DID YOU READ

Elia Suleiman’s “Time” to Shine

Elia Suleiman’s “Time” to Shine  (photo)

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Don’t call Elia Suleiman a Palestinian filmmaker. “It’s a kind of ghettoization, frankly,” says the 50-year-old Nazareth-born director, and he has a point. True, his name often heads lists of filmmakers working in the Middle East — Suleiman’s last two features have both premiered at Cannes to wide acclaim — but his work also displays a universality and accessibility that reaches beyond politics or questions of identity. His films manage an irresistible — and somewhat paradoxical — blend of Jarmuschian irony, Tatiesque slapstick, and occasional bits of documentary, while also working with deeply emotional, almost romantic undercurrents.

The films have never been particularly political, even though they often tackle potentially explosive topics: 2002’s much-admired “Divine Intervention” climaxed with an Israeli checkpoint being blown to bits, “Matrix”-style. (It was a comedy, believe it or not.) Suleiman’s third feature, “The Time That Remains,” is certainly his most ambitious yet, examining the effect of the creation of Israel on the lives of one family – the director’s own – through his characteristically wry, deadpan style. I recently spoke with the director about the difficulties of making a historical epic, his frustration with questions of identity, and whether his three features could be considered a trilogy.

This seems like a very personal film for you, telling in part the story of your family in Palestine over the decades. And it’s been regarded as part of a trilogy. When did you first decide that you would make this film?

You know, everybody asks about this trilogy aspect of the films. I never said that. I do not think of cinema as trilogies or “duologies” or whatever comes with a “-gy.” I think sometimes there’s a closure, so maybe people feel like the film brings some kind of finality to the other two films. But I don’t know, for example, that my next film isn’t going to feel like a continuation of this film. I’m against the idea of planning ahead this sort of context. You do that if someone commissions you to do a work and says, “The narrative has to do such and such a thing at such and such a place.” And then it becomes a sketch of some kind. I’ve done a few of those, like the four-minute films I did for Cannes. But not in the actual films I make. It’s difficult to say that you planned to make three films, because then suddenly that becomes a context that’s imposed on the film, and there’s no room left for the poetic.

01072011_TimeThatRemains1.jpgBut you do have a very distinctive style, and these films do explore certain themes. So maybe there’s a particular uniformity on a superficial level? And then, when you make another film, they’ll say, “Oh, now he’s just repeating himself.”

Exactly! When the producers read my scripts, they always say, “Oh, this is just like the other one.” This happened to me. When I did “Divine Intervention,” they said, “Oh, it’s just like ‘Chronicle of a Disappearance’ all over again.” Then I made it, and they saw that it’s not the same thing all over again. It’s connected, of course, because this is also a personal story, this is also semi-autobiographical, this is sincerely the way I feel my images. So, I guess I should add that there are some intentional connections.

In “Chronicle of a Disappearance,” I filmed in my parents’ house, and I placed a camera pointing towards the kitchen, where my mother sits. In “Time That Remains,” I intentionally shot in the same place, from the same angle. Because I wanted to talk about the passage of time and the aging of my mother. So that was very connected. And people who come and look and write about a film have an absolute right to write what they want about the film. So I’m not in a position to say, “No.” And I guess it’s flattering, too, because it means people are seeing the films and creating a context for them.

One thing that all of these films do display is your remarkable sense of location – your impressive ability to work within a physical space, whether it’s a room or a house or a street. You have a unique way of moving actors. You discussed your parents’ house. When you plan a film, are you precise in what you’re looking for? Do you think of a space and find it? Or do you just show up and work things out on set?

Most of the time, when I write in my notebooks, there’s a place that I note. When I come to write the script, that place becomes imaginary. And so when I’m writing the scene, I write it with precise description. In my script, I’ll talk about screen direction, very precise movements, etc. Then what I do is when I go to scout a location, I go to the exact same places as a departure point. I go to that space, and I sit down by myself for quite a while, just to feel the space. Even if it’s absolutely familiar. Even when it’s my parents’ home, which is where I grew up.

01072011_TimeThatRemains3.jpgHow do you know when you’ve found the right space?

You look for the place that comes to dialogue with you, in that moment. You find the poetic space, where the imaginary is actually playing, and you’re being sincere to yourself. Then you feel that this is the place you’re going to shoot. Sometimes, however, the walls are in your way, the place is smaller, you’re not going to be able to push in the camera, etc. And then you have to find or create an alternative space. What I try to do most of the time is manage with what I have.

This is how I choose my locations. I go and I live in them. Even with my cinematographer, when he comes to the set, we go and we hang out there, and we talk about things – things that maybe don’t even have anything to do with the scene, or the movie. That makes you sense whether this is the right space to shoot the movie. But many of my locations have been alternative locations, because you’re not given permission, or because there’s a lot of traffic, or whatever.

Plus, you’re making films in Palestine, which I imagine is a place that’s constantly changing.

And you know what? This is actually a huge headache for production, because sometimes I’ll pick a location where trucks cannot enter, or where it’s impossible to have 50 crew people, and so production-wise, it becomes difficult. But I always find this challenge is worthwhile because you come closer to something. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself looking for something that’s just easy and open and convenient, and ultimately doesn’t feel true to yourself.

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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.