Three Rivers Film Festival now playing

If you’re struggling to find that perfect date activity or fun night out on the town, the 2008 Three Rivers Film Festival may be your answer. Run by the Pittsburgh Filmmakers, this festival boasts the ability to appeal to any type of moviegoer. Featuring the best of the best in independent films, foreign films, shorts, restored movies, and films made in Pittsburgh, the 27th annual Three Rivers Film Festival is one of the hottest film events going on in the world right now. The Festival opened this past Friday and will continue until Nov. 22.

With over 40 critically acclaimed films playing in the Melwood Screening Room and Filmmakers Galleries, Regent Square Theater, and Harris Theater, you can’t make a poor movie choice. One particularly popular movie is a German film, Ben X. The film, directed by Nic Balthazar, follows the life of autistic online gamer Ben, played by Greg Timmermans, and his daily struggle with ruthless bullies at his school. Ben is spiraling into an abyss of depression as he aspires to beat the video game Archlord until he meets another gamer, Scarlite, played by Laura Verlinden. Scarlite alters Ben’s perception of life and helps him confront the taunting bullies in his life.

The riveting aspect of this film is the script that is relentlessly realistic and unforgiving to sympathy. The bullying portrayed in this film expresses the harm that is too often a reality for high school students as Ben struggles to maintain his sanity and desire to live. In this modern film that relies on the media of technology and the Internet, it is fascinating to watch Balthazar craft this story while utilizing a video game as a character in Ben’s life. Ben X’s demonstration of Ben’s struggle to leave his virtual world to face the reality of his life is a metaphorical statement for people to transcend their habitual, individualistic worlds to connect on a deeper level with the environment and people around them.

Ben and Scarlite’s desire to seek revenge on his aggressors is a plan that also aides Ben’s mother, played by the expressive Marijke Pinoy, in attempting to connect to her son. Ben is a loner and his inability to display affection is hard on his loving mother, but Ben and Scarlite’s plan of revenge helps Ben’s mother connect to Ben through a common experience and struggle. This is Balthazar’s way of expressing the distance between people and the optimism that can occur with even the slightest sign of mutual understanding.

One criticism of Ben X is that it relies on a vengeful climax. With a story built around humans’ struggles to truly find each other, it can be a stretch to accept optimism in the form of vengeance instead of sympathy. Balthazar’s style of storytelling and blending between the virtual and realistic world provide a strong argument, however, that this is the only satisfactory climax option for the story. With such an extreme portrayal of bullying and Ben’s further withdrawal from reality in the beginning of the film, it is moving to see how each character eventually connects on an emotional level. Life is often built around layers of mutual misunderstandings and isolation between people. In Ben X, however, Balthazar and his predominantly young and gifted cast focus on the power that is generated when the broad gap between characters narrows even the slightest bit.

This is just one of the films playing at the Three Rivers Film Festival. With cheap tickets and plenty of excellent movie options, this Pittsburgh tradition is very much worth attending. Tickets and event schedules can be found on www.3rff.com.