“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.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.