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“Moolaadé,” “Daisy Kenyon”

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03252008_moolaade.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

The seminal will behind everything that matters about sub-Saharan African cinema, and at the same time the world’s most guileless filmmaker, Ousmane Sembene was virtually a one-man continental film culture for 40 years, establishing the cinematic syntax and priorities for an entire section of mankind, and its relationship with movies. From the first mini-feature, “Borom Sarret” (1964) to the last, vibrant, polemical film “Moolaadé” (2004), Sembene’s work aches with sociopolitical austerity — as an artist, he’s virtually style-free, almost unprofessional, but possessed of a voice as clear and uncomplicated as sunlight. Primal, unsophisticated experiences, the films are simple but never simplistic, lowbrow but unsensational, fastidiously realistic and yet unconcerned with sustaining illusion. His filmography is more or less divided between cool, undramatic autopsies on post-colonial norms and folly (1966’s “Black Girl,” 1968’s “Mandabi,” 1974’s “Xala”) and demi-epics of colonial horror (1971’s Emitai, 1977’s “Ceddo,” 1987’s “Camp de Thiaroye”). The slow burn, burial day battleground essay “Guelwaar” (1992) is a precariously balanced admixture of both, while “Moolaadé” targets the most galling and controversial aspect of an African society straining under independence, Islam and reactionary tribalism: female genital mutilation.

I wouldn’t call “Moolaadé” a comedy, but Sembene might’ve (he died last year), and there’s no denying its native exuberance and rebellious élan. Sembene’s agenda was didactic — Africans were always his primary audience — and “Moolaadé” takes a satiric machete to traditional African machismo, marriage roles and society. We’re in a small, unindustrialized village where Islam is ubiquitous, but the tribal tribunal of elders still rules and ancient curses and superstitions are still respected. When a quartet of prepubescent girls come running for sanctuary from “purification” into the skirts of Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly), the headstrong second wife (of three) belonging to a milquetoasty village bigwig, she decides on the spot to summon the “moolaadé” (a protection curse, represented by a silk rope tied across the home’s entrance) to protect them. Therein begins a titanic battle of wills between Collé (who did manage to keep her own teenage daughter from being “cut,” thereby making her unmarriageable) and the village’s traditionalist elders, the Islamists, the priestesses whose sole mission is to remove clitori, her husband, and even her own daughter.

Sembene somehow manages to make “Moolaadé” affirmative and universal, as if female genital mutilation could metaphorically stand in for every kind of systemic oppression of women in every culture. Maybe it can. The film certainly attains a kind of iconic joy, keeping matter-of-fact faith with animistic beliefs to an almost magical-realist degree, and reveling in Senegalese music, rites and Coulibaly, a non-professional performer (as always with Sembene), who nonetheless crafts a brave and exhilarating persona. It’s also Sembene’s most beautiful film; having avoided prettifying exotica during his whole career, the aging master was able to relax and enjoy the shade-dappled sunniness of his native land, making his most issue-oriented film also his most Renoirian.

03252008_daisykenyon.jpgAlso proto-feminist in its own way, Otto Preminger’s “Daisy Kenyon” (1947) arrives amid yet another of Fox’s noir archive exhumations, but you’ve never seen anything quite like it. Wildly overlooked in its day and since then, Preminger’s movie isn’t noir at all, but a shadowy “woman’s film,” complete with career woman Joan Crawford stuck between men in a muddled and morally ambiguous postwar America. But that’s where its shared DNA with other movies ends and its flabbergasting originality begins. Adapted from a bestseller by Elizabeth Janeway, the film has twice the character dimension, poetic maturity of dialogue and performance richness than almost any film of its decade. Crawford’s designer girl Daisy carries on a relaxed and cynical affair with married man Dana Andrews, a big shot lawyer who knows Walter Winchell (walking through, playing himself), who irresistibly calls other men “honeybunch” and “dew drop,” who patronizes his brittle wife (“Citizen Kane”‘s Ruth Warrick), who spoils his daughters even though he’s always on his way to somewhere else, and who never in Preminger’s view remains either a selfish louse or a helpless alpha male trying to do the right thing. Fed up, Daisy defects and takes up with returning soldier Henry Fonda, a calm bundle of offhand, secretive, amused, suicidal contradictions himself.

The wonder of “Daisy Kenyon” is in its deep-dish management of character, credit for which should go to everyone concerned, but which is an earmark of Preminger in his most sublime moments. Every character harbors a private self, and Preminger never tips his hand to show them. Crawford has never been as complex and heartfelt, and has never had such strange and inspired dialogue (“Everyone’s dead but you,” Fonda’s misanthropic trauma-man spits; “But how did they come to die?” Crawford’s struggling single woman says, but says warmly, smiling, in sympathy for his despair). Fonda is so sheltered in his abrupt nihilism you couldn’t blame the other characters for thinking he was kidding — and though Daisy sometimes seems to, we don’t ever. Andrews, one of the most resonant and subtext-packed leading men of the ’40s, lives out his ambiguous hot dog in four real dimensions, and you never know what he’ll do or say next. Even Warrick transfixes your eyeballs as a neglected wife given to battering her children — who would’ve thought any role of hers would overshadow Emily Monroe Norton Kane?

Perhaps Preminger does deserve the final kudos, because his elaborate mise-en-scène, the unprecedented screenplay (adapted by David Hertz, with a grown-up relationship with the real postwar world), and a cast at the height of its powers is made to cohere into a distinct vision that talks and walks and feels utterly unique. It’s a revelation.

[Photos: Ousmane Sembene’s “Moolaadé,” New Yorker Films, 2004; Joan Crawford in “Daisy Kenyon,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1947]

“Moolaadé” (New Yorker Video) and “Daisy Kenyon” (Fox) are now available on DVD.

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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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