fact that the only make-up appeared to be the blush of love upon creamy cheeks). Keira Knightley's 21st-century modernity crossed with fragrant English rose is well suited for her turn as the sharp-tongued but dutiful Lizzie and, as Mr. Darcy, relative newcomer Patrick McFadyen's smoldering dark looks, infuriating haughtiness and tender pains are sure to have the cheap seats swooning. Rounding out an excellent cast are Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn as the squabbling Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and Judi Dench as Lady Catherine De Bourgh. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 4. Regent Square (AH)

 

PURE. Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon depicts the world according to Paul, the 10-year-old son of a widowed junkie, forced to come of age too quickly while struggling to keep his faltering family afloat. A sleek visual style conveys a real sense of place in the seedy neighborhood beneath London's West Ham stadium and presents heroin abuse with a "train-wreck approach" that is horrifyingly captivating. Fans of Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen and  Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher will appreciate the dark reality of MacKinnon's characters. But don't be fooled by the poster for Pure, which features Brit It-girl Keira Knightly (who has a supporting role) since this film belongs first to young Harry Eden, who acts with superb naturalism as Paul, and second, to Canadian actress Molly Parker, who plays Paul's mum, a woman both pathetic in her addiction and

sympathetic in her angst. 9:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 8, and 7:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 9. Regent Square (Heather Mull)

 

REEL PARADISE. Self-described "indie guru" John Pierson (author of Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes) packs up his family for a mid-life crisis on a remote island of Fiji, where he decides to run a movie theater for a year. For his last month, he lets Steve James (Hoop Dreams) film the experiment. While some of the inevitable culture-clash moments are funny or genuinely illuminating (there actually is a market where they truly enjoy Rob Schneider movies), Pierson is a prickly unlikable sort, and he brings an unmistakable white-man's-burden aspect to his cultural altruism. He is never more blind than when he presents a "student film festival" of presumably American experimental shorts which the Fijian kids quite rightly walk out of. There's potentially fascinating material here about our exportation of film around the globe, and how it's often the lowest form of the art that transcends and binds us all. But James' fly-on-the-wall approach gives Pierson's petty tantrums more screen time than any broader analysis. In English, and some Fijian, with subtitles. 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7. Regent Square (AH)

 

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. The divorce of two literary types in 1986 Brooklyn brings assorted trouble to their two sons in Noah Baumbach's painfully funny dramedy. While the parents sulk, spar over joint custody (including that of the cat) and get self-actualized, 16-year-old Walt dips a tentative toe in the dating pool, while his younger brother goes quietly off the rails. A wry script and a strong cast -- including mom Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline as the brothers -- neatly skewer the fractured Berkman family, yet keep our sympathies aligned with their frailties and basic good intentions. Still, everyone this fall will be talking about Jeff Daniels, a heretofore blandish actor who, with a gloomy gray beard that lends him a perpetual hangdog look, plays the pathetic and self-absorbed dad: He's a sad fool you can't take your eyes off of. 7:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6. Regent Square (AH)

 

SQUONKUMENTARY. For four weeks in 2000, Pittsburgh's Squonk Opera played the smallest theater on the biggest street in the theater world -- Broadway. Peggy Sutton's documentary follows the troupe's trajectory at New York's Helen Hayes Theater from ecstatic anticipation through a scathing New York Times review; pounding the streets to drum up audiences, even bussing a load of Pittsburghers in for a show; and finally packing the whole outlandish extravaganza up and heading home after the show became financially untenable. It's fairly standard fare: Small-town folks head to The Big City and damn near make it, too, and everyone learns a little bit about themselves. While it's heart-tugging to see them fail, it's great to be along for the venture. What stands out most is the show footage of the kooky, lavish production. The late great Stanley Frankowski of the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern is charming, speaking about Squonk's early days as weird bar art. The Fri., Nov. 4, screening will be followed by a live performance from the Squonk Opera. Director Sutton will be present at both screenings. 8:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 4, and 2;30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5. Melwood (Melissa Meinzer)

 

SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE. Shot in 1968, William Greaves' underground-classic film-cum-social-experiment was lost for years, until a print surfaced in 1991. In it, Greaves films his actors enacting a marital break-up, while secretly laying the seeds for those same actors to become frustrated with the production and revolt within it, so his camera could capture it. To be preceded by the short film "Downtown Towndown," by local filmmakers Tony Balko and Nick Falwell. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6, and 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 8. Harris

 

