XL Popcorn – A Chinese Ghost Story / L’Avventura

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: A Chinese Ghost Story (Sien nui yau wan)
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
Year: 1987
Country: Hong Kong

It has been nearly a year since I last saw Leslie Cheung in the 1993 film Farewell My Conubine where he played the role of a gay Chinese opera actor. He plays a rather different character in A Chinese Ghost Story, for one thing he is a straight debt collector who has fallen in love with a ghost.

This film is very much a horror film in the same way that Evil Dead II is a horror movie i.e. lighthearted horror which is to entertain and not to scare. Not what I expected to be honest as with a title like A Chinese Ghost Story I was going for the assumption that it would be more like Ringu than Kung Fu Hustle.

Once I had adjusted by expectations I really started to enjoy this blend of ghosts, comedy and wuxia. Even when it starts to get a little bit Power Rangers towards the end… when a sword was summoned from a felled tree using sanskrit. It’s amazing how in this universe at the same sanskrit phrase had so many uses. I mean, it can conjure fireballs, summon swords, enchant arrows and make invisible things visible.

Nowadays some of these effects appear a bit cheesy and low budget. However, it adds to the charm. It would be boring if the desiccated bodies did not move jerkily as squeak like mice.

I’m not entirely sure how they managed to squeeze out two sequels from this original film and I’m unlikely to get around to watching them as I still have over 500 films to see on this 1001 list. Oh and the anime and the TV shows and the books and the albums and the comics.

Title: L’Avventura
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

When L’Avventura had its first showing at the Cannes film festival the audience booed causing the director and leading lady to make a swift exit. Now, an animated audience at a film festival is common. Especially at Cannes where it really can be trial by fire. This did not occur after the second screening. I mention this not just because I find it interesting, but because booing apparently happened fairly often when people were watching this film.

Apparently this reaction was due to the audience starting to get a bit miffed during some of the longer scenes without dialogue. Having sat through Jeanne Dielman I have no qualms with scenes without dialogue. In fact, I feel that there are times when a skilled director and actors are able to tell us more with silence than with words. That is the case with this film.

I’m not entirely sure why this film has the title of The Adventure. Unless the director is going for something rather clichéd like “life as an adventure”, which I sincerely hope not. The crux of this film is that you see a woman’s best friend and fiancé deal with the fact that she has gone missing. Now, I did not think much of this woman as she was a bit of a pain. Then again no one deserves to go missing in the Mediterranean the way she did.

What she leaves behind is rather interesting. For someone who would have appeared to be loved no one is actually trying that hard to look for her. Sure, her fiancé makes a bit of an effort but he very quickly makes a move with her best friend Claudia. Claudia resists for a few days and then is madly in love with him.

What is interesting about everyone is that they lack substance. This is not a potshot at the writing as this is how they are. These are spoiled rich Italian socialites and they quickly move on to the next party despite the fact one of the number has presumably drowned.

I think I really enjoyed this film. Especially the cinematography which was, obviously, aided by some beautiful Sicilian scenery. Big praise also has to go to Monica Vitti for a remarkably human portrayal of a woman undergoing internal conflict. She must have lived an breathed the role to be so spot on.

I found out that this is the first in a trilogy that all appear on the 1001 list. I’m curious how the theme progresses.

Progress: 486/1007

XL Popcorn – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song / Within Our Gates

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Year: 1971
Country: USA

I could summarise this film of reworking the title as Sweet Sweetback’s Bad Movie. However, I can’t just leave it there now can I? After all, I watched the damn thing so whilst this may not be the longest review I have dictated hopefully it will still have some meaning to it.

It is one of those films that made it into the 1001 book not because of merit, but because of influence. The year is 1971 and here we have a film that is aimed at being a revolutionary film that champions the black struggle in America. What is interesting is that amongst the community opinion was very much split on the “revolutionary” aspect.

I would argue that rather being revolutionary it is romanticising the struggle. Something that critics said at the time. The whole premise relies on a black man being able to defeat “the man” through the use of his large penis. I’m grossly over-simplifying things here that this film has all the subtlety of a siren.

