; movieschocolatebooks: June 2013


Sunday, June 30

Whatever works

Woody Allen is a witty little man, with crazy hair and thick glasses, who loves to gesticulate his feelings and interminably argue irony and fate. Whether he chooses crime dramas or sexy comedies to express his cynicism and misanthropy, Woody Allen has a certain kind of charm and humour that never fails to get me. His idiosyncrasies and restlessness are voiced in the person of Boris Yelnikoff (Larry David), a chess teacher with a quick temper, who ends up marrying a stray girl from Mississippi (Evan Rachel Wood).

Melody St. Anne Celestine is a runaway from uptight parents and traditional values, a good-looking, yet simple-minded creature who develops a crush on Boris and gets under his skin with her ingenuity. She is sincere and totally embraces his greatness and married life so things seem to go on perfectly until first, her mother Marietta, played by Patricia Clarkson, comes along, shortly followed by her guilty husband (Ed Begley Jr). Melody's parents have split up after their daughter's disappearance due to the father's indiscretions. Their arrival to New York works as an epiphany for both of them: Marietta discovers her passion for photography and taste for threesome affairs whereas the father comes out of the closet and finds himself a nice man.

The movie is full of ironical dialogues and outspoken fears, of good performances, such as that of Evan Rachel Woods- versatile and energetic- and Patricia Clarkson's- a mixture of  and loud expressions of touchy subjects such as homosexuality, marriage, menages-a-trois or old age. It is not the most impressive Woody Allen movie- I personally prefer his malcontent discourse rather than other feeble impersonations- as it is a mixture of real life situations and far-fetched scenarios, a mixture of fantasy and reality that fails to get to you. You simply cannot make people part of your routine out of boredom or other options, and then go for whatever works, in full harmony with the whole world. It is as if Woody Allen has turned into an old, loving character who is trying to contaminate us with his fervent enthusiasm and spunk.

Larry David delivers the credible performance of a loner whose life revolves around poverty, unhappiness and a total lack of faith in human beings. Taken by bits, some parts make sense and really deliver, but the movie is neither a comedy of manners nor a character comedy; it is a bogus about the potential of unexpected love and the endless possibilities we can offer ourselves in the pursuit of happiness. Except for the insults that constantly pour out of Boris's mouth and some artificial twists of narrative, the movie could probably have been more successful as a play. It is a neurotic Woody Allen piece that won't blow your mind but there are definitely some parts that will cushion the blow! As Boris puts it:''Okay, this works. Whatever.''

Wednesday, June 26

The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

While speaking at a TED conference on the role of the writer, Isabel Allende mentioned a Jewish proverb asking what is truer than Truth. The answer was the story. I believe the success of her writings resides in her fantabulous gift of telling excellent stories. The Island Beneath the Sea is a 2010 novel of great humanity and passionate characters. Neither a self-confession nor a story on the importance of genealogy, this novel is about the swifting nature of power.

The story begins on the island of Saint-Domingue in the late 18th century. Zarité (known as Tété) is the daughter of an African mother and a white sailor, who is bought by the beautiful courtesan, Violette, on behalf of Toulouse Valmorain, a Frenchman owing a sugar plantation and one of her many lovers. When Valmorain gets married, Tété becomes his wife's personal slave. But her mistress has a frail spirit and soon goes mad so Valmorain forces Tété, now a teenager, into sexual slavery, which leads to several illegitimate children. The mulatto slave is an intriguing presence to her master, who cannot decides whether he despises her or he loves her, an excuse for the writer to portray the race and sex relations between the white planters and their slaves. Part One of the novel is set in Saint-Domingue (1770-1793) and captures the culture of the plantation mentality in all its ugliness, dirt, and brutality and it culminates with the slaves' uprising. When the great rebellion begins, the whites who had not been killed on their plantations go to Le Cap and continue to live a sweet life despite the violent political and social changes. Toulouse Valmorain and his family, including Tété, flee to New Orleans in 1793, and Part Two (1793-1810) is set there.

Spanning four decades, the story leaps from the Haitian slave revolution to the cosmopolitan New Orleans. Apparently a historical novel, The Island Beneath the Sea rather weaves around Tété and Valmorain and all those related and connected to them, turning the story into a gripping adventure. Also, there are some recurring themes of Isabel Allende's writings such as loyalty, injustice, passion, freedom, power and the ever-present dichotomy between master/slave, black/white, colony/mainland, English/French or men/women.

