The Three Rivers Film Festival | Movie Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Three Rivers Film Festival 


The 26th annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, runs from Fri., Nov. 2, through Nov. 15. The program of more than 40 films includes foreign-language works, American independents, documentaries and experimental cinema, as well as several programs highlighting local filmmakers. Additionally, the popular Alloy Orchestra returns to provide a live score for a restored silent classic, 1927's gangster drama Underworld. The festival concludes with an evening with legendary avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who will present a selection of his films and videos.

Tickets for most films are $8 each; exceptions are tickets for the Sun., Nov. 4 screening of Underworld ($12), and the closing-night retrospective of Anger films ($12). A Six Pack festival pass offers six single admissions for $40, plus a free T-shirt.

Opening-night features will be followed by a 9 p.m. party and performance by New Invisible Joy, at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Soundstage, at the Melwood location. Admission is free with an opening-night ticket stub, or for Six Pack pass-holders; for all others, tickets are $5 at the door.

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 visit

Following are reviews and descriptions of films screening through Thu., Nov. 8.

BEAUFORT. Joseph Cedar's psychological drama focuses on a group of Israeli soldiers as they prepare to leave Lebanon, in 2000. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3, and 1 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4. Regent Square

BEAUTY IN TROUBLE. Inspired by a Robert Graves poem, this Czech drama from Jan Hrebejk (Up and Down) depicts an unlikely romance between a young Prague mother and an elderly Czech émigré, returned from Italy to reclaim his home, previously occupied by the communists. In Czech, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 7; 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 8; and 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 9. Harris

THE BOTHERSOME MAN. A young man, Andreas, is delivered to a handsome city, and a new life, complete with an easy job, a furnished apartment and immediate friends. It's all "nice," if not quite right -- as if one awoke inside the well-designed but one-dimensional realm of the IKEA catalog. Is Andreas dead? In prison? Utterly mad? And what of the town's pervasive rule of order? Jens Lien's oddly compelling drama (with bursts of dark comedy, a whisper of sci-fi dystopia and a smidgen of gore) never stops being mysterious, even after Andreas finds a possible clue in an overheard strain of music, nor in its enigmatic ending. In Norwegian, with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 5. Regent Square (Al Hoff)

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THE DHAMMA BROTHERS. Donaldson Correctional Facility is the highest-level prison in Alabama, and in 2002 became the unlikely site of an experiment when two instructors came to lead a course in Vipassana, a form of Buddhist meditation. This documentary, co-directed by Jenny Phillips, Anne Marie Stein and Andrew Kukura, chronicles the experiment through the eyes of the instructors, correctional workers and prisoners, interweaving the prisoners' life tales with the narrative of the meditation course. While the meditation brings the inmates to look inside themselves, Dhamma also permits the audience to closely examine the prisoners as humans and not just convicts -- and provides a critical but inspiring look within an often oppressive prison system. Co-director Phillips is scheduled to attend both screenings. 6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3, and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4. Melwood (Andy Mulkerin)

ELOQUENT NUDE. A party girl found her niche, a middle-aged photographer his muse (and more) when Charis Wilson met Edward Weston. For about a decade, starting in 1934, Wilson was the renowned artist's prime subject -- arguably the inspiration for his finest work -- as well as his ghostwriter, traveling companion and lover. Ian McCluskey's vivid, engaging hour-long documentary is built around interviews with Wilson herself, still sharp and reflective at 90, and sensitive recreations of such key moments as their first shoot. Other than touting Wilson's writing skills without giving us any examples of same, it's a fine arts doc. The film will be introduced by Linda Benedict-Jones, of Silver Eye Gallery. 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 6. Melwood (Bill O'Driscoll)

FINISHING THE GAME. This affectionate spoof of movie-making and kung-fu films lifts off from an actual event: Bruce Lee's death, in 1973, while filming of Game of Death. In Justin Lin's comedy, Lee look-alikes are rounded up, with an eye toward completing the film. 9 p.m. Tue., Nov. 6. Regent Square

FROWNLAND. A sad-sack door-to-door salesman is the subject of Ronald Bronstein's comedy, which won the Special Jury prize at this year's SxSW Film Festival. 9:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3, and 4 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4. Harris

