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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.