; movieschocolatebooks: April 2013

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Tuesday, April 30

Broken Flowers

It is time I did Bill Murray justice and reviewed a movie that catches a glimpse of his discreet, poker-faced, complex, surprising talent. Broken Flowers (2005) is a road-movie about a man's journey into his past and about how life easily sneaks up on you while you are comfortably waiting for it to start.







When the story begins, Don Johnston is left by his upset girlfriend, Sherry, and finds himself in the possession of a pink envelope, informing him that he has a son who is nearly 19 years old, and who may be looking for him. His neighbour, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), encourages Don to investigate the matter and even looks into the current locations of the five women most likely to have written the letter. So Don embarks on a journey across America, with maps and flight reservations, in an attempt to visit and confront the former lovers. He meets four of the living women, sleeps with one, gets punched in the face by another's friend, visits the grave of the fifth and buys a sandwich to a boy whom he believes to be his son. Don's questions and hidden agenda scare the boy and he is left standing in the middle of a crossroads, another young man, listening to his kind of music, passing him by, in a Volkswagen Beetle.

The five girlfriends are a symbol of life's different stages, from young Lolita to dead Michelle Pepe, at whose grave Don weeps and seems to finally acknowledge his utter loneliness. It is the journey of a solitary, old Don Juan, who has lived his life, without once asking himself the really important questions. He is rooted in regret and looking back over his life, wonders whether he has ever produced anything substantial and meaningful. The director, Jim Jarmusch, is better at asking the right questions than providing the audience with the desired answers and Bill Murray's deadpan, craggy face perfectly renders the director's own detachment and makes you feel as if you were watching a documentary.

The scenes are full of odd, reminiscent details, engulfed by great music and excellent feminine performances. Bill Murray has an astonishing, calm performance and his character's sadness contrasts with his fascinating appeal to the women he encounters. His loving methods and secret weapons are never revealed but it almost makes you wonder how the love stories with these incredible women really unfolded or even how his life is going to be, now that he has come to terms with his loneliness. The director's great talent of leaving the viewer anxiously wondering about the future adventures of Don Johnston is remarkable and adds up to the distinctive suspense of the story. Jarmusch never once mocks his character, but rather portrays him with gentle humour and lingering emotions. In short, this is a much appreciated film, with sparkling performances and exquisite directing that one must not overlook!



Sunday, April 28

Café de Flore

Do you believe in soul mates and in the kind of love that transcends time and space? Well, Café de Flore (2011) is a movie about the everlasting love at first sight that knows no boundaries and abides by no rules of mankind. It is that kind of love that heals you and makes you ill, that saves you and condemns your soul for eternity, that lifts your spirits and brings your heart down. 


The movie simply asks you take a leap of faith and leaving reason aside, embrace the parallel love stories with a simple mind and an open heart, as Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore is an innocent, honest, painful confession of amour fou. Antoine (Kevin Parent), a handsome travelling club D.J. of 40, is madly in love with his beautiful younger, Rose (Évelyne Brochu). Antoine has two daughters by his former wife, Carole (Hélène Florent), who still believes in her heart that they were fated to be together forever. The parallel story begins in 1969 in Paris, where Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) is a hairdresser who raises Laurent (Marin Gerrier) with Down syndrome. When she refuses to institutionalise the child, her husband leaves her, and she devotes herself obsessively to Laurent’s upbringing. While in kindergarten, Laurent finds Vero, a little girl with the same syndrome, with whom he instantly connects, making his suffocating mother feel second best.





The movie beautifully deals with controversial issues such as reincarnation or intertwined destines, without being sentimental or artificial. Written, directed and edited by Jean-Marc Vallée, it made me think of What Dreams May Come (1998), a more affected and colourful film on the same sensitive subject and of Adam and Eve, a Romanian short story by Liviu Rebreanu, of two destined lovers that travel across times to be forever in love and always apart. It is built like a crossword puzzle of two stories trapped in time, one in Montreal, the other in Paris, years apart, bound by the same unfulfilled love.
The movie raises some challenging questions about whether unconditional love is really something to wish for or to avoid at all costs, if possible. Also, how can you go on living without the loved one, when your feelings never die and you have to get used to being left behind? Carole, the deserted wife, calls Antoine her “twin flame” and wonders how she could find the strength to live without him. How can Jacquline, the mother, accept and live on with the betrayal of her son who tells her “I love her like I love you” when talking about his companion, Veronique?


In Café de Flore, love knows neither age nor explanation; it just pushes the characters to the most extreme gestures and sacrifices. All characters -the older daughter, the former wife, the mother, the parents, the lover- seem to lose love and then miraculously find love, nevertheless, paying the highest price. It is as if such love has a mind of its own and it will get fulfilled, regardless of all burdens, hardships and people's desires. Jacqueline’s and Carole’s strong faces melt your heart and it is almost impossible not to take sides and empathise with their turmoil and anguish. If Cloud Atlas was too hard for you to digest and too complicated to watch, despite your interest in the subject of twin destinies, then Café de Flore is your kind of movie: with excellent performances -especially that of Vanessa Paradis- universally humane, intimate, about something we are either lucky enough to have found or hopelessly dreaming of!


