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Cannes Dispatch 6: Parsing the Prize Winners

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By Dennis Lim

Not surprising given his own directorial sensibility, the defining characteristic of Stephen Frears’ jury turned out to be eclecticism. Whatever your predilections, there was probably not a lot to complain about, given how this year’s awards wealth was distributed between arty young auteurs (Carlos Reygadas, Naomi Kawase) and likely crowd pleasers (“Persepolis,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Edge of Heaven”), even between the critically adored (“Secret Sunshine”) and unloved (“The Banishment”). The jury’s most defiant statement, in the end, was its evident indifference (or worse) to studio-backed American genre films. While the Coens, Tarantino and Fincher all left empty-handed, Frears and co. found a way to reward Gus Van Sant, presenting the recent laureate with a 60th anniversary prize for the superb “Paranoid Park.”

As for the Palme d’Or, there could be no less controversial winner — at least among the critical contingent — than Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days,” an overwhelming favorite literally from day one, to the point where its reputation seems to me now in danger of being inflated. Extremely well directed and acted, “4 Months” is a moral tale as suspense movie and it works on the principle of withheld information — those who saw it at its first screening, before it was christened “the Romanian abortion movie,” can attest to the improbable, nail-biting effectiveness of the flatly observed opening minutes. Once its subject is clear, and events turn ever grimmer, the movie becomes less urgent and more methodical in depicting the privations of Ceausescu-era Romania, where black-market economics have polluted human interactions and transactions. With its long-take choreography and low-key naturalism, “4 Months” unavoidably evokes “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (both films were shot by Oleg Mutu), but, lacking the universality and metaphysical ambitions of Cristi Puiu’s film, can’t help suffering in comparison.

Was this, as many commentators have declared, the best Cannes in years? There were relatively few films I whole-heartedly loved (I counted four: “Flight of the Red Balloon,” “Secret Sunshine,” “Go Go Tales,” “Paranoid Park”), but only the crankiest of critics would grumble about the overall quality. It’s worth noting, though, that more than half of my dozen or so favorites screened outside the competition. The Quinzaine enjoyed a reasonably strong edition: Besides Anton Corbijn’s prize-winning “Control,” high points included Serge Bozon’s “La France,” an almost Bressonian WWI movie with a cross-dressing Sylvie Testud and Belle and Sebastian-ish musical interludes; Nicolas Klotz’s “La Question Humaine,” a wry, cerebral drama that recalls Arnaud Desplechin’s “La Sentinelle” in its view of history as a haunting (substituting the Holocaust for the Cold War); and Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s erotic unhappy-marriage mood piece (and decisive return to form), “Ploy.”

Back in the official selection, the (widely dismissed) “midnight movies” by Abel Ferrara and Olivier Assayas were, for me, superior to almost all of the actual title contenders. And three of my festival favorites came from the Un Certain Regard section: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s exquisite “Flight of the Red Balloon”; Diao Yinan’s “Night Train,” the poised tale of a female Chinese executioner that moves from terse character study to terse existential thriller; and Cristian Nemescu’s “California Dreamin’ (Endless),” the other Romanian film.

It’s a shame that more people didn’t get to see Nemescu’s movie, which had minimal pre-screening publicity and was the last film to screen in Un Certain Regard, where it promptly won the top prize. Tragically, Nemescu was only 27 when he died in a car crash last summer. His debut feature is billed as unfinished — a producer added the posthumous titular parentheses — and at two and a half hours, could clearly have used some additional sculpting, but its verve and expansiveness more than make up for the ragged edges and occasional slack patch.

In 1999, a convoy of U.S. soldiers, en route to Kosovo, is detained in a Romanian village by a despotic stationmaster (they’re missing the necessary paperwork); with most of the locals, from the mayor to the high school’s female population, intent on “seducing” the Americans, culture-clash tragicomedy ensues. It’s not the most subtle allegory for the American habit of forcibly exporting democracy and turning foreign misadventures into messy conflagrations. But it has energy, wit and heart to spare and, as an anti-American smackdown, even maintains an affection for its ostensible targets. Nemescu’s first and last film provided a largely apolitical Cannes edition with its missing Iraq movie and a festival of mostly familiar faces and known quantities with its major discovery.

[Photo: Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” IFC First Take, 2007]

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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

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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