What a Girl Wants at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

American movies aren’t known for their profound, realistic portraits of female desire. Sure, there’s a scattered few: “Unfaithful” explores a married woman’s irrepressible craving for another man. “The Ice Storm” sensitively showed the emotional ramifications of 70s swinging on a community, especially its women and girls. “Boys Don’t Cry” took on female longing and fulfillment without flinching. But those films are few and far between — most American directors shy away from really examining what women want and how they go about getting it. Someone like Woody Allen paints beautiful portraits of women, but he maintains an intellectual remove. Generally in Hollywood, when a woman is sexualized, she’s a hooker or a psychopath: “Fatal Attraction” or “Pretty Woman.”

So where can we find real women in the movies who want sex, have sex, freak out about sex? Look to the French, I’d say, as evidenced by the stunning, provocative films being screened at Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 11th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Danis Tanovic’s “Hell” shines a light on female desire as it burns or suffocates in the bodies and minds of three estranged sisters still reeling from an episode from their past: a shock, a misunderstanding, a confrontation between their beautiful, cold mother and kind, volatile father, a tragedy that haunts them more than they will admit, even to themselves. Sophie (Emmanuelle Beart) has two young children and a husband who is cheating on her. She becomes obsessed with her husband’s affair, following him like a detective who lurks pathetically outside hotels in the shadow, going so far as to sneak into the room where his lover lies sleeping — and smelling her hair. Played by Beart, so goddess-like in appearance, Sophie is plainly used to being placed on a pedestal by her husband. Pushed aside she becomes shameless, throwing her naked body upon him when he comes home from a tryst, forcing herself on him in daylight while her children cower down the hall, until her brashness finally drives him to reject her completely.

Meanwhile, Celine (Karin Viard) has sacrificed her own happiness and sexuality to care for their aging mother. When a mysterious stranger reads her an intimate poem, she mistakes it for a declaration of love. Innocent, uninhibited and frantically trying to heal the loss of their father, the youngest sister Anne (Marie Gillain) falls madly in love with her older, married professor, who eventually leaves her. Believing that she breathes only in his arms, she feels his absence like a death and lashes out, giving no thought to the pain she inflicts in her fury. That this sensitive, kaleidoscopic portrait of female desire is the creation of a man might be pleasantly surprising if it were a Hollywood film. But since it comes from France, the filmmaker’s insight into the yearnings of the opposite sex can be expected.

Laurent Cantet’s “Heading South” takes on the politics of race, class and sex and the dangerously blinding power of desire as they play off each other in a 1970s Haiti resort where white women sleep with handsome black boys in exchange for monetary gifts. Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), a teacher from Boston who is disgusted by the banal dramatics of American-style romance, spends every summer in the arms of Legba (Menothy Cesar), a seemingly carefree Adonis. Ellen’s practiced nonchalance is challenged when Brenda (Karen Young) arrives, another woman who lays claim to Legba. As their love object becomes dangerously embroiled with Haiti’s Macoute militia, the two women scratch and bare fangs, competing for a man they both believe they love, but whom ultimately they don’t know at all.

Back in Paris, some not-yet-jaded women in their 30s just want to nab a nice young man and a wedding ring — or do they? In Sophie Fillières’ “Gentille,” Fontaine (Emmanuelle Devos) and Michel (Bruno Todeschini) live and sleep happily together. Only, when he proposes marriage, Fontaine begins to do crazy things like convince herself that she’s falling for a mental patient at the hospital where she works.

Even when women are not front-center, often their sexuality drives the action. Antony Cordier’s assured directorial debut “Cold Showers” focuses on Mickael (Johan Libereau), a high school judo star and the boyfriend of school sexpot Vanessa (Salome Stevenin). When Mickael befriends the good-looking, rich new kid in town, they wind up having a threesome with Vanessa that blows her mind. The intensity of Vanessa’s sexual appetite was not something Mickael foresaw, and it bursts forth, like a full-grown and insatiable beast, increasing Vanessa’s power, while Mackael cowers licking his wounded male ego. If Mickael crumbles in the face of female sexuality gone wild, “Russian Dolls,”‘ Xavier (Romain Duris) is positively transformed by the feminine touch. A bachelor happily juggling longhaired lovelies while earning a buck writing cheesy TV shows, Xavier finds his sexual nirvana when he gets one gig ghostwriting a memoir for a gorgeous princess and another co-writing a script with an English lass who loves him. Ultimately, though, the carnal overdose forces him to envision an end to the relentless bed-hopping.

Everyone’s desires bang up against everyone else’s in Danièle Thompson’s philosophical and frenetic ensemble comedy “Orchestra Seats.” Small-town girl Jessica (Cecile de France) lands a job waitressing at the only cafe on a block on the Avenue Montaigne, where the crowds spilling out of the neighboring theater, concert hall, auction house and high-class shops and hotels commingle to create a vibrant cross-section of artists, aficionados and behind-the-scenes staff. There she rubs elbows with the rich and the famous: the soap star who dreams of playing Simone de Bouvoir, the world-renowned pianist who yearns to trade his tuxedo for a house by a lake, the angry professor still sparring with his aging papa. With all that ardor raging around the Champs-Elysee, of course truths are told, dreams come true, compromises are made — and love is made, too, on a bed draped in gold and surrounded by priceless works of art.

The French understand the power of desire — especially as it courses through the veins of a woman. It’s no wonder that in “Unfaithful” Adrian Lyne cast a Frenchman, the impossibly beautiful Olivier Martinez, as the man capable of luring perfect housewife Diane Lane away from her husband, played by Richard Gere, the American gigolo himself.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema runs at Lincoln Center from March 10-19. For a complete schedule, see the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s official site. The films will also screen during the same period at the IFC Center.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.