Friday, April 26

Submarino

It is time we all started to pay a closer look to European movies and politely elude the American blockbusters and the ever-invading Tinseltown film industry. And what better choice than Denmark, the world's happiest country, according to recent studies. One of its most remarkable directors is Thomas Vinterberg, Dogme's co founder and impressive voice and Submarino (2010) is a spectacular testimony of his great talent.
Happy and content as it may be in the eyes of the less fortune European countries, Viterberg's Denmark is gloomy and cold, painted in pale blue and cool colours, resonating with the main characters' harsh lives and short-lived happiness. Nick (Jakob Cedergren) and his young brother have become estranged after a traumatic episode in their unhappy childhood, marked by an abusive, alcoholic mother. Years later, Nick has just been released from prison and spends his days training and drinking himself into oblivion. Living in a poor hostel, every now and then, he indulges in the sexual pleasure offered by his prostitute neighbour, Sofie, the one who gets killed by Ivan, Nick's former girlfriend's deranged brother. Nick takes the blame and ends up in jail, where he is shortly reunited with his brother. Only referred to as Nick's brother or Martin's father, his brother (Peter Plaugborg) has been having a hard time trying to raise a son and fund his consuming heroine addiction. Their final reunion has a redeeming effect on both of them and to Nick, his brother's warm words of absolution are premonitory. 

The title refers to a method of torture known as ‘submarino’ in which the person’s head is held under water to just before the point of drowning. Life is like a submarine for the two brothers -harsh and merciless, full of abuse, addiction and lacking perspectives.The movie is a bleak social drama with a well-built structure and incredible performances.There are some gripping moments in the movie that simply touch your heart in the most unexpected ways; the dreamlike christening scene of their baby brother signifies the childhood innocence crushed by the hardships of adulthood. The death of the infant due to lack of adult supervision is an ordeal that will shape the unfortunate fates of the two brothers and eventually lead them to hit bottom, depriving them of their chance to a decent existence.  

The chronologically mixed structure of the movie, divided in two distinctive parts, adds up to the intensity of the emotional message but, despite the tragedy of the two brothers, the ending seems to cast a ray of optimism on the future of the little boy, Martin, who is about to break the circle of abuse. The performances are convincing throughout the movie, especially that of Nick, whose devastated soul is hidden under his muscular and tattooed body; they are challenging to the point of making the viewer both angry and full of sympathy towards the characters' actions. Submarino is a sensitive display of the director's eye for cumulative, strong storytelling, the soul-touching acting and the glimmer of hope that will deliver the lost souls from desperate, damaged lives.


Tuesday, April 23

Quality Street Matchmakers Cool Mint

Quality Street Matchmakers Cool Mint are crispy, minty chocolate sticks that will sparkle your family night while watching TV or spending time together. They are so alluring that you get instantly intoxicated with the penetrating mint smell, coming from the unopened box.



 

 
 


Quality Street Matchmakers Cool Mint are a chocolate confectionery product made by Nesle, first launched in 1968 by Rowntree's, which made the addictive sticks in either mint, coffee or orange flavour. But the brand got a new name and design in 2003, when Nestlé changed the names of the flavours to Cool Mint and Zingy Orange, adding Brilliant Blackcurrant and Sizzling Strawberry flavours, with a tricky slogan - 'The manic munch that packs a punch'. Recently, the name has been rebranded as 'Quality Street Matchmakers' since Quality Street also being a Nestle brand.






 
 
 
The box is square and eye-catching green and hides a small plastic tray underneath that gives off this strong mint scent, making you so anxious to try the goodies inside. The chocolate sticks have skimmed chocolate, dark chocolate and boiled sugar pieces that make them so deliciously crunchy. The chocolate is quite smooth and sweet enough to turn Quality Street Matchmakers Cool Mint into the perfect snack. Mint and dark chocolate are a dreamy combination, free of artificial flavours or preservatives, ideal for nibbling with friends. 
 
 
This is the purple version of the two Quality Street Matchmakers flavours -mint and orange- that rather makes me think of Cadbury than the Nestle products. Regardless of the colour, this is a snack that you should definitely try, if given the chance. My greenish gratitude goes to my generous friend, Ioana, who brought me a bit of the Liverpool sweetness!



The Charisma Effect: How To Make a Powerful and Lasting Impression

This would be my first book of practical psychology; some would say it is long overdue, right? It can only mean I am either too confident or in such denial that I don't even dare face the truth. As a matter of fact, in the beginning, I thought my charisma was just fine, but after having read the book, it turned out I needed to work on my skills.


 


Jokes aside, it was a kind of mental gymnastics type of activity that challenged my mind. First, there were some nice types of exercises meant to emphasise the importance of certain chapters or to trigger certain emotions. Andrew Leigh believes there are some hidden, various characters, living inside ourselves that we allow to come out whenever it feels right. And it made me wonder what is that I have been hiding inside me for such a long time; I am a popular person, a fabulous cook, an avid reader, a severe mother, a movie buff, a charming host, a joker, the most faithful chocolate lover and probably much more. It is funny and intriguing to think about the situation when all these facets of my personality emerge; so what if the cranky, not-so-happy-in-the-morning ME happens to bump into the popular, charming person who likes to entertain? That is when you need to plug in your Emotional Intelligence and use it to generate a kind of personal magnetism. But what if you just happen to be in one of those days when your personal radar fails to read and interpret the others' true intentions? Less charisma and more work on your situational consciousness, right?

