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Heavenly Menages a Trois

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

The other night I watched “Days of Heaven” for the millionth time. An exaggeration, of course, but it is one of my favorite films, and I went through a period when I would watch it every time I was bored or in need of inspiration. With a new print currently screening at the Film Forum in New York, it was time to see Terrence Malick’s near-perfect film again. As the credits rolled, after thinking, as usual, that it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made, it occurred to me that there’s nothing more powerful in the movies than a love triangle.

In the film, Bill (Richard Gere), a factory worker, leaves Chicago to work on a farm in the Texas panhandle with his sister (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), who poses as a family member to avoid gossip. When they learn that the farmer (Sam Shepard), who has taken a liking to Abby, is terminally ill, they decide to stay on when the other seasonal workers have gone, seizing an opportunity for a more comfortable life. Abby marries the farmer and the foursome live heavenly days until the triangle barely supporting them crumbles, pushing all three characters toward tragedy.

Terrence Malick is a brilliant writer and director whose breathtaking compositions (captured by über-DP Nestor Alemendros, who won the 1978 Oscar for the film), patient editing style and signature narration — Manz’s childishly innocent, funny and insightful narration is a masterpiece in itself — but let’s be honest: As far as subjects go, there are few situations — in art or in life — that are more loaded with potential for drama than the love triangle. “Days of Heaven” is one of the best, but the plot device has driven many other movies, many great, many small.

Most common is the simple story of a nice guy/girl who’s torn between two lovers: the wrong one, who likely has certain compelling attributes like parental approval rating or a real job, and the right one, a.k.a. the soul mate, who likely lives right under the lead’s nose but goes sadly unnoticed as she/he is busy being dazzled by Mr./Ms Wrong. Think: “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Sabrina,” “Reality Bites,” Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Or alternatively, Soul Mate stumbles upon Nice Guy/Girl’s path unexpectedly, subsequently messing up plans often matrimonial in nature: “The Wedding Planner,” “Arthur,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “A Room with a View.” If this is a romantic comedy, and often it is, generally all’s well that ends well and Nice Guy/Girl winds up in the arms that are destined to hold him/her until death do they part. And mean/stupid/boring Mr./Ms Wrong runs off with someone suitably mean/stupid/boring — or into a hole all by his/her lonesome where he/she probably belongs.

Then again, some of the more interesting love triangles aren’t so warm, cuddly or predictable, often involving cheating spouses. In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Tomas loves both his wife (Juliette Binoche) and his long-time mistress (Lena Olin). Frederick in “Chloé in the Afternoon” toys with the idea of playing with a nubile young thing, only to confirm that he still loves his wife. In “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,” a young wife falls for the suicidal brother of her husband, whom she also loves. While generally these situations settle themselves in favor of one of the prospective life mates, in some unfortunate cases, when easy excision of one of the triangle’s sides is not a possibility, somebody winds up dead. See “Unfaithful,” “Diaboliques,” “Deathtrap,” “Amantes.”

And then there are the really interesting cinematic three-way love affairs, those that don’t fit into any particular mold, tapping into the emotions ranging from the jealousy to bliss to homicidal rage that can occur when she loves him but he loves her, or he loves them both, or she can’t decide which one she loves best, which brings us back to “Days of Heaven,” one of the most devastating love triangle tales on film. (Then again, as I mentioned, it’s practically perfect.) Other refreshingly genre-bending tales of three-way love include Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons,” which stars John Malkovich and Glenn Close as bored aristocrats in 18th century France who play with people’s lives as if they were hamsters in a habitrail, often through the art of seduction. Close shudders with glee, for example, when Malkovich beds a blushing bride-to-be (Uma Thurman) whose fiancé she once loved. She licks her lips, too, when he prepares to seduce a devout married woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) — but can she handle it if her partner in crime and in bed falls in love?

Other atypically appealing love triangles include “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the poetic soldier with a warm heart and enormous schnoz whose heartbreaking story has been depicted again and again, most famously by Gérard Depardieu (and by Steve Martin in the comically uplifting version, “Roxanne”). Cyrano loves Roxanne, but she yearns for the fine-featured Christian, who woos her with letters written by none other than Cyrano. Nobody wins in this triangular tale. Lessons are learned in “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” in which two teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) embark on an adventure with a sexy older woman (Maribel Verdú) that leaves their friendship forever altered. And in what is often considered the greatest love triangle of all, François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” which also has best friends falling for the same girl, the Bohemian lovefest must inevitably and tragically come to an end — as do the days of heaven.

What makes Malick’s vision as powerful as Truffaut’s is the compassion we feel for all the characters involved. Nobody is wrong — they just act from the gut and the heart. And there is no clear wrong man or right man for Abby. Both are handsome and kind and both adore her. So who does not empathize as Bill watches his Abby marry another man? Or feel the farmer’s rage when he witnesses a kiss between Bill and his wife that is far from brotherly? And what about the girl caught between them, who is less given a point of view than the role of emotional catalyst for a violent, almost primal battle between two very different men — one gentle, one rash; one rich, one poor; both passionately in love with her? How can we not feel for this woman who pledges eternal fidelity to another man at the behest of her lover, only to find herself falling a little bit in love with the one who provides for her? With no reasonable resolution in sight, what heart does not ache as three people in love hurtle themselves toward inevitable doom?

“Day of Heaven” is playing at the Film Forum in New York through April 27 (official site).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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