Friday, July 22, 2016

French movie Friday: Pour une femme

I'm beginning to wonder just how many novels and movies have been created with the setting of WWII. That's not a bad thing since I invariably do get drawn to that time period. This one, Pour une femme, is a quiet, unhurried little slice of three lives crisscrossed by love, betrayal, and the all-too-large shadow of the war itself.

Lena- mother of Annie and Tania, ex-wife of Michel- has just died and the two daughters are settling her belongings. Here is when Annie, a writer, discovers another side of their mother's life...although I wasn't clear on whether it was already a kind of open family secret. Still, Annie begins imagining and writing this story of her parents and Jean, her father's brother.

Lena and Michel meet at a camp for Jewish prisoners at the end of WWII. He pretends to be engaged to her and thus, they are released; but he has already fallen for her. Indeed he remains in love with her for the rest of his days. She on the other hand is deeply grateful and affectionate; is a good mother and housekeeper, but falls deeply in love with his newly-arrived brother, Jean. 

Now this brother is mysterious, he was previously presumed dead and there are some murky angles to his Soviet past. (The brothers are originally from the USSR). He moves in with Lena and Michel, and their doomed attraction begins over an amusing scene involving a gefilte fish that first gets put into a semi-filled bathtub but meets its end by slipping out of Jean's hands and flying out into the street. It's amusing not for the poor fish's fate but because of the terribly infectious giggles the two culprits burst out into later, at a fish-free lunch table in front of their guest. 

Thus do charming performances hold up this rather serious story. Take the wife of Michel's Communist Party boss, Madeleine. She's having an affair with another dreamy younger chap (I'm tempted to say "these French!") and soon becomes thick friends with Lena. (In fact there was a film made entirely on these two characters in 1983 called Entre Nous which I now want to see.) Then there's Michel's assistant at his men's tailor shop, Georges, mostly wordless but deeply endearing. And of course the entire film is beautiful with the backdrop of urban France and the three young leads being so charismatic - Jean in particular is quite the dish that most women would immediately fall for. 

The main question remains unresolved at the end of the film. One doesn't really expect such neat bow-tied endings in a French film, I have come to discover. The title however, does tie in nicely, and brings about the most philosophical lines in the story along with old photographs of the erstwhile couple.

Overall rating: 6.5
Director: Diane Kurys

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I got hit by a bus, watch it on Vine!

Today while we sat at a cafe with cool drinks to endure the heat wave, we watched as two small kids horsed around and posed expertly for photos. Of course there were no cameras, just the usual phones. No doubt the photogenic duo would have been instantly transmitted by the doting adults to their public via everything possible, from Instagram to Twitter. (Pictures on Twitter are called TwitPics. I don't know whether to howl with laughter or tears.) 

I make light of this but people's children today are looked at by virtually the whole world. And the kids themselves are so used to posing like their parents that I see kids as young as five making the peace sign (is that what it is, that baffling V everyone seems to be making with their fingers?) and pouting just so before their picture is taken. 

By the time they are 14, how many photos of the average child will have been shared across the Internet? I don't want to do the math. But here's my theory. When they grow up, the infants of today will need something to do that their grandparents aren't doing. Presumably the grandparents will still be fooling around with Facebook and the like. So the kids will go back to typewriters, refuse to pose for pictures unless they are with film cameras, and use phones only for talking to far-off people. 

By then I hope I would have scored that farmlet in rural Spain, so I will be unaffected. Of course I'm already a first-class curmudgeon - so I'm already unaffected. It's just that at times it's hard to keep biting remarks in check when you see a person with their head down and walking straight into you, personal space in this otherwise personal-space-obsessed culture be damned. And now the latest menace, Pokemon, where this sight is multiplied several times because it's groups of unseeing humans trolling the streets.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Watched: El Internado

Image result for el internado
Netflix has decided for some unknown reason to take El Internado off the air. To be fair they did give me adequate warning, but on Friday I still went to watch it as usual of an afternoon and found that it had disappeared. Sigh. I feel bereft.

Anyhow, in memory of this slyly addictive show, I will do a review in its honor. Now at the outset I must say that no one was more surprised than me that I was so hooked, but the fact remains that it was strangely well-written for such a ludicrous premise. That premise being that there is a boarding school (the eponymous El Internado de la Laguna Negra) somewhere in rural Spain which attracts the kids of that country's elite, but there are mysterious events afoot with an abundance of underground passages, missing children from the school's history as a former orphanage, and adults with plenty to hide.

There is skulduggery, for lack of a better word, in every episode with breathtakingly foolish actions and impossible coincidences galore. However, to offset all this is the genuine chemistry among the cast and the almost constant thread of humor that lends the proceedings some lifesaving levity. At the center are the group of teenagers, the principal and teachers, the administrator Jacinta, and two staff members, Maria the cleaner and Fermin the cook.(We are to believe there is but one cleaner in a school of 400 students, but that is just one lapse to overlook because you are too addicted.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The time is always right

The weekend has been lovely. First there was the churro-eating incident on Thursday night when I felt an inexplicable rush of happiness in the here and now. Then Friday when J began the day by bringing me white hydrangeas and colored pencils. (He always was a person after my own heart.) And today. 

