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“Comedy of Power,” “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Comedy of Power,” Kino, 2006]

Like it or not, we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of the French New Wave — which, we should not be allowed to forget, will always be to film culture roughly what the Age of Enlightenment was to Western thought. Or what movable type was to public literacy. Or what “The Origin of Species” was to biology: a volcanic epiphany, a revolution. This was when the world realized that movies no longer needed to be manufactured by industries but could instead be made by individuals, rebels, idiosyncrats, with more mobile postwar equipment and on-location chutzpah. Chaplin and “Citizen Kane” notwithstanding, this was when, suddenly, movies could be art, made by self-expressive artists (not craftsmen or entertainers) who didn’t require guidance or approval from corporations or governments.

That’s how the story goes, and even if it’s only partially true (most of the New Wavers turned pro dealmakers very quickly), the films are still with us, all prickly and moody and discombobulating, and most of the moviemakers are still hard at play in the fields of cinema. Godard, Rivette, Rohmer, Varda and Resnais are still productive, though none of these gray lions rivals Claude Chabrol for energy and volume of output — he’s made 25 features in the last quarter-century alone, and only about half of them have seen the inside of American movie theaters. Chabrol looms so unpretentiously large that his movies succeed or fail entirely in Chabrolian terms — is it prime Chabrol, or just average Chabrol?

The true French heir to both Hitchcock and Lang, Chabrol has famously been all about crime — its motivations, its fallout, its ripple-effects and ironies. His newest film, 2006’s “Comedy of Power,” is a crime drama of an eccentrically offbeat variety. Fictionalizing the notorious corporate-scandal “Elf Affair” that sent scores of corrupt French CEOs and oil execs to prison in 2003, Chabrol casually stretches in the sun of a legal procedural that typically has less to do with facts than character and social intercourse. Like Enron writ even larger, the case had all to do with mountains of absconded public money, and yet would probably still wilt the interest of any other filmmaker (or screenwriter — in this case, frequent Chabrol collaborator Odile Barski). But as usual, Chabrol views the situation from an unlikely personal perspective: through the prickly, confrontational eyes of Isabelle Huppert as the chief investigating judge, who takes no greater delight in her work than when she can corner a rich man and maker him sputter in horrified rage. Huppert, 53 herself and as vibrant a force as ever, sauces up the movie so indelibly that Comedy of Power evolves into a post-feminist character study — don’t expect suspenseful machinations or unrealistic courtroom shenanigans. It’s all about the people, and Huppert’s workaholic avenging angel, dangerously underfed and self-amused, is fabulously, pathologically invulnerable — even as the murder threats pour in. Therein lies the woman’s charm, and Huppert’s star power. Released as well: Chabrol and Huppert’s first work together, the true-crime teenage-sociopath daydream “Violette” (1978).

From another New Wave planet — specifically, the era of Brazil’s “Cinema Novo” — comes Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” (1971), notorious as the first and possibly the only film ever made about cannibals that, insofar as it takes sides, soberly favors the moral system of the flesh-eaters over their colonial victims. Naturally, it’s a comedy. Herzogian in its realism (a year before “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”), Pereira dos Santos’ movie is shot like a tropical documentary, but it’s set in the 1500s, when the French and the Belgians (among other European forces) were vying for dominance in native-rich South America, pitting tribes against one another and scamming them all for plundered natural resources. The story trails after a pallid Frenchman (Arduíno Colasanti) who after being mistaken for a Belgian (the indignity!) is captured by a cannibal tribe and set up for an honorary eight-month life of happy citizenry in their ranks (complete with wife). After his allotted time is up, he will be ritualistically slaughtered and eaten — unless he can figure a way out beforehand. The filmmaker is less interested in dramatics or empathy than in the avalanche of ironies that attend the situation, sprinkling in title-card commentary from European witnesses from the time, and even having the white man’s lovely, all-nude whip of a wife (the astonishing Ana Maria Magalhães, who went on to be a major, award-winning force in Brazilian cinema, both in front of and behind the camera) seduce him at one point with a long, sexy monologue about exactly how he’ll be killed and eaten. Colonialism is the target, and it’s such a monstrous sitting duck that the film barely has to lift a finger to make a mockery of all things old-school European. Taken just on a political level, “How Tasty” is one of sharpest satires of colonial history ever made, especially since it’s sourced out from the exploited culture’s sensibility. The New Yorker disc comes with plenty of sociopolitical exegesis — a lengthy essay by Portugese historian and Indiana University prof Darlene Sadlier, intro by Columbia prof/Lincoln Center programmer Richard Peña, and an interview with contemporary tribal spokesman Ailton Krenak — just in case you think the film itself looks cut-and-dried.

“Comedy of Power” (Koch Lorber) and “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” (New Yorker) will be available on DVD on May 8th.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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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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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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