It all looks so nice in theory but I believe it is rather difficult to be able to control your every move and thought, to stay alert all the time and to be aware of your charismatic effect. Sometimes, it is just too much; plus, it takes a certain amount of self-discipline that not all people possess. We all need to wear a mask, to leave a shred of our vulnerability, somewhere, behind our social personality; whether the hidden part of ourselves hinders our charisma or not, that remains to be seen and dealt with.
I enjoyed the part about our intuition, though; according to the author, intuition can only mean that you are already familiar with the answer and your instinct only helps you get the answer. If it doesn't sound that simple, well then, you need to explore your intuition and there are plenty of exercises in the book, to help you.





My question is whether you can still feel authentic after having been fed with all this psychological guidance. Frankly, I started doubting my charismatic effect and this can only mean my self-esteem needs some boosting. So, to take Andrew Leigh's word of advice, I need to let people hear my inner voice and perceive me as an authentic human being; thus, by being genuine, I can improve communication and develop my self-consciousness. One step in achieving this fabulous charismatic effect on people is to get rid of all personal fears with the help of this nice exercise that tells us to find a quiet spot, relax and voice our fears, even shout them, if necessary. I wonder what the neighbours might think...

Moreover, the chapters about passion and attraction were really interesting; they helped me see it clear: I am passionate and I can hold someone's gaze for a couple of seconds, enough to send him my interest wave and dazzle him. The only thing that fails me is my memory issue with people's names as I don't seem to be paying enough attention; one simple and successful way would be to associate the name with a remarkable facial feature of the person. Obviously, I need to make sure I don't mix familiarity with relating to people, never make assumptions about them and use my body language and smile to come up as a proactive woman. That being said, I am ready to face the world, so I'll just go out there and work my magic!

Monday, April 22

Curfew

Short films are perfect to end busy days, enjoy long breaks or simply, as an alternative to over reading, if there is such a thing. And I don't mean to sound more of a bookworm than I really am, I just find it very refreshing to be watching a short film after reading. My choice for tonight was Curfew, directed and starring Shawn Christensen, a movie nominated for the 2012 Oscar competition.


 
It tells the story of Richie (Shawn Christensen), on the verge of committing suicide, whose last quiet, bloody moments are interrupted by a phone call; his sister, Maggie, calls him last minute to ask him to babysit for his nine-year-old niece, Sophia. Richie takes the whole pleading monologue in an expressionless manner and finally agrees to the task. He meets the smart, cute girl and they wander the streets of New York, finally bonding together well.
 
It is a dramatic story, a sneak peak at life itself, at its ugliness and less sparkling moments. It has genuine performance and an honest portrayal of the actors' humanity. It takes a compelling, heartbreaking subject like suicide and it uses it in an attempt to redeem a lost soul. Richie seems to have embraced this dark choice of taking his own life and, though it appears almost funny to be interrupted twice, the few hours spent with his witty niece give new purpose to his life. Young Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) starts dancing on the bowling alley and her rhythm makes all the people dance to the beat. It is never clear whether it is all in his obviously disturbed mind or it is the effect of spending quality time with his niece that makes Richie's head spin. 
Touching, harsh themes such as depression, spouse abuse or drug addiction fill the nineteen-minute short Curfew that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film but they are counterbalanced by the innocent look on Sophia's precocious face or Richie's moving, brotherly discourse. I loved the positive message of the short film: family and love can save even the most wrecked and lost soul; it doesn't say with complete assurance that he won't try again but it sheds some positive light on the gloomy atmosphere. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 21

Puffball by Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon has been a favourite British writer of mine for years ever since I discovered her novels way back in college. My enthusiasm was so big that I had, in no time, turned Puffball into a lucky charm book for the entire batch of students. Now, many years later, I read the novel again and I was so surprised at her witty, hilarious writing that masterly explores the reign of women.

Puffball, Fay Weldon's seventh novel, is about Liffey and Richard, a young couple living in London who seem to be wishing for different things. She wants to live in the countryside, at Honeycomb Cottage, whereas he wants her to give him a child; they reach a compromise: he'll move there if she produces him a baby. Mabs and Tucker, already the parents of three children, are their odd neighbours, who befriend Liffey at first, only to try to cause her a miscarriage later. Liffey lives on the farm that once belonged to Mabs's mother so she feels it is only right one of her own children should inherit Honeycomb Cottage. Thus she gets her obedient husband, Tuck, to sleep with Liffey, believing that the child should be rightfully hers. Liffey gets pregnant with Richard but Mabs fears the child might be Tuck's and becomes so jealous of the young woman that she starts putting herbal brews in her food and drinks in order to make her have an abortion.

Puffball - "the smooth round swelling of the fungus made Liffey think of a belly swollen by pregnancy"- is a novel about witchcraft, motherhood and nature. Mabs believes in magic and old religions, in the enchanted power of plants, herbs and potions. She feels accomplished only by her maternity and seems to lack motherly affection towards her grown-up children. Her empty womb and Liffey's unexpected pregnancy drive her insane and she uses nature to turn Liffey's fruit barren. When finally the child is born and Liffey's happiness is complete, Mabs's fury is appeased by her own pregnancy and the child's resemblance to his father, Richard.



Fay Weldon's female characters are strong and passionate, independent and with a mind of their own. They draw their strength from men around them, from nature, from their sexuality and from pregnancy. Men are nothing but a means to their own feminine accomplishment, always insignificant creatures, bound to give in to their frivolous needs. I might not be such an extreme feminist, but I love the way her characters get empowered and rise above the conflicts of their conventional lives. I was rather amused by the idea of urban dishonesty versus rural passion, of how these powerful, independent, though treacherous, women seem to blossom in the quiet rural universe and gain confidence and completion from this pastoral Eden.
Puffball describes the eternal conflicts between reason and passion, spirit and flesh and women and men. This small-down rural drama is masterly portrayed by Fay Weldon who has an intriguing and readable style and the novel just makes you feel at ease and probably recognise your own weaknesses, unfulfilled desires and womanhood.

