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

The Three Rivers Film Festival 

The 27th annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, runs from Fri., Nov. 7, through Nov. 22. The program of more than 40 films includes foreign-language works, American independents, documentaries, shorts, local works and experimental cinema, as well as a sidebar of five Polish films. Once again, the popular Alloy Orchestra returns to provide a live score to a restored silent classic, Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command.

Tickets for most films are $8 each. A Silver Screenie pass ($125; $195 for two) admits the bearer to all films and parties, except The Passion of Joan of Arc. A Six Pack festival pass offers six single admissions for $40, plus a free T-shirt. Tickets are available at the door, or in advance from ProArts (412-394-3353 or See for complete purchase information for tickets and passes.

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. 13.


BEN X. Belgian teen Ben (Greg Timmermans) mostly suffers: His Asperger's syndrome makes even the simplest social interaction a puzzling struggle, and he's mercilessly bullied at school. He finds rare solace as "Ben X," his highly capable avatar who excels in a medieval-war computer game. After a violent event, Ben snaps, and his fantasy life merges with reality, leading to a curious emancipation. Writer-director Nic Balthazar's moody drama ably suggests the minute-by-minute miserable alienation of Ben's inner life (with help from the expressive Timmermans), even if the ending is a bit of a leap. In Dutch, with subtitles. 6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 8:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Harris (Al Hoff)


BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Here's your chance to honor the late Paul Newman (and the still-living Robert Redford) on the big screen, with this new 35 mm print of George Roy Hill's 1969 iconic comedic Western. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Regent Square


DAYS AND CLOUDS. Silvio Soldini's drama hits home in these tough economic times. Michele keeps his unemployment a secret from his student wife Elsa, only revealing their dire straits after she gets her degree. Their lifestyle unravels quickly and their relationship becomes strained as they hide their problems from their friends and daughter. With excellent performances by its actors, Days is such a believable example of life that it's almost predictable -- but that only makes it more realistically painful. In Italian, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Regent Square (Lydia Heyliger)


ERÉNDIRA THE INDOMITABLE. When the Spanish came to conquer the indigenous peoples of Mexico in the 16th century, a young Purépecha woman named Eréndira rose up to challenge them. So goes the legend, retold here by Juan Mora Catlett. In Purépecha, Spanish and Latin, with subtitles. 3:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 1:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9. Melwood


ERNIE GEHR: EARLY WORKS. A selection of the celebrated experimental filmmaker's early influential work, including "Serene Velocity," will be presented. 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10, and 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19. Melwood


ERNIE GEHR: IN PERSON. The experimental filmmaker appears to present a program of his recent digital-video work. 8 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13. Melwood


FILM KITCHEN: DEUCE. Filmmakers Joe and Mark Graziano present their portrait of stats-keeper Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski, a fixture at area high school and college sporting events for more than 50 seasons. Deuce will attend the reception, and the Grazianos will do a Q&A following the film. 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 11 (7 p.m. reception). Regent Square


HEAVY LIGHT: VIDEO, FILMS AND LIVE PERFORMANCE. A program organized by Takeshi Murata features new videos from Yoshi Sodeoka, Ben Jones, Devin Flynn, Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker, Eric Fensler, Ara Peterson and Dave Fischer, Melissa Brown and Siebren Versteeg, Billy Grant and Murata. Also screening are selected local shorts and recently restored animations by Adam Beckett, projected on 16 mm. Nate Boyce will deliver a live video performance, and Robert Beatty (a.k.a. Three Legged Race) is on deck for a live audio set. Murata is scheduled to attend the event. 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8. Melwood


JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY. Photographer Bert Stern's only film documents the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and, to an extent, the concurrent America's Cup sailing race. From the hypnotic opening shots of reflections on the water, Stern's unorthodox-but-brilliant compositions and editing techniques take jazz beyond the realm of the ordinary music documentary. In a non-narrative manner, the film explores the junctures of high and low culture, as well as the upper and lower classes. The concert footage is tops, covering legends (Louis, Monk), rockers (Chuck Berry) and some fantastic surprises (Chico Hamilton Quartet). The widely acclaimed film has been re-released in a new 35 mm print. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. Harris (Andy Mulkerin)


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KABEI: OUR MOTHER. Political dissent proves ruinous for a Tokyo family during World War II in this drama from Yoji Yamada. In Japanese, with subtitles. 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9, and 7:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 11. Harris


LOUISE BOURGEOIS: THE SPIDER, THE MISTRESS AND THE TANGERINE. "You have to read between the lines when I talk," sculptor Louise Bourgeois warns us. True enough: Bourgeois (whose work appears in Downtown's Katz Plaza) is given to Delphic utterances. But Amei Wallach's documentary gradually reveals this pioneering female artist, for whom creation is a form of violence, and love a kind of wound. By turns likable and irascible, Bourgeois struggles with a distant father, a long-indifferent art world and a war whose victims reappear in her shattered human forms. You can't ascribe an artist's work to such traumas alone, but Bourgeois' life story serves as an armature from which hang shreds of meaning. Just like her sculptures. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7. Harris ($25, which includes a gala reception after the film at Melwood). Also, 1:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8. Harris (Chris Potter) AAA


