Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Parabellum by Lukas Valenta Rinner

I love movies that raise more questions than they answer. If I walk out of a film with a satisfied, resolved sense that all is right with the world, then chances are, I will simply forget the movie unless there is something very special about it. But yesterday at MWFF, I saw the former kind of film: one that caused a whole host of questions. It was an Argentine/Uruguayan/Austrian film called Parabellum.

The film is odd. Very odd. It opens in Buenos Aires where an office worker at first seems to be going through his day but very soon it becomes clear that he's getting ready to move or leave. He gets rid of his cat, removes stuff from his office. There is no conversation about this. No voiceover. Just a man's actions that we are supposed to interpret. Cut to the woods and a kind of resort full of other people from the city: everyone is given a uniform and various options for courses: water survival, combat, guns and shooting, etc.

It turns out that the resort is a survival camp and all these city people are training for kind of impending doom or apocalypse. This sense of tension infects the movie, you're waiting for something to happen...meanwhile, rockets or missiles or maybe asteroids keep flying through the sky and exploding somewhere in the distance.
Gorgeous Argentine countryside is a main character

The aspect of this film which is hard to get your head around is the fact that there is very little dialogue: the characters are almost like robots, doing what they're told to do with no emotion whatsoever. There are no characters to hang your expectations onto.

But these facts really make you think about what it is to see a movie: how the emotional component of a film is really key to connecting with the audience. Emotion is almost the starting point of any film. But not here. No characters. No emotion. One almost asks oneself if this is even a film?! Of course, it is, but it's unlike any film I've ever seen.

As I walked out, I just kept asking myself: what just happened? What was that about? What did that all mean?!

Parabellum is the first feature film by Austrian director Lukas Valenta Rinner. Unfortunately, the film only plays once more Tuesday, September 1 at 11:30am...

I love film festivals! At work this week so limited time but I'm trying to squeeze in as many as I can.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Elena Ferrante: The Story of the Lost Child

The 4th instalment in Elena Ferrante's Naples series hits this bookshops tomorrow and I'll be there to pick it up. I'm not writing a review of it today (not that I write reviews here really) but I did want to remind those who've read and and become fans of Ferrante to check out The Story of the Lost Child from Europa Editions.

Ferrante's books came onto my radar some time ago but after I started writing about her last year, several people picked up her books and told me that they really liked them a lot. At least eight people stopped me at the Festival in 2015 to thank me for introducing her here and on my social media.

Not everyone has raved about her: one person whose opinion I trust a lot told me that she just couldn't connect with the two young girls in My Brilliant Friend. Another person, a friend, told me that she didn't really connect with the books until about 1/3 of the way through the 2nd one, The Story of a New Name. