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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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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.