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DID YOU READ

Cannes Dispatch 6: Parsing the Prize Winners

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By Dennis Lim

Not surprising given his own directorial sensibility, the defining characteristic of Stephen Frears’ jury turned out to be eclecticism. Whatever your predilections, there was probably not a lot to complain about, given how this year’s awards wealth was distributed between arty young auteurs (Carlos Reygadas, Naomi Kawase) and likely crowd pleasers (“Persepolis,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Edge of Heaven”), even between the critically adored (“Secret Sunshine”) and unloved (“The Banishment”). The jury’s most defiant statement, in the end, was its evident indifference (or worse) to studio-backed American genre films. While the Coens, Tarantino and Fincher all left empty-handed, Frears and co. found a way to reward Gus Van Sant, presenting the recent laureate with a 60th anniversary prize for the superb “Paranoid Park.”

As for the Palme d’Or, there could be no less controversial winner — at least among the critical contingent — than Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days,” an overwhelming favorite literally from day one, to the point where its reputation seems to me now in danger of being inflated. Extremely well directed and acted, “4 Months” is a moral tale as suspense movie and it works on the principle of withheld information — those who saw it at its first screening, before it was christened “the Romanian abortion movie,” can attest to the improbable, nail-biting effectiveness of the flatly observed opening minutes. Once its subject is clear, and events turn ever grimmer, the movie becomes less urgent and more methodical in depicting the privations of Ceausescu-era Romania, where black-market economics have polluted human interactions and transactions. With its long-take choreography and low-key naturalism, “4 Months” unavoidably evokes “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (both films were shot by Oleg Mutu), but, lacking the universality and metaphysical ambitions of Cristi Puiu’s film, can’t help suffering in comparison.

Was this, as many commentators have declared, the best Cannes in years? There were relatively few films I whole-heartedly loved (I counted four: “Flight of the Red Balloon,” “Secret Sunshine,” “Go Go Tales,” “Paranoid Park”), but only the crankiest of critics would grumble about the overall quality. It’s worth noting, though, that more than half of my dozen or so favorites screened outside the competition. The Quinzaine enjoyed a reasonably strong edition: Besides Anton Corbijn’s prize-winning “Control,” high points included Serge Bozon’s “La France,” an almost Bressonian WWI movie with a cross-dressing Sylvie Testud and Belle and Sebastian-ish musical interludes; Nicolas Klotz’s “La Question Humaine,” a wry, cerebral drama that recalls Arnaud Desplechin’s “La Sentinelle” in its view of history as a haunting (substituting the Holocaust for the Cold War); and Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s erotic unhappy-marriage mood piece (and decisive return to form), “Ploy.”

Back in the official selection, the (widely dismissed) “midnight movies” by Abel Ferrara and Olivier Assayas were, for me, superior to almost all of the actual title contenders. And three of my festival favorites came from the Un Certain Regard section: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s exquisite “Flight of the Red Balloon”; Diao Yinan’s “Night Train,” the poised tale of a female Chinese executioner that moves from terse character study to terse existential thriller; and Cristian Nemescu’s “California Dreamin’ (Endless),” the other Romanian film.

It’s a shame that more people didn’t get to see Nemescu’s movie, which had minimal pre-screening publicity and was the last film to screen in Un Certain Regard, where it promptly won the top prize. Tragically, Nemescu was only 27 when he died in a car crash last summer. His debut feature is billed as unfinished — a producer added the posthumous titular parentheses — and at two and a half hours, could clearly have used some additional sculpting, but its verve and expansiveness more than make up for the ragged edges and occasional slack patch.

In 1999, a convoy of U.S. soldiers, en route to Kosovo, is detained in a Romanian village by a despotic stationmaster (they’re missing the necessary paperwork); with most of the locals, from the mayor to the high school’s female population, intent on “seducing” the Americans, culture-clash tragicomedy ensues. It’s not the most subtle allegory for the American habit of forcibly exporting democracy and turning foreign misadventures into messy conflagrations. But it has energy, wit and heart to spare and, as an anti-American smackdown, even maintains an affection for its ostensible targets. Nemescu’s first and last film provided a largely apolitical Cannes edition with its missing Iraq movie and a festival of mostly familiar faces and known quantities with its major discovery.

[Photo: Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” IFC First Take, 2007]

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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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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.”

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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.

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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.