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Hiroshi Teshigahara, “Missing Victor Pellerin”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Woman in the Dunes,” part of the Criterion Collection’s Three Films From Hiroshi Teshigahara]

Call it art film nostalgia, but every newly forgotten, newly resurrected “classic” from the post-Truman era of international cinema still looks as bold, brave and original as the next, and is often more telling and pertinent than the frequently lugubrious art films of today. The new Criterion box of films by Japanese modernist Hiroshi Teshigahara proves the point, and not just with the justly hallowed, yet today mostly forgotten “Woman in the Dunes” (1964). Exactly the sort of confrontationally metaphoric movie that got heads buzzing in the day, “Woman” is both fearsomely tactile and abstract, with an ideogram for a plot: an unsuspecting entomologist (Eiji Okada) becomes trapped in an enormous dune pit and is kept there by a pack of mysterious villagers. In the pit with him, dumbly going about the Sisyphean task of shoveling away the sand that perpetually threatens to engulf them both, is a servile woman living in a driftwood shack; she is essentially the perpetual-motion device that prevents the villagers’ home from being buried, and he is her designated helpmate.

The harrowing dead-end existentialism belonged to avant-garde novelist/scripter Kobo Abe, who played Emeric Pressburger to Teshigahara’s Michael Powell with three more outlandish concepts/storylines, two included here. “Pitfall” (1962), never released in this country, was Teshigahara’s feature debut after a decade of short documentaries, and it’s just as startling in its concept and its priorities as the film that famously followed. A miner and his son, escaping from slave-like employment, wander into the remains of a deunionized coal-mining town, followed by a company assassin and soon faced with the town’s population of company-murdered ghosts. The melodrama that plays out is strictly pro-labor and anti-corporate in ways with which any nation’s history — including ours — can sympathize, but with the extra added frisson provided by angry, meddling ghosts and more than a few puzzling doppelgangers. By itself, the ghost town and the surrounding mountainsides offer existentialist fuel aplenty, all of it restlessly, inventively shot by Teshigahara as if this were his first film and last — it is by a substantial nose the most impressive film debut of 1962, beating out, I dare say, even Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood.”

The third film is the intensely futurist “The Face of Another” (1966), in which Japanese New Wave icon Tatsuya Nakadai plays a burned man with psychotic issues who, once he’s given a temporary prosthetic face, constructs a new identity and suspiciously sets about seducing his own wife. Gimmickry and gadgetry are all but subsumed by Teshigahara and Abe’s philosophical concerns about identity, individualism and perception, as well as by a monstrous cataract of modernist design (authored by architect Arata Isozaki and Masao Yamazaki). The film is a gender-protagonist spin-around from Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face” two years earlier — Teshigahara views obsession from the inside out, and the results are discomfiting and, as always, masterfully photographed by DP Hiroshi Segawa. The DVD box set comes with a thick battery of critical readings (mostly from Canadian crit James Quandt, in essay form and in a video piece), interviews, analytical docs and four of Teshigahara’s gorgeous early shorts, starting with 1953’s “Hokusai.”

Critics and artists are the merest puppets in the new Canadian meta-feature “Missing Victor Pellerin,” manufactured by (and featuring) a luscious rookie named Sophie Deraspe, though given the film itself we can’t be faulted for being suspicious of her identity and of whom the filmmaker(s) really is/are. First, the film appears to be a documentary about a 1990s Quebec art world phenomenon: a mysterious painter self-named Victor Pellerin appeared on the scene, got famous and wealthy, and then suddenly recalled all of his pictures, burned them and disappeared. Alright, but the film follows Pellerin’s fading circle — theater director/nicotine glutton Eudore Belzile, Pellerin’s sister and ex-girlfriend, various gallery owners, writers and naysaying painter compatriots — with such intimacy and sometimes shocking frankness that soon you suspect what Deraspe (or whomever) admits in the end credits: that although Pellerin is real, the entire film was scripted.

Maybe: you can’t find any mention of Pellerin on the Net that doesn’t involve the film, and even the dope escapade in which his circle of ex-friends, and Deraspe, indulge on camera — a “submarine” syringe application of belladonna to the back of the neck — has been wholly unheard of elsewhere. (And of course we never see any of Pellerin’s art — ostensibly, it’s all gone.) As the narrative progresses and Pellerin is revealed to be wanted for forgery by the Canadian authorities (the supercilious art detective makes ridiculous goo-goo eyes at Deraspe during his interview), the entire cast undergoes a kind of psychological striptease, and we end up in Colombia, no closer to knowing Pellerin’s whereabouts than when we began. What the hell happened? The film is apparently fiction, but it’s part of the point that we’ll never know how much, or what kind, or whether any of our categories matter — all questions that control the house of cards that is the international art sphere. “Missing Victor Pellerin” isn’t a hoax, or a documentary, or a mockumentary — it’s something for which we have no proper name, a kind of speculative tale told in non-fiction form, like a Borges story. Maybe.

Three Films From Hiroshi Teshigahara (Criterion) will be available on DVD on July 10th; “Missing Victor Pellerin” (Atopia) is now available on DVD.

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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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