The title, Island Beneath the Sea, refers to an Afro-Caribbean belief in a ever-lasting Eden. It illustrates the slaves' belief that equality between races can be found only in heaven, whereas Tété believes that in love and death we are all equal; the power of love is purifying and elevating. This is what drew me to this novel and to Isabel Allende's novels- the humanity of her characters, their love of life and stamina, the way they connect to the earthly and spiritual forces to fill themselves with positive energy. Isabel Allende's women burst with femininity and beauty lies deep within their hearts, an ancestral power to seduce men, sometimes against their better judgement. The Island Beneath the Sea is a book that will haunt your mind, soul and senses long after you have read its final pages; the kind of book that leaves you satisfied, yet yearning for more. Excellent reading!

Tuesday, June 25

Dubliners by James Joyce

I love short stories. They are so refreshing- miniatures of the writer's effort to transfer great meaning to small spaces. Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories written by James Joyce, a naturalistic portrayal of the middle class life of Dublin, around the turn of the century. It was James Joyce's intention to capture a piece of Irish history through its people, at different times of their existence: childhood, teenage life, adulthood and public life.

The lives of James Joyce's characters are not idealised, but rather described from a psychological point of view, focusing on what drives men and women to gestures and situations meant to reveal to them unspoken truths. Thus, “Childhood” has three stories, “Young Adulthood” and “Mature Life” have four stories each, whereas three stories are grouped under the name “Public Life” and take place in the political, musical and business world of Dublin; the last is The Dead.  Each story follows another in chronological order, from early childhood to old age, each of them symbolically connected to the seasons which move on from spring, summer, autumn, until finally at the end it is winter. Also there are some recurring themes that defines James Joyce's short stories such as Catholic religion, guilt, freedom, hopelessness or sin. Despite their paralysis, the characters are each depicted in a situation that brings an epiphany- a moment of insight into character-  in their lives.

Joyce's stories are unsentimental, precise and exhibit a genius for observation and detail. My favourite story is Evelyn, where a nineteen-year-old girl is struck by emotional paralysis; born in a poor family, victim of an abusive father, an orphan deprived of motherly affection and advice, Evelyn decides to join Frank on a cruise that will take them to their new, exciting life in Buenos Aires. The young woman goes over the rightful reasons behind her decision once again, but when faced with the final gesture, she goes numb and pathetically surrenders to a situation beyond control. Guilt and duty seem to govern James Joyce's characters and shape unhappy lives and gloomy futures. Only in The Dead does the author convey the message that his Dubliners may have the spiritual resources to overcome their fatality.

Despite their sadness and limited perspectives, the characters in Dubliners are quite unforgettable and have a way of sneaking up on you, lingering in your mind and heart long after you have put the book aside. It is James Joyce's talent that makes his collection of short stories notable in the way he beguiles his readers' interest and empathy.

Saturday, June 22

Obsesii by Cheltuitus Banus

Obsesii. Hannibal Lecter. De ce nu il urasc pe Hannibal? Ar trebui urat, urat din tot sufletul, este un criminal, un criminal cu sange rece, este nebun de criminal, este cel mai destept nebun criminal ce iti ramane pe retina. Este the Master. Mads Mikkelsen interpretandu-l este manusa, este perfect adaptat rolului si scenariului. Spre deosebire de predecesorul sau, Hopkins, este infiorator de inuman si amuzat de ceea ce face...El gateste- are un hobby. Hobby-ul lui este sens si senzualitate, face ''dragoste'' cu mancarea sa, o savureaza din priviri si o ridica la stadiul de arta. Ce pot spune? Nu oricine gateste oameni... Trebuie urat pentru hobby-ul lui. Dar o face magistral...este rece, dar uman in reactii.

Hopkins era o lume a sa, un nebun perfect adaptat lumii inconjuratoare prin haine si limitabilitate, avea miscarile gandite cu scop, era limitat in actiuni, omora pentru show off, era spectaculos si populist. Avea privirea rece, dar nebuna. Era un actor in propriul scenariu, nu gresea, anticipa si era imprevizibil. Este un alfa pe domeniul lui de nebuni. Este alfa pentru ca pare normal in aparenta. Mads este un altfel de alfa, este un personaj pornind cu handicapul succesului predecesorului...Dar handicapul a fost transformat in avantaj. Este diferit. Total diferit. Un personaj atemporal prin haine, maniere si dorinte exprimate. Este rece, dar face greseli, il umanizeaza. Greselile si scaparile il fac uman. Imi place personajul pentru ca este atat de destept si omni, pluri, super, extra, mega dezvolatat si inteligent. Este peste tot si peste toate, este in trecutul nebanuit al fiecarui personaj si a fiecarei actiuni.

