DID YOU READ

On DVD: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Diva”

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06172008_fourmonths.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Maybe it’s jumping the gun to say so, but is the Romanian New Wave kaput already? The latest and most-Cannes-honored post-postmodern, hyperrealist, ex-dictatorship, young-auteur film movement seems to have already fizzled — after Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007) emerged with last year’s Palme D’Or, nothing new has appeared at the world’s festivals from Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristi Puiu, Catalin Mitulescu or Radu Jude, at a time when they should be leaping on their global visibility and market success like five-year-olds on a summer puddle. In his prime, Godard would’ve churned out five features and three shorts in the three years since the scent of Romanian sulfur first hit the air with Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005). Who knows what’s keeping them (Puiu hasn’t had a credit in three years), or what bureaucratic Kafka-ness they must battle to get one of their extraordinarily inexpensive movies made, but the worst-case scenario has us looking already elsewhere on the globe for a freshly imagined gout of cinematic energy.

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” may be the best of the Romanians, in part because, like “Mr. Lazarescu,” it constitutes a kind of state-of-the-art naturalism, down to the longueurs, underlighting, open-ended narrative and extraordinarily confident use of off-screen space. (When it’s done well, nothing looks as easy as evoking a three-dimensional world outside the frame.) But it’s a cleaner-running, more mysterious machine, because while it’s equally cataclysmic, it lacks Puiu’s film’s deadened sense of inevitability. It’s an ordeal by anticipation; if you’re a newcomer, the less known the better. Let us say just that it’s about the struggle to obtain an illegal abortion, and the repressed crucible at the film’s squirming center does not belong to the pregnant character. We’re not immediately cued up to know who we’re supposed to be empathizing with, in a crowded co-ed dorm a few years before the fall of CeauÅŸescu — Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), the pregnant, nerve-wracked brunette or Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), her pragmatic blond roommate? Rolling out in long single takes that give the film an acute sense of ticking-clock anxiety (this is the way to do it, not clusterfuck-edit your material in a vain attempt to “make us feel” your story’s apprehension), Mungiu’s movie is about the minute-to-minute things that can and will go wrong, leading up to a hotel room face-off with a brooding, manipulative, completely unreadable abortionist in a leather jacket (Vlad Ivanov; both he and Marinca have netted critics’ awards) that plays so subtly and under-the-breath that only when it’s over do you realize the weight of what transpired. What we don’t see — as in, what’s happening during a long, mercilessly suspenseful birthday dinner scene that is more concisely conceived than any ten American films this year — is what Mungiu uses to knock the air out of us. It’s a raw, uncompromised and deliberately inconclusive film as a whole, and as such justifies its new wave hype by being antithetical in almost every facet to what American movies ordinarily do and how they’re shaped.

06172008_diva.jpgAmerican cinephiles, at least, like their new waves to have a sociopolitical purpose — battling oppression, recovering from totalitarianism, emerging from war or cultural anemia or pre-industrialized stasis. But the “cinema du look” French mini-wave of the 1980s enjoyed some eyeball-time here, although its only ambition was to be as glossy, cool and auto-Americanish as possible. To be fair, inaugural figurehead Leos Carax didn’t really belong in the grouping, but Luc Besson and Jean-Jacques Beineix certainly did, and their movies divided, and still divide, those who think they’re empty and glib, and those who think that style and ironic pulpiness are fab ends unto themselves. The announcement movie of the “movement” was Beineix’s “Diva” (1981), what with its supercool attitudinizing and cohesive vision of Paris as a parade of secret cultures, movie-movie posturing, quixotic passions, multi-culti matter-of-factness (years before it became truly chic) and post-punk fashion.

Here’s why “Diva” was a global hit: it conjured a modern urban universe in which everyone is an impulsive, hell-or-high-water artiste, whether they’re actually producing art or merely cluttering their rooms with wrecked cars and doing jigsaw puzzles. Everyone dallies and obsesses; aping Godard, Beineix sets up a suspenseful crime tale and then loiters in an apartment for a fat dose of flirting. The fugue of high and low Euro-culture is one of the school’s pervasive ideas, and here Beineix cooks up a dynamic in which a messy underworld of music piracy, murderous police corruption, kleptomania, chain-smoking, thuggery and movie fetishism revolves, bizarrely, around opera, and a particular reclusive, record-refusing diva (Wilhelmenia Fernandez) fond of “La Wally.” It begins, more or less, with a shoeless woman running for her life in a raincoat (nod to “Kiss Me Deadly”), graduates to tableaux of a nude-model Vietnamese girl coasting through a puzzle-piece-strewn millionaire’s loft on roller skates, and a moped chase through the Metro. Beineix’s idea of quickly transitioning from the street to the underground is to watch a passing woman get her skirt billowed up over an subway grate, and then cut to a shot from beneath. The film is not jacked on crank, exactly, but it’s restless and consistently inventive; nothing in it is ordinary, and no shot is drab or uninhabited. It may be Americanized after a fashion, but it’s also intensely French.

[Photos: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” IFC Films, 2007; “Diva,” United Artists Classics, 1982]

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Genius Products) and “Diva” (Lionsgate – The Meridian Collection) are now available on DVD.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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