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Michael Haneke Makes It Hurt So Good

Michael Haneke Makes It Hurt So Good (photo)

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“Why so glum, chum?”

It’s the first question I really wanted to ask 67-year-old Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, whose provocative social dramas are fueled by some of the bleakest, most distressing subject matter in world cinema today. Whether it’s the sadomasochistic student-tutor romance in “The Piano Teacher,” the relentlessly brutal critique of violence as entertainment in his meta-horror “Funny Games” (and his shot-for-shot U.S. remake, which gave the finger to Hollywood by mocking it with Hollywood financing), or the accusations of bloodlust against his own audience in his allegorical masterpiece “Caché,” Haneke’s arthouse miserablism certainly doesn’t inspire hope in the goodness of mankind. But maybe inspiring thought, self-reflection and debate demands that cinema hurt so good.

The 2009 jury at Cannes certainly believed so. Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or (and now nominated for a Golden Globe), “The White Ribbon” finds Haneke returning to his German roots. Staged in a Protestant village in northern Deutschland just before World War I, the film uses the historical framework of fascism and terrorism to depict how any community could easily turn against itself. Mysterious accidents begin to appear like crimes (arson, abduction, assault and assorted sabotages), and could it be that the children are to blame, retaliating against the verbal, physical and spiritual abuse wrought by the adults in power? With the help of a translator, I chatted with Haneke about the similarities between “The White Ribbon” and “Caché,” whether he sees humanity as inherently evil, and why he’s never directed a comedy.

What inspired you to write such a German-specific story?

I chose the context of German fascism because that’s the best-known example of how people can be made receptive to what I call “ideological rat-catchers,” people who are selling their ideologies like this. The film seeks to show the process of how people can be made receptive to such ideologies. It would be a misunderstanding to see the film as simply about the rise of fascism. That would be far too reductive, especially since there’s no single film that could deal with all those causes.

12302009_TheWhiteRibbon2.jpgAs in some of your other films, “The White Ribbon” has mysteries that are never resolved. What attracts you to this idea, setting up audiences to search for clues in vain?

When you pose questions without providing answers, then you’re forcing the audience to reflect on the questions and think about them more seriously. It’s dramatically effective to do that. When a drama works with suspense, it’s the glue that keeps the audience sitting in their seats. For every event that takes place in the film, there are several possible and logical explanations. It’s up to each individual spectator to find the answer for himself.

Some have compared the ambiguities of “The White Ribbon” to “Caché.” The new film concerns an unknown villain who plants a tripwire, setting off a series of antagonistic events. The earlier film also has an unknown villain who instigates hostility, except with strategically delivered videotapes.

After “Caché” came out, there were entire internet forums developed to discuss what the two boys were saying in the schoolyard at the end of the film. Of course, I had to write dialogue for them, but I made sure that no one ever found out what they said. That provides different possible interpretations for the audience. But, especially in “Caché,” the questions that people are looking for an answer to are the least important part of the film. The film grapples with Daniel Auteuil’s character’s guilt and how he’s going to respond to his obligations. That’s far more important than whoever actually sent the videotapes. The tapes are simply a means of creating suspense.

There’s another scene in “Caché” where Juliette Binoche is accused of having an affair with a friend of the family. You can assume that, yes, they’re having an affair, but she claims she isn’t. So it’s up to each of us to make up our mind. So rarely do you actually know where the truth lies. It’s only in mainstream cinema that everything is clear and all problems are resolved. Real life is complicated and contradictory.

12302009_TheWhiteRibbon1.jpgCharacters in your films are often so cruel to one another. If there were no laws governing us, do you see humanity as inherently evil?

Yeah. [laughs] I think everyone is capable of doing absolutely anything. It just depends on the situation they find themselves in. It’s easy for us who are living in such comfortable, privileged surroundings to judge other people and say, “Oh, I would never do that.” To stick with the example of German fascism, where we lived under the Nazis and were told that in order to save the rest of your family, you have to denounce your neighbors — I’m not so sure if I’d be strong enough to oppose them. You never know how you’re going to respond.

You typically take a detached, didactic approach to your subject matter. Would you ever consider making something more personal or even confessional?

No. I always think it’s dangerous to make films that deal with one’s own tummy-aches. I leave that to beginners and dilettantes.

Is this the first feature you’ve shot in black and white?

I made two previous films [for television] that were mostly in black and white, although they did have color scenes in them. The first was a literary adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel “Rebellion,” and also a drama called “Fräulein.” Both were period pieces.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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