Sunday, April 14

Trishna

This is a movie that will definitely break your heart: emotional, sensitive, beautifully performed, colourful, soul-touching, yet not a tear-jerker. Trishna (2011) draws its inspiration from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles and it is transported by its director, Michael Winterbottom, from the ancient, heathen temple of Stonehenge to the gaudy, modern India. It is here that Jay (Riz Ahmed), the son of a rich Jaipur hotelier, while travelling with friends, catches the sight of an exotic, delicate flower: Trishna, played by Freida Pinto. She is a poor girl, driven to a desperate situation by her father's accident that makes her take Jay's offer to work at his dad's luxury hotel.




Poverty, without her father's illusions of grandeur, is the reason behind sending Trishna away from home to help her family survive. However, this does not make up for the emptiness she feels and the sense of having been abandoned, which turn her into such an easy prey in the eyes of Jay. He builds her the premises of a golden cage -treats her gentlemanlike, sends a TV to her room, teaches her to bird-whistle, encourages her to further her education- only to gain her trust, make her more vulnerable and take advantage of her. Though the infamous rape scene fails to appear, it is insinuated by Trishna's state of mind. Scared, she runs away from the hotel and returns to her parents' house only to discover that she is with child, a burden to the poor family who, again, sends her off to work for her uncle. Jay traces her down, works his magic on her and sweeps her away to the glittering world of Mumbai.



Hardy loyalists will be slightly disappointed as there is no longer a love triangle, since Jay embodies both Angel and Alec; he is an angel and a demon, a saviour and an executioner. His initial infatuation grows into a sexual tension that takes off and grows into a mutually-consent, beautiful love story between two young people with different social backgrounds, then slides aggressively into master-servant, abusing sex encounters, culminating with his murder. However, his acting is brilliant, complex and rich and builds up to the success of the story. Although they make a connection, the outer pressure alters the freshness and innocence of their feelings. The happiness they seem to have found in Mumbai is short lived and although the viewer is easily tricked into believing this is a happy-end story, his father's sickness bursts their bubble. Jay goes to London, she is forced to leave the apartment they shared, and move with friends. Having to return to Rajasthan to take care of the hotel brings out the worst in Jay; he starts drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, getting physically rough in the sex scenes. At this point, Trishna acts out on her frustrations and takes the course of action back to Hardy's heroine: she stabs the cruel Jay several times and dashes off, keeping the knife. The same knife, she uses later to take her own life.



 
What I liked about this film, was the compelling acting, the stunning music and the strength of the director's updates of this classical story of the world literature. I was not bothered by the alteration of the initial story -the newly-born child that dies a few weeks later is replaced by an abortion, she commits suicide instead of being apprehended by the law, there is a combination of the two lovers in Jay- on the contrary, I feel Winterbottom's approach enriched Hardy's novel and emphasised the differences between backgrounds in terms of economic structure or social India. Trishna's final gesture gives boldness to a docile, submissive poor girl whose fate hasn't belonged to her so far. Frieda Pinto has a touching performance, with subtle movements and soft gazes, with a sensual obedience- an aspiring dancer trapped between two worlds who fails to come to life.

Saturday, April 13

Shame

This is one hallucinating movie that I wouldn't dare see twice. Not because I am a prude or that I find it promiscuous; on the contrary, I feel it is a bold, honest story. The reason behind my choice is that I think Shame (2011) is a sad, painful drama of a man with an addiction, lost in a city full of other human beings, eager to connect but unable to commit. However, it is one powerful and sincere picture with an amazing Michael Fassbender and a fragile Carey Mulligan.



Brandon is a good-looking, elegant man with a dark, hidden sex addiction that is slowly consuming his being. He lives to have sex with paid prostitutes, married ladies, co-workers, everywhere, anytime, and when he hasn't got the chance to do it with a woman, he masturbates or has a man go down on him. He has a sickness that prevents him from ever smiling, ever feeling any genuine joy or building a relationship with anyone. As dirty his mind is, as filthy his sex encounters may seem, he lives in an immaculate, sterile apartment, always well-dressed and well-mannered, with an impeccable look. His past is irrelevant up to a point, his needs are only sex-related, he lacks affection or any reaction. His routine is challenged by the arrival of his dysfunctional sister, Sissy, who seems to have a history of suicide attempts, a sadness and loneliness that makes her throw herself in the arms of any man, including Brandon's married boss, David. She is her brother's opposite: messy, sloppy, needy, frail. But she is more open to acknowledging her mistakes, to talking about her past or to sharing her need for human affection.



Both Brandon and Sissy feel ashamed of their past and their becoming as adults, though their approaches are different; when feeling overwhelmed and abandoned, Sissy cuts her wrists and Brandon's angular features and icy gaze melt down and his inner pain and frustration burst to the surface. He collapses to the ground, in tears, facing for the first time, his futile existence. Their performances, both Brandon's and Sissy's, make the movie unforgettable in a sad, painful way. There is a combination of cold, chiseled features, a penetrating pair of blue eyes and a sensitive, mutilated soul that make Michael Fassbender a vibrant actor and Carey Mulligan's impulsive, self-destructive acting is almost heart-breaking. The scene where she gives such a slow, poignant performance of New York New York, filmed in a long shot, is going to stay with the viewer forever; it is one raw moment of honesty that moves Brandon to tears and binds them forever.

