; movieschocolatebooks: June 2014


Thursday, June 26

The Woman Upstairs, as seen by Claire Messud

I am quick-tempered and get easily annoyed so I felt incredibly good upon reading about the anger in a woman's heart, without turning her into a pitiable or insane creature. A kind of unsympathetic character, a sort of female anti-hero that speaks your mind and language and validates your feelings- this is Nora Eldridge: ""How angry am I? You don't want to know."

The Woman Upstairs hides under our very skin, failing to belong to any particular category or to let herself be labeled. This woman is quiet, smiling, tidy, someone other women fear to become -the embodiment of a latent anger that gets voiced from the very beginning of the novel. Nora Elridge, 42, single, teacher is angry with the world, and the world, shaped as the three members of the Shahid family, remains unresponsive to her annoyance. Her life is pretty boring, revolving around the same unspectacular events: teaching third-graders, meeting her lesbian friends, caring for her old father. No man, no excitement, no guilty pleasures. Still, she is at peace with her slow and plain pace until a boy, with the 'carefully marshalled black curls lapping their uneven shoreline along the smooth, frail promontory of his neck’, named Reza steps from a fairy tale right into her classroom. He has an artist mother and a visiting scholar of a father. Despite the multicultural background of the school where she teaches, Reza becomes the target of a bully and gets hurt, which introduces Sirena, the boy's mother, into the quiet unfolding of events. Chemistry strikes again and Nora finds herself telling this stranger all about her desire to have pursued art instead of having become a school teacher. Giving up on art to take care of her sick mother and on passion to turn to teaching has ruined her bright future of a successful artist with a studio of her own, a husband and three children. The father of the family, Skandar of Lebanon, Beirut, part Christian, part Muslim, a scholar, is the third party Nora falls for. When confronted about her mixed feelings by her lesbian friends, she admits to have been swept off her feet by their foreignness.

Her need for human connection and the feeling of being part of their family get in the way of her sensibility and she keeps feeding her fascination with the Shahids -she babysits for Reza, agrees to share an art studio with Sirena and accepts Skandar's offer to walk her home late at night. Several slippings of poise and maturity catch her unprepared: she somehow starts growing roots into the boy's soul, she gets drunk one night and dressed up as Edie Sedgwick, masturbates on the Astroturf of Sirena's project -an installation made of trash and called Wonderland- and gets intimate with Skandar. The last proof of misconduct is left hanging midair, never to talk about it, never to face. The Shahids return to Paris and life keeps flowing its pace for Nora Eldridge. Still, a woman is willing to share her generosity, her views, her house, her child, yet never anything she does so out of the kindness of her heart. Nora takes something of Sirena's- her husband's ephemeral attention. The author is not very explicit about the nature of Nora and Skandar's relation- it is merely forbidden touches or a total one night stand? We are left wondering, still the darkness and illicit air about it is later revealed when Nora travels to Paris and gets to see the exhibition of Sirena's art installation.

For a moment there, I got fooled by the pretense that women could wrap themselves around their passions and every day singular moments and make it out there, in a reality that keeps reminding us how we fail to adapt to the unwritten rules of the world. For a brief moment, I believed in the grit of a woman that allows her heart to be alive against the obvious path in life. Still, Nora's story went sour and her self-claimed happiness turned to ashes. The Woman Upstairs is as mad as the one downstairs, and gets unleashed just as softly as the one that holds the mirror. Despite her cleverness and being well-cultured, Nora becomes unbelievable to my eyes -partly due to the length of the novel and its lack of action- when she fails to find the genuine joy in things, when she fails to convince me that we can allow ourselves to be defined by the the people around us. She is open about her anxieties and voices her turmoil, yet she is as passive as the next of us, caught into a dangerous romantic fantasy. Despite the character's flaws, there is an inner beauty in Claire Messud's style and gift to observe people and feelings that makes The Woman Upstairs a piece of strangely liberating prose.

Saturday, June 21

Miss Violence or Dogtooth reloaded

If you keep a distant eye and a strong stomach, Miss Violence shall peel off in front of your eyes til the very core is bare. I believe people unfortunately need shocking, hurtful, challenging movies that shall pull them out of their comfort zones and force them to face the ugly truth. Greece, as well as any other modern society thrown in the middle of current economic crisis, has come to lose its humanity in its display of selfishness and corruption. Beyond the unpleasant and uncomfortable subject, Miss Violence feels like a desperate cry for a role model that could be either self-ignited or mirrored in the world around. Evil is clothed in the most average and common attire possible, breathing next to us, in the faces of every decent person that greets us in the morning or politely offers his seat in the bus. If you have a hard time believing it or simply haven't given up on the optimistic outcome of humanity, take a deep breath and watch Miss Violence.

