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“I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” “Provoked”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Left, “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” Strand, 2007; Below, “Provoked,” # Eros International, 2007]

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

In 2002, Tsai Ming-liang told The Onion AV Club “It’s my belief that human beings are like plants. They can’t live without water or they’ll dry up. Human beings, without love or other nourishment, also dry up. The more water you see in my movies, the more the characters need to fill a gap in their lives, to get hydrated again.” That quote calls to mind the films Tsai’s made in the years since, including “Goodbye, Dragon Inn,” where an endless rainstorm threatens to drown the final night of an old Chinese movie theater, and “The Wayward Cloud,” about a dry world so thirsty for water that they’ve taken to collecting the rain in buckets and plastic bottles and fetishizing and even having sex with juicy watermelons.

Water isn’t quite as vital to Tsai’s new film, the evocatively titled “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” but it is present, most visually in the form of an enormous reflecting pool in the crumbling ruins of an unfinished building. The idea of reflection also plays a key role in the story. Tsai’s perpetual leading man, the De Niro to his Scorsese, is Lee Kang-sheng and in “Sleep Alone” he plays two different roles, as a comatose man cared for by two women, and as a homeless man who crosses the wrong con man, is badly beaten, and then rescued by a bunch of foreign workers who nurse him back to health.

Tsai’s films are typically quiet affairs, heavy on mood and mystery, light on dialogue, occasionally punctuated with glitzy musical numbers; “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” falls in to the director’s format of what could be termed “brooding and canoodling.” As always, he doesn’t skimp on the atmosphere; every dingy corridor or blind stairwell seems tinged with sexual dread. There’s even a scene that might top sex with watermelons; after nearby fires have filled the air with a “haze” worthy of a John Carpenter film, one of the Lees tries to make out with the other Lee’s nurse while both are wearing gas masks to protect them from the toxic fog. That is some erotic eco-horror.

The takes are as long as ever, whether to ponder an image of inexplicable beauty (like a set of glowing children’s toys that Lee encounters on the side of the road) or to confront us with the harsh realities of existence (as when one of the workers has to help the bruised Lee to the toilet). Because the images linger long enough to let your mind wander away, and because no one ever actually says anything, it’s easy to get a little lost in one of Tsai’s pictures; multiple viewings are a must for a full appreciation. But for those very same reasons, it’s tough to muster the stamina to do it, particularly for a film like “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone.” You’d almost rather go and have a drink of something a little stiffer than water.


What would Jack Hill, the king of women in prison movies, make of “Provoked”? Here is a movie about a women’s prison so empowering it’s practically transformative. Its heroine, Kiranjit Ahluwalia, kills her husband after a decade of abuse and winds up in jail, where she makes friends, learns English and pretty much has a grand old time. At the end of the film she says “I left my husband’s jail and entered the jail of the law and that is where I found my freedom.” In Hill’s movies jail was so hellish Pam Grier and the rest of the inmates would do anything to escape. When Kiranjit receives her release in “Provoked,” she doesn’t really want to leave.

“Provoked” occupies a queasy moral space. If it is faithful to its source — the on-screen title is “Provoked: A True Story” without even the benefit of a “based on” or “inspired by” — then Kiranjit murdered her husband in his sleep in cold blood. She was brutally abused, emotionally and physically, but does that justify murder in a manner that’s hard to describe as self-defense? “Provoked” says yes.

The film does its best to, yes, provoke the audience into adoring Kiranjit and despising her husband, Deepak (“Lost”‘s “Naveen Andrews). It’s not terribly difficult; Deepak is a loathsome fool who likes to brandish a hot iron and spit at his wife, “You’re a woman! You’re nothing! You’re a cunt! You’re less than nothing!” But some of these scenes still left a sour taste in my mouth than no amount of “true stories” could squelch. Consider the one where Kiranjit and her friends come to the defense of a prisoner who is being picked on because she accidentally killed her children in a drunken haze. Kiranjit stands up for her friend because she is her friend and because she hates bullies. So, bullies are bad but friendly alcoholics who involuntarily slaughter their children are good. That is some perverse prison logic.

Kiranjit is played by Bollywood megastar Aishwarya Rai, the so-called “most beautiful woman in the world” (here, her looks are toned down because, friendly as they may be, British prisons still aren’t very glamorous). Rai’s won numerous acting awards in India, but if this one-dimensional performance is any indication, her English acting has a ways to go. She staggers through most of the movie with a singular expression of watery-eyed terror and sputters in broken English completely free of prepositions or articles (“I want see my children!”), which might be accurate but also infantilizes the character to unbelievable lengths and constantly grates on the viewer’s nerves.

With its theatrical acting and cartoonish villains, “Provoked” looks like an after school special about spousal abuse. That means either after school specials are far more accurate than we’ve given them credit, or the actual telling of this story is as true as a Jack Hill movie.

“I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” opens in New York May 9th (official site); “Provoked” opens in limited release May 11th (official site).

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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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