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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]


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.