Picture a nice apartment, a large family, a cosy bourgeois air to a place that resembles a little doll house. The family gathers around to celebrate one of the girls' eleventh anniversary, the father gracefully waltzes the birthday girl around the room on the music of Leonard Cohen, and while they all get ready to taste the lovely cake, the girl climbs the edge of the balcony and jumps. Such a tragedy would leave its painful mark upon all members of the family. Instead, the protective head of the family -both father and grandfather- hurries all members up to erase any trace of the suicidal girl and put the whole mess behind them. Things turn from suspicious to tense, and the viewers are appalled at their own imagination and whatever happens behind closed doors. The pace is quite linear until a striking moment of violence when you feel your inner parts shudder and you are tempted to shut it all down. Still, something keeps you from doing so -either the burning curiosity or the fact that it is almost the end of the picture- and you are left wondering what more there is to be revealed.

The movie instantly reminded me of Dogtooth and the strange, restless feeling I had while watching it. There are several similarities such as the abusive father and the mute, non-responsive members of the family. The strangeness of the place and the unnatural pace of the whole unfolding of events also feels familiar. Still, this no longer is a sordid experiment meant to test the limits of the the human mind and body and to keep offsprings safe. Sexual abuse is beyond justification and comprehension. Also, in Dogtooth, evil was kept away from the eyes of the real world, as if it was a place apart, out of time. In Miss Violence, doors have been taken down and immoral practices take place in the most unexpected circumstances. The head of the family in Dogtooth offered no explanation for his behaviour, whereas money is the reason behind the abuse in Miss Violence. The rest of the sane world -the social services employees or the teacher from school- turns a blind inefficient eye to the strangeness of the family as if too afraid to follow their instinct. Within the family, abusers are victims and the vicious circle of pain seems endless. Turning eleven is no reason to feel happy about it but rather a huge wake-up slap in the face. Ugliness, perversion and abuse hide behind the visible kindness of average life and apparently, there is no escape from it. Apparently.....Could a closed door lead to hope or is it meant to perpetuate hell?

It was hard for me to focus on the performances of the actors. The subject itself was hard to handle and highly disturbing. The actors played their parts in a convincing manner, so natural that it felt straightforward. Still, whenever I get to watch a movie with child characters involved in delicate situations, I cannot help wondering about the parents willing to put their children through such experiences at such a young age. The only thing that helped me distance from the dreadful topic was the core subject of the movie for which the story was used as a pretext: the degradation of the Greek society and the obvious loss of humanity and its governing principles. Families are nothing but small universes that are only a mirror of the society they are part of. The rotten core of the family is a symbol for the inner corruption that lies at the heart of the society and Miss Violence is a reflection of outer evil within the family micro universe.

Monday, June 16

House of Sand/ Casa de areia

House of Sand/ Casa de areia is a movie about the vastness of the white desert of Maranho. Against this out of place, out of space land of primordial beauty, human destines are pencilled with grace and resilience. Some women travel to end of the world to reclaim their lost identity and to thrive in a mysterious, yet inhospitable realm of sand. The shreds of turquoise sea and lush vegetation are merely details in the vastness of this land. The poetry of Brazilian scenery resonates with the asperity of life and the delicacy of the women's perseverance.

Maria and Aurea, mother and daughter -in movie, as well as in real life- are faced with a brutal awakening when left by the latter's husband alone, in the middle of the desert, in a half-finished house of sand. Vasco de Sa believed himself to be a visionary man, set on conquering the aridity of the white desert, who eventually failed to convince either his settlers or his wife that farming in the middle of nowhere could be done. His death leaves the two women at the mercy of Massu, a fisherman, grandson of a runaway slave who introduces them to the small community on an island nearby and Chico, an old trader that brings salt. Pregnant Aurea is persuaded by her old and sick mother to wait until the child is born and the rain season is over before embarking on a trip back to Sao Paolo. Such much craved for and anticipated departure from Maranho shall keep the three women -mother, daughter and granddaughter- stuck into sand and hope for the next ten years. And even when they are faced with the choice, Donna Maria refuses to leave this remote paradise where no man ever holds any power over her and the beauty of life resides in its simplicity. A comet passes, war comes and goes, scientists visit the desert to take remarkable photos and Aurea happens to cross their path in her search for Chico's lost trail. A nice man in uniform -a symbol of her own and later on, of her daughter's restlessness and yearning for the civilized world- named Luis is drawn to her story and promises to take her back to the real world. A night spent under the stars where a multitude of dreams and hopes ignite only to crumble in the white sand at dawn, washed by the perennial rain. Still, even in this dry, tedious land of sand, passion is as hot as the scorching sun and it is only a matter of time before Aurea decides to cut her hair and give herself to Massu. And the story goes on for another fifty years.

