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Kore-eda, Larrain, Dunham: When the Future of Film Looks Like TV

By Celluloid Liberation Front | Indiewire February 6, 2013 at 1:16PM

"None of us realized the potency yet of this medium -- how many homes it was going to, what kind of affect it was having on people and so forth. I think everybody who works in the visual medium would love to have that kind of innocence again." --Arthur Penn
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'The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks'
AMC 'The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks'

It's significant that even when staging and ostensibly exploring the lives of sexual ("The Slope") or racial ("The Misadventures") “minorities," the disengagement with anything that does not orbit around their own claustrophobic obsessions remains the series’ sole stylistic and philosophical concern. An exception can be made for Joe Swanberg's "Young American Bodies," which, despite sharing the same socio-emotional background of the other web series, has at least the decency of exposing the uncomfortable (naked) truths lurking behind an existential void of apocalyptic proportions.

The consequential and more successful byproducts of web seriality can be identified in shows like "Girls," the first two episodes of the second season of which were shown in Rotterdam, and "The Boring Life of Jacqueline." Both series in fact take the self-entitled and long-winded obsessions of net(ted) hipsters to TV audiences in a slightly more digestible formula. A little more interesting, from a stylistic perspective, was the mini-web series "The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks." Though indulging in its titular triviality, this AMC experiment in serial web fairy-telling stands out for its aesthetic eccentricity.

Hirokazu Kore-eda's 'Going Home'
Fuji TV Hirokazu Kore-eda's 'Going Home'
Set in present-day America, the web series plays with the visual codes of noir, avoiding the hyper-realism that tends to dominate the form. As pleasant as it might be to watch, it remains unclear what the commercial prospects of such a product could be. A truly unexpected surprise came with "The Eric Andre Show," an unhinged parody of late night talk shows that falls somewhere between subversive dementia and cultural decoding. With wild rhythms and ruthless sarcasm, the show revels in sudden inventions, visceral comicality and politically incorrect diversions to treat audiences to a surreal media circus of hilarious proportions.

READ MORE: 'The Eric Andre Show' Creators Andrew Barchilon and Kitao Sakurai on Embracing Ineptitude in Their Talk Show Parody

Whether by directly setting up foreign branches of successful networks (HBO Latin America/Europe) or simply replicating the acclaimed format, TV series are finding new territories beyond the American frontier. The Changing Channels section introduced Rotterdam punters to serialized products from all over the globe. In "Going Home," Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda ("Maborosi," "Still Walking") spreads his trademark naturalism over the episodic structure of a domestic drama. It centers on an advertising executive, his food stylist wife and their daughter, who share a cosy and peaceful existence. When the man's father is hospitalized, the family life takes an unexpected turn as an unknown woman turns up at the hospital, eventually leading him to his father’s native village. Marked by a contemplative pace, "Going Home" dwells on the seemingly irrelevant details of daily life to narrate a story of enriching simplicity and unfolding wonder.

'Les Revenants'
Canal+ 'Les Revenants'

"Les Revenants" (Rebound) by Fabrice Gobert and Frédéric Mermoud is a Canal+ production flirting with the supernatural to convincing if rather earthbound results. It's set in an idyllic village in the French alps that's shocked back into life when a series of former inhabitants thought dead make their way back in town. Astonished and incredulous, the former parents and lovers as well as perplexed strangers grapple with these ordinary-looking living dead as their lives take on a new dimension. The eerie reappearance of presumed dead people accompanied by inexplicable natural events function as a narrative device to enfold and dissect the mysteries hiding behind the postcard-like landscape.

Scored by post-rock outfit Mogwai,"Les Revenants" slowly builds up a captivating suspense that was abruptly interrupted -= as the festival only showed four out of eight episodes. Despite scheduling and timing issues being incumbent when programming TV series at festivals, the Changing Channels section at Rotterdam was a welcomed “diversion” at an event whose main competition verged on the colourless. It's significant that the other main attraction in Rotterdam this year came with the retrospective dedicated to Dominik Graf, a German director who often applied his singular genius to the small screen and genre filmmaking in general. What this new section (which apparently was devised as a one-off event) showed is that television, far from being a square box of pre-determined possibilities, encompasses a varied range of formal endeavours. As the financial returns of art cinema grow thinner, the room pay television has opened up is attracting more and more talent and bearing more and more interesting fruits.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Pablo Larrain, The Eric Andre Show, Les Revenants