Cannes 08: Fernando Meirelles on “Blindness”

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05152008_blindness1.jpgBy Erica Abeel

Take it as a sign of some general anxiety disorder gripping the planet, but Cannes 2008 kicked off on a distinctly somber note. In “Blindness,” the fest opener by Fernando Meirelles, civilization as we know it goes to hell and back when a group of urbanites in an unnamed city succumb to an epidemic of mysterious blindness. Only a character known as The Doctor’s Wife (Julianne Moore, in a powerful turn) remains immune to the malady. Finding herself a leader in a world of savagery and chaos, she helps forge a new form of community that takes the film to a happier place (cue Kumbaya on the soundtrack).

Based on the celebrated allegorical novel by José Saramago, the film displays the ability first demonstrated by Meirelles in “City of God” to choreograph large groups of beleaguered folks through explosive situations. He’s ably assisted by an international cast — who were coached by an expert in blindness — that also includes Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Alice Braga. In adapting this story, Meirelles confronted a daunting new task: finding an equivalent in cinema, the visual art par excellence, to convey the milky white sightlessness visited on his characters. Add to this the challenge of both bringing a human face to nameless characters who are generic stand-ins for humankind and striking a balance between gripping drama and the wider philosophical connotations of blindness intended by Saramago.

Whether or not Meirelles successfully met these challenges has been a hot topic of debate on the Croisette. I sat down to speak with the engaging, forthcoming filmmaker following the premiere of his film.

Part of “Blindness” was set in São Paulo — but how important was it to keep the city unidentified?

It was very important because it becomes, really, a generic story, a story about mankind. That’s why I chose a multinational cast. If we were to identify São Paulo, people would think it was a story about Brazil. But it’s about our common plight.

05152008_blindness3.jpgDid the actors mind not having a backstory for the characters?

Well, Gael had an interesting reaction. He said, I never think about the character’s past. I think about his desire, what my character wants. The film goes forward, so for me it doesn’t matter what’s behind. I start and I know what I want, and that’s what I think all the time. I love Gael’s performance as a bad guy.

How did you strike a balance between the allegorical aspect and the human drama?

The book suggests a film that’s very allegorical, like a fantasy outside of space, outside the world — especially in the Portuguese Saramago writes, a bit like Old English for you.

But I went in the opposite direction. I tried to do a very naturalistic film, to engage the audience, make them ask themselves, “What would I do if put in this situation? How would I react?” I tried for a more naturalistic register so people could identify — otherwise it would be a very cold film. It’s a hard film to get involved with, but it could be even harder.

Saramago feared some filmmaker would make a “zombie film” out of his book.

That was sort of a joke. We worked with the characters on the experience of being blind. It’s very well done and consistent — though a couple of the extras look like fakes…

Why doesn’t Julianne’s character take action sooner? Instead of just going through the rapes?

You know, it’s a cultural thing, that question. In the book there are two rapes and the third time she kills the guy. I show the film to British people, and in Canada and Brazil, and no one reacts that way. I show the film in the U.S. and the first thing people say is, “Why doesn’t she kill them, why doesn’t she attack them?” There are some moral dilemmas in this film that I love.

05152008_blindness2.jpgIn what larger sense, according to your film, is humanity blind?

Sometimes you don’t see the person next to you — like your wife. When you have a fight, it’s because you can’t see what the other person sees, so you disagree. You don’t see the same thing. There’s some blindness involved in most conflicts. And there’s a more obvious blindness — what happens in Sudan doesn’t affect us. Two weeks ago 35,000 people were dying from the cyclone there. We don’t want to see this thing. There’s blindness in all levels, from the personal to the larger. Even in ourselves — we don’t want to face ourselves, we find excuses. That’s what I like about this theme. Maybe we go blind to protect ourselves. I really think if you can look at the person next to you, it’s liberating. But we’re afraid. That’s what the story’s about — people who can’t see lose their humanity, and then they get it back. They’re able to create a family and love and respect each other. And they get their sight back. I think it’s a nice parable.

[Photos: Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo; Danny Glover; Gael García Bernal – “Blindness,” Miramax Films, 2008]


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.