Here at St. Louis Public Radio we know our listeners rely on us for to provide context, quality storytelling, and deep dives into the characters behind today’s news. We’re applying this approach to bring you reviews from this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival organized by the issues facing St. Louis and the surrounding area.
Each day reviews will be organized by issue as explored in select films from the festival. These categories are not literal representations of how these topics manifest in St. Louis but maintain a broader look into the various perspectives we use to address these concerns.
And because we know you’re fans of St. Louis Public Radio, we’ve tailored these reviews to you, pairing each movie and its review to a STLPR/NPR show or podcast. Are you a fan of The Takeaway? Do you prefer rookie podcasts like Invisibilia? Scan our reviews to see which of these movies might be for you.
Today's films are: Marshland, Peace Officer, Killing Them Safely, Court, The Armor of Light, The Dinner
For a full schedule and tickets, go to www.cinemastlouis.org/about-festival.
Crime and Crime Prevention:
This year has been defined in part by gun violence, a rising murder rate and issues concerning police and community relations. For our first installment of the STLIFF film reviews we tackle festival offerings that deal with various aspects of crime and crime prevention: from murder mysteries to investigations of police equipment, documentaries on police culture in the U.S. to stories of foreign court malfeasance.
Marshland (104 min) | Narrative (Spanish)
Director: Alberto Rodriguez
4:20 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 and 9:25 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12 | Plaza Frontenac Cinema
In a rural backwater, two mismatched detectives investigate the grisly murders of young women. It’s not the Louisiana bayou of “True Detective” but the equally moody and atmospheric marshlands of southern Spain in 1980, a time when neither Spanish democracy nor its economy was quite yet on terra firma.
It’s not long before the two detectives, Pedro (Raul Arevalo) and Juan (Javier Gutierrez), fear that a serial killer is at work; and, as the genre demands, they must penetrate the secrets, suspicions and mistrust that impede their investigation -- but in a less frenetic and more low-key manner than in similar American fare.
Ultimately, the murders are less compelling than the detectives’ wary relationship. Juan, who may have something unsavory in his past, is not averse to using extra-legal methods while Pedro, modern and progressive, recoils at violence but makes his own shady deals. By the end, they solve the murders, but one mystery remains: Can they bury the past? -- Susan Hegger
For fans of: The World
Peace Officer (105 min) | Documentary
Directors: Brad Barber & Scott Christopherson
7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 | Tivoli Theatre
Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop” is the textbook on police militarization and “Peace Officer” is its movie adaptation.
Balko is a featured commentator in this documentary about Dub Lawrence, the man who would watch his son-in-law die at the hands of the SWAT team he had created almost 30 years before as the sheriff in Davis County, Utah, and his subsequent obsession with investigating SWAT-related deaths in the state.
Though there is the obligatory mention of and footage from Ferguson, the film turns the narrative of the past 15 months about police use of force on its head. The voices we hear from both SWAT supporters to SWAT critics are exclusively white and primarily middle class. It’s a fact that may make this population begin to think about the issues surrounding police tactics and training.
More likely, though both critics and supporters will find parts of the film that justify their already-held point of view, making real dialogue about the issue that much more difficult to maintain. -- Rachel Lippmann
For fans of: We Live Here, The Takeaway
Killing Them Safely (94 min) | Documentary
Director: Nick Berardini
6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 | Webster U./Moore Auditorium
This film will be featured Nov. 4 on St. Louis on the Air.
Touted as police departments’ best non-lethal alternative to guns, Taser International’s eponymous weapon has exploded in use throughout police departments across the U.S. At the same time, from 2001 to 2012, more than 500 Taser-related deaths have occurred in the country, all with absolutely zero regulatory oversight from any governing body.
Mizzou grad Nick Berardini’s freshman documentary effort, “Killing Them Safely,” delves into this disparity and how dangerous Tasers can be. Weaving archival testing and dash-cam footage, interviews with police officers and Taser officials and deposition tapes, this film exposes just how deadly corporate rigmarole can be ... and how that lack of accountability is impacting police officers’ ability to safely do their jobs.