Hannibal- Mads este un personaj perfect, dar nu nebun, nu un nebun al filmelor, este un nebun al cartilor, al gandului, al imaginatiei exersate si desfasurate in paginile unei carti. Este personaj discret, dar omniprezent. Este rece, dar are scapari umane (spre deosebire de Hopkins-perfect inuman, dar adaptat cerintei filmului si publicului doritor de extravaganta si show off). Hannibal este uman pentru ca are scapari umane, realizeaza asta si se repliaza si reorganizeaza regretand scaparea, devine apoi robot in propriul rau. Devine atragator dincolo de rautatea mascata pefect- de fapt, nu este rau, nu are manifestari si ganduri rautacioase, nu are un comportament de rau, nu este mean or with a mean behaviour- he behaves himself beautifully. Are privire fixa, mimica impenetrabila...dar umanul din el iese la suprafata printr-o privire fara control, sau un gest de deschidere a unei agende sau o miscare a unui deget. Devine uman si iti dai seama ca are un rol, un rol sustinut de hainele aproape vintage, manierele politicoase, delimitarea spatiului personal de al celorlalti, lipsa de contact prietenesc- desi doreste prieteni, dar prin felul lui de a fi pare a se descurca singur de minune, de aceea nu ii este cautata prietenia, ci sfatul, de aceea sufera si are scapari umane... Nu se doreste doar sfatuitorul, ci si prietenul- chiar si cei mai reci dintre noi au nevoie de prieteni, au nevoie sa rada cu un prieten fara a se gandi la control. Hannibal isi asuma rolul de sfatuitor si personaj omniprezent, superinteligent si atemporal. Este in trecutul fiecarui personaj, este in formarea si dezvolatarea fiecaruia. Este trecut prin mai multe meserii si detine un numar impresionant de abilitati. Trecutul sau l-a format si indreptat spre un skill suprem- psihologia si psihanaliza- luand din uman, continutul, nu forma, luand partea nevazuta si aproape dumnezeiasca a fiecaruia- psihicul uman- si manipulandu-l. Creierul si reactiile umane sunt lut in fata lui, de aceea a fost nevoie de un personaj paralel, care sa ii faca fata.

Personajul interpretat de Hugh Dancy- Will Graham- este venit din alta lume, este aproape somnambul si autist, este inzestrat cu calitati si insusiri aproape stiintifico-fantastice, tocmai pentru a-i face fata lui Hannibal. Hannibal ce are cel mai ciudat si respingator hobby posibil- mananca oameni, ii savureaza, ii imparte. Este precum apa, se infiltreaza fara sa iti dai seama, te inconjoara si te trezesti sau prea tarziu. Este magistral in realizarile sale, perfect. Persoanele cu hobby sunt cele mai bune in realizarea unei actiuni legate de hobby-ul exersat, pentru ca ele o fac cu pasiune si dedicatie, fac o arta din hobby-ul lor, sunt ceative si obtin maximum din actiunea lor, sunt artisti ai hobyy-ului propriu, se autodepasesc si sunt incantati de provocari. Acesta este Hannibal- Mads, vazut de mine, obsesia momentului meu.

Guest Post

Dear chocofriends, book readers and movies watchers,

It is my pleasure to give you Cheltuitus Banus, a lovely human being with an obsession. I hope you will appreciate her insightful mind and interesting taste and make her feel at home and most welcome.

Thank you,

Friday, June 21

Chocolate, in some favourite recipes of mine

I read twice a day, I watch movies every day, I talk endlessly, I write almost daily, I walk at least an hour a day, I love twenty-four hours a day, I fight occasionally, I snuggle in the morning and at bedtime, I meet friends often and I bake at weekends. Chocolate is the glue that keeps them all together. Not only in my lovely Lindt bars, but also in my favourite, sweet recipes, some of which are too good to pass. You know, it all makes perfect sense as I read the recipes, I bake the cake and I eat it while watching movies.

