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“Regular Lovers,” “Sansho the Bailiff”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Regular Lovers,” Zeitgeist Films, 2007]

As much as I would’ve liked to have been, I wasn’t in Paris in May of 1968, when the student strikes broke out and burned all the more brightly the more they were suppressed by police violence, when labor unions joined in and virtually shut the country down, and when Molotov cocktail revolt filled the middle-class streets in a heretofore unprecedented Zeitgeist of resistance to the exploitations of state power. But it’s been such a lavishly, lovingly depicted cultural moment in movies that sometimes I feel as if I had indeed been there, manning the barricades. (Call it, in retrospect, the Woodstock of France.) Still, May ’68 awaited its definitive film portrait until the arrival of Philippe Garrel’s “Regular Lovers” in 2005. (It opened here in January.) The movie is in fact more of an impressionistic personal meditation on the place and time than an outright historical film. But the feeling of the era, the cataclysmic, romantic, liberating and finally tragically disillusioned emotional thrust of resistance, coupled with the electric sense of being 19, sexually alive, responsibility free and ready to dope up and drop out — all of it seeps out of this neglected three-hour epic like fragrance from a valley of lilacs.

Garrel, of course, had been there — having begun as a young experimental filmmaker in the ’60s, he rode shotgun along with the New Wavers (literally, in 1968 at the age of 19, shooting scenes in the streets with Godard), never attaining their international profiles but consistently producing challenging, eccentric work at home. (“Regular Lovers” is, as far as I can ascertain, his first film to be distributed in the U.S.) “Regular Lovers” has the burning conviction of firsthand experience, and it’s hardly a coincidence that Garrel cast his own son, Louis, as his laconic, lovelorn protagonist. Garrel fils was also the co-star of Bernardo Bertolucci’s silly May ’68 valentine “The Dreamers” two years earlier — and given Garrel père‘s history of prickly recalcitrance, it’s possible that Bertolucci getting so much wrong in his film largely inspired Garrel to get it right.

The film meanders in the young Garrel’s shadow as he wanders through a demimonde of wealthy college kids and, soon enough, the Night of the Barricades, filmed in inky black-and-white by master D.P. William Lubtchansky in a nearly hour-long idyll, as if the revolution was caught in suspended animation. From there, the film evokes the post-revolutionary hangover, as Garrel’s François begins a wary romance with Lilie (the radiantly ordinary Clothilde Hesme); together, they are born icons of post-adolescent cool, but just as insurrectionary fervor wanes under the glare of the workaday sun, so does their love. It’s a heartbreaking film, but not because it tells you so. Like the best of the French going back to Renoir, the filmmaker locates three-dimensional pathos and beauty in simple images, acts and gestures, captured honestly and without bullshit: a dance party, getting high in a rich family’s apartment, wandering through the strangely empty morning streets as if the couple were the survivors of a holocaust. An ambitious, grown-up, old-school art film, “Regular Lovers” (such a humdrum title) may be so far the best film of 2007.

Then there’s real old school: Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Sansho the Bailiff” (1954), a must-have, must-see film culture classic that, up to now, had only been available in godawful public domain video copies and war-trodden 16mm prints. If that’s how you’ve seen it — and not, perchance, in the 2005 retro that roamed the country’s retro screens — then you haven’t seen it at all. The new Criterion edition is jewel-like and breathtaking, which simply makes the classic fable — in warlord-run medieval Japan, a railroaded governor’s wife and children are waylaid on a journey and sold into slavery — all the more devastating. No other film so carefully interrogates how tragic injustice plays out over years of life. (It’s not a film you should sit down to lightly; keep hankies, oxygen and ice water close at hand.) Mizoguchi, semi-forgotten today and the peer to Ozu if not the superior to Kurosawa as well, is hopefully on his way to being reinstituted as a cultural giant worldwide. Of course, the DVD package is fiercely reverent, buttressed with new interviews, scholarly exegesis, a new essay of things Mizoguchian and two versions of the original narrative: the 1915 short story by author Ogai Mori, and a transcribed version of an earlier version, from when it was merely an oral folktale. All told, it’s justice done.

“Regular Lovers” (Zeitgeist) and “Sansho the Bailiff” (Criterion) will be available on DVD May 22nd.



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.