One scene that made me cringe was right at the beginning where we essentially watch a grown prostitute taking advantage of a 13 year old boy. Oh and, obviously, we actually see this in full softcore glory. I hope that the view from behind was only “stunt butt” otherwise… I don’t really want to think about what I actually saw.

Now, let’s look at some positives. The way that the film was cut was quite revolutionary at the time. As such it has inspired quite a lot of films that followed. It also gave rise to a lot of the tropes that became part of future blaxploitation films. Personally I did not think much of the soundtrack but I can see its merits.

The big thing that is praiseworthy is how this film was able to influence so many black filmmakers that followed. Whilst I think films like ” do the right thing” actually did a better job we are already talking about 20 years of further element in the film industry.

So many is fair to say – this film is not made for me. That’s fine. Is it is like how many LGBT films are not made for a straight audience. That’s fine too.

Title: Within Our Gates
Director: Oscar Micheaux
Year: 1920
Country: USA

It made sense to pair up these films since they are both influential examples of African-American direction. Within our gates is actually the oldest surviving film by an African-American director and it was almost lost thanks to the censors. Praise be to Madrid for still having a copy of this.

Having such an old film depicting a black point of view means we have access to an invaluable time capsule. We have so many white views of this period, and of every other period, which ends up making this all the more important.

As films go is actually pretty standard, it follows normal rules of filmmaking and there are no revolutionary technological or storytelling leaps. It’s the perspective that matters. Another film you could pair this with is of Birth Of A Nation. It isn’t until the last 10 to 15 minutes that this comparison holds water. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that this film ends with scenes depicting why people raping and lynching black people.

I can see why this film would hit nerves with the predominantly white cinema going audience. No one likes seeing the savagery of their race laid bare. However, in general the scenes of white domination feel more naturalistic here than in modern cinema. It’s not about shock, it’s about truth. Why this truth is still not being listened to is a true failing. The film ends on the patriotic note and this rings false, but I think that was the director still trying to show the commonalities that bind Americans together despite how they are born.

Progress: 484/1007

Graphic Content – Iznogoud: The Caliph’s Vacation

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 
13/501Title: Iznogoud: the Caliph’s Vacation
Author: René Goscinny 
Illustrator:
Jean Tabary
Year: 1968
Country: France

Now this is a comic we would not see released nowadays. At least not for children. It is not that this comic is racist in particular, but the idea of setting a comic that has a satirical look at western values in Baghdad just feels a bit daring.

Truth is, Iznogoud: the Caliph’s Vacation exists in a world that probably never existed. The setting is basically a send up of the Arabian Nights world of magic carpets and absent minded sultans.

Iznogoud takes the role of a conniving grand vizier who wants the caliph’s crown for himself. What unfolds is four 10 page stories depicting his misguided attempts to seize power for himself – and so lives up to his name.

Speaking names, you can tell this was written by the man behind Asterix. Some of the names in this comic are just so puntastic. For example, a seller of magical elixirs is called Lihkwid and the palace meteorologist is called Fo’orkahst.

The stories are simple and the humour is very relevant to a lot of modern day life. There is an entire story that sends up package holidays and another that derives humour from rather clichéd, but still funny, tropes related to skiing.

What makes this a fun read is the mixture of ridiculous puns and sight gags. Full credit is due to the illustrator who makes this world feel very much alive. I think I need to read my first Asterix comic now.

XL Popcorn – Zemlya / Koyaanisqatsi

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Earth (Zemlya)
Director: Alexander Dovzhenko
Year: 1930
Country: USSR

If I could have held off I would have gotten and 11th new country in a row. Oh well, I’m here now in a Soviet Union watching one of the last movies from the silent era that feature on the 1001 list. In English, the title is translated as “Earth”. The earth it relates to is the rural landscape of Ukraine.

This film, released in 1930, was final part of a trilogy looking into changes occurring in Soviet Russia. The focus here is how collectivism affected a farming community. We’re talking about the bleak staff here… as we would come to expect from Soviet films of this era.

