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Xavier Dolan Feels the Pulse of “Heartbeats”

Xavier Dolan Feels the Pulse of “Heartbeats” (photo)

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Xavier Dolan is having a tough time getting into America. The night before we were scheduled to speak, his flight was stuck in Montreal as a result of the snow that’s blanketed New York in recent months and as a result, he missed out on wining and dining the likes of John Cameron Mitchell, amongst others, at the film’s U.S. premiere, though in his apology, he noted not only the circumstances that prevented him from attending the gala, but also the ones that have kept his first film “I Killed My Mother” from reaching the States after causing a sensation at Cannes, where it picked up an unheard of three prizes for the story of a gay teen who routinely clashes with his ma.

Thanks to a “distributor of questionable professionalism,” the French-Canadian director’s neighbors down south have had to wait another two years for Dolanmania to commence, but that will be rectified this week with the release of “Heartbeats,” a coolly seductive love triangle drama between two men (Dolan and Niels Schneider) and a woman (Monia Chokri) that caused a similar frenzy around the filmmaker when it premiered on the Croisette last year and understandably so. At the age of just 21, Dolan has drawn comparisons to Francoises ranging from Truffaut to Ozon, though as he insists below his influences don’t hail from celluloid. That might be considered surprising given Dolan’s ease with cinematic language, but then again, he’s been acting since the age of five and in recent years, writing plum roles for himself in his own films while occasionally doing a voice dub for the likes of Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley in “Harry Potter,” Taylor Lautner’s Jacob Black in “Twilight” or the titular hero of “Kick-Ass” in their French incarnations, a gig Dolan says “[is] actually very stimulating and interesting as you have to give as much as the actor himself is giving onscreen.”

There’s no question that Dolan is a guy who likes to give his all, particularly to his own films, and he’s already at work on a third, “Laurence Anyways” about a man whose desire to have a sex change operate complicates his relationship with his girlfriend. In the mean time, I recently spoke to the multi-hyphenate about “Heartbeats,” why he turned to directing and not overthinking what he does.

As someone that grew up around the business, has it shaped what you wanted to do with your own films?

Not really, honestly. When I was a kid, I really didn’t think I would become a director and that may seem kind of weird, but I became one to act in “I Killed My Mother” and was afraid that if someone else directed it, they would actually choose a prettier or taller or more famous actor. I thought this is ridiculous because this is my life.

How did this film come together?

[Monia Chokri and Niels Schneider and I] actually did a roadtrip and drove from Montreal to Los Angeles back and forth and we bonded on this trip and thought that we were close enough to now collaborate professionally in the film. And when I got back to Montreal, I actually realized the summer we were supposed to shoot “Laurence Anyways” was postponed for money and time restrictions, so I wrote the script for “Heartbeats” and asked Monia and Niels to join me in the process of doing it.

02222011_Heartbeats2.jpgWas it your intention to do something a little lighter and looser in terms of the rhythm from your first film, “I Killed My Mother”?

It was not intentional, but we shot on film and it’s a different story, it’s a different tone and it’s different characters, so it’s unavoidably different than the first one and that was actually the idea – not doing the same thing over and over again or some kind of sequel. I wanted to surprise people with something lighter and different.

At the same time, one of the really interesting things about it is how fearless it is – capturing these emotions at such a young age, do you worry at all about how is might look from the future?

[laughs] I don’t. I don’t. I do it in the present tense and at this moment in which we’re speaking, it’s already far behind me. It belongs to the past. I’m not thinking about the future at all. And I’m not thinking at all, I think. I do it in a very sincere and free way and then if it pleases people and makes them laugh or makes them cry or interests them or entertain them than so be it, but I don’t really think of anything precise when I direct. I’m young and it may sound naïve to say that, but people come up with analysis and questions and I listen to them and think wow, that’s pretty intelligent, but I did not think of this when I did the film. I wish I had.

I’ve heard you say you’re only influenced by your mistakes as a filmmaker.

All the mistakes in “I Killed My Mother” were pretty influential in the ways I would not repeat them in “Heartbeats.” I’m very critical of my work and I don’t especially love “I Killed My Mother.” It’s a very flawed and pretentious and irritating film in moments. There are good things in it, but I’m not the greatest fan of the film. And what I mean is people think I’ve seen so many films and that I had so many influences, but it’s not the case. Most of my influences are in literature or in painting or visual arts, poems, writers. Not films. I still have a lot of films to see. I’m not the most cultured person.

Are you actually happier that “Heartbeats” appears to be getting a wider release than “I Killed My Mother,” at least in the U.S.?

Well, I’m not happier. They’re quite different films. For me, they are parallel things, but they’re different. So yeah, I’m happy it’s my introduction to the American market, if that’s what you mean, but yeah, I think “Heartbeats” is a more solid film, but at the same time, it’s less intense. “I Killed My Mother” is more raw and more intense.

02222011_Heartbeats3.jpgOne of the things I found most fascinating about “Heartbeats” is how in the film’s introduction, one of the characters is discussing e-mail, which clearly marks it as a contemporary film, but you have many other touches like the music choices that suggest you wanted to make something timeless. How did you reconcile those two things?

You’re absolutely right. It was important to me there was some kind of diversity in the film with the music, the costumes and everything so that we could understand the problem that we’re talking about, which is unrequited love, is timeless and temporal.

I thought having music artists from different periods from Dalida to the Nice, the Swedish band from this century, to France Gall to House of Pain – I had in mind to offer a form of variety in matters of time period and stuff like this and I thought that would portray real well the fact that unrequited love is not something new or exclusive to these years. It’s always been there. I’m not inventing anything.

“Heartbeats” is now available on VOD and opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 25th.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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