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Cannes Dispatch 4: Feel-Bad Cinema

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By Dennis Lim

There is without fail an onslaught of entries at any major international film festival that falls under the ever-expanding rubric of feel-bad cinema. In that department, the bar has been set dauntingly high at Cannes this year by Austria’s king of pain Ulrich Seidl. “Import/Export,” his first Cannes entry and his fiction feature since 2001’s “Dog Days,” incorporates two of the most distinct characteristics of contemporary Austrian cinema. It emphasizes geographic, if not economic, mobility and it mixes fiction and nonfiction (using non-pros and real locations, including a porn studio and a geriatric ward, in a fictional scenario).

In the “Import” segment, a nurse and single mother journeys from her frigid, dead-end Ukrainian existence to scarcely more hospitable Vienna, where she finds work tending to spoiled brats and cleaning up after the senile and infirm. In “Export” (the stories never dovetail but are evocatively intercut), an Austrian lunkhead and his piggish stepfather venture into the former Soviet bloc, delivering gumball machines and participating in gruesome tableaux of abjection. Unblinkingly photographed by Ed Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler, the film isn’t much of an advance for Seidl’s bludgeoning, depressive sensibility, but the leavening measures of compassion and absurdist humor are more pronounced than in the past.

Within the context of this festival, the impeccably made “Import/Export” seems a tough-minded rebuke to Fatih Akin’s humane but visually flat and overly neat transnational drama “The Edge of Heaven,” which hinges on a similar crisscrossing premise — one that it pads out with more pseudo-cosmic coincidences that even Kieslowski would have tolerated. Spiraling out from a pair of mirrored tragedies — the death of a German woman in Turkey and the death of a Turkish woman in Germany — the movie forces its largely believable and sympathetic characters into an increasingly ludicrous web of contrivances.

One of the most intriguing sub-themes of Cannes ’07 has been the reformed miserablist. In Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light,” to cite the most grandiose example, the Mexican abjection specialist tempers his confrontational aesthetic with an infusion of Dreyer. Set amid an isolated Mennonite community in Mexico, “Silent Light” is a typically bold and even nutty experiment, with many bravura cinematographic feats and tricks (rhymed sunrise/sunset shots, a camera mounted to a corn thrasher, conspicuous lens flares), but I must confess a preference for Reygadas the bad boy — there was more substance in the bile and misanthropy of “Battle in Heaven” than in the new film’s ostentatious spirituality.

Like the Reygadas, Harmony Korine’s “Mister Lonely” could be considered the first self-consciously mature work by a onetime enfant terrible. It’s also Korine’s first post-rehab effort (after what the press book terms “the dark years”) and his first since “Julien Donkey-Boy.” “Mister Lonely” has what you might call a mellowed sweetness. The freak show this time is more melancholy than garish: A Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) and joins a colony of outcast doppelgangers (including Denis Lavant as Charlie Chaplin and reunited “Performance” stars James Fox and Anita Pallenberg as the Pope and the Queen of England). The film is something of a mess, overlong and unfocused (even by Korine’s standards), but it’s also vivid, even enchanting, and it contains some of the loveliest images I’ve seen all week (most of them involving skydiving nuns).

Eagerly anticipated and hugely disappointing, Béla Tarr’s “The Man From London” might well be the Hungarian master’s attempt to lighten up. There’s the relatively compact running time (two and a quarter hours) and a missing-loot premise, adapted from Georges Simenon, that could just as well have worked for the Coen brothers. But the movie, at least after its staggering opening minutes, suggests nothing so much as deep stagnation. Almost every shot calls attention to its own virtuosity (the cinematography is by German director and Tarr acolyte Fred Kelemen). For all the dazzling fluidity of the camerawork, the film itself lumbers along wearily and with a surprising lack of grace.

[Photo: Harmony Korine’s “Mister Lonely,” MK2 Productions, 2007]



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.