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Rotterdam 2009: The Wrap-Up

Rotterdam 2009: The Wrap-Up (photo)

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The Rotterdam Film Festival has had a history of promoting the weird, the obsessive and the cultish in cinema, and there’s been little change as this year’s edition reaches its close. They’ve programmed a survey of recent Asian horror films, complete with a “haunted house” installation, and they’ve maintained their loyalty to unfashionable provocateurs like Aleksei Balabanov, whose acerbic takes on Russian history have always made their way onto screens here. That’s without even mentioning the festival’s support of debut filmmakers, three of which just received a 15,000 euro ($22,500 U.S.) prize from the VPRO Tiger jury (Ramtin Lavafipour’s “Be Calm and Count to Seven,” Yang Ik-June’s “Breathless” and Mahmut Fazil Coşkun’s “Wrong Rosary” took home the loot).

I went into “Susuk,” Amir Muhammad’s Malaysian black magic boondoggle, with high hopes, not least because of his pre-screening description of the film as “the first Muslim lesbian vampire movie.” It’s his initial foray into commercial filmmaking, as Muhammad is mainly known for his satiric essay works (“The Last Communist”), which were often banned in his home country. He’s now mainly a writer and publisher of “Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things,” among others. “Susuk” is a clumsy piece of social commentary dressed up as a horror film, as bosomy celebrity divas delve into voodoo to rocket them into stardom. Muhammad made up for this stumble with his “haunted house” installation, entitled “Reading Room.” His idea of horror is IKEA furniture set up in a modernist white cube, with only his volume of “The Malaysian Book of the Undead” as company. It was almost as frightening as a trip to the Scandinavian superstore itself.

Aleksei Balabanov barnstormed into the Rotterdam Film Festival last year with “Cargo 200,” a brutally nihilistic portrait of Glasnost-era Moscow that opened recently in New York. He spares little more sympathy for his early 20th century characters in “Morphia,” his latest evisceration of nostalgia for the Communist regime. An adaptation by the late Sergei Bodrov, Jr. (son of the “Mongol” auteur) of short stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, it’s a spurtingly bloody portrait of a country doctor at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It starts out as black comedy, with the young medic learning surgical techniques on the fly, until the humor leeches out and all that’s left is drug addiction and a grotesquely distorted vision of utopia.

02042009_lookingforcherryb.jpgHowever, the oddest film in the festival was probably Joe Odagiri’s absurdist comedy “Looking For Cherry Blossoms.” A huge star in Japan, Odagiri is often compared to Johnny Depp for general dreaminess, but Depp has never produced anything as mind-blowingly senseless as this. It’s a brisk 64-minute jaunt into insanity, given a structure because a young man discovers his grandfather is receiving postcards from a mystery woman. They all contain a photo of the same flowering cherry tree, which the man vows to find. He’s soon picked up by Jack, a blustery, tourettic cab driver who hijacks the movie for his own uncertain ends. Dressed like a deranged flight attendant, he claims to know the tree, and promptly runs down an aspiring boxer and sings an obscure rock song in staccato bursts. Their goal is forgotten, absorbed in a fog of non-sequiturs, raucous laughter and a rain-drenched music video performed in the nude. It’s next-level stupidity worthy of Will Ferrell.

It’s not all madness though. Rotterdam also acts as curator for the past year of festivals, and I managed to catch up with some invigorating work from around the world. Of most recent vintage is Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson,” which recently premiered at Sundance. A forcefully entertaining take on the most violent prisoner in England’s history, it’s graced by a demonically physical central performance by Tom Hardy, who plays the psychopath with a grinning emptiness reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange.” The film is nothing more than a string of outrageous anecdotes strung together with a theatrical framing device, but Hardy’s riveting presence makes it more than worthwhile.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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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

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