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DID YOU READ

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]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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