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Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed (photo)

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When an audience member wondered aloud at the Toronto Film Festival why Susanne Bier decided to change the English title of her latest film “In a Better World” from its original Danish translation “The Revenge,” the director of “After the Wedding” and “Brothers” told the crowd that she was concerned it would be perceived as a horror film. In a way, “In a Better World” actually fits that bill nicely, not as part of that particular genre, but instead as a well-told parable about on the futile perpetuation of violence.

To date, the only explosions in Bier’s work have occurred figuratively, the product of slow-simmering spats between lovers or people at an emotional crossroads of one kind or another that come to a head. Here, they become literal in the story of Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), a pair of middle school classmates who seek out retribution after witnessing Elias’ father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) get slapped by a local mechanic after trying to separate his son from a potential fight. For Anton, it’s an action not worth responding to, especially since he’s seen far worse things in Kenya at the hands of local warlords where he provides medical support as a doctor.

09192010_InaBetterWorld2.jpgSince Anton spends most of his time in Kenya, it’s a rare opportunity to set an example for his son and his friend. Yet Christian, the new kid on the block who becomes Elias’ friend after protecting him from the school’s bully, doesn’t see things the same way. Both children are outcasts at school and the sons of distant fathers, though only Christian resorts to his fists (or more appropriately a bicycle pump) as taunts and threats turn into random physical aggression against them both. When Christian’s father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) insists that hitting someone isn’t the best way to respond to getting hit, Christian fires back, “Not if you hit hard enough.”

The wonderful thing about that exchange is the bitter humor that comes out of the gap between reality and principle, something “In a Better World” explores to its fullest. As a director, Bier presents the villains of the film in no uncertain terms: Sofus, the blonde bully who tortures Elias with catcalls of “ratface,” clearly deserves some comeuppence, as does the racist oaf of a mechanic who incites Anton.

However, whatever lack of sophistication exists for the aggressors in the film is reserved for the conversation that Bier and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen would like to inspire about violence begetting violence and where the line should be drawn. “In a Better World” is compelling because Bier once again proves her precision as a keen observer of human relationships, but for many filmmakers, greater scope doesn’t always portend a greater impact – Bier may not believe in hitting back, but she’s a big believer in hitting hard.

09192010_TomTykwerThree.jpgLike Bier, Tom Tykwer has also headed back to his home country after an English-language vacation of “Perfume” and “The International” and I’d be surprised if I ever see the uncut version of his latest, “Drei (Three),” arrive in the U.S. intact. This isn’t for quality reasons – the film is a welcome return to Tykwer’s unusually structured thrillers from the turn of the century, but given its share of explicit sex scenes (involving both sexes) shown matter-of-factly, it would take a brave distributor to take a chance on “Drei,”

If someone does, they’ll get a stylish drama with a wicked sense of humor on the order of Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe,” pulsating with the kind of visual panache and subversion that only a first class director can deliver, even though it tells a rather contrived and slightly sleazy story. Your appreciation of “Drei” will somewhat rely on how much you accept the coincidence involved in the story of Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois), a longtime couple who unbeknownst to each other find themselves having an affair with the same man, Adam (David Striesow), the head of a stem cell research center that Anna has become intrigued by, in her job as a TV news anchor, and is a member of the same swimming club as Simon.

09192010_TomTykwerThree2.jpgAs I’ve found with my favorite Tykwer films besides his breakthrough “Run Lola Run,” it takes nearly an hour into “Drei” to get its bearings and a little longer for the endgame to begin to expose itself, as the director is all over the place in setting up the circumstances that have led to the dual affair – Simon is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Hanna is fantasizing about other men, and their relationship has fallen into a predictable and all-too relaxed stasis that arrives with middle age restlessness.

Meanwhile, Adam doesn’t receive nearly as much attention from Tykwer, but he’s largely a cipher for the film’s larger point about not fitting into the accepted societal order of things and while his occupation involving genetics leads to a overarching motif that seems a bit silly, Tykwer is too busy dazzling your eye and appealing to primal instinct of a story well told for it to matter. With “Drei,” Tykwer asks audiences to think differently, but why the film works is because at its core, it’s pitching an old idea in a completely new way.

“In a Better World” will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics early next year; “Drei (Three)” currently does not have U.S. distribution.

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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.

via GIPHY

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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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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