DID YOU READ

“13 Tzameti,” “The Dr. Mabuse Collection”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “13 Tzameti,” Palm Picture, 2006]

Some films are bulletproof from spoiler overkill, while others, whose structures are delicate and whose impact depends on left curves, are vulnerable as hell. Géla Babluani’s superb, disconcerting, seismic “13 Tzameti” is one for the latter camp — so, if you hadn’t read about it during its brief release last year, don’t ruin it now. The less you know, the better, although saying that frames up its own kind of hype-exhaustion, and Babluani’s movie is a nightmare in a minor key, a small-framed riff on socioeconomic injustice that will, if you let it, get under your nape skin and scratch you raw.

“Tzameti” is 13 in Georgian (in the UK, the title reads more coherently as “13 (Tzameti)”); Babluani is the son of famed Georgian director Temur Babluani and brother of George Babluani, who stars as the open-faced hero Sébastien, a young Tbilisi immigrant doing uninsured construction work in France. In the house he’s roofing, mysterious messages come for the owner, a desiccated old junkie with an angry wife. When the dopey coot finally dies, and payment for labor performed is not forthcoming, Sébastien whimsically grabs a letter that had been portentously delivered — in it, he finds a hotel reservation, a train ticket and instructions. He takes off, wordlessly hoping to take advantage of whatever earning opportunities might present themselves, and we discover the police are trailing him.

Where Sébastien actually lands, and what secretly happens there, constitutes the film’s left hook sucker punch that keeps hitting you to the last minute. It’s simple, violent and horrifyingly cold-blooded, eloquent as a metaphor for class exploitation and capitalist amorality — humans as disposable trash, as pawns, as meat. Low-budget and shot in shadowy black and white, “13 Tzameti” has the muscular, ethical inevitability of an existential fable.

It’s easy to love movies that posit dreadful secret machinations operating under the surface of ordinary life — isn’t that how things are actually run? One of the great modern myths of covert power is Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind that began as the villain in a few books by Luxembourgian novelist Norbert Jacques, first adapted by Fritz Lang in epic serial form in 1922 as “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler.” A mere gambler/mobster he did not remain; in Lang’s 1933 masterpiece “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” the evil genius became a mind-controlling force not necessarily dependent on corporeal form. This is how he was reconstituted for the Cold War in the 60s, by Lang and far less talented filmmakers, in a series of West German films that borrowed ideas from German Expressionism, James Bond, John le Carré and Marvel comics. The new triple-feature DVD set The Dr. Mabuse Collection houses three cheapjack samples of blissful mid-century pulp: “The Return of Dr. Mabuse” (1961), “The Invisible Dr. Mabuse” (1962), both directed by one Harald Reinl, a hack-journeyman who made dozens of German espionage thrillers and a few German westerns, and “The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse” (1964), directed by Argentine B-man Hugo Fregonese.

The first two films stalk the wet, Langian streets of Berlin with stolid U.S. agent Lex Barker; the third opts for a more Ian Flemingish milieu and flits over to sunny Malta. Everywhere, it seems, bodies turn up, hospitals and institutions are hiding secret conspiracies, oblivious victims are radio-controlled by a constantly reincarnating Mabuse to kill or commit suicide, and plans are hatched to destroy or take over the globe one asylum ward and curvaceous double-agent at a time. Here, you do not seek out deft screenwriting and committed acting (the wall-to-wall English dubbing, the only alternative on these public-domain prints, obviates the requirement for either in any case). Rather, you get a retro-tech sense of ominous, Euro-urban dread not unlike the ghostly Parisian emptiness summoned in the serials of silent pioneer Louis Feuillade. When will Mabuse’s time come around again?

“13 Tzameti” (Palm) will be available on DVD on February 13. “The Dr. Mabuse Collection” (Image) is available now.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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