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DID YOU READ

“The Science of Sleep,” “Vibrator”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Science of Sleep,” Warner Independent, 2006]

No one’s mentioned it in my earshot, but Freud seems to be hot again among restless filmmakers — amid the new post-Godardian wave of metafilmic strategies (I’m thinking of Todd Solondz, Wong Kar-wai, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hong Sang-soo, Carlos Reygadas, Michael Haneke, Michael Winterbottom, Ilya Khrjanovsky’s infuriating debut “4,” and so on), the old-school demarcations of id, ego and super-ego are back, and the domain of the unconscious as a war-game field of symbolic trial and subjective flux is once again grist for movie narrative. Maybe it’s Charlie Kaufman’s fault, but there’s hardly any other way to look at “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Birth” (which, some astute wags have pointed out, is a remake of the Surrealist classic “Un Chien Andalou”), “Lemming,” “Mirrormask,” “A Scanner Darkly,” “Inland Empire,” a whole slew of J-horror entries and their Hollywood remakes, and, most tenderly of all, Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep.” It would seem that movies are inherently too much like dreams to escape the literal, subjective-perspective analogy for long. Gondry’s movie — his first without Kaufman’s script-guidance, not including the doc “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party” — is a love song to the developmentally arrested, mixing and matching levels of consciousness while adhering carefully to Freud’s faith in desire as a motivating force — desire for romance, for fame, for emotional justice, for a parent’s unconditional love.

Gael García Bernal plays Stephane, a Spanish twentysomething beckoned to Paris by his mother with promises of a job. The job turns out to be a tedious dead end (hilariously), but it hardly matters because Stephane’s life is a chaotic tug of war between reality and his extraordinarily rich and messy dream life — which intervenes so often and so matter-of-factly we often do not know whether or not what we’re watching is inside the hero’s lovable head. (All the same, every scene is either “real” or subconscious — there’s no meta-fictional slipperiness with Gondry, who seems completely disinterested in objectivity.) Naturally, the two realms bleed into each other, particularly once he meets Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a somewhat prickly craft-artist living next door who shares Stephane’s passion for handmade toys, recycled junk and dedicated pretend-play.

Gondry’s style emerges whole-hog here, a savvy and affectionate high-tech/low-tech mix scrambling digital effects with cheap video, junkyard leftovers, folk-stitched totems and cotton clouds. There’s something preschoolish going on in the movie and in Stephane’s skull, and the film’s bric-a-brac style helps express Stephane’s needy, imaginative character in ways he could never articulate. “The Science of Sleep” is, I think, a romantic comedy, but its narrative arc is so infused with non sequiturs and flights of cheesecloth fancy that it can be hard to tell what it is. What could be better?

Just as tangled in subjective emotional worlds, Ryuichi Hiroki’s “Vibrator” (2003) traces the ersatz romance between a lonesome and unstable bulimic girl (Shinobu Terajima) and a slack but sweet-natured truck driver (Nao Omori). That’s all it does, but it happens from the inside out, with the heroine’s self-conscious narration manifesting as punctuative interior-voice intertitles, saying in effect what this wrecked, nervous modern girl can’t bring herself to utter in person. Hiroki is a master realist-humanist (two more of his earlier films are also coming out from Kino, and his 2005 film “It’s Only Talk” was the best film at 2006’s New York Asian Film Festival), and “Vibrator” plays it urban-cool and moment-to-moment, until it sneaks up to your soft side with a sledgehammer. Terajima, who might be the most galvanizing and convincing Asian actress of her generation, simply breaks your heart — not merely at the film’s end, but throughout. “Vibrator” was never distributed in the U.S. (neither was “It’s Only Talk,” a bruising portrait of manic-depressive life), making it already one of 2007’s best “releases,” and another point in the argument for acknowledging DVDs as the new and viable alternative-exhibition platform.

“The Science of Sleep” (Warner Home Video) and “Vibrator” (Kino) will both be available on DVD February 6th.

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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.