I believe the movie is challenging in rendering the idea that promiscuity is bound to lead to unhappiness whereas monogamy is the key to a blissful life. As a matter of fact, Brandon's addiction is the one thing hindering him from feeling good about himself and the shame he feels comes from the pressure of the social norms; he is only a freak to the extent of being turned into one by judgemental eyes such as David's, his co-worker's or even Sissy's. Shame is neither a celebration of free sex, nor a crucifixion of a man's lifestyle; it is rather what makes the "addiction" itself that needs to be considered. How is Brandon different than his boss David? The latter is married, therefore socially safe and allowed to fool around under the patronage of the marriage institution, whereas Brandon is a pariah for not being able to control an addiction that makes him, deviant and his boss, normal.
Pain is portrayed in shades of grey and blue, from clothes to rooms, the classical soundtrack is rich, cold and stylish and the close-ups go deep into the characters' souls, capturing their innermost feelings. The city itself adds up to the hollow, sad looks of the characters and appears to be as cold-hearted as life itself. It is a world of lost souls trying to connect but failing in reaching one another. 


Friday, April 12

Rausch Noumea Premium Milk Chocolate

Rausch Privat-Confiserie is a house of enthusiastic chocolate makers who have been producing exquisite chocolate since 1918. It is a family business run by maitre chocolatiers committed to making the world a happier place; thus, these people set up Rausch SchokoLand with a chocolate museum, a chocolate cafe and an open production where you can watch chocolate being made. I keep wondering how it must feel to be in the chocolate business and to have all those you love by your side, making millions of chocolovers, out there, happy. I don't know for sure how they feel but I can tell you that Rausch Noumea Premium Milk Chocolate is a good reason for them to be proud.
It has a lovely package, reminding of the Rausch’s plantation range, developed in 2000 to highlight eight different cocoa producing regions, and has a 35 % cocoa content from Papua New Guinea. It isn't very smooth and doesn't melt instantly as you might expect, and it is a bit too sweet for my taste. However, the sweetness does not overlap the milk flavour so you can definitely feel it is a milk chocolate you're eating. The best thing about it is that it is all natural, made of cane sugar and the cocoa used for this chocolate bar is from the Nouméa plantation and has an exotic fruity taste.


Rausch Privat-Confiserie is one of Germany’s premier chocolatiers able to produce exquisite milk and dark chocolates from these special cocoa beams and it is always a pleasure to taste fine chocolate made of the best ingredients, in a family business, with the greatest care. This chocolate bar can definitely give you satisfaction and a sense of noblesse. So, thumbs up for Rausch Noumea Premium Milk Chocolate!


Thursday, April 11

Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe

Books about friendship and the strength it gives us to save ourselves and move on, are simply soul-touching. Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg is a story of love that binds together people of different ages, races and backgrounds and it is narrated with such humour, mystery and fondness that it instantly lifts your spirits. What we leave behind us are our stories and the ever-lasting relationships that made us the human beings we are.




Fannie Flagg's story spans almost 60 years from The Great Depression time to the less conservative 1980s, intertwining several narrators and revolving around the little town of Whistle Stop and its Cafe. Evelyn Couch, an unhappy, overweight housewife, who took up eating out of boredom, makes friends with Virginia (Ninny) Threadgoode, a former resident of Whistle Stop, who tells her the story of her life and those close to her. The Threadgoode family, with whom Ninny grew up, was one of the big families living in town and were among those who supported their African-American neighbours and employees. Among their children, Idgie (Imogen) is the wildest and most non-conformist, the young woman who opened a cafe, together with Ruth Jamison. The two of them raised up Ruth's son, Stump, and influenced the lives of those, black and white, living around the cafe. Ninny, Idgie's sister-in-law, is a silent witness to all the unbelievable adventures of the Threadgoode family members and her stories give Evelyn, her younger friend, an insight into herself and the strength to change her life for the better.



 

Every important, crucial moment in the main characters' lives is given several perspectives, sometimes lifting the mystery veil surrounding the past events, other times, deepening the puzzle. The book is easy to read though, as each new chapter is well-marked in time and has a different narrator, such as Dot Weems, the local editor, who is a spirited, funny lady. Subjects such as racism, disability, homosexuality, economic migration or gender differences are gently touched by the author who is an obvious supporter of feminism and strong, independent female characters. The writer creates an entertaining world, full of remarkable, warm characters, and despite the complexity of mixed times, she portrays the lives of the residents of Whistle Stops in vivid colours.

I loved the layered narratives, the good humour, the kindness of the Threadgoode family, Sipsey's recipes from the back of the book, the feeling of being alive and part of it all, while reading the novel, and the depiction of the friendship between Evelyn and Ninny. The social realities of the 30s, 40s and 80s all catch your attention and throughout the novel, characters like Idgie, Ruth, or Evelyn fight society norms and unwritten rules. Ninny's stories are not only empowering to Evelyn who finds comfort and her true colours, but also to the women reading the novel and identifying with all female characters in Fannie Flagg's book. It is an inspiring book, that gives you a familiar feeling about everything that happens, as if, somehow, Fannie Flagg took a deep look into your heart and wrote about your challenges and joys, in a distinct, poignant, firm, yet tender voice.


Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy, my passion

This is my favourite chocolate in the whole world so I am as biased as I'll ever be, not only in this review but also whenever given the chance to share my deep interest in Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy. In my book, this is the ultimate taste challenge and, even though I am always more than happy to try anything that has any remote trace of chocolate in it, nothing gives me more pleasure than tasting, at length, my Lindt bar. It has such a smoothness that I feel melting along with the thin, brown squares and the scent is so intoxicating that, believe it or not, it is the best perfume ever. Not only would I wear it, all over my skin, but I would gladly dive into a chocolaty bath anytime.

Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy has the perfect, balanced combination of cocoa solids -30%- and milk solids -20%- and this makes it so velvety and delightful that I always have a hard time restraining myself from devouring it. It has this thin look, this friendly wrapping that makes me so happy just looking at it and, when love is involved, one can never gain weight. One other thing that I just like about Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy is that I seem to discover so many different layers of taste such as caramel, vanilla, almond...It is a perfect combination of different flavours that find themselves in such balance that they become recognisable to the trained taste buds, without having one flavour overlay the other.

I have been going steady with Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy for almost fifteen years, investing time, money and deep love in this long-term relationship so, corny as it may sound, I really feel it has been customised to suit my taste. It is one of the most famous chocolate brands in the world and its maitre chocolatiers, Lindt&Sprungli, go way back to 1845. Their exquisite products are known all over the world for being some of the most sophisticated types of chocolate and it is almost impossible not to have taken a liking to some of their most popular creations such as: Lindor truffles, Crunchy Caramel, Roasted Almonds, Chili, Intense Orange or A Touch of Sea Salt. They are for those who appreciate the finesse of a classic brand and almost every famous confectioner uses Lindt chocolate for his recipes. It is definitely a must for every pretentious, cosmopolitan, sophisticated human being, an experience that cannot be missed, the supreme desert!

Tuesday, April 9

In a Better World

How do you feel about unjust things and how long does it take for you to react to unfairness? In a Better World (2010) offers an answer to these tricky questions, both from an adult's and a child's perspective. The film is a powerful drama that has such a humane approach to this heart-breaking theme that it feels like lifting a mirror in front of our nakedness and gently making us acknowledge our limitations.


 
 
 
Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a gifted doctor who commutes between his home in Denmark and a Sudanese refugee camp, where he treats the female victims of a sadistic man. Back home, he has a wife, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), but they are separated, and struggling with the possibility of divorce because of an affair that he had with another woman. They have two young sons, the older one being 12-year-old, Elias (Markus Rygaard). Elias is daily abused in school and easily makes friends with Christian  (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen), who has just moved from London with his father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen). The two boys take action against the bully that has been harassing Elias and Christian gives him a beating and threatens him with a knife. Brought to the police, they protect each other. Christian has just lost his mother to cancer and the relationship with his father is shaky. He hasn't come to terms with his mother's passing and channels all his anger towards making a bomb. Christian wants to place it under the car of a mechanic who has slapped Anton because their younger boys picked up a fight. Despite Anton's attempt to teach the boys a lesson about the futility of violence, Christian and Elias decide to go ahead with their plan, leading to the latter's injury in the explosion.
 
 


 
 
 
How excruciating is it for a parent to fail in teaching his sons the lesson of non-violence? Anton doesn't seem to succeed in convincing his sons that violence is not the answer but the weapon of ignorant, stupid people. Elias is rather fearful of losing the only friend he has so he accepts to get along with Christian's plan to blow up the mechanic's car. The film is really challenging in getting the viewer's immediate response: you feel like punching the discriminating mechanic for his violent choice. Or getting the other adults to react more firmly to the injustice around them. But, how can you measure a doctor's humanity? When he treats women cut-open for the sick fun of it or when he heals the sadistic brute who inflicted these wounds upon them? Can you lose sight of your moral principles in order to save a man's life? The director, Susanne Bier, questions the less pleasant sides of the truth and forces the viewers to question themselves whether they should turn the other cheek or strike back. It is all about the choices we make, regardless of the comfort of the civilised world or the poverty of the Sudanese refugee camp.


 
 
 
Another flawed aspect of our humanity that the movie deals with is the way we respond to great losses; it is with such honesty that the director portrays Christian's pain caused by the death of his mother and his violent reaction towards his father. He blames him for the sorrow and shuts him down, no matter how hard the father tries to ease his pain. All actors, especially the children, are very persuasive and talented and they make the story seem accurate and real. It is not like the movie is trying to trick us into believing that everything is going to be fine and that all you need is love; on the contrary, it is a case of good love turning sour as it is not always enough to be a loving parent to raise a happy, sane child. All characters, adults and children, lose something in the movie, whether it is their innocence, their faith, their dreams or their loved ones. It is how they deal with their loss and how they come to terms with their own limitations that really matters.
 
Susanne Bier's "Things We Lost in the Fire" and her Danish and American versions of "Brothers," are sensitive movies that focus on the inner feelings of characters and the way they react in unexpected situations and the winner of 2011's Oscar as best foreign-language film, In a Better World, is also an emotional movie about our frail, flawed, humane, conflicting nature.

Monday, April 8

Galaxy Smooth Milk

The great thing about this blog, where chocolate is concerned, is that I never feel bad about eating it, as I am always willing to taste chocolate for a good cause. Plus, it is so hard for me to let down all these nice friends of mine who overwhelm me with their sweet chocolaty gifts. My latest discovery is Galaxy Smooth Milk, 100% English, creamy and delicious. As it has been the case lately, this bar, too, travelled a long way to end up in my secret stash of goodies.