Plain in the description of love, dialogues or isolation, the movie is based on contrasts- the discrepancy between the whiteness of the sand and people's colourless clothes, white skin versus black skin, the different personalities of mothers and daughters. Sand as any other landscape with its own particularities comes to shape people's dispositions and choices and build them into resilient human beings. One needs to be strong and flexible as a palm tree in order to survive the wind, the rain and the aridity of the land. Houses are as pointless as plans and one has to adapt to both climate and reality. It takes Aurea half of a lifetime to come to terms with her destiny and to find love and music where her eyes failed to see. Massu, much to his lack of verbosity, is wiser in his ability to recognize love and fight for it. He has been there longer and survival runs through his veins. Still, a wild and restless heart as Aurea's is brought to life in her daughter's eyes and spirit who, years later, uses her sexuality to escape her confinement and when the opportunity arises flees this paradise into the real world. The quietness of both place and people, where fire and sea merge into the chalky land has the poetry of an old canvass that paints itself into a hidden seductiveness of the mind and heart.

The performances are exquisite and the galloping story and the switching of characters and ages add up to the flavour of the movie. Fernanda Montenegro as a adult Aurea plays an emotional scene when asking long-lost Luis to save her daughter (now played by Fernanda Torres) and return her to the civilized world where she belongs. Her eyes and softness of the face speak more than the intimate details of her movements and voice. The unforgiving dunes somehow melt people's hearts and make them return to the finesse of the sand that conquers all and saves everything.

Sunday, June 15

John Cheever's Short Stories

I begin my week as plain me, on an easy Monday morning, of a certain year of my life. By noon, I grow a few inches, in greatness, as I come to inhabit all these lively short stories that quietly unfold under my eyes. I am a shapeshifter of fictional garment. For the last month or so, I have been living inside John Cheever, in a strange acuteness of senses. I stepped into Shady Hill right after breakfast, spent the whole morning there, shared lunch with a certain Frances Weed, Jupiter and the torn slipper at my feet, then took a nice siesta,  my sleepy eyes on the precious lowboy, only to wake at dusk, on a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains. 

So here is Shady Hill, a place of many virtues, yet untraceable on the face of earth, nearby Macondo, the paradise village of magic, butterflies and love, right next to Yoknapatawpha County, where three novels grew. I might sound like a bookworm, which I am to a certain extent, or as someone out of this time, but have you ever envied the writing of a person to the moon and back? In an arduous, teeth-grinding way of stealing the words into your own self, in the hope that some shred of magic might rub on your skin into skillfulness? This is just about as powerful my relationship with John Cheever's writings is. These short stories of his have simply split into my mind with a bang, feeding my need for his lushness of language to the last drop, throwing me into a state of littleness that could only be lifted by immersing my senses into another exquisite short story. They are soft, well-knit, balanced, humane, striking, revealing such inner turmoil in the suburbs that everybody wants to pay his characters a long visit. The irony of it relies in the fact that his characters are simple, unadorned, unexceptional human beings that face challenge and life in its bareness, in the most every day circumstances. Yet, despite its trivial aspect, John Cheever manages to render the ordinary sameness of people in a truthful manner, with a softness of language that penetrates every fiber of the reader. For instance, in The Enormous Radio, the need to gossip and thrive on the misfortunes of others grows into a burden that suppresses not only the ears of Jim and Irene Westcott but their spirits as well, disclosing their meanness as well. Oh, gratuitous prying has never felt better. Still, there is a hidden shred of both contempt and pain within the most comfortable and pleasant joys and when given the right trigger, all coziness and apparent bliss shatter to pieces.

