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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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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.