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On DVD: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Diva”

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06172008_fourmonths.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Maybe it’s jumping the gun to say so, but is the Romanian New Wave kaput already? The latest and most-Cannes-honored post-postmodern, hyperrealist, ex-dictatorship, young-auteur film movement seems to have already fizzled — after Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007) emerged with last year’s Palme D’Or, nothing new has appeared at the world’s festivals from Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristi Puiu, Catalin Mitulescu or Radu Jude, at a time when they should be leaping on their global visibility and market success like five-year-olds on a summer puddle. In his prime, Godard would’ve churned out five features and three shorts in the three years since the scent of Romanian sulfur first hit the air with Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005). Who knows what’s keeping them (Puiu hasn’t had a credit in three years), or what bureaucratic Kafka-ness they must battle to get one of their extraordinarily inexpensive movies made, but the worst-case scenario has us looking already elsewhere on the globe for a freshly imagined gout of cinematic energy.

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” may be the best of the Romanians, in part because, like “Mr. Lazarescu,” it constitutes a kind of state-of-the-art naturalism, down to the longueurs, underlighting, open-ended narrative and extraordinarily confident use of off-screen space. (When it’s done well, nothing looks as easy as evoking a three-dimensional world outside the frame.) But it’s a cleaner-running, more mysterious machine, because while it’s equally cataclysmic, it lacks Puiu’s film’s deadened sense of inevitability. It’s an ordeal by anticipation; if you’re a newcomer, the less known the better. Let us say just that it’s about the struggle to obtain an illegal abortion, and the repressed crucible at the film’s squirming center does not belong to the pregnant character. We’re not immediately cued up to know who we’re supposed to be empathizing with, in a crowded co-ed dorm a few years before the fall of CeauÅŸescu — Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), the pregnant, nerve-wracked brunette or Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), her pragmatic blond roommate? Rolling out in long single takes that give the film an acute sense of ticking-clock anxiety (this is the way to do it, not clusterfuck-edit your material in a vain attempt to “make us feel” your story’s apprehension), Mungiu’s movie is about the minute-to-minute things that can and will go wrong, leading up to a hotel room face-off with a brooding, manipulative, completely unreadable abortionist in a leather jacket (Vlad Ivanov; both he and Marinca have netted critics’ awards) that plays so subtly and under-the-breath that only when it’s over do you realize the weight of what transpired. What we don’t see — as in, what’s happening during a long, mercilessly suspenseful birthday dinner scene that is more concisely conceived than any ten American films this year — is what Mungiu uses to knock the air out of us. It’s a raw, uncompromised and deliberately inconclusive film as a whole, and as such justifies its new wave hype by being antithetical in almost every facet to what American movies ordinarily do and how they’re shaped.

06172008_diva.jpgAmerican cinephiles, at least, like their new waves to have a sociopolitical purpose — battling oppression, recovering from totalitarianism, emerging from war or cultural anemia or pre-industrialized stasis. But the “cinema du look” French mini-wave of the 1980s enjoyed some eyeball-time here, although its only ambition was to be as glossy, cool and auto-Americanish as possible. To be fair, inaugural figurehead Leos Carax didn’t really belong in the grouping, but Luc Besson and Jean-Jacques Beineix certainly did, and their movies divided, and still divide, those who think they’re empty and glib, and those who think that style and ironic pulpiness are fab ends unto themselves. The announcement movie of the “movement” was Beineix’s “Diva” (1981), what with its supercool attitudinizing and cohesive vision of Paris as a parade of secret cultures, movie-movie posturing, quixotic passions, multi-culti matter-of-factness (years before it became truly chic) and post-punk fashion.

Here’s why “Diva” was a global hit: it conjured a modern urban universe in which everyone is an impulsive, hell-or-high-water artiste, whether they’re actually producing art or merely cluttering their rooms with wrecked cars and doing jigsaw puzzles. Everyone dallies and obsesses; aping Godard, Beineix sets up a suspenseful crime tale and then loiters in an apartment for a fat dose of flirting. The fugue of high and low Euro-culture is one of the school’s pervasive ideas, and here Beineix cooks up a dynamic in which a messy underworld of music piracy, murderous police corruption, kleptomania, chain-smoking, thuggery and movie fetishism revolves, bizarrely, around opera, and a particular reclusive, record-refusing diva (Wilhelmenia Fernandez) fond of “La Wally.” It begins, more or less, with a shoeless woman running for her life in a raincoat (nod to “Kiss Me Deadly”), graduates to tableaux of a nude-model Vietnamese girl coasting through a puzzle-piece-strewn millionaire’s loft on roller skates, and a moped chase through the Metro. Beineix’s idea of quickly transitioning from the street to the underground is to watch a passing woman get her skirt billowed up over an subway grate, and then cut to a shot from beneath. The film is not jacked on crank, exactly, but it’s restless and consistently inventive; nothing in it is ordinary, and no shot is drab or uninhabited. It may be Americanized after a fashion, but it’s also intensely French.

[Photos: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” IFC Films, 2007; “Diva,” United Artists Classics, 1982]

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Genius Products) and “Diva” (Lionsgate – The Meridian Collection) 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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