30 December 2012

A Changed Man, by Francine Prose

This is not a great novel, but it's a peasant one. The story of a former skinhead who comes to work for a foreign aid program run by a Holocaust survivor, and develops a close relationship with a single mom working there, and her two sons. There's nothing especially earth shattering about it, but it's a pleasant read with credible insight into human nature. Granted, everyone in the book - even the quasi-villain - is basically the nicest, most likeable incarnation of their character type that you could imagine, which somewhat mars the book's pretensions to moral inquiry, but the pleasant feel it gives to the whole is, to me at least, a credible trade-off. It's the kind of view you're tempted to describe as "human" - everyone is flawed, but hey, live and let live. Some readers may find it an anaesthetized take on the world, but what can I say, it made for good airplane reading.

11 December 2012

GeziciFestival, contd

I've been lax about posting because I've actually been doing a lot of academic writing lately, but I do want to get something down about the other things I've been watching/reading, and I feel especially obliged to post about the movies from the festival, because they're relatively less known, so:

a Bosnio-Serbio-Croation comedy about a gay guy and a homophobe who end up working together to organize a Gay Pride parade. Comedy? Yes, really. And uproariously funny no less. Though a ways into it, I thought you know, these are actually serious issues, maybe we shouldn't be treating them so lightly. It seems the makers of the film agreed, because the movie did take a slightly more serious turn. Not an unmerited one, alas. But it really is a charming, funny, and worthwhile film. A fascinating juxtaposition of gay rights and the scene in the former Yugoslavia, which is a tense and complicated place.

ok, when you buy a ticket for a movie about a yearly sheep-washing competition in a Turkish village, what do you expect. Apparently there's some buzz about how Turkey is the next big thing in international film, and maybe that's why there are so many Turkish films with gorgeous cinematography and sparse narratives, these resolutely "foreign" works that seem to simultaneously want to tell you about life in out of way places and render them utterly alien through distanced documentary techniques. In this case, a guy informed us before he movie started that the film is NOT a documentary. Which made its opaque narrative style all the more... curious.
From what I could tell, the premise of the competition is that a shepherd runs down a hill into a river with all his sheep behind him, and the winner is the one whose sheep follow him most faithfully into the water. Oh, but first, some of the sheep are dyed red. There is one old guy in the town who always wins the competition. There are two other guys we semi-follow who also compete. One of them also gets a job in the city at a meat plant for awhile. There is a quarry opening up near the town. The meat plant guy works there for awhile. The old guy who always wins says when you kill/eat an animal you have to bury all its bones, and if you can't find them all, replace the missing ones with pieces of wood. It's a fragmentary sort of film, if you couldn't tell.
Discussing it with friends after, we decided that it was partly a reflection on processes of modernization. Also, that it was a very good thing that it was only 75 minutes long.

Araf (Between):
This is the worst movie I have seen in a long, long time. Distanced documentary techniques, very little dialogue, and yet it manages to have an obnoxiously cliche plot with retrograde political implications, and an offensively disgusting and appallingly inaccurate miscarriage scene. A woman squats over a toilet, spraying blood between her legs, and then plop, out comes a little plastic doll, with a dangling umbilical cord even. I almost walked out of the theatre. I should've. The rest of the movie was just as dumb. Ugh.

02 December 2012

Dispatches from the Festival on Wheels

The Festival on Wheels (moving pictures! Get it?) is in Ankara this week, which gives me the rare opportunity to see foreign (and Turkish!) films with English subtitles. I'm eating it up, though unfortunately I was a little slow getting to the box office, and some of the films were sold out. But here's what I've covered so far...

Şimdiki Zaman / Present Tense
A film about a young woman who is struggling financially, and takes a job as a fortune tellers, reading coffee grounds, in an effort to save enough money for a visa to the States. But every reading she gives seems to be about her own life. It's an interesting premise, but it doesn't quite work. There's not quite enough narrative to give it momentum, and the characters are a little too vague. It is, however, gorgeous, cinematographically.

Babamın Sesi / My Father's Voice
A slow burn. I was impressed when I saw it, but all day today I find myself thinking about it. I have to say, it's pretty politically charged, much more than I would have expected. It's sparse and subtle, but there's a lot going on beneath the surface. The film balances three story lines, in a way - there's a young man who is trying to connect to his mother. She, meanwhile, is obsessed with her other son, Hasan, who has emigrated. Her husband, their father, also lived abroad, and because the woman cannot read or write, they would send each other tapes. These tapes are layered over the narrative, revealing a gradually unfolding past as the children grow up, and Hasan starts getting into trouble. What is startling about the tapes, actually, is how unsentimental they are. Actually, they're often pretty harsh, giving a vivid sense of just how hard life is for this family. It sounds grim, and I guess it is, but its not a depressing film, maybe partly because again, the cinematography is so beautiful. I really hope this one gets wider distribution. It's excellent.

Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000
Apparently this is a classic of French cinema in the 70s (though it's actually Swiss). It's entertaining in the way all films of that time period are. Lots of bizarre antics and discussions of Marx, not much in the way of storyline. The theatre was hot and stuffy and I dozed a little. But it was enjoyable enough.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
An Italian film from 1970, about a man so respected by his peers that he cannot be found guilty of a crime, despite blatant evidence. Deliriously bizarre and wonderful. An absolute classic. Hilarious and completely insane. Great music, too. I watched it an hour go and I already want to watch it again.

01 December 2012

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy

I stumbled across this one somewhat randomly, and I was instantly hooked. It is infectiously delightful, riotously funny, and just overall great. Salinger meets Breakfast at Tiffany's. The madcap adventures of a self-absorbed and slightly ridiculous but strangely lovable young woman in Paris who is living life to the max. Hilarious hijinx galore.

If anyone had put it to me an hour before that I would suddenly find myself in the midst of a bunch of exquisitely mannered seamen whose whole purpose in life was to request the pleasure of my company for the next dance, or see to it that I was constantly supplied with cigarettes and lights and ash trays and pretty compliments, I would have been frankly incredulous (only I wouldn't have used that phrase).

Though Sally Jay Gorce makes some terrible decisions, sometimes out of naivete, sometimes out of sheer idiocy, she also has a certain steely intelligence and resolve. And callow though she may sometimes be, she also has moments of poetic beauty, tossing out phrases like We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed-fire, tangy as the early morning air. It's that combination of jaded disillusion, aw shucks American-ness, and occasional lyricism that calls to mind Salinger, to me at least, but J.D. never really allows his characters to have this much fun.

It is such a wonderful book. Go read it.