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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.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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