In an especially dire moment in the doc, the impact of deadly Taser use on Americans hits home for Missourians, as Berardini chronicles the death of Moberly native Stanley Harlan in 2008. A slow burn without discernable climax, this documentary is still essential viewing for anyone interested in the post-Ferguson discussion of use of force and community policing. Still not convinced? Taser International is expected to make $176 million in 2015: a bump in profits for one of the largest producers of the same police body cams now recommended for police departments following the police shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014. -- Kelly Moffitt
For fans of: Serial, Marketplace
Killing them Safely director nick Berardini will appear this week on St. Louis on the Air.
Court (116 min) | Narrative (India)
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
9:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 and 4:20 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12 | Plaza Frontenac Cinema
Precisely because of its quiet, measured and naturalistic approach, “Court” is a scathing indictment of India’s justice system. Absurdity, corruption and indifference conspire to convict the poor and powerless, no matter how ridiculous the charges against them.
In the film, an older folk singer is charged with singing a song that incites the suicide of a young sewer worker found dead in a gutter. The prosecutor lists law after law the balladeer violated, no matter that some are archaic remnants of colonial rule. The singer has been charged in the past with similar crimes, the prosecutor informs the judge, so therefore she implies he must be guilty. For her, the trial, which goes on for months and months, is but a formality.
Is there evidence that the sewer worker even committed suicide? Is there evidence that the singer even sang a song encouraging suicide? Is there evidence of any connection between the singer’s performance and the man’s unfortunate death? Does evidence even matter?
Between courtroom scenes, the film follows the lives of the defense attorney, an upper caste man with Western tastes who seems genuinely committed to social justice; the prosecutor, a working wife and mother with aspirations to be a judge; and the judge himself, who displays a certain cruelty to family members.
The film shows how lives of the prosecutor and judge unfold in a world so separate and distant from the poor souls in their courtroom that they have little reason to care how slowly the wheels of justice -- or injustice -- grind. -- Susan Hegger
For fans of: The Takeaway
The Armor of Light (87 min) | Documentary
Director: Abigail E. Disney
Noon Sunday, Nov. 8 | Tivoli Theatre
Well into this examination of belief, the Rev. Rob Schenck traces what he sees as the merger of Evangelical Christians and the NRA. He is slow to realize the heritage connection between guns and many of his fellow Evangelicals, who see the Second Amendment as text as sacred as the scriptures. But Schenck, who led highly contentious demonstrations against abortion in upstate New York in his early years of ministry, gradually comes to believe that his pro-life beliefs compel him to take on the lack of gun regulation.
His story is parallel to that of Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death in what became known as the loud music case. The shooter claimed Stand Your Ground justification for shooting into the vehicle and killing one of the four African-American occupants. She, too, is grounded in her faith and helps push Schenck into action. The film’s clear point of view contains clips from NRA rallies and meetings with stoney-faced pastors who affirm biblical sanction for their right to protect themselves and others. It's a movie whose questions stick. -- Donna Korando
For fans of: The Takeaway, This American Life
The Dinner (92 min) | Narrative (Italy)
Director: Ivano De Matteo
9:10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 and 4:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 | Plaza Frontenac Cinema
In this absorbing Italian adaptation of “The Dinner” by Dutch author Herman Koch, Paolo (Luigi Lo Cascio) is a compassionate pediatrician who barely tolerates his brother Massimo (Alessandro Gassman), a smug, wealthy defense lawyer. At their monthly dinner at an ostentatious restaurant where Massimo always picks up the check, Paolo is disgusted to learn that Massimo is defending the man who shot one of Paolo’s patients and killed the patient’s father.
In fact, just about everything about Massimo offends Paolo’s sense of moral decency -- and affirms his belief in his own moral superiority.
When it appears that Paolo’s son and Massimo’s daughter may have committed a terrible crime, both families are shattered and angry. As they contemplate what to do, the moral high ground is not quite so easy to find, and the brothers fight, with devastating consequences, over the right course of action.
“The Dinner” is certainly a gripping exploration of family bonds and obligations, fraternal and filial, but it also raises questions about justice, class and privilege. Thanks as well to a taut screenplay and strong performances, “The Dinner” provides plenty of food for thought. -- Susan Hegger
For fans of: The Splendid Table