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AFI Fest 2010: “The Human Resources Manager” and “Two Gates of Sleep,” Reviewed

AFI Fest 2010: “The Human Resources Manager” and “Two Gates of Sleep,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 AFI Fest.

Something tells me Eran Riklis would take it as a compliment to call his a career full of minor works. While many Israeli filmmakers have concentrated on making the big statement about their fractured cultural landscape of their homeland, Riklis has focused on making the small one in recent years, whether it’s the legal battle over a lemon grove between a Palestinian woman and the Israeli defense minister in his last drama “Lemon Tree” or the uneasy union of Syrian and Israeli families in his 2004 breakthrough “The Syrian Bride.”

As Riklis said in his introduction to the AFI Fest crowd over the weekend, his latest film, “The Human Resources Manager” is “similar, but different” – a nod to the fact that while the titular character travels thousands of miles from Jerusalem to an unnamed Eastern European country to return the corpse of one of his former employees to the village she grew up in, it is a film that ends with barely a ripple of significant change in the larger scheme of things, but amounts to a massive sea change for its characters.

11072010_HumanResourcesManager2.jpgIronically, if “The Human Resources Manager” is more pronounced in its intentions, it’s because so much in the film is left unidentified by name. Other than Yulia, the victim of a terrorist bombing, most of the other characters in the film are acknowledged only by position, if at all. When a local journalist (Guri Alfi) causes a sensation with a story of how Yulia’s body has laid in the morgue for over a week, it becomes the responsibility of her employer, a corporate bakery and, by extension, its HR manager (Mark Ivanir) to find her closest relative to claim her corpse – and naturally, he never had heard her name before.

Within days, the HR manager, the journalist and the woman’s teenage son are traveling to the snowy terrain of Eastern Europe (marked only by Romanian dialogue) in order to get the body back to her mother. For the HR manager, the cultural differences are a mild inconvenience. But as in “Lemon Tree,” it is how the institutionalized indifference of bureaucracy has replaced the way people relate to each other on a human level that is the true villain.

In adapting the novel by A.B. Yehoshua, Riklis is given to a more strident narrative than the films he’s penned from scratch; here, he doesn’t have a writing credit at all, working from a script by Noah Stollman. Yet although the grace notes are less delicate as the HR manager dutifully goes through all the traditional motions of finding his own humanity in a two-hour film, they reverberate nearly as much with Riklis’ uncommonly generous touch.

11072010_TwoGatesofSleep1.jpgAs it happens, fellow AFI selection “Two Gates of Sleep” is also about the journey of a coffin to its final resting spot, but in a different part of the world where political concerns are limited to the bickering between two brothers over the right way to bury their dead mother. Set apart from any semblance of urban encroachment, save for the lumber mill where the two brothers make a meager wage, Jack (Brady Corbet) and Louis (David Call) reside on the fringe of the Mississippi-Louisiana border where the flicker of their weak television reception just about sums up the pulse of life before their ailing mom (Karen Young) ultimately flatlines and they settle upon hauling her coffin across the river with only their hands.

First-time director Alistair Banks Griffin was originally a painter, which is evident immediately from the fact that “Two Gates of Sleep” is told in brush strokes – individual scenes of the brothers hunting deer or their confused mother as she wanders away from home are awash in the colors of the sky and the indigenous flora and bristle with raw emotion. However, as Griffin acknowledged during the post-screening Q & A, he gave up painting because he was frustrated by his own limitations and while the cinema offers him a greater canvas, “Two Gates of Sleep” shows he will need more time to understand the demands of a story since the film works far more effectively on a scene-by-scene basis than as a whole. Griffin explained that he purposefully left scenes out that detailed the growing animosity between the brothers, but when their relationship comes to a head, it is a bewildering turn of events.

It isn’t surprising that calls of pretension have dogged the film since debuting at Cannes, a reputation that wasn’t helped at AFI when Griffin announced before the screening it would be the Cannes print of the English-language film being presented with French subtitles. (“But then there’s not that much dialogue,” demurred Griffin.) However, there’s much more to admire about “Two Gates of Sleep” than there isn’t.

11072010_TwoGatesofSleep.jpgThe film boasts typically gorgeous cinematography from “Tiny Furniture” and “Afterschool” lenser Jody Lee Lipes, whose visual signature is so strong and vibrant it’s beginning to make me wonder about how wunderkind writer/directors Lena Dunham and Antonio Campos might be considered without him. (Coincidentally or not, Campos is an executive producer here.) And Griffin actually co-edited the film with star Corbet, which likely is at least partially responsible for giving the “Funny Games” actor the full command of the screen and he is compelling to watch, even when the story being told isn’t.

Although films like “Ballast” and “Winter’s Bone” have trudged through similar terrain, the desolate enclaves of rural America that unfortunately enter the consciousness of moviegoers about as often as they have the metropolitan community at large, there is still something unique about Griffin’s attempt at capturing a feeling of isolation and saying something about the grip of tradition that drives the brothers to such extremes. The images in “Two Gates of Sleep” are crisp. Now if only Griffin could bring the same clarity to his storytelling…

“The Human Resources Manager” and “Two Gates of Sleep” do not yet have U.S. distribution.

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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.