It’s hard to grasp just how much a new tractor would have meant to these people. The cheering crowds and the sweeping music probably give us an idea. As in reality this tractor was pretty awful and shoddily made. It breaks down on the way as the water tank is empty and in order to get it going again the villagers have to urinate in the tank. The censors did not allow this scene to be depicted as frankly as the director wanted, but it’s pretty clear what is happening.

From my history lessons in school I know that things will be even worse for these villagers in 2 to 3 years’ time when the great famines sweep through their region. So no matter how bleak things are looking now it will only be getting worse. Which makes the burial scene all the more potent as the villagers abandon give up on religion in favour of what the fatherland has decreed. Rather chilling actually. I just wish that the second quarter had been easier to follow.

Title: Koyaanisqatsi
Director: Godfrey Reggio
Year: 1982
Country: USA

Right so umm there is no way will be able to spell the name of this movie using the voice recognition software. This is the closest I get: coriolanus can’t see.

So what is this film? Imagine a collage composed of different high speed and slow motion shots of nature, people and technology with minimalist music. That is what this is. Other than human vocals in some of the music this is wordless. The idea being that you should be able to make your own interpretation. Thing is with a title that translates to “the life out of balance” there is only one interpretation to hand.

Besides the fact that all the fashion and technology is gloriously eighties this is a film that could have been made this year. Although, it would not have been Philip Glass doing the music. Sufjan Stevens could do it if you want the same minimalist sound or maybe I’m just biased.

There is a lot of beauty on offer in this film. However, I do feel that without a narrative structure of again to lose my way around about the hour mark. It’s one of those movies that will have been so different that it became influential almost immediately. Hell, I’ve heard this music and so many places. My favourite? Kirk’s theatre piece in season six of Gilmore Girls.

Progress: 482/1007

XL Popcorn – Secrets & Lies / Oklahoma!

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn this wrist!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Secrets & Lies
Director: Mike Leigh
Year: 1996
Country: UK

Here we are 10th new country in a row and its time to visit the UK. To my shame I probably haven’t seen enough classic British films. I mean, if I go by the BFI 100 list this film brings me to about 1/3 way through. Also to my shame this is only the second film by Mike Leigh but I’ve seen (the other one being Happy-Go-Lucky). I’m guessing that this film is his masterstroke because this will rank as one of the best British films I have ever seen.

I do love dramas where the conclusion usually involves some massive outpouring of titular secrets and lies. I mean, the climax of my favourite film (Sunset Boulevard) is some of the cruelest truth telling I have seen on the silver screen. In this film, it is an act of pure catharsis. You really have to feel for Timothy Spall’s character. He loves his wife, his sister and his niece but they all hate each other. His explosion at the end is a long time coming.

His performance is great but it really is Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste that rule the show. Blethyn in particular is utterly heartbreaking. She is not by any means a perfect person, however her character tries so hard. You always get the feeling that she has been down for so long as she’s forgotten how to walk and maybe the reunion with her long lost daughter, played by Jean-Baptiste, will give her the kick she needs.

I’ve seen in a review that watching this film is akin to eavesdropping on a family’s private conversations. They hit the nail on the head. Everything just feel so incredibly natural that I honestly started to forget I was watching actors. That is the mark of a truly great drama. Especially as there are storylines that dip in and out with no real resolution.

Of all the films I have seen so far having done whatever it is that I did to my wrist this is easily the best film.

Title: Oklahoma!
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Year: 1955
Country: USA

It has been very long time since I last saw a good musical. They don’t tend to be films I seek out anymore as I’ve been bitten too many times. Oklahoma! is one of those that could very well restore my faith.

Had I known that this was the first musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein I would probably have watched this sooner. I mean, The King and I and The Sound of Music rank as two of my favourite ever musicals. Plus this was directed by the man behind High Noon so it was always going to be good to watch.

What gets me is just how many of these songs I knew already. I took it as a given that it would feature ” oh what a beautiful morning”, “Oklahoma” and “Surrey with a fringe on top”, but never knew it was where ” I’m just a girl who can’t say no” is from. There’s a very definite style of music with Rodgers and Hammerstein. I have only seen clips from South Pacific and Carousel but a lot of the orchestrations feel very familiar. On the whole it is very much gleeful.

