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DID YOU READ

Daniele Thompson on “Avenue Montaigne”

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: “Avenue Montaigne,” ThinkFilm, 2007]

The street is real, a stretch in Paris lined with theaters, concert halls, auction houses, and anchored by a tiny café where artists, performers, businessmen and blue collar workers intermingle. Into this locale, director Danièle Thompson — co-scripting with her son Christopher — places a TV star (Valérie Lemercier), desperate to move beyond the role that made her a celebrity; a pianist (Christopher Thompson, again), oppressed by the demands of his fame; his father (Claude Brasseur), conflicted about the auction that will close a chapter of his life; an American director (Sydney Pollack), on the hunt for the perfect Simone de Beauvoir; and a young woman from the provinces (Cécile de France), who interacts with them all. I spoke with Thompson about and the comedy, drama, and humanity that courses down “Avenue Montaigne.”

There’s a generosity to this film — even the gold-digging girlfriend isn’t judged too harshly. Were you in an especially good mood when you wrote this?

It’s a very interesting question. You think, “My God, where do I start? What thread do I pull first in this strange, abstract idea?” It actually came out of one evening when I went to see a beautiful concert at Avenue des Champs-Elysées [from which Avenue Montaigne extends]. It’s a place I know very well. It’s like Lincoln Center; you go all your life and you walk by and you go in, but [this evening] I suppose I was looking for an idea and I looked around as a cinematographer. I looked at this place, “This is very beautiful.”

Outside at 11:30, people are pouring out of the theater next door, people are going out of the downstairs auction room, there’s a restaurant with the doorman with his uniform. And then there’s this little café which a lot of the Parisians know, and which, as we say in the film, is the only place in the area where you can have a normal meal any hour of the day or night. We have millions of these cafés in France, but [usually] everybody in them is the same. Everybody works in the same area; if it’s a beautiful area, people are better dressed. If it’s a poor area, people also look the same. This place, they don’t — you have very elegant people mixing with people who work.

So I walked out of the concert and everybody was rushing [into the café], thinking maybe they could grab a table, because those nights, it’s an assault on this place. And I felt there’s something about this place, which is very, very different from anywhere else in the world. Maybe we should talk about these people and how they meet, how they get together in this little café. It started like that.

The egalitarian nature of the café extends to the rest of the film, doesn’t it? I was thinking how film protagonists are often isolated to their own strata — you don’t usually expect to see a character who’s a famous TV star hanging around the kitchen of a concierge.

But that’s close to real life, because you do end up there. The concierge’s [Claudie Dani] place is a sort of a refuge for these people. I guess, whoever you are and wherever you are — and this is very much what the film is about — you need to break up the doors of the prison somehow and try something else. The French title [for the film] is “Orchestra Seats,” which is very much a metaphor for the fact that wherever you sit, you always look: Would it be better on the side? Or somebody comes and sits in front of you and he’s a giant and prevents you from watching the show. There’s always that search: Am I in the best place I could be?

It’s not unusual for a parent to direct a child’s performance in a film. Mother/son writing teams are a little unusual, though. How did that dynamic work?

Well, we did it with my first film, “La Buche,” which was about seven years ago and the big test. Once we passed that step, it became work, which is what it is now. It’s very interesting, and I did it for a long time with my own father [Gérard Oury] — we used to write my father’s films. Once you overcome this family problem, it’s very, very interesting to work with someone younger — or older, for him — with another point of view: a woman and a man, different sensitivities. It’s a good team, because there are things I say that he never would have thought about, and a lot of things he says I never would have thought about.

Did he essentially write his own role?

No, it’s all mixed.

Was there anything you brought to his role that he couldn’t have seen?

What’s interesting in the character is the fact that this young man never really understood the couple that the father and mother were, felt maybe a little forgotten by the parents, because of their passion for art and the fact that they’d built this collection and would rather go to some gallery opening than a PTA meeting. This is what we say in the film, but it goes much further than that. Some couples are parents more than couples, and some couples are couples more than parents, and this is the case for this young man. But I don’t think [Christopher] would have missed that, because we built these characters together.

You brought Sidney Pollack in to play a famous American director. Was there anything you had to change in your approach when you were directing him?


You have to forget that he’s a director. I had many directors in the film. Valérie Lemercier is a very good director; Albert Depontel is a director. The three of them had just finished films when they came to the set, and they were so relieved to just sit there. They loved it, so it made me feel very comfortable.

“Avenue Montaigne” opened in New York on February 16, with a national release to follow (official site).

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

via GIPHY

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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

via GIPHY

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 IFC.com 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….

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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.

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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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