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On DVD: “My Father My Lord,” “Takva”

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12232008_myfathermylord.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Just in time for the holidays, particularly Chanukah and Eid al-Adha (okay, that was a few weeks ago), here come two new Mideast films that quietly tear into the bilious, ruinous hypocrisies of fundamentalist religion. It’s an ironic conflict from where we stand: nothing is as ripe and ready for the firing squad as reactionary religious discipline, and yet few social codes are as ubiquitous. What’s more, they all somehow demand “respect.” Outside of most neighborhoods in most American and European metropoli, you can hardly throw an Orwell paperback without hitting and infuriating a narrow-minded fundamentalist, and I suppose how you measure the attack-mode nuts of David Volach’s “My Father My Lord” (2007) and Özer Kiziltan’s “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God” (2006) depends on how strenuously you feel the press of “extreme tradition” (my phrase!) in your own life. The movies seem from a New Yorker’s perspective to go gently, though with firm conviction, for the throat, while in Israel’s Haredic communities, and in Turkey’s Muslim enclaves, the films might inspire fiery damnations aplenty. Or none at all.

Volach’s movie is by far the more artful — I wasn’t sure, with its stereotypical overbearing rabbi dad versus impetuous young son template, if it’d show me something real, but then, early on, there it was: little preadolescent Menahem (Ilan Grif) walks home at night past an ambulance taking a dead woman from her apartment, and out of the building lopes a German Shepherd, ears up and panicking, looking for its mistress. It circles in a run and ends up jumping into the ambulance beside the gurney, and will not be budged. Like the boy, we’re riveted.

12232008_myfathermylord2.jpgThe father’s strict adherence to Torah collides with the boy’s natural curiosity about life, of course, but not so much dramatically — Volach instead suggests the inner imbalance by simply watching how Menahem gets distracted during services by daydreams, and how the father brews silently about his son’s unwillingness to bend completely to the traditional will. The key to the struggle is the mother (Sharon Hacohen-Bar), a younger woman devoted to a lifestyle that thoroughly subjugates her (when the family goes to the beach, she must go to a separate section, away from the men), and who forms the tip of a familial triangle, calling her husband on the carpet for being inflexible without saying a word. Volach grew up Haredic, and so the film’s tragic denouement reads like an act of merciless cultural revenge. (It’s there, too, in a tiny shot of a plastic-bagged fish trying, once the bag is dropped and burst, to swim back up into it.) The davenning of the faithful takes on a hatefully narcissistic aura. At the same time, “My Father My Lord” is most resonant as an intimate portrait of a young boy’s worldview, tugged at by orthodoxy but inherently defiant.

“Takva” is another morality tale, set in Istanbul and centered on middle-aged bachelor-schlub Muharrem (Erkan Can), who owns little and obeys only his daily Muslim duties, a static situation that changes once his mullah hires him (because he is utterly guileless) to serve as the mosque’s business agent — collecting rents from tenants all over the city, and bribes from contractors. (He’s also haunted by “sinful” wet dreams.) Of course, being an innocent, Muharrem is oblivious to his new job’s unholy aspects at first, but eventually, as he is presented with a chauffeur, a cell phone and a Western business wardrobe, the chips begin to fall, the steady river of justifications that flow from the mosque’s leaders fail to convince him, and he is faced with a catastrophic sense of ethical compromise.

12232008_takva.jpgTurkey, like Israel, may be experiencing a kind of mini-new wave (at least based on what we see), but Kiziltan’s film, while being both economical and often over-expressive, is hardly an art film domino falling into line behind Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Still, its portrait of fat, prevaricating mosque elders talking about obedience to Allah but actually concerned only with profit has teeth. That is, unless, as I’ve suggested, you’re Turkish and Muslim, and the film comes off as a mere fable about the perils of naiveté and of Islamic life becoming too Westernized and capitalist. Given the secular-militarist nation’s conflicted relationship with its own huge Muslim population, the film might actually be taken as pro-fundamentalist and anti-democratic in thrust — such is the Rorschachian torque of political cinema.

“My Father My Lord” (Kino) and “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God” (Koch Lorber Films) are now available on DVD.

[Photos: “My Father My Lord, Kino, 2008; “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God,” Kock Lorber, 2008]



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.


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.