One thing I never knew is that Oklahoma! was one of the first major “book musicals” i.e. where the songs are as important as the dialogue when it comes to advancing the plot and letting us dig a little deeper into the psyche of the characters. One of the songs (“Pore Jud Is Daid”) is just plain creepy. I mean, imagine going into the home of your love rival and singing them a song about how much better people will think of them once they are dead. I don’t care if it’s meant to be a way to foreshadow the end of the musical, though just plain weird.

Apart from the songs my favourite part was the dream ballet. In Singin’ in the Rain this was the bit that plain pissed me off for being so long and dull. However, it had a place in Oklahoma! One of the leads get high on opiates in order to make a decision and this dream ballet is the way we see her drug trip. If there had been just dancing for the sake of dancing I would have got bored, but this delved into the psychology of her decision making so I was able to enjoy it a lot more.

Sure this film is not perfect. Everything is in the realm of the musical i.e. a little bit saccharin for everyday life. Part of me wishes that I could live in such a world. On second thoughts, there would be too much dancing so maybe not.

Progress: 480/1007

Good Eatin’: Before The Wrists

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

IMG_3247

You know what, I have a great husband. To cheer me up he bought me a little manatee plush toy to keep me company whilst being home alone with both my wrists wrapped up. Now then, I’m not really been cooking as it is difficult to do so. The food that is in this post was all before the pain started.

IMG_3235Food item: Classic Green Salad

I will keep this brief because who has not had a classic green salad at some point in their life. I probably could have crossed this off ages ago, but I keep forgetting about the simple things that are still left to cross off. I have made this from fresh ingredients before as well as your typical bagged variety. However, this is a bit boring so let us move on.

IMG_3240Food item: Spatchcocked Birds

The book was vague about what sort of birds you would need to consume in order to cross this off. Instead of doing it from scratch, which I would undoubtedly screw up somehow, I bought one that I could just stick in the oven.

The thing about spatchcock is that you can be very versatile with flavouring. The poussin that I had was coated with peri peri spices, but I’ve had it far simpler before. The whole point of it is a quicker roasting time and an easier way to split the meal. Also, it tends to be easier to prevent it from drying out with this method as you do not have to worry so much about undercooking it.

IMG_3242Food item: Crepes with Nutella

We had these after the poussin so I was feeling pretty full. The trouble is I find it very hard to say no to pudding. I think that my husband felt a bit slighted when I bought crepes instead of asking him to make some. The thing is his talent lies more with making the thicker pancakes since he is Dutch, not French.

I can think of many things that I would rather have on a crepe instead of Nutella like bacon, lemon and sugar, maple syrup or even those Portuguese plums. The problem with Nutella is that it’s just a bit too rich for me to have on a pancake. I had one and I started to feel a wee bit sick. Tasted fine, but the Portuguese plum syrup is so much nicer.

IMG_3250Food item: Poached Salmon with Hollandaise

Right so, I actually made this around about the time that the pain started. I think I was channeling my inner Iron Chef when making this as I wanted to make it as pretty as possible.

So, I decided to make a lattice structure out of the asparagus and perch the poached salmon on top. This was the first time I’ve ever poached a fillet of fish. It was a lot easier than I expected. Sure, not as easy as frying or boiling, but easy just the same. In the poaching liquid was dill, a few peppercorns, tarragon vinegar and a bay leaf. It was the vinegar and peppercorns that really flavoured the fish most. Salmon and asparagus always go well together, but it is always that much more harmonious with a good dollop of hollandaise sauce. It was a 15 minute meal and yet it felt so decadent.

Progress: 869/933

Graphic Content: Space Dog / The Arrival

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die

Title: Space Dog
Author & Illustrator: Hendrik Dorgathen
Year: 1993
Country: Germany

It looks like these dictated reviews of movies, food and – now – comics are going to have to continue in earnest as the pain has started to grow in my other wrist. It means that my gaming list will need to take a back seat for a month or so.