MY FATHER, MY LORD. David Volach's deliberate, low-keyed study of Orthodox Jewish faith under stress is respectful but unsparing. Little Menahem idolizes his father, a strict but loving rabbi constantly murmuring prayers; his mother is warm-hearted and devout. "It is for the righteous man that the world is created," says the rabbi. A meaningless death tests their bonds. Volach's 73-minute gem communicates largely through poetic pauses and quiet observation; a rescue helicopter, endlessly spinning over a night sea, its lamp searching, says volumes about loss, despair and the limits of faith. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 3:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Regent Square (Bill O'Driscoll)


MY TALE OF TWO CITIES. Carl Kurlander, who, in the 1980s, relocated from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting (St. Elmo's Fire, Saved By the Bell), uses the occasion of his recent move back to Pittsburgh to riff on the burden the city's glorious (and inglorious) past poses for its future. Can Kurlander come home again? Can Pittsburgh? The two queries are interwoven in this mash-note-with-reservations to the Steel Town. Kurlander seeks advice from the usual suspects -- Mr. Rogers' neighbors, Franco Harris, local pols -- though the film's keeper scene is his interview with Teresa Heinz Kerry. Like a bizarre unearthed Republican attack ad from 2004, Heinz Kerry is captured buying over $150 worth of fancy cheese in the Strip. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7. Melwood. $25, which includes a gala reception after the film. (AH)


THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent masterpiece depicts the final hours of the young French woman who sacrificed for God and country. Dreyer's gorgeous, highly stylized film was noted for its striking visuals, particularly the use of facial close-ups. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh performing with composer Richard Einhorn's score for chorus, orchestra and soloists. 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9, and 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21. Regent Square. $25 (through ProArts only)


THE POOL. Documentarian Chris Smith (American Movie) tries his hand at a feature film, a character study about a young boy who ekes out a living at an Indian hotel and obsesses over a nearby pool that represents unattainable luxuries. In English, and Hindi, with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9, and 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Melwood


SHALL WE KISS? The French have virtually cornered the art of talky romantic comedy, and Emmanuel Mouret's film adds another to the canon. Two strangers spend the evening -- what else? -- talking. In French, with subtitles. 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 9 p.m. Mon., Nov. 9. Regent Square


THE SKY TURNS. Mercedes Álvarez's debut film -- like the town it chronicles -- is slow and quiet. Álvarez captures La Aldea, an aging Spanish village where she was born, through conversations with its few remaining residents. Considering the subject is a dying rural community, which outsiders visit only to plaster it with campaign posters, Sky is notably not depressing. Álvarez lets the camera linger on conversations, where she finds more than sound bite and surface emotion. Elderly wisdom and breathtaking views abound. Still, these are mountains and senior citizens, so don't expect to be on the edge of your seat. In Spanish, with subtitles. 9 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13; 3:45 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Harris (Adam Fleming)


SONG SUNG BLUE. Middle-aged Milwaukee marrieds Lightning and Thunder are devoted to their regionally successful musical careers channeling Neil Diamond and Patsy Cline, respectively. Then, a freak accident derails the couple in myriad ways. Greg Koh's lo-fi yet intimate documentary depicts the ongoing struggle of these two never-say-die iconoclasts, including a descent that has shades of a John Waters feature and -- of all things -- an Eddie Vedder moment that'll make you cry. Off-beat, funny, inspiring and a little bit heart-breaking: You'll never smirk at a Neil Diamond tune the same way again. 2:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8 (Regent Square); 8:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15 (Harris); and 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19 (Harris) (AH)


THE SPEED OF LIFE. Sammer, a melancholy teen-ager, has his hands full with swiping tourists' camcorders, visiting his brother in jail, taking care of their elderly foster mother and his odd job for his brother's social worker -- all while dreaming of reconnecting with his father, who he believes is working in Alaska. Everyone's strangely connected, though Sam prefers the company of the faraway lives in the videotapes he steals. Ed Radtke's film is a stressful look into the sadness of life. There is some redemption for unlikable characters, but unlike Sammer, the viewer may not be so enamored with the lives they lead. Radtke is scheduled to attend both screenings. 9 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10, and 8 pm. Tue., Nov. 11. Melwood (LH)


SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY. This film's main events unfold twice, with some variations -- first in a rural Thai hospital, then in a sterile, futuristic medical center. There's not much narrative, but plenty of thematic tension: holistic cures vs. modern medicine, the natural world vs. plastic civilization, and above all, human impermanence in the face of eternity. That Syndromes is lovely to look at helps, as do moments of humor and absurdity (memorably, hospital workers stashing booze in a pile of prosthetic legs). Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's camera seems to encircle rather than probe directly; whether this elliptical style enraptures or disorients depends largely on the viewer's willingness to go with the flow. Douglas Fogle, curator of Life on Mars the 2008 Carnegie International, is scheduled to introduce the film. In Thai, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Regent Square (Aaron Jentzen)


