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DID YOU READ

“Comedy of Power,” “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Comedy of Power,” Kino, 2006]

Like it or not, we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of the French New Wave — which, we should not be allowed to forget, will always be to film culture roughly what the Age of Enlightenment was to Western thought. Or what movable type was to public literacy. Or what “The Origin of Species” was to biology: a volcanic epiphany, a revolution. This was when the world realized that movies no longer needed to be manufactured by industries but could instead be made by individuals, rebels, idiosyncrats, with more mobile postwar equipment and on-location chutzpah. Chaplin and “Citizen Kane” notwithstanding, this was when, suddenly, movies could be art, made by self-expressive artists (not craftsmen or entertainers) who didn’t require guidance or approval from corporations or governments.

That’s how the story goes, and even if it’s only partially true (most of the New Wavers turned pro dealmakers very quickly), the films are still with us, all prickly and moody and discombobulating, and most of the moviemakers are still hard at play in the fields of cinema. Godard, Rivette, Rohmer, Varda and Resnais are still productive, though none of these gray lions rivals Claude Chabrol for energy and volume of output — he’s made 25 features in the last quarter-century alone, and only about half of them have seen the inside of American movie theaters. Chabrol looms so unpretentiously large that his movies succeed or fail entirely in Chabrolian terms — is it prime Chabrol, or just average Chabrol?

The true French heir to both Hitchcock and Lang, Chabrol has famously been all about crime — its motivations, its fallout, its ripple-effects and ironies. His newest film, 2006’s “Comedy of Power,” is a crime drama of an eccentrically offbeat variety. Fictionalizing the notorious corporate-scandal “Elf Affair” that sent scores of corrupt French CEOs and oil execs to prison in 2003, Chabrol casually stretches in the sun of a legal procedural that typically has less to do with facts than character and social intercourse. Like Enron writ even larger, the case had all to do with mountains of absconded public money, and yet would probably still wilt the interest of any other filmmaker (or screenwriter — in this case, frequent Chabrol collaborator Odile Barski). But as usual, Chabrol views the situation from an unlikely personal perspective: through the prickly, confrontational eyes of Isabelle Huppert as the chief investigating judge, who takes no greater delight in her work than when she can corner a rich man and maker him sputter in horrified rage. Huppert, 53 herself and as vibrant a force as ever, sauces up the movie so indelibly that Comedy of Power evolves into a post-feminist character study — don’t expect suspenseful machinations or unrealistic courtroom shenanigans. It’s all about the people, and Huppert’s workaholic avenging angel, dangerously underfed and self-amused, is fabulously, pathologically invulnerable — even as the murder threats pour in. Therein lies the woman’s charm, and Huppert’s star power. Released as well: Chabrol and Huppert’s first work together, the true-crime teenage-sociopath daydream “Violette” (1978).

From another New Wave planet — specifically, the era of Brazil’s “Cinema Novo” — comes Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” (1971), notorious as the first and possibly the only film ever made about cannibals that, insofar as it takes sides, soberly favors the moral system of the flesh-eaters over their colonial victims. Naturally, it’s a comedy. Herzogian in its realism (a year before “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”), Pereira dos Santos’ movie is shot like a tropical documentary, but it’s set in the 1500s, when the French and the Belgians (among other European forces) were vying for dominance in native-rich South America, pitting tribes against one another and scamming them all for plundered natural resources. The story trails after a pallid Frenchman (Arduíno Colasanti) who after being mistaken for a Belgian (the indignity!) is captured by a cannibal tribe and set up for an honorary eight-month life of happy citizenry in their ranks (complete with wife). After his allotted time is up, he will be ritualistically slaughtered and eaten — unless he can figure a way out beforehand. The filmmaker is less interested in dramatics or empathy than in the avalanche of ironies that attend the situation, sprinkling in title-card commentary from European witnesses from the time, and even having the white man’s lovely, all-nude whip of a wife (the astonishing Ana Maria Magalhães, who went on to be a major, award-winning force in Brazilian cinema, both in front of and behind the camera) seduce him at one point with a long, sexy monologue about exactly how he’ll be killed and eaten. Colonialism is the target, and it’s such a monstrous sitting duck that the film barely has to lift a finger to make a mockery of all things old-school European. Taken just on a political level, “How Tasty” is one of sharpest satires of colonial history ever made, especially since it’s sourced out from the exploited culture’s sensibility. The New Yorker disc comes with plenty of sociopolitical exegesis — a lengthy essay by Portugese historian and Indiana University prof Darlene Sadlier, intro by Columbia prof/Lincoln Center programmer Richard Peña, and an interview with contemporary tribal spokesman Ailton Krenak — just in case you think the film itself looks cut-and-dried.

“Comedy of Power” (Koch Lorber) and “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” (New Yorker) will be available on DVD on May 8th.

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Rev Up

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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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.

via GIPHY

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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