1. French Chocolate Brownies- If you like chocolate brownies then you'll simply adore the French version. This is a delicious flour-free variety that will leave you longing for more,…and more,…and more! Easy to make, lovely texture, insatiably savoury. I usually have them with vanilla ice-cream and wild berries sauce. It's a really decadent desert that I would have while watching, say, Out of Africa. This is the easiest, illustrated way to learn how to bake them: ttp://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-make-french-chocolate-brownie

2. Jamie Oliver's Chocolatey Tiramisu- I haven't yet met a single human being not liking tiramisu. It is simply irresistible, a combination of soft mascarpone cheese, dark quality chocolate, coffee and alcohol. And the secret lies in mixing everything with your hands, pouring the secret ingredient in every step of the recipe: your love for chocolate, obviously. It is cool and not fattening at all, with a light texture and the recipe can be improved by adding strawberries or other berries, according to your preferences and the season. This is Jamie Oliver showing you how to create
3. Oreo Crust Cheese Cake- There is something about cheesecakes that is so addictive and intoxicating. I just love cheese, any flavour, any colour, any shape, any origin, any way of eating. And I think it makes the best choice when it comes to deserts, as it is the best combination with chocolate and fruit. This recipe has a special crust, made of Oreo biscuits and butter, covered with mascarpone cheese and sprinkled with raspberry and chocolate sauce. It is divine and never to be forgotten. Just follow your instincts: http://myjerusalemkitchen.wordpress.com/tag/oreo-crust-cheese-cake/

4. Chocolate Soufflé. These soufflés look so good in their tiny ramekins, just too good to be true and almost too shy to touch them. It is so inviting for little girls to give a hand and hopefully, be of real help in mixing the chocolate and butter, the eggs and sugar, and the flour. A piece of cake and the result is some lovely pieces of cakes, crunchy on the outside and runny in the inside. They go best with cream, but I also had them with vanilla ice-cream, so I'll just let you be judge of it, right? Take a peek: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4351/chocolate-souffls

5. Homemade chocolate- This was the best alternative to the milk chocolate we didn't have while growing up, a kind of national recipe in my childhood years. I had it a lot in the past but as I became infatuated with Lindt, I simply forgot about it, till one day, I simply discovered the recipe on the pack of the most famous Romanian powder milk- Raraul. Obviously, I improved the original recipe by adding almond flakes in it and it just made it so rich and exquisite. I couldn't stop eating and it brought back such lovely memories of my mum and childhood friends. Excellent: http://www.in-familie.ro/ciocolata-de-casa/

Ciocolata de casa

6. Homemade eclairs- once again, a blast from the past. Eclairs so remind me of my childhood years when I helped my mother bake the choux buns, which was the most difficult part and you had to have a very flexible wrist to be able to use the piping bag. It was a bit harder at first but I managed to bake the best choux buns ever. Then we filled them with vanilla custard and covered them with chocolate icing. They were simply splendid and we always had them on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays or Easter. Here, on one of the best food sites: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/355610/homemade-eclairs-

Homemade eclairs
7. Pear and chocolate cake- this is unexpectedly yummy. You wouldn't believe how great pears are in cakes and the mixture of chocolate, pears and mascarpone cheese -again- is exquisite. As you have probably noticed, I love simple recipes that don't take much time and which are easy to bake. This is a low-fat recipe that will simply make your taste buds go wild, because the pear chunks get soft and you can fill the mascarpone flavour and the chocolate taste. In a word, to die for : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7m7Uep1YW4

As you can see, I think in chocolate and simply love to eat it, no matter what; every now and then, I put Lindt bars aside and just bake chocolatey deserts because there is no sweeter desert than CHOCOLATE!

Wednesday, June 19

The Best Offer/La Migliore Offerta

Growing up on movies such as Nuovo Cinema Paradisso (1988), winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1989, sets some quality standards, so I had high expectations when I decided to watch Giseppe Tornatore's latest picture. The Best Offer/La Migliore Offerta (2012) had all the best premises in the world: talented director, great cast, generous subject, excellent soundtrack and beautiful locations. Nevertheless, the movie, written and directed by Tornatore, fails to give you the desired goose bumps and the rush of mixed emotions.

Giuseppe Tornatore is an acclaimed Italian director of dramas like The Legend of 1900 (La Leggenda del Pianista sull’Oceano), Malena and Cinema Paradiso. Unlike his previous pictures, this movie breaks from the Sicilian themes that define the director's penchant for the beautiful past, and it is a most welcome glimpse at the sophisticated world of art auctions. Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a rush and famous auctioneer who takes great pleasure in his snobbish, sophisticated existence, loathing human contact and secretly amassing a collection of beautiful female portraits with the help of his accomplice, Billy (Donald Sutherland). A mysterious call from a young woman, Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) suffering from agoraphobia, gets him close to a mansion to assess the contents before sale. In the basement, his expert eye catches the glimpse of some old mechanical parts of an automaton dating back to the 17th century that he starts rebuilding with the help of his engineer-friend, Robert (Jim Sturgess). Virgil takes heart advice from Robert, a genuine lady's man, to get Claire out of her hidden room and closer to him. From this moment on, the movie becomes extremely predictable and the thrill is gone.

