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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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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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