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Cannes Dispatch 4: Feel-Bad Cinema

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By Dennis Lim

There is without fail an onslaught of entries at any major international film festival that falls under the ever-expanding rubric of feel-bad cinema. In that department, the bar has been set dauntingly high at Cannes this year by Austria’s king of pain Ulrich Seidl. “Import/Export,” his first Cannes entry and his fiction feature since 2001’s “Dog Days,” incorporates two of the most distinct characteristics of contemporary Austrian cinema. It emphasizes geographic, if not economic, mobility and it mixes fiction and nonfiction (using non-pros and real locations, including a porn studio and a geriatric ward, in a fictional scenario).

In the “Import” segment, a nurse and single mother journeys from her frigid, dead-end Ukrainian existence to scarcely more hospitable Vienna, where she finds work tending to spoiled brats and cleaning up after the senile and infirm. In “Export” (the stories never dovetail but are evocatively intercut), an Austrian lunkhead and his piggish stepfather venture into the former Soviet bloc, delivering gumball machines and participating in gruesome tableaux of abjection. Unblinkingly photographed by Ed Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler, the film isn’t much of an advance for Seidl’s bludgeoning, depressive sensibility, but the leavening measures of compassion and absurdist humor are more pronounced than in the past.

Within the context of this festival, the impeccably made “Import/Export” seems a tough-minded rebuke to Fatih Akin’s humane but visually flat and overly neat transnational drama “The Edge of Heaven,” which hinges on a similar crisscrossing premise — one that it pads out with more pseudo-cosmic coincidences that even Kieslowski would have tolerated. Spiraling out from a pair of mirrored tragedies — the death of a German woman in Turkey and the death of a Turkish woman in Germany — the movie forces its largely believable and sympathetic characters into an increasingly ludicrous web of contrivances.

One of the most intriguing sub-themes of Cannes ’07 has been the reformed miserablist. In Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light,” to cite the most grandiose example, the Mexican abjection specialist tempers his confrontational aesthetic with an infusion of Dreyer. Set amid an isolated Mennonite community in Mexico, “Silent Light” is a typically bold and even nutty experiment, with many bravura cinematographic feats and tricks (rhymed sunrise/sunset shots, a camera mounted to a corn thrasher, conspicuous lens flares), but I must confess a preference for Reygadas the bad boy — there was more substance in the bile and misanthropy of “Battle in Heaven” than in the new film’s ostentatious spirituality.

Like the Reygadas, Harmony Korine’s “Mister Lonely” could be considered the first self-consciously mature work by a onetime enfant terrible. It’s also Korine’s first post-rehab effort (after what the press book terms “the dark years”) and his first since “Julien Donkey-Boy.” “Mister Lonely” has what you might call a mellowed sweetness. The freak show this time is more melancholy than garish: A Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) and joins a colony of outcast doppelgangers (including Denis Lavant as Charlie Chaplin and reunited “Performance” stars James Fox and Anita Pallenberg as the Pope and the Queen of England). The film is something of a mess, overlong and unfocused (even by Korine’s standards), but it’s also vivid, even enchanting, and it contains some of the loveliest images I’ve seen all week (most of them involving skydiving nuns).

Eagerly anticipated and hugely disappointing, Béla Tarr’s “The Man From London” might well be the Hungarian master’s attempt to lighten up. There’s the relatively compact running time (two and a quarter hours) and a missing-loot premise, adapted from Georges Simenon, that could just as well have worked for the Coen brothers. But the movie, at least after its staggering opening minutes, suggests nothing so much as deep stagnation. Almost every shot calls attention to its own virtuosity (the cinematography is by German director and Tarr acolyte Fred Kelemen). For all the dazzling fluidity of the camerawork, the film itself lumbers along wearily and with a surprising lack of grace.

[Photo: Harmony Korine’s “Mister Lonely,” MK2 Productions, 2007]

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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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