DID YOU READ

Zeina Durra and Elodie Bouchez Insist “The Imperialists Are Still Alive”

Zeina Durra and Elodie Bouchez Insist “The Imperialists Are Still Alive” (photo)

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Like the unsatisfied pleasure seekers in Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” or later Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan,” the protagonists of Zeina Durra’s “The Imperialists Are Still Alive” are chasing a satisfaction that no party will provide as they strut through gallery openings, soirees in the backrooms of Chinese kitchens, and other dimly lit social functions in Manhattan. But in a novel twist, Durra brings an unwelcome guest to the proceedings when the leader of the pack, a visual artist named Asya (Élodie Bouchez) discovers that an ex-boyfriend may have disappeared at the hands of CIA, a concern that might seem paranoid if it weren’t for the fact that both feel the scrutiny of living in a post-9/11 America.

That might sound like heady prestige bait for most filmmakers, but for Durra, the Oxford-educated daughter of Bosnian and Jordanian parents who spent the early 2000s attending film school at NYU, it’s obviously personal not just because of autobiographical similarities but rather since it’s laced with a singular sense of humor that challenges the importance of art and the permanence of identity while carrying an air of idiosyncrasy that only could come from a perspective of an outsider looking in. In New York once more to promote the film, Durra and the French star Bouchez spoke about what it was like to make the satire, how “Metropolitan” director Stillman came in for a cameo and how it’s far from what most independent cinema is these days.

What was the appeal of making this film?

Élodie Bouchez: Zeina. [laughs] No, simply, I really loved the script, which was very well written and structured and then I saw Zeina’s first film [the 2005 short “Seventh Dog”] that I really enjoyed too and I could feel that she was a really talented director. Then I met her and decided to do this movie together.

Zeina, what made you want to do this film and with Élodie?

Zeina Durra: I didn’t want to make one of those really bad movies with an artist who really wasn’t an artist that was painting bad canvasses – you know, those kind of bad indie films. So I thought I really need a French actress and because being an artist is all about energy, I was talking to [my casting director] about French actresses and he’s goes, “Well, I think Élodie would be perfect.” And I thought that was kind of out of our league and he said, “No, I just sent her the script. Let’s just give it a try.” So that all really worked out and it was a joy to work with her. We did a lot of prep work, she learned some Arabic. We really worked on how to get the character perfect and I think that shows in the film.

ImperialistsAreStillAlive_04132011.jpgThe film ultimately says some really interesting things about art – obviously, it’s very important to both of you, but at the same time, it shows how trivial it can be when compared to real world events and there’s one scene in particular that mocks an interpretive dance troupe called Environmental Dance that attempts to bridge the two. Since you work in the field, how do you reconcile those things?

ZD: I think that’s funny because everyone has brought that up, but for me, I just wanted to show this milieu [Asya’s] in, so as a dance troupe, it’s more like it was a really painful exercise to watch and as all young artists or non-artists, you go and you watch your friends’ work or and there’s always that moment of “Well, what happens if it’s dreadful” and how do you deal with that? So I thought that’d be really interesting bonding moment for the couple in the film because it’s their first proper date. And I didn’t want it to be silly. I wanted it to be something that went a bit wrong. Like it could’ve been good, but there was just something off in it and it was ridiculously funny as opposed to silly funny.

So that was that, but then the art thing, there’s always a struggle that any artist has or anyone that’s not like a doctor in a war zone that has a conscience has, which is how do you justify your day-to-day when there’s some crazy stuff going on and you think that your work is worthless. Ultimately, it’s more complex than that because you do need people thinking out there to try and put ideas out there to inspire society and to make society a better place. I do think art is very important for that, but there’s always those quite awkward moment when there’s a tsunami in Japan and it seems like what you’re doing is frivolous when maybe it isn’t. You have to keep that in mind when you’re doing art – that it is important, but obviously you’re going to have days when you think it’s like why the hell am I choosing this really tough profession that at the same time is pretty indulgent sometimes to the rest of the world.

Was it hard to strike the right tone for this?

ZD: I think the hardest thing about the film was people didn’t get that I knew what the tone of the film was and I’d written the script. I thought Élodie got the tone, right?

EB: Yes, of course, I got the tone because for me, it was already in the writing. The scenes are surreal sometimes, but in such a funny way, and I’m sure it takes a lot of work as a writer to get to that level of certainty in the humor and knowing Zeina, I guess that this tone also comes from her personality and the way she looks at the world and the way she looks at her characters, her story and her actors.

04142011_ImperialistsareStillAlive2.jpgFor Élodie, was it an interesting dynamic on set when in a film that’s personal for its director like this, you’re playing a version of your director? You don’t want to mimic her, but at the same time, you’re playing her onscreen surrogate.

EB: Yeah, the question’s never been to mimic her. She never asked me to do that.

ZD: It would’ve been a bad film! [both laugh]

EB: [There was] some inspiration and we just tried together to put in that third person that was the character, which was [between] me and which was Zeina completely in a way to give her that kind of complexity and dynamic. So it’s more like we both worked on [a character in the middle].

ZD: Yeah, completely. I didn’t go into whether it was me or not. I just wanted to have what I had in my head and wanted to say it out onscreen.

This film is always on the move, mostly from one party to the next – was it a really invigorating shoot or exhausting or both?

ZD: It was really fun. All our actors were great and we were a fun crew and we worked really hard and there were 23 days, so it was very arduous and it was very cold, but somehow we just all cracked up the whole time.

EB: Yes, the limited amount of time that we had wasn’t comfortable, but it just gave us a great energy and sometimes we had to go from the party makeup to very natural makeup and then go back to the party makeup – we would all put a lot of good energy into making our days and that was fun.

Was this bringing back some memories of some really bad or interesting parties you’ve attended?

ZD: That’s the whole New York thing about being young and going out and for me, because I was here during 9/11 and obviously before and after, people were still doing that sort of stuff, it was always quite surreal sometimes when you were in those situations, especially when everyone was being bombed and you were living your life. There was all this parallel stuff going on, so when I watch the film, it obviously brings back memories.

ImperialistsAreStillAlive4_04142011.jpg It reminded me in a very direct way of “Metropolitan” – and in fact, Whit Stillman shows up for a cameo as a gentleman who tries to impose himself on unsuspecting partygoers while dancing. How did that cameo come about?

ZD: Vanessa [Hope], my producer, is friends with him and she basically asked him if he would — we needed like a Euro banker and she said, “Oh, Whit would be perfect. He’d love to do it.” And that’s how he came on and it was just great because his work resonated with mine because I really do love his films.

How interesting has it been to get an American reaction? It’s very much an American film and at the same time, it would seem like people talk to you about it in foreign terms.

ZD: It was a hard film in that sense because it is a very American film, but it’s not made in an indie American way and it wasn’t in the way that we shot it, like the no time and no money, but the way that the film was structured. Nor did it have the familiar American indie characters, so I think that’s probably what those people ask in a way because you don’t have the guy in the flannel with the dog living in Williamsburg. That’s the lexicon of independent cinema when there’s a lot of brown sofas and that’s the aesthetic and I wasn’t doing that.

“The Imperialists Are Still Alive” is now available on demand and will open in New York on April 15th.

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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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