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On DVD: “My Father My Lord,” “Takva”

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12232008_myfathermylord.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Just in time for the holidays, particularly Chanukah and Eid al-Adha (okay, that was a few weeks ago), here come two new Mideast films that quietly tear into the bilious, ruinous hypocrisies of fundamentalist religion. It’s an ironic conflict from where we stand: nothing is as ripe and ready for the firing squad as reactionary religious discipline, and yet few social codes are as ubiquitous. What’s more, they all somehow demand “respect.” Outside of most neighborhoods in most American and European metropoli, you can hardly throw an Orwell paperback without hitting and infuriating a narrow-minded fundamentalist, and I suppose how you measure the attack-mode nuts of David Volach’s “My Father My Lord” (2007) and Özer Kiziltan’s “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God” (2006) depends on how strenuously you feel the press of “extreme tradition” (my phrase!) in your own life. The movies seem from a New Yorker’s perspective to go gently, though with firm conviction, for the throat, while in Israel’s Haredic communities, and in Turkey’s Muslim enclaves, the films might inspire fiery damnations aplenty. Or none at all.

Volach’s movie is by far the more artful — I wasn’t sure, with its stereotypical overbearing rabbi dad versus impetuous young son template, if it’d show me something real, but then, early on, there it was: little preadolescent Menahem (Ilan Grif) walks home at night past an ambulance taking a dead woman from her apartment, and out of the building lopes a German Shepherd, ears up and panicking, looking for its mistress. It circles in a run and ends up jumping into the ambulance beside the gurney, and will not be budged. Like the boy, we’re riveted.

12232008_myfathermylord2.jpgThe father’s strict adherence to Torah collides with the boy’s natural curiosity about life, of course, but not so much dramatically — Volach instead suggests the inner imbalance by simply watching how Menahem gets distracted during services by daydreams, and how the father brews silently about his son’s unwillingness to bend completely to the traditional will. The key to the struggle is the mother (Sharon Hacohen-Bar), a younger woman devoted to a lifestyle that thoroughly subjugates her (when the family goes to the beach, she must go to a separate section, away from the men), and who forms the tip of a familial triangle, calling her husband on the carpet for being inflexible without saying a word. Volach grew up Haredic, and so the film’s tragic denouement reads like an act of merciless cultural revenge. (It’s there, too, in a tiny shot of a plastic-bagged fish trying, once the bag is dropped and burst, to swim back up into it.) The davenning of the faithful takes on a hatefully narcissistic aura. At the same time, “My Father My Lord” is most resonant as an intimate portrait of a young boy’s worldview, tugged at by orthodoxy but inherently defiant.

“Takva” is another morality tale, set in Istanbul and centered on middle-aged bachelor-schlub Muharrem (Erkan Can), who owns little and obeys only his daily Muslim duties, a static situation that changes once his mullah hires him (because he is utterly guileless) to serve as the mosque’s business agent — collecting rents from tenants all over the city, and bribes from contractors. (He’s also haunted by “sinful” wet dreams.) Of course, being an innocent, Muharrem is oblivious to his new job’s unholy aspects at first, but eventually, as he is presented with a chauffeur, a cell phone and a Western business wardrobe, the chips begin to fall, the steady river of justifications that flow from the mosque’s leaders fail to convince him, and he is faced with a catastrophic sense of ethical compromise.

12232008_takva.jpgTurkey, like Israel, may be experiencing a kind of mini-new wave (at least based on what we see), but Kiziltan’s film, while being both economical and often over-expressive, is hardly an art film domino falling into line behind Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Still, its portrait of fat, prevaricating mosque elders talking about obedience to Allah but actually concerned only with profit has teeth. That is, unless, as I’ve suggested, you’re Turkish and Muslim, and the film comes off as a mere fable about the perils of naiveté and of Islamic life becoming too Westernized and capitalist. Given the secular-militarist nation’s conflicted relationship with its own huge Muslim population, the film might actually be taken as pro-fundamentalist and anti-democratic in thrust — such is the Rorschachian torque of political cinema.

“My Father My Lord” (Kino) and “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God” (Koch Lorber Films) are now available on DVD.

[Photos: “My Father My Lord, Kino, 2008; “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God,” Kock Lorber, 2008]

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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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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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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

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Colin the Chicken

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Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

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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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