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“Moolaadé,” “Daisy Kenyon”

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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.


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.