The packaging design is in a simple style and the bar itself is wrapped in golden foil; the smooth milk chunks have an asymmetrical cross section and a very sweet taste. It is a lot sweeter than Swiss chocolate and it contains milk solids 14% minimum and cocoa solids 25% minimum; the rest is probably a mixture of sugar and vanilla. It weighs 114 g, which is neither the usual 100 g bar of chocolate, nor the more generous 150 g Lindt type. I have this theory about sweet chocolate: it is either meant to knock you unconscious or give you the buzz you need to start a lazy Monday morning. Take your pick!
Anyway, I just love their motto: Why have cotton when you can have silk? It kinda makes me feel silky inside out, though cotton is not such a bad thing; it is the Mars brand for sophisticated people, who take their time tasting this smooth milky bar. Galaxy comes in different flavours as well, though nothing too far-fetched or out of the ordinary, it is its simplicity that they seem to explore and familiarise the chocolover with.
So, without any guilt feelings choking me to death and sticking to the milk flavour, I kindly recommend you to try and indulge yourselves in the smoothness of this generous Galaxy bar! Thank you, my dear English friends, for being so thoughtful and generous!

Sunday, April 7

The Skin I live in

Pedro Almodovar is some tricky fellow whose greatest talent, in my humble opinion, is to turn the most ridiculous situations into sublime and provocative movies. For, La piel que habito (The Skin I live in) is an incredible movie, full of sex, mystery, oddities, vanity and power. As it is often the case with his films, The Skin I live in (2011) is rather about the journey than the outcome and Pedro Almodovar masterly draws the mysterious, melodramatic story of Robert Ledgard, a successful surgeon who is deeply concerned with transplant and genetic transformations.




Robert, an elegant, wealthy, attractive man -Antonio Banderas in one of his unexpectedly good roles- lives with his faithful housekeeper, Marillia (Marisa Paredes), and observes, on several screens around the villa they are sharing, a mysterious beautiful woman, Vera (Elena Anaya). What strikes us from the very beginning is Vera's tight outfit and her permanent, close scrutiny. But flashbacks into Robert's past, gradually reveal that his wife committed suicide and that he also lost his daughter, Norma. The moment when his frail daughter's psychosis is triggered, introduces to the viewer, Vicente, a young man who works in his mother's dress shop and who, on the occasion of a wedding they take part in, tries to seduce Norma and eventually knocks her unconscious. Later on, Robert kidnaps Vicente and gradually, under false pretences and assisted by his fellow colleague doctors, he changes the boy's sex, turning him into a copy of his late wife. Vicente's being is prisoner in a woman's body but he uses his cunning beauty to make Robert believe he/Vera is in love with him, and, when given the opportunity, shoots both the doctor and Marillia dead and returns to a desperate mother and a dear friend, six years later.

Vera's pose makes you think of a woman who, although trapped into the dark, sick world of Robert Ledgard, appears to be confident and calm, in her body stocking with gloves and booties. However, appearances are misleading and we see her trying to take her life, caught in an atemporal, shivery universe of her own. Elena Anaya's acting is excellent, portraying a man's object of revenge and desire, an obsession that eats him alive. Antonio Banderas's elegant, impenetrable figure hides the a twisted, tormented soul, caught in a chaotic future that feeds on a painful past.

To the unfamiliar eye, this movie may seem twisted and challenging, but to those viewers who have seen movies such Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Laberinto de Pasiones or Kika, the film explores recurrent themes of Almodovar's films such as betrayal, anxiety, loneliness, sexual identity, and death. It is the eternal story of Pygmalion and his beloved creation, Galathea, this object of desire that will consume him and eventually destroy him. Robert's revenge is sweet but gets out of control and turns him into a heartless monster and cold-blooded murderer, a man who is so infatuated with his Vera that he no longer thinks straight when it comes to controlling her everything. He is a voyeuristic man with style, an elegant torturer that Almodovar uses for quick revelations and quirk surprises. 

The most remarkable thing, though, about Pedro Almodovar 's film is the web he is so cautiously weaving around the characters and that easily draws in, the viewer, himself. It is a labyrinth of moral questions relating to issues such as culpability and responsibility. Can we point an accusing finger to Vicente's immature, foolish gesture or to Robert's insatiable desire for revenge that led him to this amazing scientific discovery? Can we build our personal success on sheer injustice and on someone else's mistake and rob him of his life? The director does not take any side and, as I have already said in the beginning, is rather concerned with the whole unfolding of events than the result of the process. Unpleasant as the subject may seem, it is a controversial film and the colourful interpretation of Almodovar and the exquisite performances of both Banderas and Anaya make it so worth watching. So what is your favourite Almodovar movie?


Friday, April 5

Jagten- The Hunt

Some directors simply like to take their time before making a second incredible movie, either out of a sense of self-criticism or the kind of self-discipline that prevents them from ever making bad films. Whatever the reason, it took Thomas Vinterberg, co-founder of Dogme 95, 14 years to succeed in creating an incredible story in The Hunt (2012), a drama starring Mads Mikkelsen. The film takes place in a small Danish village around Christmas and weaves around Lucas, a kindergarten teacher who is wrongly accused of child abuse. Before any other comments are made, it needs to be said that the film competed at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival where Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award for his role.