One thing that I love about the comics list is that there is an extreme difference lengths. Where it took me 2 1/2 weeks to finish off The Sandman, it only took me about 10 minutes to read Space Dog. Aside from the introduction, which was in German, the entire story is told through images alone.

It tells a story of an adventurous red, somewhat angular, dog who leaves the comfort of his rural life in order to explore the big city. Along the way he makes friends with a musician and finds love in the form of a golden dachshund. At this point he is captured by the city authority who assume that he is a stray and ends up in the hands of NASA.

After this his life changed forever. He gets blasted into space and is contacted by aliens that imbue him with intelligence and the ability to walk on two legs. Upon his arrival back on Earth this red space dog becomes an instant celebrity. With his newfound intelligence this little dog of tries to change the world for the better. He helps to invent new technologies and even speaks at the United Nations. His downfall is succumbing to this life of celebrity, but it all comes good in the end.

For a 10 minute read this comic packs a whole lot in. I really enjoyed the angular and very colourful illustrations in this. Seeing how it took me little time to finish there is not much more I can say but I really enjoyed this.

Title: The Arrival
Author & Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Year: 2006
Country: Australia

Another short graphic novel, but wow just how different they are. When we decided to do this comics list we thought to take it in turns to pick. Both this and Space Dog were my picks (I got two because they were so small).

The reason that The Arrival was such an early pick for me is rather nostalgic. Back when I was teaching we would do these days focused on PSHE topics such as jobs, drugs and finance. I remember this one time I had to deliver an entire day about “what is your ideal job?” to a bunch of 12 year olds and I let it slip that given the economy and reality most adults do not end up in their dream jobs. The look of shock on some of their faces was priceless. I don’t think anyone had told them that just because you dream of being Beyonce it does not mean you will get a record deal.

Anyway I digress. I’ve actually used parts of this in a day that focused on immigration. This is where the difference between these two list items really comes into play. This is very much the graphic novel rather than a comic. I can easily believe it took a very long time to construct this.

The sheer wealth of imagination on display is breathtaking. As someone who is never had to emigrate or really deal with anything that would prompt emigration I don’t think I have ever come across something that could explain the feelings is such a simple yet articulate way. The lack of words means that there is much of the language barrier between this this foreign world and you as there is of for the protagonist. This means you have to suss out meaning from the gestures and pictures, which is very easy to do but it adds to the experience.

The city that the man ends up in feels like magic. I wonder if it relates back that idea of the technology belonging to an advanced alien race can feel like magic. The creatures and the machinery are utterly fantastical. I would love one of those weird dog like creatures sleeping at the foot of my bed. In order to have the impact there needs to be very little that the reader can relate to otherwise the confusion of the man will be diminished.

The something that is so short it really makes your reflect on what it must be like to been forced into that position of all the immigrants both in the book and in real life. I only wish that instead of having to use stupid excerpts when teaching we could have just had copies of the book to read together. Sure a lot of kids would have found it pointless, but the seeds would have been planted.

Progress: 12/501

XL Popcorn – Throne of Blood / Through the Olive Trees

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn this wrist!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-jô)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Year: 1957
Country: Japan

And now it is off to Japan and we are in the very capable hands of Akira Kurosawa. One of the first Kurosawa films I ever saw was Ran when he interpreted Shakespeare’s King Lear in a masterful way. For this film he has taken on MacBeth. Due to the nature of the story of MacBeth Kurosawa is able to do more straightforward interpretation, the flavor it with Japanese history.

I adore how he represented the three witches. Instead we have one spirit at a spinning wheel, much like the Fates of Greek mythology. In fact, by referring to the surroundings as of Spider Web Forest a lot of the symbolism is already there. To be honest I wish we had a literal translation of the film’s title for the international release. Spider Web Castle is far more effective, in my opinion.

In this adaptation, so much credit to the work of its version of Lady MacBeth. Isuzu Yamada hits all of the beats dead on. She is downright spooky as she convinces her husband to murder the Great Lord of the castle. Even down to the way she walks is otherworldly. It was not for the breakdown she has at the end, you would think she had been the forest spirit all along. Toshiro Mifune as always gives a stellar performance as the lead (aka MacBeth), but I don’t think he will ever top Rashomon for me.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I am now actively trying to reach 10 different countries in a row, I would be watching another samurai film. Maybe later.