A TOUT DE SUITE. In this thriller from Benoit Jacquot, a Parisian art student joins a bank robber on a cross-European escape. In French, with subtitles. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10, and 6:30 p.m. sat., Nov. 12. Regent Square

 

VIDEO DATA BANK PRESENTS SOFT SCIENCE. This collection of short innovative videos mines the cross-fertilization between art and science, whether it's examining form, technology or odd creatures that grow in the laboratory. This 100-minute program includes digital movies by biologists alongside contemporary video art. Brigid Reagan from Chicago's Video Data Bank is scheduled to appear. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 9. Melwood

 

THE WORLD. A big juicy metaphor sits right in the middle of Beijing, just waiting to be turned into a movie set. It's World Park, a themeyard featuring reduced-scale "famous sites from five continents," from pyramids to the Eiffel Tower, plus production numbers. Fortunately, the filmmaker who got to it first is China's Jia Zhangke, who centers his subdued, poetic drama around pretty Tao, a World Park dancer, and her security-guard boyfriend, Taisheng. With beautifully patient visuals (wide shots, long takes), Zhangke uses his singular and absurd setting to capture both the dislocation and uncertainty of the globalizing, market-driven metropolis and the time-honored vagaries of young people struggling in the city -- alone, at work and in love. Occasional bursts of animation are invariably linked to the protagonists' dreams -- and also to their cell phones, which says something poignant about the ways communication works and doesn't in this modern world. In Mandarin, Shanxi and Russian, with subtitles. 2:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 6, and 9 p.m. Tue., Nov. 8. Harris (BO)

 

X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. In Roger Coman's 1963 sci-fi thriller classic, a doctor (Ray Milland) invents a formula that gives him X-ray vision. Typical of such cautionary tales about technology and human hubris, this remarkable ability quickly moves from useful (diagnosing patients) to dangerous (scamming casinos) to terrifying. In this special presentation, the legendary iconoclastic band Pere Ubu will perform an underscore. 11 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4. $15. Regent Square

 


Thu., Nov. 3

 

Byham Theater

7:30 p.m. Beyond the Rocks

 

 

Fri., Nov. 4

 

Harris

8 p.m. Breakfast on Pluto

 

Regent Square

8 p.m. Pride and Prejudice

11 pm. X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes

 

Melwood

8:30 p.m. Squonkumentary

 

 

Sat., Nov. 5

 

Harris

2:30 p.m. Nickelodeon Shorts

4:45 p.m. Iron Island

7 p.m. Harlan County, U.S.A.

9 p.m. Dorian Blues

 

Regent Square

2:30 p.m. The Ninth Day

4:30 p.m. Reel Paradise

7 p.m. The President's Last Bang

 

Melwood

2:30 p.m. Squonkumentary

4 p.m. Das Bus

6:30 p.m. Dumpster

9 p.m. Dumpster

 

 

Sun., Nov. 6

 

Harris

2:30 p.m. The World

5:15 p.m. Breakfast on Pluto

8 p.m. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

 

Regent Square

3 p.m. Jesus, Mary and Joey

5 p.m. The Ninth Day

7:30 p.m. The Squid and the Whale

 

Melwood

3 p.m. Das Bus

5 p.m. Mutual Appreciation

7:30 p.m. Darwin's Nightmare

 

 

Mon., Nov. 7

 

Harris

7:15 p.m. Harlan County, U.S.A.

9:15 p.m. Dorian Blues

 

Regent Square

7:15 p.m. Reel Paradise

9:30 p.m. The President's Last Bang

 

Melwood

7:15 p.m. Darwin's Nightmare

9:30 p.m. Mutual Appreciation

 

 

Tue., Nov, 8

 

Harris

7:15 p.m. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

9 p.m. The World

 

Regent Square

7:15 p.m. Jesus, Mary and Joey

9:30 p.m. Pure

 

Melwood

8 p.m. Film Kitchen

 

 

Wed., Nov. 9

 

Harris

7:15 p.m. Iron Island

9:15 p.m. Cí´te d'Azur

 

Regent Square

7:15 p.m. Pure

9:15 p.m. Dear Wendy

 

Melwood

8 p.m. Video Data Bank

 

 

Thu., Nov. 10

 

Harris

7:15 p.m. The Last Victory

9:15 p.m. Cí´te d'Azur

 

Regent Square

7:15 pm. Dear Wendy

9:15 p.m. A Tout de Suite

 

Melwood

7:15 p.m. Electric Edwardians

9 p.m. Filmic Achievement

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