TAMAS: A PORTRAIT. After supporting the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviets, Tamas Szilagyi fled Budapest for the United States, where he joined the U.S. Army, "tried to dress like Elvis," and took a job as history teacher and soccer coach for The Kiski School in Saltsburg, Pa.. Director David Conrad, a Kiski grad, documents Szilagyi's years at Kiski and his return to Budapest after 50 years. The unlikely setting of a conservative prep school for such an expansive, colorful character -- and the ways they influence and enrich each other -- are this documentary's motivating forces, though Szilagyi's expansive sense of history and charmingly risqué humor are its stars. Conrad and Szilagyi are scheduled to attend the Nov. 7 screening. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7. Regent Square ($25, which includes a gala reception after the film at Melwood). Also, 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Regent Square (AJ)


THREE MONKEYS. A politician, a car accident and a pay-off precipitate a series of deceptions in this psychological drama from Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates). In Turkish, with subtitles. 8:45 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Regent Square


THE TRAP. The premise of this recent Serbian film from Srdan Golubovic is, well, sorta contrived: The child of a middle-class family in modern Belgrade needs an operation, and his father becomes a hit man to pay for it. (Who among America's 47 million uninsured can't sympathize?) But The Trap does offer a compelling Crime and Punishment-like portrayal of a guilty conscience -- Raskolnikov as family man. Even better is the film's portrayal of post-Communist Eastern Europe, where every life has a price ... and many of them are worth less than a late-model sedan. In Serbo-Croatian, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 9 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Harris (CP)


TWISTS OF FATE. This latest film from noted Polish director Jerzy Stuhr (The Animal) is a drama that spans two generations, intertwining the country's murky past under socialism with the tale of a contemporary student who finds a cell phone on a train. Stuhr is scheduled to appear. In Polish, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Melwood $15 (includes reception)


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WALTZ WITH BASHIR. In this highly stylized "animated documentary," director Ari Folman revisits experiences he had while serving in an Israeli Army mission during the 1980s conflict with Lebanon. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 9:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Regent Square


WILD COMBINATION. Matt Wolf's documentary examines the life of the obscure pop/disco/experimental musician Arthur Russell. Despite having little commercial success during his life, Russell was at the heart of the U.S. avant-garde in the 1960s and '70s (spending time in San Francisco, then New York's downtown scene), working with some of the big names of that era. Close friends such as the late Allen Ginsberg and Ernie Brooks (of the Modern Lovers) provide commentary. Russell's complex music, relationship with his family, identity as a gay man and death due to AIDS are explored with depth and tact; a must-see for anyone interested in the music and subcultures of that era. 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9, and 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Harris (AM)


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WONDERFUL TOWN. Like a landscape revealed by sunrise, the elements of Aditya Assarat's drama become visible slowly. A melancholy young architect named Ton, visiting a small coastal town to supervise work on a resort complex, tentatively courts Na, a quiet young woman working at her family's small hotel. Her neighbors, and especially her brother, are displeased by the relationship, but the crushing weight of the past -- including the legacy of a killer tsunami -- accumulates first like dust, then like bricks tossed through windows. Formally elegant but grounded in the everyday, Assarat's deeply sorrowful film turns brutally dark under the cloud-veiled Thai sun. In Thai, with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8, and 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 10. Harris (BO)



Fri., Nov. 7

Regent Square

7:30 p.m. Tamas: A Portrait


7:30 p.m. Louise Bourgeois


7:30 p.m. My Tale of Two Cities
9 p.m. Festival Party


Sat., Nov. 8

Regent Square

2:15 p.m. Song Sung Blue

4:30 p.m. Shall We Kiss?

7 p.m. Days and Clouds

9:30 p.m. Waltz With Bashir


1:30 p.m. Louise Bourgeois

4 p.m. Wonderful Town

6 p.m. Ben X

8 p.m. The Trap


3:30 p.m. Erendira the Indomitable

8 p.m. Heavy Light: Video, Films and Live Performance


Sun., Nov. 9

Regent Square

2 p.m. The Passion of Joan of Arc with Pittsburgh Bach Choir

5 p.m. Days and Clouds

8 p.m. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


2 p.m. Kabei: Our Mother

5 p.m. Wild Combination


1:30 p.m. Erendira the Indomitable

4 p.m. The Pool


Mon., Nov. 10

Regent Square

7 p.m. Waltz With Bashir

9 p.m. Shall We Kiss?


7 p.m. Wonderful Town

9 p.m. The Trap


7 p.m. Early Works of Ernie Gehr

9 p.m. The Speed of Life


Tue., Nov. 11

Regent Square

8 p.m. Film Kitchen: Deuce


7:30 p.m. Kabei: Our Mother


8 p.m. The Speed of Life


Wed., Nov. 12

Regent Square

7:30 p.m. Syndromes and a Century


7 p.m. Wild Combination

8:45 p.m. Ben X


8 p.m. Twist of Fate


Thu., Nov. 13

Regent Square

7 p.m. My Father, My Lord

8:45 p.m. Three Monkeys


7 p.m. Jazz on a Summer's Day

9 p.m. The Sky Turns


8 p.m. Ernie Gehr, in person with recent work



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