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NYFF: “Volver.”

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"It was a windy day."
Can we finally dispense with the popular proclamation that Pedro Almodóvar is the great director of women? The almost entirely female slew of characters in "Volver" are gorgeously photographed (Penélope Cruz has never look better) — the camera’s loving, lust-free gaze lingers on their ankles, plunging necklines and possibly prosthetic rears. They are vulnerable but resourceful, they are fierce and loving in their friendships and familial relationships, they greet each other with an amplified buss on each cheek, and their sweeping, unarticulated sisterhood hovers beyond the detection of men, who in the film exist only to admire from afar or wound up close. They are so not real.

This is beyond the director’s standard adulation of women; this is mythologizing a concept of femininity constructed from idealized maternal memories, Douglas Sirk, Sophia Loren and a touch of camp. That’s not so much a criticism (though it does chafe a bit) as an observation; "Volver" is more indulgent and inward-looking than it first appears, a journey into Almodóvarian fantasyland.

The film is possibly his least challenging. It is a pleasure to watch, as warm and comforting as its fanciful narrative concept, that one’s mother could return from the grave to provide solace and support when it is most needed. Cruz’s character, Raimunda, is the film’s luminous, suffering center, supporting her drunk layabout husband and her teenage daughter Paula by working several jobs, and sometimes driving back to the village in which she grew up to check in on and fret over her senile aunt, who seems to be doing mystifyingly well living by herself. When her husband makes a (not so incestuous, we soon learn) move on Paula and the girl unintentionally kills him in self-defense, Raimunda hides the body in the freezer of nearby recently closed restaurant. In doing so she serendipitously stumbles upon a new source of income — providing meals for a film crew shooting in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, her sister Sole returns from a funeral in the village to find a stowaway in her trunk — her mother Irene, who supposedly died in a fire five years ago, and who’s played by the marvelous, mischievous-eyed Carmen Maura. Hijinks ensue — Irene finds ways to hide from Raimunda, not yet ready to confront her; Raimunda disposes of the body with the help of the requisite cheery local prostitute; family secrets emerge.

We’ve never been particular devotees of Almodóvar, but if we sound a bit hostile in writing about "Volver," it’s not because it’s a bad film. It’s just too easy. We don’t begrudge his longing to return to a more naive mode of filmmaking, but here it feels like he’s coasting through familiar territory, and there are scattered moments of greatness that are frustrating reminders of what he’s done in the past. We seem to be in the critical minority with this one — there is no denying that the film is imminently watchable, if not so memorable.

Screens at Alice Tully Hall on October 7 and 8; opens in New York and L.A. on November 3rd.

+ "Volver" (NYFF)
+ "Volver" (Sony Pictures Classics)

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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