This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“Los Muertos,” “Quiet City”

Posted by on

By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Los Muertos,” Facets Multimedia Distribution, 2007]

Art film minimalism has self-modulated a sweet amount since the days of Antonioni’s wanderings and Ozu’s autumnal fixations — in America, it remained a Jarmuschian joke until Gus Van Sant took to camera-roaming without a story. But internationally, things were only lushly Tarkosvkyian after Tarkovsky died (minimalist-maximalist that he was), leaving a handful of ravishing, observant shot architects (Angelopoulos, Sokurov, Tarr, Hou) in his wake. No, it took Kiarostami, in the ’90s, to reset the cinema-as-art experience default to near zero before modern minimalism took hold; after that, Tsai, Bartas, Weerasethakul, Reygadas, Jia and Ceylan established new standards for time and emptiness, and films came from Sri Lanka, Spain, sub-Saharan Africa, Morocco, Portugal (Pedro Costa, oy gevalt), Tajikistan and nearly everywhere else exploring how little a movie could tell us.

Of course, the irony and wonder of minimalism, however dire it might sound in any synopsis, is that usually the less plot an attentively made film has, the more that movie ends up showing us about landscape, the characters’ sensual rhythms, the knowledge of time and seeing, and the nature of patiently experiencing life, not simply being told about it via dialogue or narrative contrivance. Lisandro Alonso’s “Los Muertos” (2004), which took three full years to find an American release, is the effortlessly expressive example of the moment, a trip through the Argentine jungle that measures out to be about 10 percent action, dialogue and motivation, and 90 percent raw vision. Less is absolutely more — those stingy dollops of context have a seismic punch, and what we don’t know makes the ellipses all the more troubling and resonant.

First, we get a single shot preamble: a woozy, fixed-focus perspective walking through the jungle, glimpsing first a few bloodied corpses in the brush and then a passing machete — evoking an abrupt but dreamy memory of Argentina’s late-’70s-early-’80s “Dirty War” and oppression by the military juntas. Indeed, 15 years pass (or so it is obliquely suggested) in a cut, and suddenly a laconic middle-aged man named Vargas (Argentino Vargas, a non-professional and, perhaps, ex-con) whiles away his last hours in a relaxed, low-rent jungle penitentiary. Soon, he is free to nearly wordlessly venture back into the jungle to return to his now-adult daughter. We get hints of what his crime had been, but not much more than that — what is happening right now in the new minimalism is the priority, not backstory or what comes next. “Los Muertos” transforms this threadbare outline into a magical mystery tour, in which Vargas feeds himself on honeycombs and the occasional stray goat (watch out, it’s a one-take takedown, slaughter and skinning), and responds undramatically to nature. Alonso’s camera responds as well, with patience and exaltation — we witness the forest, the river, the sky, the swamps, the trees buffeted by wind, all as experiences eloquent and moving on their own, which, of course, they are. But what’s unsaid about this man and his journey — indeed, the “deaths” referred to in the title — is backlit by the chaotic richness of nature, and the tingly upshot is haunting in ways that conventional dramatic setups and payoffs cannot approach.

Recently, American indie minimalism, because it’s inherently narcissistic, has morphed into something called mumblecore (a criminally idiotic coinage that one hopes is already being forgotten), deftly represented by Aaron Katz’s “Quiet City” (2007). Katz’s aesthetic is, on one hand, Ozu by way of high-def (lots of lovely haiku cutaways to New York City skylines and textures), and on the other, decelerated realism (twentysomethings chatting aimlessly and guardedly). It’s easy to mock in the overview, but Katz has an eye for the in-between moments, and a satisfyingly subtle agenda for his films’ overall arcs. “Quiet City” is so delicate and spare it could crumble in a stiff breeze: Jamie (Erin Fisher) is an out-of-town girl visiting a scatterbrained friend in Manhattan, and finds herself stranded on a subway platform. She asks for directions from a passerby named Charlie (Cris Lankenau), who eventually, and rather gallantly, decides to stick with her until she can find her way in off the street. They end up at his apartment, chastely, and spend what amounts to a long weekend together, before and after finding Jamie’s deadbeat buddy. Nothing cataclysmic happens between them, and their talk is almost entirely banal and insignificant, but of course Katz is after what’s not being expressed between them, until we finally see a single, simple expressive gesture that was, in its gentle way, worth all the waiting.

Katz has been praised for his naturalism, but “Quiet City” has its fair share of tenderly contrived dialogue; at various points, it’s difficult to buy that these two kind-hearted kids would have so little, or at other times so much, to say to each other. (Fisher and Lankenau share screenplay credit for the heavily improvised film.) It is, in any case, a difficult balance to strike if you’re working this close to mundane realities. Katz gets props just for keeping his focus and staving off the impulse toward broad narrative gestures, and casting his film with such surprisingly ordinary yet compulsively watchable actors. That said, “Quiet City” is filthy with intimate images of the kind that epitomize cinema’s infectious glow, whether it be of Fisher’s unsure smile or the Brooklyn Bridge. The DVD set, out from new video startup Benten Films, also features Katz’s first feature, “Dance Party, USA” (2006), which makes up for its weightier degree of awkwardness with sharp-edged sexual frisson.

“Los Muertos” (Facets Video) and “Quiet City & Dance Party, USA” (Benten Films) will be available on DVD on January 29th.

Watch More

A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

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.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

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

Watch More

Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

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.

Watch More