“Moolaadé,” “Daisy Kenyon”

Posted by on

03252008_moolaade.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

The seminal will behind everything that matters about sub-Saharan African cinema, and at the same time the world’s most guileless filmmaker, Ousmane Sembene was virtually a one-man continental film culture for 40 years, establishing the cinematic syntax and priorities for an entire section of mankind, and its relationship with movies. From the first mini-feature, “Borom Sarret” (1964) to the last, vibrant, polemical film “Moolaadé” (2004), Sembene’s work aches with sociopolitical austerity — as an artist, he’s virtually style-free, almost unprofessional, but possessed of a voice as clear and uncomplicated as sunlight. Primal, unsophisticated experiences, the films are simple but never simplistic, lowbrow but unsensational, fastidiously realistic and yet unconcerned with sustaining illusion. His filmography is more or less divided between cool, undramatic autopsies on post-colonial norms and folly (1966’s “Black Girl,” 1968’s “Mandabi,” 1974’s “Xala”) and demi-epics of colonial horror (1971’s Emitai, 1977’s “Ceddo,” 1987’s “Camp de Thiaroye”). The slow burn, burial day battleground essay “Guelwaar” (1992) is a precariously balanced admixture of both, while “Moolaadé” targets the most galling and controversial aspect of an African society straining under independence, Islam and reactionary tribalism: female genital mutilation.

I wouldn’t call “Moolaadé” a comedy, but Sembene might’ve (he died last year), and there’s no denying its native exuberance and rebellious élan. Sembene’s agenda was didactic — Africans were always his primary audience — and “Moolaadé” takes a satiric machete to traditional African machismo, marriage roles and society. We’re in a small, unindustrialized village where Islam is ubiquitous, but the tribal tribunal of elders still rules and ancient curses and superstitions are still respected. When a quartet of prepubescent girls come running for sanctuary from “purification” into the skirts of Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly), the headstrong second wife (of three) belonging to a milquetoasty village bigwig, she decides on the spot to summon the “moolaadé” (a protection curse, represented by a silk rope tied across the home’s entrance) to protect them. Therein begins a titanic battle of wills between Collé (who did manage to keep her own teenage daughter from being “cut,” thereby making her unmarriageable) and the village’s traditionalist elders, the Islamists, the priestesses whose sole mission is to remove clitori, her husband, and even her own daughter.

Sembene somehow manages to make “Moolaadé” affirmative and universal, as if female genital mutilation could metaphorically stand in for every kind of systemic oppression of women in every culture. Maybe it can. The film certainly attains a kind of iconic joy, keeping matter-of-fact faith with animistic beliefs to an almost magical-realist degree, and reveling in Senegalese music, rites and Coulibaly, a non-professional performer (as always with Sembene), who nonetheless crafts a brave and exhilarating persona. It’s also Sembene’s most beautiful film; having avoided prettifying exotica during his whole career, the aging master was able to relax and enjoy the shade-dappled sunniness of his native land, making his most issue-oriented film also his most Renoirian.

03252008_daisykenyon.jpgAlso proto-feminist in its own way, Otto Preminger’s “Daisy Kenyon” (1947) arrives amid yet another of Fox’s noir archive exhumations, but you’ve never seen anything quite like it. Wildly overlooked in its day and since then, Preminger’s movie isn’t noir at all, but a shadowy “woman’s film,” complete with career woman Joan Crawford stuck between men in a muddled and morally ambiguous postwar America. But that’s where its shared DNA with other movies ends and its flabbergasting originality begins. Adapted from a bestseller by Elizabeth Janeway, the film has twice the character dimension, poetic maturity of dialogue and performance richness than almost any film of its decade. Crawford’s designer girl Daisy carries on a relaxed and cynical affair with married man Dana Andrews, a big shot lawyer who knows Walter Winchell (walking through, playing himself), who irresistibly calls other men “honeybunch” and “dew drop,” who patronizes his brittle wife (“Citizen Kane”‘s Ruth Warrick), who spoils his daughters even though he’s always on his way to somewhere else, and who never in Preminger’s view remains either a selfish louse or a helpless alpha male trying to do the right thing. Fed up, Daisy defects and takes up with returning soldier Henry Fonda, a calm bundle of offhand, secretive, amused, suicidal contradictions himself.

The wonder of “Daisy Kenyon” is in its deep-dish management of character, credit for which should go to everyone concerned, but which is an earmark of Preminger in his most sublime moments. Every character harbors a private self, and Preminger never tips his hand to show them. Crawford has never been as complex and heartfelt, and has never had such strange and inspired dialogue (“Everyone’s dead but you,” Fonda’s misanthropic trauma-man spits; “But how did they come to die?” Crawford’s struggling single woman says, but says warmly, smiling, in sympathy for his despair). Fonda is so sheltered in his abrupt nihilism you couldn’t blame the other characters for thinking he was kidding — and though Daisy sometimes seems to, we don’t ever. Andrews, one of the most resonant and subtext-packed leading men of the ’40s, lives out his ambiguous hot dog in four real dimensions, and you never know what he’ll do or say next. Even Warrick transfixes your eyeballs as a neglected wife given to battering her children — who would’ve thought any role of hers would overshadow Emily Monroe Norton Kane?

Perhaps Preminger does deserve the final kudos, because his elaborate mise-en-scène, the unprecedented screenplay (adapted by David Hertz, with a grown-up relationship with the real postwar world), and a cast at the height of its powers is made to cohere into a distinct vision that talks and walks and feels utterly unique. It’s a revelation.

[Photos: Ousmane Sembene’s “Moolaadé,” New Yorker Films, 2004; Joan Crawford in “Daisy Kenyon,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1947]

“Moolaadé” (New Yorker Video) and “Daisy Kenyon” (Fox) are now available on DVD.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

Posted by on

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.

Posted by on
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.

Posted by on
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.