The refined, yet cold, beauty of all the women hanging on the walls of his secret hideout, is no match to the fresh, giving beauty Virgil finds in his latest work of art, Claire. Besotted with the young woman, Virgil turns this ambitious project of his into a priority, neglecting his image and professional duties, sharing with her his greatest secret. "There is always something authentic concealed in a forgery" confesses Virgil to his young friend, Robert and this is the automaton's final message to him. It is his other friend and proxy, Billy, who tells him that people are like works of art themselves: they can be forged to seem like the original and their every emotion can be faked. It all depends on how much you are willing to believe, on the extent to which you are ready to yield in the name of love. Claire makes Virgil the best offer possible, the chance to love and feel himself as a creator for his beloved Galatea; yet every exceptional offer has a downside.

To my book, this is what saved the movie from utter rejection: the very thin line between authenticity and falsity, the shred/potential of forgery that lies within every work of art, whether it is a human being or a remarkable painting. Otherwise, the dialogues are poor, Jim Sturgess's character is unexploited, Billy makes an inconstant appearance for his master puppeteer's intentions to be revealed and Claire has a sudden and unbelievable swing of moods. The script is flawed in its inconsistency and the movie fails to be either a drama or a thriller. Also, the cast makes an unfortunate bunch and there seems to be a lack of chemistry among the actors.The movie might not deliver but the display of the works of art and the interiors are an occasional delight. Beautiful as this movie desired to be, it is no substitute for our emotions, right?

Sunday, June 16

Matcha sweets- A Japanase snack review

It's been a long wait but it was worthed and now my Japanese treats are here to stay. Not for long, though, as I am going to devour them as soon as I am done with this post. So, dear chocofriends, it feels like Christmas for the second time already this year and I am so excited to be tasting some of Japan's most famous Matcha sweets.

First, we have Alfort Green Tea (Matcha) Chocolate Biscuit. Wrapped in green, these are small and delicious chocolate biscuits by Bourbon, a famous brand in Japan. Bourbon is a company founded in 1924 under the name Kitanihon Seika that produces confectioneries. It is made of matcha chocolate and it is topped by a soft, crunchy biscuit. The green chocolate is sweet and less than chocolaty. Though, it is cool and refreshing, the strong smell of matcha might be a pot-off to the sensitive nostrils.


Then, I tried Cacao Plus Matcha Maccha Green Tea Japanese snack- some round green, bitter balls with a chocolate filling. Again, they are to my liking as they are not very sweet and the chocolate flavour just lingers on. All Japanese sweets are based on Matcha as it contains caffeine naturally and is naturally gluten-free, not to mention that the organic Matcha fields are high up in the mountains, so it is healthy and delicious. Crunky popjoy are little chocolate candies filled with matcha crunchy pops. They are bit-sized chocolates with crunchy rice and matcha powder. In a word, chocolate outside and a crunchy inside that pops with joy. Moving on to Galbo Mini - Japanese Chocolate Snack, only 262 calories a packet, so how cool is that? The inside  is chocolaty, like a crunchy cocoa flavoured cookie, covered in green matcha candy. I liked the cocoa cookie crunch as it was somehow satisfying and the combination is just great. If you just ignore the pill-like aspect and risk it, you won't feel disappointed a bit.  

The ones I liked the least are the Matcha Corn Choco- bean-like candies with a crunchy corn inside. They are probably the Japanese's alternative for sweet popcorn at the movies but they are simply a combination that I don't really appreciate. I like my popcorn salty and my chocolate -Matcha chocolate, as it is the case- sweet.  But, if you are health conscious then drink Matcha tea and eat Matcha snacks; actually, you can indulge yourself in the Matcha sweets, ignoring calories and not always thinking about the healthy right thing to do.

As usual, the handsome, travelling man in my life arranged for this Japanese snacks to be delivered straight from Tokyo, so this post goes right from my heart to his!