John Cheever was often called the "Chekhov of  the suburbs" and some may think that there is much grit in this statement. To me, this would be an understatement since his prose enraptures the reader's mind and sensitivity to a deeper level than the Russian writer. Take Reunion, for example. A short piece, almost reminding me of flash prose and the Palm of the Hand Stories of Yasunari Kawabata, where a young man is shortly reunited with his estranged father. Between trains, they move from restaurant to restaurant in an attempt to identify the perfect and most satisfactory services, which only seem to be an excuse meant to cover the father's inability to deal with the situation. The son is but a mute spectator to his father's bragging, vulgar manner of treating people, caught somewhere between humorous and ridiculous tingles. Reactions and feelings are rendered in almost perfect manner, making both reunion and story a memorable one. His greatness and uniqueness resides in his familiar manner of turning the most ordinary events and people into fascinating objects of desire. The reader finds himself drawn into this small world of little puppets on a string that smile our own smiles, frown our own eyebrows and ache our own pain. Familiarity breeds contempt... and much gratitude for the blessing of distilling our selves into John Cheever's writings.

World War Z by NICO

Hail for the actor that makes this movie a blockbuster! Toate onorurile merg spre marele Brad Pitt! Brad Pitt cameleonul, ce reuseste sa faca dintr-o poveste cu zombi, un film reusit, ce te tine legat de scaun aproape 2 ore, sperand sa vezi finalul si sa nu te transformi si tu in zombi! Toate onorurile pentru Brad ce face ca acest film sa aiba o cat de cat tenta realista si sa bage frica in noi, sperand sa rezolve problemele lumii si poate si pe ale noastre ...glumesc, bineinteles. Urasc filmele cu zombi, varcolaci, vampiri, transformati gen Dracula-si imi doresc in secret ca Buffy sa nu fie doar in filme. Urasc dorinta lor de a ne speria si a ne pune sangele in miscare, doar pentru ca ne vor sangele cald si siroind, ne vor globulele rosii, albe, trombocitele rosii si plasma intre dintii lor urati si neingrijiti... btw, am un prieten dentist ce le-ar rezolva problemele dentare.

World War Z este un film ce mi-a facut adrenalina nebuna nebuna si culmea, sa ma tina legata de subiect tot filmul. Un barbat, o femeie, copiii lor si unul de imprumut sunt inceputul filmului, personajele motor si finalul ciclic al filmului. Sunt cei ce te plimba prin problema- o descopera, se lupta cu ea si mai apoi sa speram ca o rezolva. Problema este reprezentata de zombi si felul lor uracios de a se purta si ''destrabala'' cu oamenii normali-adica sa ii muste si sa ii transforme in altii nesatui si uraciosi ca ei. Avem de-a face cu o 'destrabalare'' de zile mari, cu o actiune frumoasa, intensa, bine organizata si intensificata sau temperata, astfel incat sa nu fie penibila si sa cada in film categoria b. Este un film atragator, de anvergura, veridic si fara excese multe. Sunt putine scene care sa te faca sa zici: C'mooooon!!!! sau ''Heeii!! Ce naiba!! Chiar nu vezi?? Nu ai vazut si tu filme cu monstrii?? Este in spatele tau! sau De ce ai luat-o pe acolo?? ...asadar, fara multe scene obositor si enervant de tipic horror, zombi sau alta vietate insetata de interiorul nostru irigat de sange si caldura umana. 

Domnul Brad Pitt face un joc frumos, dur si organizat, fara a-i intra parul in ochii lui albastri ca cerul, fara a saruta prea multe guri feminine si astfel sa supere zeita ce o are in realitate, acasa. Este eficient si setat in a-si face treaba actoriceasca la un nivel pe care doar el si restul lumii il apreciaza. Brad Pitt este un actor care mie imi place, a depasit conditia de frumosul cu ochii albastrii, buzele carnoase si miscari de felina, privire fixa sau pierduta, capriorul pe care nu il vrei haituit de niciun vanator sau fiara salbatica. Nici macar nu am observat aceste lucruri la dansul... si multe altele, pentru ca eram ocupata cu dorinta ca el sa salveze lumea, sa-si salveze familia pe care oamenii mai organizati si mai eficienti decat el, o faceau de asemenea in acest film. Nu am observat decat actiunea filmului si pe tot parcursul lui, sincer vorbind, asteptam sa ma dezamageasca subiectul si realizarea lui, dar nu s-a intamplat. Nu s-a intamplat chiar deloc. Ceea ce mi-a placut cel mai mult este ca s-a terminat un pic in coada de peste, s-a terminat lasandu-ma cu intrebari ce au ca raspuns mai multe alternative sau final alege raspunsul. Mi-a placut ideea aceasta in care filmul este facut sa te gandesti la el si dupa ce se incheie, sa te faca sa ramai un pic ''nerezolvat'', sa te faca sa nu iesi din sala relaxat gandindu-te ca au terminat problema zombiilor. Imi place ideea de a te face sa te gandesti la film si dupa terminarea lui, transformandu-te in intrebator, investigator si astfel spreader- tu vei imprastia nemultumirea ta si finalul - care nu este un final cu focuri de artificii ce anunta incheierea filmului cu stele si fericire, ci se incheie intr-o nota pozitiva, nu rezolvata si subiect inchis.