GLASS LIPS. Originally titled Blood of a Poet and comprising a video installation of 33 short pieces shown on multiple screens, Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski's surreal yet clear-eyed work likely loses none of its hypnotic appeal as a single, linear piece. In this gorgeously photographed experimental meditation, a young man in an asylum appears to recall events from his life, including a traumatic childhood with an abusive father. There's no dialogue or titles; instead, Majewski stitches together scenes with sound overlaps and recurring or complementary images. For instance, the film opens by depicting a baby, who seems just born from huge granite cliffs; later, a woman gives birth to a rock. 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3, and 3:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4. Regent Square (AH)

GOLDEN DAYS. The year-long travails -- and day-to-day minutiae -- of Brooklyn indie-pop band The Damnwells is captured in this low-key documentary from Chris Suchorsky. It's a significant year, as the band has secured a major-label deal. Suchorsky creates what little tension there is by announcing at the outset that the band will be dropped from the roster, so we watch and wait for the band to hear the shoe fall. The floppy-haired band members are a likable lot, but with so little drama, Suchorsky's film may be best suited for fans. Director Suchorsky is scheduled to attend both screenings. 4:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 5. Melwood (AH)

THE GOOD TIMES KID. Over 48 hours, Rodolfo Cano, an aimless and melancholy man who lives on a boat, finds his life intertwining with that of Rodolfo Cano, a younger and comically inept punk-rock dude. Rodolfo 1, whose psychotic girlfriend has split, befriends Rodolfo 2's girlfriend, whom the latter seems ambivalently intent on leaving. Azazel Jacobs' wonderful debut is a romantic comedy a la Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki: naturalistically quirky, funny, sparse on dialogue and long on visual style and heart. Jacobs (who plays punk Rodolfo) delivers a young man's film with an old soul, precisely lyrical and hopefully bittersweet. 5:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3, and 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 6. Harris (BO)

GRACE IS GONE. Life on the home front is the subject of James C. Strouse's drama in which an Iraq war widower (John Cusack) takes his two young daughters on a road trip, rather than tell them their mother has died. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 2, and 7:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3. Regent Square

JACOB CIOCCI/PAPER RAD. (See preview.) 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3. Melwood

MANHATTAN. This bittersweet 1979 comedy, Woody Allen's Valentine to his city, shot in black and white by Gordon Willis and scored with the music of George Gershwin, retains its sophisticated sentimentality. Allen's character, comedy writer Isaac Davis, and his cerebral friends feel a trifle dated and exclusionary these days, when all that high-brow nattering about Bergman and frisky little wines is no longer limited to the Upper West Side. And history has not been kind to the fortysomething Davis' romance with the 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway). But these quibbles aside, Manhattan remains possibly Allen's best work -- perfectly balanced between comedy and life, introspective without being tedious or self-serving, and satisfyingly adult. To be screened in a new print. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 8. Melwood (AH)

MY BROTHER'S WEDDING. Like his stunning first feature, Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett's second film, from 1983, is a rich and incisive insider's portrait of life in South Central Los Angeles, here among the African-American bourgeoisie (both petit and grand): Disaffected Pierce, 30, staffs the family dry cleaners' and bristles at his lawyer sibling's impending marriage into a wealthy family. As a dialogue-heavy comedy -- lyrically bitter and occasionally hilarious -- it's hampered by Burnett's heavy use of nonprofessional actors: While they pulse with authenticity, their stilted line readings slow things down. Still, Wedding is beautifully structured and scripted, with Burnett's strange and vivid framing and mise en scéne perfectly conveying his themes. 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 7, and 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 8. Regent Square (BO)

PASCUA LAMA. (See preview.) 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 7. Melwood

PUNK'S NOT DEAD. Like this capsule review, Susan Dynner's documentary takes on too large a subject for its length constraints. After a breakneck trip through punk history, skimming lightly over things like the genre's origins, the film doubles back and tries to take on more intricate matters, like co-optation. The result is a series of brief episodes lacking nuance or a cohesive trajectory. Despite insisting that "punk" is indefinable, the film focuses on bands that fit a limited definition of the word; that said, the live footage is often fun, especially if you like the UK Subs. Mildly entertaining for fans of pop punk, but not a recommended intro for the uninitiated. Director Dynner is scheduled to attend both screenings. 9 p.m. nightly Tue., Nov. 6, and Wed., Nov. 7. Melwood (AM)