Friday, June 14

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

It has been a while since I last read a detective story; in fact, I remember having spent an entire summer of my teenage life, reading detective stories. It all started with a bad case of cold that forced me to stay in bed for a week and skip school. I felt so miserable and sick that my father, who was also an avid reader, started reading detective stories to me. He had this great voice and an excellent sense of humour so it didn't take me long to fall in love with the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, the ingenious Sherlock Holmes, the rubicund Hercule Poirot or the cunning Melania of Rodica Ojog-Brasoveanu's detective novels. Later on, my readings broadened and I took a liking to fiction, but that all-detective story year and my bonding to my father are a dear memory to me.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is kind of a post-modernist detective genre, a mixture of traditional formulae of detective fiction and multi-layered story structure. The heroes are no longer the elegant, well-spoken, witty characters of Raymond Chandler or Gaston Leroux, they are rather complex human beings caught in intellectual dilemmas and bound to do unexplainable, bizarre things. It is not just the anti-detective heroes that catch your eye, it is also Paul Auster's personal, warm style that gets under your skin and makes your reading way better than you have anticipated.

The New York Trilogy, collected together in 1987, is Paul Auster’s first and most famous work of fiction. In the first novella, “City of Glass,” a detective, Quinn, is offered the job of  following a man who may be thoughtfully observing his son’s murder. In “Ghosts,” another detective, Blue, is hired to follow a man who may or may not be aware that he is being followed. In “The Locked Room,” an unsuccessful writer is asked by his friend’s wife to help publish his vanishing friend’s manuscripts. The three stories are interlocked in the way the characters sway from one crime scene to the other and the manner in which all seem more preoccupied with the existential aspect of life rather than the  materialistic.

Loss of identity is a major team in his three short stories and it is an opportunity for the characters to reinvent themselves or assume someone else's life; one identity is slowly disintegrated only to allow a new one to emerge. Moreover, his readings are a challenge as the roles of detectives, writer and reader are interchangeable and bring you loser to Paul Auster's perspective of reality. My favourite was The Locked Room, whose title is inspired from a the locked room mystery, a sub-genre of detective fiction; a crime happens under almost impossible circumstances, in a locked room, where no one could have entered. It reminded me of Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune by French journalist and author Gaston Leroux. Like Chinese boxes, this short story contains other stories in it, switching perspectives and making the reader aware of life's unreality.

Fanshawe has disappeared, leaving his six-months pregnant wife, Sophie, and has not returned.  Thinking he's dead, Sophie contacts an unnamed narrator, a childhood friend of her husband, to evaluate Fanshawe’s writings and decide if they are worth being published. The narrator and the literary community are impressed by the man's talent, get him successfully. published. Sophie and the writer fall in love, marry but their happiness is short-lived.
I would like to end this review with a link to an interview with Paul Auster, as it is essential to get a better understanding of the writer himself before reading his great stories:


Wednesday, June 12

Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger

I salute the novelist while dearly reminiscing about Holden Caulfied, only to gladly welcome the short-story writer who is serious, intense, sensitive and fresh. Here are J. D. Salinger's nine stories in a short story collection that approaches controversial subjects such war, death, human nature, loss, social conventions or innocence. 

Short stories are instances of a writer's perspective on the things around him and pieces of himself; it is therefore important to keep in mind the facts of Salinger's life- his war years, his religious wobbles, his troubled family relations or his sentimental tribulations. There is splendour to be found in every day actions if only one happens to pay a closer look.

In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Muriel, the young wife, argues on the phone with her mother, who is worried about the unstable husband, Seymour. They are on vacation at a seaside hotel and while Muriel is in the room, Seymour is on the beach, in a bathrobe, trying to hide his tattoos, while talking to a young girl, Sybil. He takes Sybil into the water, looking for “bananafish” – strange creatures that cannot help eating too many bananas and getting stuck in banana-filled holes. After the swimming, Seymour returns to his hotel room and after gazing at this sleeping wife, shoots himself. The man's final gesture is slightly anticipated from the beginning of the story in the conversation Muriel has with her mother, suggesting that he's suffering from post-traumatic stress after the war. His innocent story about bananafish is a symbolic description of dreamers versus materialistic beings.