World War Z este un film frumos, catchy, blockbuster american ce si-a indeplinit cu succes menirea. Un plus a fost dat de prezenta lui Brad Pitt (despre care nici macar nu am vorbit aici, deloc nu am vorbit), nu stiu daca ar fi avut acelasi succesc fara el, dar am mai vazut filme cu actori buni, publicitate excesiva si rezultat mai mult decat dezamagitor. Asa ca, toate elementele ce compun acest film au dus la realizarea unui proiect reusit si plin de adrenalina. Merita vazut. Coloana sonora frumoasa, efecte frumoase, contrastele de liniste- zgomot puternic si singuratate- aglomeratie, culori vii- culori terne, machiaje wow dar fara exces - o gura de zombi cu niste dinti impecabil de bine realizati m-au facut sa imi doresc sa nu vad asa ceva ever- actori temperati si joc actoricesc frumos au facut World War Z o reusita. Un film ce satisface nevoia de grandomanie cinematografica si clateste ochiul spectatorului, hranind frumos latura Hollywoodiana din consumatorul-privitor.

PS. Puteau sa ii dea o actrita mai atragatoare drept sotie lui Brad, nu am nimic cu Mireille Enos, este draguta, dar... pe de alta parte ma gandesc ca o actrita mai draguta ar fi atras prea mult atentia asupra ei si in felul acesta ar fi trebuit sa il ajute mai mult pe domnul Pitt in actiune...dar este doar parerea mea de amatoare.

Tuesday, June 3

Son of the Bride (Hijo de la Novia)

Middlelife crisis has never looked better than in the performance of Ricardo Darín, and Woody Allen's Manhattan has found an echoing Argentinian version of a man's quest for his self. In a word, Juan Jose Campanella's Son of the Bride qualifies for a romantic comedy with a sentimental core. There are no never-ending monologues on the feelings and more spunk in Rafael Belvedere's language and passionate manner of expressing himself, which is a gain for the movie if you dislike Woody Allen's endless verboseness and the constant deconstruction of his own person and relationships.

Rafael Belvedere is busy taking care of his restaurant, keeping up with his younger girlfriend, his fatherly responsibilities, his ex-wife's frustrations and his mother's Alzheimer's disease. It is an Oscar material kind of movie where people lead antsy lives rendered in a rather comical manner. Romance is only for older people and daily worries are for people in their early fourties when success begins to take shape, yet there are no meaningful others around you to value your endeavours. So, what does life tell you? To take a break in the most significant manner- a heart attack. Rafael is given the chance to stop and smell the roses for a while and give back something to those around him. First, there is his father, Nino, whose dream is to marry his long life companion, Norma so as to cherish not only the 44 years of happiness but also to fulfill his wife's wish. Except that the wife is no longer able to grasp reality and his grand gesture. Neither is Rafael since, to him, his father's gesture is futile and corny. So is Natalia's request to commit or his daughter's request to read her poems. It takes a weak heart, a goofy friend from childhood, an innocent piece of poetry, and his mother's soft look to melt away all resilience and fear.

Ricardo Darín is a fine actor and a dashing leading man, who never fails to get under your skin; there is a certain sparkle in his eyes and a playfulness that penetrates both lighter moments and painful times. Other than the remarkable performances of Norma Aleandro and Hector Alterio as his parents, the movie is soft and undemanding, the kind of comedy that puts you in a good mood. Its message is positive and hopeful- broken dreams can be turned into promise, bitterness can be melted into romance, funny friends can put things into perspective, relationships can be mended. In a good, perfect little world, such things can be effortly accomplished and what if reality smothers enthusiasm, we are all allowed to go to sleep with good thoughts, aren't we? Juan Jose Campanella's society might be on the verge of economic crisis, his leading actor is definetely in the middle of a personal one, still humour seems to distill the hardships of life and make grey days bearable. There are times when we want to forget about the cruel, drug-run Latin American, where little boys with big guns run the show, bathing it all in blood. 

And there are moments when such light, comfortable movies set the tone for a happy sigh and a dreamlees sleep in a world where tiramisu is not cream cheese, Dick Watson should not be ignored, poems about braces win teddy bears, butter cookies sweep men off their feet, goofy friends deliver pizza, and parents and children and children and parents are given second chances for second lives.