We meandered around on the canyon roads intending to find a park to while away Sunday. But quite by accident we found another park, and of course we just proceeded to do the whiling away there, the other park having become unnecessary to find. This one had a nice wedge of grass under an old sycamore with a sliver of water running past. On the other edge was a large group, about 30 in all, apparently involved in some sort of informal church. 

J had packed a hamper of fruit and goodies, having taken my whining for French toast the previous morning as fair warning that I would be hungry all weekend. There was Scrabble, of which we had one very sedate game. I took a stab at starting a new book (marvelous, new author, great find) and ate a red plum whose juice splashed onto the grass. Meanwhile J, who is reading about Leonardo da Vinci, showed me a self-portrait by the great man himself. "Do you think," J asks, "Leonardo could ever have imagined that one day there would be a couple in a park admiring his work somewhere across the globe and across the centuries?"

But mostly, we just sat on our foldable chairs, still sandy from the last excursion to the beach. If we looked up, it was to a grand filigree of sycamore leaves sighing in the wind. I think there is a word for this sound, I told J...susurrus. Too bad you didn't make that in Scrabble, he says, ending with a truism typical for him, "that's a you word."

Sometimes people ask me if I'm not bored. I'm not employed, you see. But to that I always say, I have all this. How can I be bored? I find it is a great privilege to feel happiness in this world, which with every passing day feels like a glass globe that we are smashing from the inside, maliciously, at every chance. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Eternal sunshine of the spotless balconies

California, land of sunshine....where no one knows the pleasure of drying laundry in all the blessed sun. What am I ranting about now, I hear you say? Well, it's like this. Ever since I started living here again, it's more or less a constant state of comparison between how they do things here vs. in the land of my birth. It can be rather exhausting but mostly it's just amusing. Take the clothes drying practices, for instance. 

While I am fully appreciative of technology (dishwasher, I love you) and the joy of uninterrupted electricity, there are times I miss the good ole' days. No one is allowed to dry clothes in the sunshine here. Now I do understand that it's for aesthetic reasons, and how good would that $13.2 million palace look with a queen-size sheet set hanging off the gazebo? Not very, I admit. Back in Bangalore there was a phase when I would walk up to my door and be greeted, just off to the side, by the sight of my loutish neighbor's (red) undies hanging to dry on his window railings. So I am on board with the beauty aspect of the insistence on using dryers instead of good old solar power. 

But the thing is, there is sunshine here ALL YEAR ROUND. All you can see is sunshine in this land of gold. For much of the year, it's blinding. It just seems like a colossal waste to my mind. Not to mention missing the feel of sheets folded just after they've been sun-dried to a snappy, fragrant fluffiness. 

And so for those of us who don't actually live in grand palaces or rambling estates bounded by the ocean, can't we just hang a delicate towel or two on a discreet balcony? 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Palm trees and happiness

Last night one of J's old friends visited us from out of town. It's the first time I was meeting him, having only heard his name as one of the many from J's old life. We first had some wine and cheese at home, then walked out into the neighborhood and got dinner at this great little pita place around the corner. 

Afterwards, we take the long route home. And come upon a little impromptu concert outside that churro place that has recently brightened the universe. The band consists of two dreadlocked boys with drums and a guitar and an assortment of electronic sound thingummies. So we stand to listen for a while. 

They are playing songs that are heard frequently on the radio, with the vocals issuing from one of the thingummies but the rest of the music being played live. Their version of the songs is like discovering that your hitherto plain neighbor is in fact a stunning beauty when you see her in a certain light...these two are doing something to those pedestrian pop songs that transforms them. Just two boys, playing. Do they know that to me, they seem as skilled and ancient as glassblowers or alchemists?

J and his friend talk and laugh, both being heavily musically-inclined and referencing old shows and bands that they had watched together all those years ago. All of it is Latin to my ears, but as the two of them banter and I catch flashes of J's smile, I eat my churros under my palm tree and I am happy.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Strawberries and cream

The gentlemen's final is almost upon us. Wimbledon, widely loved for prettiness and prestige, does also manage to consistently offer some real blockbusters when it comes to the men's matches. Take as an example Roger Federer's great magic trick in the quarter-finals against Croat giant Marin Cilic. Despite being coldly outsmarted in the first two sets, FedEx managed to pull it together and began executing some perfectly devilish trickery. Poor Cilic, he almost had it in the bag but choked when he realized the enormity of what he was almost about to pull off. Pity for him. Fedex just decided to buck up and win. 

But then of course today was a sad morning because Mr. Cool Swiss got his clock cleaned by the young gun Milos Raonic. Now here's an intriguing one. Another cool customer with nerves of absolute steel. 

And what of the Murray? He strolled in, cool as you please, and proceed to wipe the court with the unfortunate Tomas Berdych. So now it's Murray vs. Milos. I am torn, I must confess. On the face of it I would say Murray for the win, but Milos Raonic is being advised by John McEnroe himself. Who can say what bits of genius are contagious? Still, for the sake of uplifting British spirits in the face of the unfortunate Brexit affair even if Murray himself is a Scot, maybe the Gods will see fit to grant him victory.

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