For Esmé - With Love And Squalor, is the sixth story in the collection, and appeared in an April, 1950 New Yorker. It is another story with an unexpected, rather frustrating ending, about the traumatic, dehumanising effects of an unseen, yet present war. The thirteen year old Esme and her younger brother, Charles, meet an American soldier in a pub, on a rainy day. Her smart and elegant conversation and her insightful comments make quite an impression on the sergeant and they part with Esme promising to write to him. Some time later, a tired soldier, on the verge of mental breakdown finds a package from the little girl he once met in a teashop; the lovely letter and her innocent gift of her late father's wristwatch deliver the sergeant from his agony. Hell is not only the ugly war but also the inability to love and it is Esme's altruistic love that saves the sergeant's lost soul.

World War II is a vital element of several short stories in J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories collection. In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut, For Esme with Love and Squalor, and Teddy, Salinger portrays children living in the post-war period- smart yet alienated children, forced to grow up too soon at the cost of their loss of innocence. All children in his stories are means of revealing altruism and purity to the adults, their ultimate form of salvation. Even Teddy, Salinger's most dramatic child character, a mixture of adulthood and innocence, aware of his immediate death, feels like a neglected child by his busy parents: ''I have a strong affinity for them. But they don't love me that way. I mean they don't seem able to love us just the way we are. They don't seem able to love us unless they can keep changing us a little bit. They love their reasons for loving us. It's not so good that way''.

The stories are quite short, about 20 pages or more but they are so intense and capture thousands of emotions and nuances. Salinger has a very readable style and his characters are so rich and beautifully drawn that the stories are an open invitation to re-reading. The characters are painted in soft colours of grey and they gracefully engage in witty conversations though all suffer from social conventions and limited perspectives. His stories are in the line of the realism depicted in Hemingway or Chekhov's writings that have rich dialogues, an unadorned style and compressed action in small time instances. These are short stories that will make your reading hour a happy one, filling your heart and mind with endless emotions and enriching your soul with their sensitivity.

Monday, June 10

9 Songs- Michael Winterbottom

Intimacy versus physical closeness, sexual empowerment versus traditional values- this is what 9 Songs (2004) is all about. If you have the patience to peel off the plain sexual/rock music layers, you'll be surprised to get a close look at the meaning of reminiscence and loneliness, togetherness and melancholy. Michael Winterbottom is now credited for having directed the "most explicit movie in British cinema history".

 9 Songs is a cocktail of rock music and hot sex, ice caps and short conversations. Sex in movies is commonly controversial and usually starts with steamy flirtation and culminates with earth-shaking love making, more or less showy. This movie joins the lewd line of controversial movies such as In the realm of senses, Salo, Last Tango in Paris or Intimacy that make prudes take their hypocritical eyes off and the mature ones appreciate them for their honesty. Winterbottom's movie is the story of a geologist, Matt, (Kieran O’Brien) reflecting back on his relationship with Lisa (Margot Stilley), while flying over the vast, white Antarctic. As the title suggests, Matt and Lisa have in common a passion for live rock concerts and uninhibited sex. They first meet at a ‘Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’ concert and end up at his place, having wild, yet protected sex.
Though I fail to see the connection between sexual encounters and live rock music, much to my broad-mindedness, the concerts seem to fuel the sexual energy of the two characters and they embark on the most instinctive, unrestrained sexual games and explorations. I believe this is one of the things that vexed the sensitivity of the puritan eyes- a woman's exploration of  her own sexuality, which is a rather virgin territory in movies. Lisa is open about her desires and expresses herself in a free manner, using sex and Matt to fulfil her fantasies; sometimes, it is not even about him, it is about giving herself pleasure in all possible ways. Another unexpected, less traditional aspect is that of showing a couple who does not take the usual path by talking about mundane things such as future plans, marriage, a house or children. Their conversations are short and sound as natural as their sex encounters; they enjoy each other's company, their bodies, recreational drugs, smoking, light meals and carefree moments.
Much to my surprise, at the end of the 69 minutes, you get the feeling it was too short, which probably was the director's intention- a sort of furtive glance thrown at someone's year spent with another someone. Your are left wandering whatever happened to Matt and Lisa and whether they found a way to reunite; but then again, to what purpose? Rock concerts and sexual encounters are brief, meaningful and unrepeatable. We only get to look at the story from Matt's reminiscent perspective- a man who probably feels less lonely among the white, remote, lifeless plains of the Antarctic than in the short-lived, intense thing with Lisa. It is more demanding in life to get good love than good sex but, then again, there is no accounting for taste, right?

