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“Down to the Bone,” “Hands Over the City”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Down to the Bone,” Hart Sharp Video]

As any goggle-eyed witness to Scorsese’s “The Departed” knows, Vera Farmiga — she played the police psychologist who improbably slept with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon — has a face that can haunt your dreams. We first saw her in the odious Richard Gere-Winona Ryder romance “Autumn in New York,” and Farmiga’s unusual aquiline visage, with its startling moon-blue cat eyes and a toothy smile that breaks like glass under pressure, made the rest of the film vanish from sight. She’s a formidable actress, too, as she proved last year in “Down to the Bone,” a raw indie in which she plays an upstate-New York supermarket cashier with a working-class husband, two kids, a small suburban house, and a jones for cocaine she thinks she can control. Farmiga’s Irene does, in fact, keep her habit under wraps most of the time — hunting for inebriation opportunities with her looming eyes even as she dresses her boys for trick-or-treating and cooks dinner. As the season gets colder, Irene gets more desperate — and then, surprisingly, and because she seems a little too smart to get lost in complete irresponsibility, checks into rehab (much to the chagrin of her co-snorting hubby).

Doper melodramas can be repetitious and dull, but Debra Granik’s movie stays so close to Farmiga you can hear her breath accelerate when cocaine is near. Irene’s plight is in any case far from a smooth ascent out of or descent toward junkiehood — in the 70s style, the film respects the struggle between clean sanity and polluted self-satisfaction, and comes as close as any film in its strange subgenre to suspending judgment. (If you had Irene’s dire low-rent life, you’d want to get high, too.) Farmiga is a show onto herself — and the suspense from here on in lies with what Hollywood will do with this brilliant, disconcertingly beautiful siren now that they have her. The new DVD comes with audio commentary by Granik and Farmiga, and Granik’s original 1997 short “Snake Feed.”

Another kind of clear-eyed essay on inequity, Francesco Rosi’s masterful 1963 “Hands Over the City” takes on an entire political system, Italian neorealist-style. A poison-pen rendition of a polluted urban bureaucracy, Rosi’s film comes off as a “Syriana” for the city of Naples, more interested in the textures of power and corruption than in individual psychology. It’s a tough kind of movie to make, and nobody has done it as well as Rosi — his “Salvatore Giuliano,” released the year before, chronicles the career of the titular Sicilian insurrectionist-cum-bandit without ever making him a character in the film. Instead, the sociopolitical hellfire erupting around him, from both sides of the law, is documented and dissected. “Hands Over the City” begins with a rampaging developer (Rod Steiger) hawking the city’s northern ghettos for profitable gentrification to Parliament members. Then, on the eve of an election, a building in the project collapses, killing two and crippling a child. (Rosi shoots this cataclysm in a breathless montage that leaves you wondering how the cameramen survived.)

From there, a tapestry of molten social conflict is crafted, as Leftist politicians insist on an investigation and attempt to head off the backroom collusion between Steiger’s all-business moneymen and the government’s “center” faction. There’s nothing dry or pedantic at work here — it’s feverish, vital drama with essential political morality at stake. (The Parliament sessions come close to blows.) Steiger’s presence may’ve sold the film in 1963, but he’s merely a single figure in an ensemble that sometimes seems to include all of Naples. The upshot is an expansive and tumultuous community portrait in which the lives and welfare of real people are decided by flabby, middle-aged men in expensive suits. (Rosi is not above cutting from the now-legless ghetto urchin on crutches to a rotund politician exercising on a rowing machine beside his built-in pool.) The film is fiction, but, Rosi tells us in an ending title, “The Context Is Real.” And universal, and timeless, he could have added. The Criterion supps include several new interviews with Rosi and several European film critics, and Rosi’s “Neapolitan Diary” (1992), a feature-length documentary about the city, the film and Rosi’s life making movies.

“Down to the Bone” (Hart Sharp Video) is available on DVD on October 31st; “Hands Over the City” (Criterion) went on sale October 24th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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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

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