Right from the start, I must confess to my admiration towards the acting of Mads Mikkelsen, whose extraordinary role left me speechless; he uses his face, his eyes and his gestures to render the excruciating pain he is going through, with such dignity and honesty that the viewer is baffled and instantly drawn to the character. There is a certain frailty behind the sad gazing eyes and, at the same time, a strength - that of his convictions - which make his character a truthful, complex one. Victim to the collective wave of hate of his friends and neighbours, Lucas never once feels resentful towards little Klara- the little girl he, so kindly befriends, every time they meet but who wrongly accuses him of indecent conduct- and he never changes his behaviour towards her, either. Although Klara later confesses to having said a lie, the wheel of mass hysteria has started rolling and adults are no longer rational and detached. A good friend, an honest lover, a true pal and a loving father, Lucas is turned into a heartless, sick paedophile who, apparently, has been taking advantage of most of the kids in the kindergarten. It is simply amazing how the director manages to reverse the initial calm and ordinary life scenes into a chaos that escalates rapidly towards disaster.




There are moments when you feel things are about to get out of hand and when everything is on the point of turning into absurd, but the director alternates the dramatic, tense moments with peaceful, calm ones, keeping the action into balance. It is so amazing how you don't even get to question the issue of Lucas hiring a lawyer or how you don't seem to notice that it is not about the legal trial, it is about a mad mob who seems to be making the accusations and, at the same time, passing judgement. Lucas himself is rather concerned about explaining and justifying himself to his friends and neighbours than taking the whole matter to the law- which makes The Hunt such a non-American movie. It is the final moments of the movie, though, that leave the viewer absolutely breathless- the moment when Lucas is almost shot/intentionally spared and he has to confront his accuser- in the unexpected turn of events, in the final instance of that collective hunt that happens during his son's first hunt, as a man. Lucas has been kindly accepted back, a year later, in the middle of his friends and neighbours, with hugs and kisses, but the last scene of the movie is a permanent reminder of the lack of trust and reputation that will never be completely restored. And this is not an accidental thing, it is so obviously related to his son's rite of passage, as a warning against Lucas's soft spot: his son, Marcus.
I have always believed that, regardless of the genre, children make the best catch for the success of a movie. It is their innocence, the discrepancy between their fresh, childish appearance and the unexpected vile behaviour that softens the viewers' heart up to the moment of revealing their true nature and intentions. Even in Thomas Vinterberg's movie, Klara has the gracious look of an angel, but the moods, the meanness, the need for attention of a grown-up who shatters to pieces a man's life, on a whim. But, whereas we can easily forgive her trespasses, it is the adults who cast the sinful stones, that are beyond repair. You don't need a rifle to kill a man's soul, blunt prejudgement can ruin his life as well and this is sheer proof of our humane weakness and limitation.


Tuesday, April 2

La Source des Femmes

It is rare for men to acknowledge a woman's strength, let alone grant her the opportunity to get empowered. And though power is the best aphrodisiac and men feel instantly drawn to the intoxicating scent of a woman's confidence, most of them would never take an intelligent, outspoken wife. Those who do, fear the public obloquy and cowardly exploit the wife's ego and their brethren's appreciation.

Such is the case of Sami, the husband of Leila (Leila Bekhti), who supports his wife within the boundaries of their intimacy when she refuses to carry water from a remote spring to the village but who cannot openly take her side. Sami is the intellectual of a Maghreb village, married to an outsider, Leila, in the eyes of the other inhabitants, but especially in the eyes of his own mother. Leila has a mind of her own and although she loves and respects her husband, is tired of seeing so many women having miscarriages under the weight of the water buckets. So she voices her discontent and raises an army of brave, tough women who go to any length - including depriving their husbands of physical pleasure- to have their rights and identity recognised. And they sing, dance, cry, suffer the wrath and abuse of their husbands just to make themselves heard. The arrival of a journalist - an old flame of Leila's- shakes the relationship with her husband but it is in Sami that she finds the strength and understanding she needs. And this intelligent, beautiful handful of women prevails over the narrow-minded, religious pack of frustrated husbands: water is brought to their village and order seems to be restored. However, one can easily sense the fear lurking in the husbands' minds, now that the women have gained an unprecedented power.




This movie is a melting pot of songs, dances, religious beliefs, colourful clothes and the eternal fight for personal freedom. It is a contemporary story, set in an old-fashioned background, in a society that deepens the gap between modernism and traditional values and customs. Women of the Western world complain about glass ceiling barriers, not only in their professional but also personal life, whereas the women of the Islamic world have not yet earned their natural right to say "no" to another person. Nevertheless, we all have the same emotions and urges, expectations and needs and what better voice to utter them than Radu Mihaileanu's? He is a master of subtlety, a sensitive painter of the feminine mistime and he enriches his female characters with a good deal of humour and sensuality. But then again, if you have already seen Train de Vie or Le concert, you will gladly recognise his personal manner of rendering the harsh truths in a humorous manner.

Leila Bekhti is not only a beautiful woman, but also a remarkable actress, who naturally plays both the card of belligerent leader and that of a sensual wife. She is full of life and of promise, she takes responsibility for her past actions and proves to be a fighter for her beliefs, as well as for her marital bliss. It is a powerful performance of a woman who can be an inspiration to the others but whose frailty is never a drawback. It is refreshing to find a supportive voice in the director's approach to this controversial issue of egalitarianism and marvel at the discovery of a male director whose creation favours strong, independent feminine minds. La Source des Femmes is a movie about self-discovery and perseverance, about hope and the hidden beauty of small gestures and big dreams.