Saturday, June 8

The Messenger

Sophocles said it first in Antigone and then Shakespeare, in Antony and Cleopatra, had the beautiful Egyptian queen threaten the life of the messenger who told her that Antony had married another. So it is both historical and unfortunate to be blaming and even taking revenge on the bearer of the bad news. According to Freud, this extreme gesture has everything to do with the receiver of the unpleasant news rather than the messenger, as it illustrates the former's denial and attempt to defence the initial state of affairs and a display of his absolute power over the latter. The Messenger (2009) is an intelligent drama about the multiple layers of the inconvenient job of officially informing the next of kin of the soldiers killed in the line of duty.
Sergent Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), home from Iraq, a hero with a medal, is assigned a new job in what the Army calls “bereavement notification”; he is to join captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) in the dignified, yet unpleasant mission of knocking at the doors of spouses and parents and deliver the awful news. Captain Stone, a recovering alcoholic, sets very strict rules to follow in order to avoid emotional outbreaks and pleads for complete detachment; visibly affected by the fragile balance of things, Will shares a common bond with one widow whose husband has just got killed. He cannot seem to stay away from Olivia (Samantha Morton) with whom he starts a tender, quiet romance. But the families of the deceased aren't the only damaged parties in the movie; the two of them are also on the verge of despair and collapse. Stone has a relapse and starts contemplating his empty life, whereas Will suffers from post-traumatic stress and the emotional inability of leaving his past behind.  

People take bad news differently; some are more considerate to the messengers than others. A grief-stricken father, Steve Buscemi, spits Will in the face and calls him a coward; later on, he comes out of the dark night and apologises for his outburst. Family members need their space and time to come to terms with their losses and their genuine, sometimes violent reactions, are emblematic of our humane nature. But as it is in life, severe loss has its way of bringing people together and whether they are estranged relatives or the two messengers, they are all caught unprepared by the ugliness of war. 
The Messenger," whose director Oren Moverman co-wrote with Alessandro Camon, captures the fear of the surviving soldiers without turning them into hopeless martyrs. Tony and Will are themselves grieving, damaged human beings who have to deal with their personal losses and gracefully share the sad news to the bereaved. Both leading actors perform superbly, capturing the sensitivity and pain of their characters, whereas actresses Samantha Morton and Jena Malone are an embodiment of forbidden passion and every-day survival. On the whole, this is a movie about the healing compassion and kind humanity, the heroes within ourselves and the very demons that challenge our souls.

Wednesday, June 5

Stranger than fiction

Indeed, it was strange to have picked this movie after I had written a review on books that make great characters in films. Stranger than fiction is about a book character that is so alive and powerful that escapes the pages of its unfinished book and starts living in a film. It is undoubtedly odder than any fantasy, romance and comedy book altogether.

Harold Crick, an IRS agent, with a boring, calculated, lonely, meticulous existence, starts hearing a feminine voice narrating his every move and thought. He first visits a shrink, then a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) who tries to identify the female writer threatening to kill him. He goes through the five stages of grief -denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance- while struggling to prevent his own death. Meanwhile, his anthropomorphic watch breaks the routine and Harold falls for Miss Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an intriguing baker he's auditing. Beyond the fictional boundaries of Harold Crick's life, author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is suffering from writer's block, not knowing how to kill her main character. Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) is the assistant sent by the publishers to help Karen overcome her situation. Together, they research into the best way to kill Harold, who is desperately looking for the writer, in an attempt to change the novel' s ending. 

I liked the film in which the watch took the final blow and saved the owner's life. It was intelligent but not overwhelming, original, yet reminiscent of Spike Jonze's Adaptation or Fair Game. Will Ferrell turned out to be a promising dramatic performer, who felt at ease with himself and familiar with the role. Maggie Gyllenhaal was as feminine as ever, an unexpected match to Will Ferrell's clumsiness; love and baking go together in a tender, positive touch. Dustin Hoffman is an actor of many talents, including the art of drinking coffee and elegantly eating while analysing Harold's life. The director's main gift, apart from creating an unexpectedly intelligent story, is to softly take you into the lives of ordinary, yet sweet people and make you a part of the characters' transformation as they undergo some dramatic changes.  

Life itself is greater and stranger than fiction in the way it catches you unawares; and even though neither books nor movies are a match to real life, they sometimes help you appreciate the nuances that make your existence adventurous and mysterious. Whether we find inspiration in the books we read, the movies we watch, the journeys we take or the people we love, we get to shape our lives as comedies or tragedies.

I forgot to ask you one meaningful question: how would like to leave this world- gracefully, as a book character, forever alive in the minds of readers or quietly, having written and played in your own story?