Title: Through the Olive Trees (Zire darakhatan zeyton)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Year: 1994
Country: Iran

It has been a number of years since I last watched an Iranian film. I’ve always been curious about the work of Abbas Kiarostami but I never knew where to begin. So I started with this film, which is the last film in a trilogy. Bravo Peter! In my defence is the only film from a trilogy in the 1001 film list.

Through the Olive Trees is one of those films that plays with the documentary format. If I had watched the previous film in the trilogy I would understand better what the first scene was about. We join an Iranian film crew shooting a film where two locals are playing a couple. However, in real life the boy has already tried to propose to the girl. He was rejected by her grandmother for he did not have a house and is a functionally illiterate.

He clearly adores her, but after having his proposal refused the girl will not speak to him. Ergo, he spends the entire film, pretty much, trying to get an answer from her. Is under the impression that she likes him but fears her grandmother’s reprisal. If she only said to him whether or not she wanted to be with him he would not have to continually pour his heart out. To be honest he really should take her silence as a “no”, but he keeps getting advice to try his hand again.

The result is an ambiguous and mesmerising end shot. We’re standing on a hill watching the boy and girl as white dots walking over the plains. There is no way to hear what is being said, so is all down to interpretation. I think that because of the speed of his dot and the slightly more uplifting music he was able to get a positive answer. Others have argued against this. This is the beauty of the directors use of long shots, and he is a master of them.

It’s amazing how not being able to use my hand and having to dictates my thoughts has enabled me to reflect better. Since the software isn’t foolproof I’m having to correct myself and as such have ended up having a not quite one sided conversation with my laptop about all these films that I have watched. Who knows, I might start to do this more often.

Progress: 478/1007

Let’s Get Literal: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Still writing through dictation only. God, I want my wrist to get better.

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 30/100Title: War and Peace
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Year: 1869
Country: Russia

It has taken me 30 days, but I actually finished War and Peace! Sure finishing off the us Proust epic novel is probably a far greater achievement since it is four times as long, however this was not a slog at all. Actually I think I might have found a book that will rank among my favourites.

This is not in any way, shape or form due to the philosophy or the detailed battle sequences that Tolstoy peppers the novel with. Oh no. I actually did a bit of speedreading to get through some of those sequences. To be honest I did not particularly enjoy Napoleon as a character. So why did I love this? Five words: Pierre, Natasha, Andrei, Mary and Denisov. These five characters will now rank as some of my favourite characters in literature. In particular, and I know that this is common, I adore Pierre.

It pained me to not watch the BBC adaptation of this since I did not want to be spoiled at all. Now that I finished I’ll definitely be watching this. Especially because I think their choice for Pierre was inspired. I have been a fan of Paul Dano since seeing him in Little Miss Sunshine and L.I.E. so I’m keen to see his interpretation.

The great thing about war and peace is that it took the parts of in search of lost time that kept me going and just magnified it. No character is flawless and by a similar token no character is completely flawed. Even Anatole, who is a despicable playboy, is someone you can’t help but pity.

If I were to describe this book as being about how the Russian high society was rocked to its very core by Napoleon’s invasion it would be accurate but miss the point completely. It is so much more than that. In every way is really just about the human condition. I think that is the point. You really do not know the make of a person until they are thrown into crisis. An example of this would be Natasha: she starts off as a giddy and beautiful debutante but by the end she has grown up into a kind and sensitive woman. She becomes a stark contrast to her mother the countess who is easily upset at the prospect of living her life in less comfort, but does nothing to remedy the situation. There is a section where she would rather take a few more rugs than spare a cart to save the lives of Russian soldiers.

