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Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

With a title like “I Am Slave,” one can reasonably expect neither subtlety or uplift from this true-life drama about the plight of one young Sudanese girl who is taken from her village in and sold into serving a family of Arabs in contemporary England. And for about two-thirds of “I Am Slave” that presumption would seem accurate, as “Last King of Scotland” screenwriter Jeremy Brock has no objection to leaving the caps lock on at times when depicting the particularly brutal treatment that befalls the village princess-turned-urban slave Malia (Wunmi Mosaku). Nor does director Gabriel Range, who last caused a stir in Toronto in 2006 with the premiere of the faux assassination of President Bush drama “Death of a President,” have any qualms about pushing buttons.

But patience is a virtue, for both the audience and Malia, as much of the heavyhandedness serves a purpose when Malia comes to realize her enslavement is far more psychological than physical. Worn down by years of sleeping in the cramped corners of the home of Hiam Abbass’ cruel mistress in Khartoum and then the mansion of her slightly more empathetic cousin (Lubna Azabal) in London, Malia has no contact with the outside world and is ordered to look away from anyone in her respective homes.

She has no idea that her father (“The Limits of Control”‘s Isaach De Bankolé) is out searching for her. The whippings by garden hose and the even more painful tongue lashings by Abbass’ and Azabal’s mistresses still pale in comparison to the loneliness endured by Malia and without any money or a place to go, the fear of the outside is significantly greater than staying inside the gates of her captors.

09052010_IAmSlave3.jpgAccording to one of the film’s end cards, this is more common than one would think: 5,000 slaves are believed to be held captive in England with an additional 20,000 existing in Sudan, and the film itself is based on the story of Mende Nazer, who became a human rights activist after serving in the home of the Sudanese diplomat. Even without that basis in reality, the premise of “I Am Slave” is jarring: Malia is unable to use the phone, exit the house or have any free will beyond the confines of her small cot as cars pass by the front of the house and the world moves on without her.

The wide-eyed Mosaku’s natural stoicism cuts through some of the more manipulative aspects of Range and Brock’s storytelling – even though one expects Malia to befriend the family’s driver to plant the seeds for a likely escape, she doesn’t really warm to him, and even though there are cutaways to her father journeying to the big city, it’s obvious enough that if there’s ever to be change in her life, she’s going to be the one achieve it.

All of this is done with a modern slickness that set it apart from a Lifetime movie, but there’s a thin line as far as tearjerkers of this nature are concerned. “Fish Tank” cinematographer Robbie Ryan lends his sharp eye to the proceedings, which rids the film of any sentimental glow, and in spite of some far-fetched dramatic scenes to move the story forward, Brock has a good ear for dialogue to make the whole disgusting situation almost seem sanitary to the characters who have lost their humanity long ago. (When the family driver encourages Malia to leave, he actually emphasizes the fact that she’s a “nobody.”)

“I Am Slave” also flirts with losing its humanity in the face of becoming too much of a movie, but by its end, it moves you in a way that only movies can and brings to light a reality that sadly couldn’t be made up.

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.