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No Tony Montana

No Tony Montana (photo)

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Maybe the French crime drama “A Prophet” is actually fulfilling some prophecy, having won the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes, two BAFTAs last weekend, and a most deserved Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Co-written and directed by Paris-born auteur Jacques Audiard (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” “Read My Lips”), this ambitious epic tracks the trial-by-fire experienced by Malik El Djebena (talented newcomer Tahar Rahim), an illiterate but clever 19-year-old Arab who, at the start of the film, has just been sentenced to six years in prison. Quickly seduced into carrying out seedy jobs for an old Corsican mobster (Niels Arestrup) who owns most of the guards, Malik learns the rewards of humility, sneakiness, shifting alliances and having a haunted conscience, ultimately growing in ways prison wasn’t intended for. While Audiard and Rahim were at the Sundance Film Festival, I spoke with them via translator about their mutual fears, the first time they were bitten by that bug called cinephilia, and how their film differs from Brian De Palma’s “Scarface.”

The title is mentioned very late in the film, in reference to Malik’s unique foresight to a random accident. Why did you decide to name the film so specifically on this moment or characteristic?

Jacques Audiard: If I had another title, I probably would have used it. But also I was scared. You know, prophecies are something that you’re waiting for — the things that leave something that hasn’t yet been answered, that hasn’t yet come. I don’t like titles that are too specific. “A Prophet” has several meanings. There is the prophet who brings the word of God, and the prophet who simply announces news. In this case, Malik, as a prophet, is carrying a new message. For me, he is a prototype of a new kind of human being.

“A Prophet” is such an intense, rigorously filmed epic. Were there any significant shared challenges you had to overcome as collaborators?

JA: We had to tame our fears. I think for Tahar and myself, the fear was transformed into something else, something more positive. Otherwise, we never would have succeeded.

Tahar Rahim: The fear is actually what propelled us forward, what drove us to complete it.

02242010_audiard1.jpgWhat do you mean by fear?

TR: Well, there was the fear of failure, of not being able to pursue the idea. For me, I was afraid of not being able to do what Jacques was asking me to do.

JA: When you write something, you have an idea about what it’s going to be, of how the story is going to develop and unfold, and then you’ll choose your actors and they’re going to try to deliver that vision you had. You sit and you see things before they actually come into being. Then, when you shoot the film, there are lots of things that you thought you were going to use or happen, and then they seem inappropriate or idiotic or misplaced. If things go well, as was the case here, then you’re working towards something that you never anticipated, something you could not have envisioned. But that comes from giving yourself away to the film. You have to accept the fear of not knowing entirely what you’re doing.

TR: It’s so freeing to stop being afraid of making mistakes, to let yourself go.

Tahar, you’ve said that your parents weren’t surprised when you told them you wanted to be an actor because you spent so much time at the cinema. What were some of the specific films or performances that inspired you?

TR: I saw every single film that came out because I was killing time there. It wasn’t just a specific pursuit. It was entertainment. It was [some time] after that when I really started liking it and paying attention, and then I wanted to see more, to be a part of it. I wanted to be in them. So many films and actors inspire me now. It could have been a problem, actually, in the film we’re talking about today because learning how to act is so many things at once. I learned that with Jacques. Before Jacques, I learned a little bit when I was in school by watching films, watching other people, and thinking about the relationships and situations I’ve experienced. But the problem is that you can also unconsciously reproduce what you’ve seen before. In some cases, that’s good, and sometimes that’s bad.

Can you remember any films that made you realize they could be more than just entertainment?

02242010_aprophet8.jpgTR: The first time I realized that? That’s such a long time ago!

JA: You can’t remember? Because I remember exactly when I had that. I even remember where I was sitting and what the theater was like. For me, the film that made me think, “Oh, a movie could also be this?” was “Le joli mai,” by Chris Marker. I was 18, and it was the summer at the Cinémathèque in Paris. There were only four people in the theater, but people go to the cinema because it’s air conditioned in the summertime.

TR: I’m digging in my brain, and I don’t know if I had a “Eureka!” moment. It was a very gradual realization, but a film that really made an impression on me was something that I saw at the Médiathèque when I was in Montpellier. It was that Marcel Carné film “Le jour se lève” with Jean Gabin. We had seen lots of film excerpts when I was at school. We talked a lot in film school about Orson Welles as if he invented moviemaking with “Citizen Kane,” so it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized: “They say Orson Welles invented the flashback, but Marcel Carné was the first one to use it in a film.” That was a big realization for me.

[The translator adds: “And now Jacques is talking about Julien Duvivier and the lies of film school…”]

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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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