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“Radio On” and “The Bridesmaid”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Radio On,” Plexifilm]

Rare is the film that endeavors to, and succeeds at, encapsulating a cultural and generational Zeitgeist — not the “spirit” of movies or fashion or entertainment trends, but of life in the street, in the bars, in the underfurnished bedrooms and in-between meeting places populated by the age’s new grown-ups, caught somewhere between the burning questions of teenage-dom and evasive answers of adulthood. Wong Kar-Wai got famous making these movies in Hong Kong; the legacy of arthouse cinema, from Michelangelo Antonioni to Wim Wenders to Leos Carax and Gus Van Sant, is rich in Zeitgeisty goodness. Christopher Petit’s 1979 debut “Radio On” may be the subgenre’s purest tissue sample, because it freeze-dries England on the dusk of the punk era without seeming to try very hard (and does it at a time when British cinema was all but completely moribund). Supported by a nominal narrative, the movie is really a mood piece, viewing the British landscape with a gimlet eye and finding solace only in postpunk pop singles, which structure the movie much as they structure the day for Petit’s disenchanted contemporaries, and several generations of jaded kids since.

The music, always heard on LPs, cassettes or radio play, is by David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Lene Lovich, Devo, Robert Fripp, Ian Dury, etc.; the philosophically beautiful black and white images were shot by Martin Schafer, longtime behind-the-camera cohort to Wenders, who co-produced the film with the BFI. Schafer’s saturnine compositions may stand as the most gorgeous monochromatic cinematography ever shot in England, and the visions of industrial waste, semi-rural nowheresville, urban disconnectedness and late-capitalist angst state Petit’s position better than any narrative could. As it is, the story hardly tries — a numb and introverted DJ (David Beames) drives in his old coup to Bristol to look into his brother’s mysterious suicide. Of course, he discovers nothing, except England itself along the way, home to lost immigrants, political fugitives (like Proll), hustlers, dispirited laborers and punks with nowhere to go. (As a service-station attendant still mourning the death of Eddie Cochrane, Sting makes his first film appearance.)

What “Radio On” gets at is difficult to articulate — a mournful portrait of national anomie, a trapped-in-amber windshield view of a conflicted, self-esteem-challenged country in economic decline. Petit (who was a 70s film critic for Time Out in the UK) is strictly observational, whether it be via the unforgettably evocative roving-camera intro through the dead brother’s flat, set to Bowie’s “Heroes,” or the infinite variations on road-movie transcendentalism, as private car interiors are contrasted against the stark, inky landscapes through which they travel. Clues to history are honey-dripped throughout (a patch of glimpsed graffiti reads “Free Astrid Proll,” a railroaded member of the Communist splinter group the Baader-Meinhof Gang), but “Radio On” itself is something of a historical marker — no film has ever captured that epochal time and place in more telling detail.

Or there’s Chabrolville, which despite septuagenarian French New Wave stalwart Claude Chabrol’s years remains forever in the present day. Given his doggedly consistent fascination with psychopathic crime intersecting with contemporary bourgeois lives, it’s a surprise to find that his recent film “The Bridesmaid” (2004) is only Chabrol’s second adaptation of one of mystery-doyenne Ruth Rendell’s novels (1995’s “La Ceremonie” was the first). It is, in any case, a psychodrama of typically brisk efficiency and relaxed gallows humor. The semi-functioning family at the center is sketched in — responsible son (with incestuous lurkings) Benoît Magimel, high-spirited single mom Aurore Clément, bickering sisters — before we meet the titular catalyst at a family wedding: Senta (Laura Smet), a sensuous but off-putting seductress with a mysterious past. Magimel is all pro, deciphering life with his eyes as the chump who gets vacuumed in by this odd girl’s impulsive devotions and Nietzschean delusions, but Smet, all eyelashes and butterscotch skin, is the film’s prize; she doesn’t act out the character’s slowly revealed pathologies so much as keep them barely contained behind her mesmerizing stare, like mad dogs in a cage. Chabrol sets us up, of course, which is half the fun, and the experience is a delight for lack of pomposity (his visual storytelling remains no-nonsense) as well as matter-of-fact genre expertise.

“Radio On” (Plexifilm) will be available on DVD on April 3rd; “The Bridesmaid” (First Run Features) is currently available on DVD.

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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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