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“Lunacy,” “Apartment Zero”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Lunacy,” Zeitgeist Films, 2006]

It could be said that movies get closest to being fabulous art not when they are at their most self-consciously “artsy,” but when they reflect an obsessive visionary’s perspective and personality as purely and expressively as a painting or a poem. If this is so, then Jan Svankmajer’s films belong on the highest shelf, because it’s quite possible that no moviemaker’s oeuvre is as uncompromised and as hermetically sealed as his. When you watch, you’re uneasily shaking hands with the man’s unexamined, fecund imaginative power source, with no intermediaries present. Famously a die-hard Surrealist who still “belongs” to recalcitrant Surrealist federation in the Czech Republic, Svankmajer has been exploring the anxiety of everyday objects for over 40 years, and in a vast variety of forms (including poetry, sculpture, painting, ceramics, collages and cabineted creations fashioned largely from taxidermied animals). Of course he is predominantly a stop-motion animator, inheriting the Czech puppet tradition and forcing it down the gullet of his own noxious id. His filmography is basically one long smash-up of subconscious fears, cultural recyclings, socio-sexual commentary, food used in ways it shouldn’t be, things that shouldn’t be food but are, and a crystalline faith in the desire of objects.

His new feature, “Lunacy”, is quintessential Svankmajer — not quite the textual acrobatics of “Alice” (1988) or “Faust” (1994), but, as the title suggests, closer to the Freudian craziness of his many shorts and “Conspirators of Pleasure” (1996). The “story” is an almost abstracted play on nightmare logic — our hero Jean (Pavel Liska) has reoccurring dreams about being mugged in his sleep by asylum attendants, a situation that proves sympathetic to a cackling maniac called, simply, the Marquis (Jan Triska), who has more than a whiff of Sade about him, and who dresses 18th-century style and lives in a castle performing outrageous black masses. Needless to say, Jean’s singular nightmare returns again and again, the Marquis’s sanity is hardly to be trusted, and a climactic visit to a Charenton-style nuthouse leads us to question if there’s any significant difference between the patients and the staff.

Throughout, Svankmajer interpolates his narrative with parallel visions of rogue flesh on the animated march — literally, perambulating cow tongues (a motif he first explored in 1969’s “A Quiet Week in the House”), eyeballs, moist calves’ brains, self-slicing steaks and bleached bones, all roaming over the film’s interior landscapes like escaped lab mice. (In one appalling sequence, chickens pecking at self-grinding beef lay eggs that hatch more meat, which jump into the grinder…) Svankmajer’s political thrust here is too wacky to parse — the Reign of Terror is explicitly evoked, but who exactly the aristocrats, the revolutionaries and the madmen are is impossible to figure. Perhaps this is how Sade saw it from behind his asylum walls: an anarchic exchange of one organizational derangement for another. Who knows — it’s Svankmajer’s little universe to command. We’re just tourists.

A far more reasonable take on insanity, Martin Donovan’s “Apartment Zero” (1988) made one of biggest indie splashes of the late ’80s, co-opting primal Hitchcockian ingredients and going for broke. Set, evocatively, in Buenos Aires, the movie tracks the unsettled but budding friendship-cum-codependency between two immigrant roommates — a boisterous, hedonistic, semi-educated American (Hart Bochner) and a socially inept, nervous British movie geek (Colin Firth). A serial killer is meanwhile terrorizing the city, and suspicions fly just as social virtues are exchanged and each man begins to leech off the other. Naturally, an imbalance is reached, personalities imperfectly swap (kinda), and blood spills. The actors have a revving ball, while their characters introduce a pre-Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon moviehead parlor game, which my wife and I long ago dubbed the “Apartment Zero” Game. Simply, one person names three actors from a film, the other must name the film. Firth’s neurotic dweeb beats out Bochner’s rangy hotshot every time, but the game quickly established an extra-cinematic life all its own.

“Lunacy” (Zeitgeist) and “Apartment Zero” (Anchor Bay) will be available on DVD on February 20.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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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