DID YOU READ

“Days of Glory,” “Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Days of Glory,” Weinstein Company, 2006]

Days of Glory

The French film “Days of Glory,” about a group of heroic North Africans who overcome systematic racism and oppression to help liberate France during World War II, reminded me of the American film “Glory,” about a group of heroic African Americans who overcome systematic racism and oppression to help the North during the Civil War. Curiously, “Days of Glory” is not in any way a translation of the film’s original French title, “Indigènes,” a derogatory term for the African soldiers in the French army. Maybe the title was changed to specifically invoke the earlier movie, and to relate it to a struggle American audiences could relate to.

That’s important, because “Days of Glory” assumes a level of knowledge about the war, about the racial issues within France and their colonies, that most potential American audiences won’t have. That the Africans receive prejudicial treatment is obvious and never in doubt, but I’d be curious to know (and the movie doesn’t explain) how these colonies were related (socially, economically, culturally) to France, and why their subjects felt such loyalty to a place they’d never been and that treated them as if they didn’t exist, even after they helped to free them from oppression.

Like “Grbavica” (reviewed below), the factual specifics are always more interesting than the fictionalized plot, which features a climactic battle and epilogue straight out of “Saving Private Ryan.” Accordingly, the most interesting character is the one who has the richest subplot beyond the battle scenes. His name is Messaoud (Roshdy Zem) and when his platoon lands in France, he spends a night with a beautiful French girl (Aurélie Eltvedt) who treats him as a man and not a subordinate. When the troops move again, he has to leave her behind and spend the rest of the film wondering why she isn’t sending him the letters she promised. Initially, we think the girl isn’t good to her word, but later we learn the French government censored their letters (and refused to tell her his whereabouts) out of sheer racism.

“Days of Glory” often feels like a history lesson and, like a lot of history lessons, it’s a little dry. Still, my opinion of “Days of Glory” is largely irrelevant: after viewing the film French President Jacques Chirac overturned a law that had kept colonial soldiers in World War II from receiving pensions equal to those of their French brethren, an incredible reversal that ended decades of mistreatment. So to say that “Days of Glory” is perhaps more important than it is good, or to note that it is a uniquely French experience (just as, perhaps “Glory” is an American one) does not matter. The movie has already changed the world for the better and is now as much a part of history as a retelling of history. At that point, everything else is pretty much gravy.

Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams

The title is tougher to pronounce than it looks, and it looks pretty tricky. Grbavica — pronounced like “Gruh-BAH-vich,” I think — is the name of a neighborhood in Sarajevo inhabited almost entirely by women, with several generations of men seemingly erased from existence by the decade of strife in Bosnia. The survivors work and live off tiny pensions they get at a community support group, and raise their daughters alone.

Such is the case for Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) and her tweenage child Sara (Luna Mijovic), both very well cast for physical resemblance. Kids have become something of a taboo subject in Grbavica (“Only fools have children these days,” someone warns) but Esma and Sara are quite happy — we meet them in the midst of a spirited mother-daughter tickle fight — before they’re nearly torn apart by the revelation of some of Esma’s closely guarded secrets. Of course, the secrets aren’t really guarded all that closely, and most audience members will be able to guess what they are long before they’re revealed on screen. But if the film’s central mystery isn’t all that compelling, the setting of “Grbavica” often is.

I’m not an expert on contemporary Bosnian life, but I imagine that the world presented in “Grbavica” by first-time writer/director Jasmila Zbanic is authentic to the one she knows and has lived in. The scenes at the women’s support group are particularly haunting though they are frequently silent; Zbanic often has the women sit and lets the camera pass over their faces, which say more than enough about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. I suspect casting these roles was both difficult, in that they’d call upon the actresses to relive the things that have happened to them, and easy, because there was almost certainly no shortage of women who qualified for them. Karanovic is a fine actress who stands out during her character’s darkest moments and who blends in with the rest of the survivors when seated amongst them.

Small, observed details are often more powerful than the rather heavy-handed machinations of the plot. The way Zbanic’s camera glides over Esma’s scars, the way the citizens of Grbavica casually drop nuggets of horror into their conversations — only 11 of 41 original classmates will be attending a class reunion, for instance — shows how inured they’ve had to become to tragedy in order to survive. Zbanic’s subject matter is thoroughly feminine; “Grbavica” exists in a near vacuum of masculinity and shows how the women react to the few men who are left. “You’re all animals!” Esma says at one point to describe the male population of Grbavica and within the confines of the film it’s often hard to disagree with her. Most of the men left in Sarajevo are thugs or gangsters; even Sara’s sheepish first boyfriend is a thug who is waving a gun in her face even before they’ve ever kissed.

In one scene, Esma has a picnic with a potential suitor on top of a hill, the entire town laid out beneath them. It would be a gorgeous view, and quite a romantic moment, if the Bosnian weather weren’t so oppressively gray that it obliterated the visibility of everything except the foreground. Grbavica may be a land of dreams, but those dreams are not about sunny days. As this scene suggests, “Grbavica” isn’t a bleak movie, but rather a movie about finding hope and beauty in a bleak world.

“Days of Glory” opens in limited release February 16th (official site). “Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams” opens in New York on February 16th (official site).

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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.