The central figure of this is undoubtedly Pierre. I fell for him almost immediately as I guess I could identify with him as being the oddball and finding it hard to relate to those around him. The best thing about him is that he tries. He is very opinionated, rather lustful and enjoys his fair share of alcohol, but there is always that part of him who wants to be better. This leads to his fleeting and membership of the Freemasons after his marriage collapses on itself (not his fault completely as she was a bit too close to her brother). As characters go he goes on one hell of a journey in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual and geographic. The man he is on the other side is still very much him, but maybe one who is a bit closer to the truth.

The version that I read Anglicised some of the names. For example Nikolai became Nicholas and Andrei became Andrew. So when I was talking about this with my mum who was watching the TV show there was a bit miscommunication going on. I adored his translation because of all the helpful footnotes and yet I felt a bit cheapened because of these English names.

I’ve yet to read Anna Karenina. However, I know about how it ends. So I was reading this book with an incredible amount of trepidation. The body count is high since this is war, but apart from a few exceptions I was very happy with how this book ended. Scratch that I was bloody relieved. There is a scene where Pierre is on the brink of being executed and I was so desperate for this not to be the way ended for him. I should have known better as he is the Tolstoy surrogate, but I kept thinking of that damned train.

I know that this is a book where a lot of people get put off because of the ridiculous length. This is not feel like one of the longest books ever written. I regret that I was able to finish it so quickly. There is a scene nearly halfway through that describes how this book made me feel. It is winter and the Rostov family are having a party where Natasha, Andrei, Sonya and Petya are dressing up. It felt like such a warm slice of life that you could just nuzzle down into. That was this book. Sure there was tragedy and heartbreak, but that is life. I just felt that over the course of the month I got to know some truly spectacular people and now, for the time being, they’re out of my life again. Maybe one day I will get around to reading this again.

XL Popcorn – Jeanne Dielman / Los Olvidados

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn this wrist!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Director: Chantal Akerman
Year: 1975
Country: Belgium

In many ways, watching Jeanne Dielman is a bit of a comedown after watching Peking Opera Blues. We go from the pageantry of the Chinese opera house to the humdrum of a Belgian widowed housewife. Over the course of 3 hours 20 minutes we watch three days in the life of a selfless woman.

That’s what she is; utterly selfless. In order to pay for the upkeep of her son and her home she prostitutes herself out. By the way that the director uses long shots to depict daily chores in real time you are under the impression that things have been like this for the majority of the six years since her husband’s death.

It’s one of those films where we ask the question: is everyday life art?

Watching it whilst knowing the conclusion means that you spot things you might not do. For example, because I know that on the second day parts of her mundane façade start to crumble the fact that she forgot to put the lid back on her money pot really stuck out to me.

It has been said that men lead lives of quiet desperation. If that is true, what the hell are you calling Jeanne Dielman’s life. I mean, there’s not exactly a lot of warmth coming from the son that she daily has to prostitute herself to keep happy.

Similar to Shoah this is a hard film to give a rating to. There is a strange magnetism from watching the life of an everyday person when you know they’re going to commit something out of the ordinary. I guess that is why people watch The Real Housewives… but this somehow feels less scripted.

los-olvidados-11Title: Los Olvidados
Director: Luis Buñuel
Year: 1950
Country: Mexico

I’m not sure how long I will be able to keep this run of unique countries going, but I’m going to do my damnedest. The year is 1950 and we’re looking at child poverty in Mexico City. It is an exercise in realism with child actors taking on roles of, essentially, street thugs. It feels like a precursor to the Brazilian film City of God in that it is unflinching in its portrayal.

Considering that this film comes from the master of surrealist movies Luis Buñuel it is impressive to see something so real. The again he did direct ” land without bread” so I am not exactly surprised. The surrealist tricks to creep in every now and then. For example, there is a very trippy slow motion dream sequence involving a slab of meat and a billowing white dress. There is also a moment when an egg is thrown directly at the camera.

I can see why, at the time, the Mexican film boards were not too pleased with of such a honest and negative portrayal of their capital. Then again if this is such an issue then it should be solved, surely? He actually portrays the Mexican government official as a caring man. He could have been Pedro’s salvation if only the streets of Mexico City had allowed it.

It is a real thinker of a movie. The scale is wider than Jeanne Dielman, however they are as affecting as each other.

Progress: 476/1007