THE SIGNAL. New Year's Eve in the city of Terminus, and a mysterious signal has jammed all communications. This sci-fi/horror thriller was directed in three different parts by three directors: David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry. 9:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 7, and 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 8. Harris

STRANGE GIRLS. "Strange," indeed: Writer-director Rona Mark's indie feature, about newly de-institutionalized twin sisters who only seem mute and affectless, is by turns dark comedy, sex comedy, murder thriller, camp spectacle, torture comedy and psychodrama. Mark can be witty, and the film, shot in Pittsburgh, looks great. But she's uninterested in maintaining any unifying tone or point of view. So while Strange Girls seems to concern fantasy crashing into reality, I don't guess we're supposed to take these twins seriously. And even when we don't, it's too often easier to laugh at the film than with it. Director Rona Mark is scheduled to attend the Friday night screening. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 2, and 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3. Melwood (BO)

TERROR'S ADVOCATE. Paris-based defense attorney and media-savvy advocate for the seemingly indefensible Jacques Verges has had a front-row seat for many of the late 20th century's political firestorms: the Algerian revolution, African independence, Palestinian uprisings, infamous Euro-terrorism (Carlos the Jackal, Baader-Meinhof gang), Middle Eastern radical Islam, Klaus Barbie's trial and, maybe -- Verges is coy -- Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. Verges, well upholstered and self-satisfied, chatters away happily, while filmmaker Barbet Schroeder attempts to frame Verges' career against larger issues of post-colonialism, modern terror tactics and justice. Dozens are interviewed (with footnotes!), and vast swaths of history are shoehorned in. It's all fascinating, provocative stuff -- but the scope and density of the material demands a mini-series. In French and various languages, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 6, and 8:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 7. Regent Square (AH)

UNDERWORLD. Gangsters, gun molls, shoot-outs: the stuff of headlines in 1927, when Josef von Sternberg's moody crime story hit the silent screen. And crime is only part of the action; there's also a love triangle between the kingpin (George Bancroft), his gal (Evelyn Brent) and his old pal (Clive Brook). To be screened in a new print and with live musical accompaniment provided by Boston's Alloy Orchestra. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4. Regent Square

THE VIOLIN. Francisco Vargas Quevedo's languid, black-and-white, politically inspired drama about peasant guerrilla fighters in rural Mexico recalls the genre's antecedents of the 1960s. The battle is significant -- the film opens with a violent torture scene -- but the struggle is writ small, cast in the deceptively frail form of the elderly campesino Plutarco. He tends to his young grandson, plays his violin (with only one good hand!) for both the guerillas and sympathetic federales, and negotiates a heartbreakingly fine path between art and war. Ángel Tavira is remarkable as Plutarco, whose impassive, deeply lined face nonetheless speaks volumes. In Spanish, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3; 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4; and 8:45 p.m. Tue., Nov. 6. Harris (AH)

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WALKABOUT. Often discussed, yet rarely screened, Nicolas Roeg's critically acclaimed 1971 film is one of those breathtaking classics that make you feel like you've stumbled upon a buried treasure. A British teen-ager (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother, abandoned by their father during a picnic, become lost in the Australian outback; they're adopted by an Aboriginal teen (David Gulpilil), out on his six-month rite of passage known as a walkabout. Roeg's engrossing film reveals the dangers of placing pre-conceived notions of class structure above the feelings of head and heart, and of failing to realize that poor communication can result in the greatest tragedies of all. To be screened in a new print. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 2, and 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3. Harris (Charlie Deitch)

WALKER. Woody Harrelson stars as a "walker," the social companion to the elderly women of Washington, D.C. elite, who becomes caught up in a murder. Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin co-star, and Paul Schrader, who also made the male-escort thriller American Gigolo, directs. 9 p.m. Thu., Nov. 8, and 6:45 p.m. Sat., Nov. 10. Regent Square



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