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“Woman on the Beach,” “Operation Filmmaker”

“Woman on the Beach,” “Operation Filmmaker” (photo)

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As the Korean New Wave fades and dissipates, from a throng of cultural force fields to a mere battery of individual filmographies, ambitious or withering or otherwise, one director stands as the most passionately embraced and steadily distributed in the tradition of imported art films. Strangely, it’s Hong Sang-soo, not Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho, both of whose pulpy trajectories have stalled and didn’t, in any event, summon the English-speaking world’s eyeballs expected for their psychodramatic hyperbole. Hong’s films are not crowd-pleasers, but measured, often uncomfortable meditations on Korean urbanites and their lives of power-boozing, disconnection and romantic failure. Up to now, Hong’s great modernist trope was (tellingly, for a Korean) the bifurcation of perspectives. His elusive masterpiece “The Power of Kangwon Province” (1998) is so sneaky about its doubled-up narrative and its delivery of emotional haymakers that you might not realize that it’s all about the residue of a failed romance between a college student and a married teacher until the movie’s two-thirds through. A grim, cerebral follow-up, “Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors” (2000) ruminates on a quietly unhappy trio of would-be lovers in a multi-chaptered relay that doubles back midway through and recounts itself as a ribbon of conflicting outlooks and revealed betrayals. (Critic Chuck Stephens has characterized Hong’s films as being “deeply suspicious of reunifications of any sort.”) “Woman Is the Future of Man” (2004) is less structuralist, but still divided, character-wise, over the possibility of love, and still craftily duplicitous about narrative — you can hardly grip the shape of the entire film until the halfway marker. When you do, the tragedy of soured lives is beyond the point of no return.

“Woman on the Beach” (2006) is less severe than Hong’s earlier films; it has a comic tone, and a bouncy rom-com score, and even indulges in medium close-ups and reckless zooms (which seem more interested in excluding things than emphasizing others). The two-guys-one-girl set-up remains, but the doppelgänging recyclings are only suggestive. It’s Hong at his simplest and most trusting; suddenly, simply letting the characters control the tale, à la Rohmer, is sufficient for him. The trio — a neurotic, womanizing director, his schoolmate-cum-set designer, and the married set designer’s “girlfriend” — head out to an off-season seaside resort to finish a screenplay. They can’t get rooms, but then they do; the men volley for the woman’s affections, but she’s sarcastic and self-assured, and gives neither of them much leeway. The relationships begin to collapse, under sexual pressure, betrayal and drunkenness. Eventually, the three go separate ways, and we stay with the director, who returns to the resort town and ropes in another woman, under the pretense that she resembles the other (she doesn’t), and haphazardly begins to relive the first dalliance all over again. And then the first woman returns…

12302008_womanonthebeach2.jpgHong’s long scenes here are nearly theatrical in shape, like Resnais’ “Mélo,” and the actors are healthily free range — as the director, Kim Seung-woo is such an irritating, cretinous, moist-eyed mess that he’s at times difficult to watch, and it’s hard not to wonder if, given Hong’s patterns and recurring concerns, there isn’t a little autobiographical chili in the kimchi. But “Woman on the Beach” is Hong’s warmest movie, by far — the women emerge unscarred, and there even lingers a sense of hope for the men, who are usually just a step up from self-pitying rapists in Hong’s universe. The movie is not named after a 1947 Jean Renoir romance-noir, involving two men and two women and a seaside, for nothing — although Hong’s infatuation with titular French-ness (his previous two films were named with quotes from Louis Aragon and Marcel Duchamp) may be less significant than just whimsical.

Nina Davenport’s “Operation Filmmaker” (2007) is also shaped in a downward spiral. The set-up is famous by now: as the production of the Liev Schreiber-directed film “Everything Is Illuminated” gets underway in 2004, MTV airs a news piece about a young Iraqi film student, Muthana Mohmed, whose school had been bombed to smithereens. Magnanimously, Schreiber invites him to come to Prague as an intern on the film — and asks Davenport, a New York doc-maker and cinematographer, to film the young Arab’s salvation out from the war zone and into the embrace of Hollywood. The resulting doc, Davenport’s fourth feature, doesn’t head in that direction at all, of course, because Mohmed is Mohmed, not merely a thankful Third-Worlder gracefully receiving the largesse of Tinseltown liberalism. The kid reveals himself to be thankless, in fact, and chronically manipulative, dishonest, self-righteous and even classically anti-Semitic. He’s instantly embittered about his intern work (“Snacks!” he seethes), and seems, slyly, to be gaming Davenport (behind the camera), to control how he’s portrayed in her film, and to get her into bed. Eventually, Mohmed’s odyssey becomes a struggle to get his work visa renewed countless times, a self-interested run of schemes that involves a good deal of out-of-pocket cash for Davenport, and even blackmail: Mohmed steals exposed stock and equipment from her, and at one point demands $10,000 for any further appearances he will make in her film.

12302008_operationfilmmaker.jpgMohmed is clearly empowered by Davenport’s camera; how his nascent career might’ve played out without having his narcissism fueled by being continually filmed is an interesting point to consider. At any rate, the travails do not cease even after Mohmed lands a job on the set of “Doom,” where the piles of fake zombie corpses provide queasy counterpoint to the real dead lying in the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad. (Rather brilliantly, Davenport sent cameras to Mohmed’s film school friends in Iraq, for their real-time considerations of life at home.) “Operation Filmmaker” is modest in its particulars — Davenport herself is as unassuming an auteur as we get nowadays — but it blooms in your head when you place it alongside virtually any instance, from charity to “nation-building” and war, when Western cultures attempt to appease their privileged guilt by imposing a “correction scenario” to a crisis from above. Often, like Mohmed, they have their own ideas about what should happen.

“Woman on the Beach” (New Yorker Video) and “Operation Filmmaker” (Icarus Films) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photos: “Woman on the Beach,” New Yorker, 2007; “Operation Filmmaker,” Icarus Films, 2007]

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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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