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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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