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“Her Name Is Sabine,” “Terror’s Advocate”

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03112008_dvds1.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

It is surely a first — an international movie star (Sandrine Bonnaire) making a patient, respectful, thoroughly unnarcissistic documentary about her own handicapped sister, and stumping for policy change as she considers painful mysteries about family and the passage of time in the process. “Her Name Is Sabine” (2007) is a simple, unpretentious piece of work — Bonnaire spends an enormous amount of time simply observing the managed-care home where Sabine, nearing 40, lives now with a handful of other adults with varying modes and manifestations of autism. Slowly, Sabine’s history is dripped in — as a child, teen and young adult, she was different, “off,” but lucid, literate, energetic and capable of playing Chopin. She went without diagnosis for decades. As her siblings — ten of them — grew up one by one and left home, Sabine, robbed of stimulus, began to deteriorate; a series of hospital stays and hired nurses followed, and then a five-year long institutional stay in which Sabine grew violent and was tamped down by straitjackets and antipsychotic drugs. The filmmaker glosses over it, but Sabine, perhaps now permanently debilitated, was eventually rescued to a new facility that her famous sister had to raise money for herself, using her fame as an actress and celebrity.

In her deliberately modest way, Bonnaire has a tiger by the tail here, in ways that have nothing to do with the film’s obvious and sincere plea for better diagnostics and care for autistics. The film’s searing pathos emerge from Bonnaire’s use of home videos shot by the family and by Bonnaire herself over the last 25 years or so, which are cut directly into segments of Sabine’s present-day existence, and the tragic contrast between them is bludgeoning, and not necessarily the complete result of her bad years of institutional care. When young, Sabine resembled her sister, and was clearly a tempestuous, fascinating, zesty whip of a girl, not at all unlike the reckless, trouble-seeking gamine Bonnaire made her global mark as in Maurice Pialat’s “À Nos Amours” (1983). (They even had the same enormous head of ropey hair.) It could be a revelation for serious students of Pialat’s depth-sounding movie: Did the 16-year-old Bonnaire use her sister as a model, and was the film’s Suzanne intended to be slightly “off,” autistically disconnected in some hidden way from her family, helpless in her impulsiveness? It almost seems certain that Bonnaire was channeling her sister in Agnes Varda’s ferociously antisocial “Vagabond” (1985) — the existential tension of which could easily be read as an autistic crisis, or vice versa.

In any case, “Her Name Is Sabine” embodies an essential, brutal sadness — whatever the confluence of reasons that caused Sabine to devolve from a hungry, bright-eyed girl to the obese, slack-jawed patient we see today, it’s a distillation of the costs of time on all of us. This comes to the surface when Bonnaire, perhaps somewhat brutally, shows Sabine the home videos from 10 or 20 years before, and we watch the torturous grief rise and fall on her sister’s face like ocean waves… until it’s over, and she asks to see it again, laughing.

03112008_dvds2.jpgIn contrast, Barbet Schroeder’s bio-doc “Terror’s Advocate” (2007) is as complicated and duplicitous as full-on espionage. Our subject is Jacques Vergès, a French lawyer of French-Vietnamese ancestry who has been a pivotal figure in many of the last half-century’s most contentious terrorism-based trials and controversies — pivotal in that he uniformly defends, on principle, the terrorist at hand, including PLO bombers, members of the Bader-Meinhof gang, Carlos the Jackal, Pol Pot, etc. Vergès doesn’t disappoint in cutting a provocative figure — confidently waving a cigar around, he answers only the questions that suit him, and is quite obviously in love with the vision of himself as a kind of international man of mystery. Schroeder, whose specialty has been enigmatic subjects skirting the edges of civilization (talking gorillas, primitives, dominatrices, barflies, Idi Amin), obviously loves Vergès for the unpopular, or even inexplicable, position he proudly takes in world politics, preferring to focus on his love affairs, debts and a period in the ’70s when he disappeared altogether, rather than on the political reasoning behind his decisions.

But the reasoning is there, and it makes “Terror’s Advocate” burn with fury, even if far too few American film critics had the temerity or the education to address Vergès head-on. Simply, Vergès began his adult crusade with the Algerian fight for independence, which established a paradigm that has continued unabated to the present day: Poor colonialized Third Worlders will fight the rich nation that controls them with bombs, often targeted at civilians, because that’s all they have. Whether they are “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” is a purely subjective matter, depending on to whom you’re listening. But armies dropping bombs on civilian cities, killing innocents with many times the proficiency of handmade explosives, is seen somehow, in the Western media mindset, as a more righteous action, and therefore, uneasy to label as “terrorism.” Vergès doesn’t live in a world where taking civilian lives a handful at a time is worse than, or even remotely equal to, invading or occupying Algeria or Palestine or Vietnam or Lebanon — in every case, he quite correctly illustrates the French government’s guilt in crimes far worse than any his clients have committed (Schroeder glosses over the Pol Pot issue a bit, but the Sétif massacre of 1945, in which the French killed somewhere between 10,000 and 45,000 Algerians beginning on the same day Germany surrendered, more than illustrates his point). The Iraq war is never referred to, but Schroeder is alive to the fact that Vergès might be a point man for the new millennium, when wars will be fought between the little and the big right where we live, and a new and more realistic kind of ethical mathematics are required.

[Photos: “Her Name Is Sabine,” Film Movement, “Terror’s Advocate” Magnolia, 2007]

“Her Name is Sabine” (Film Movement) and “Terror’s Advocate” (Magnolia Pictures) are now available on DVD.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.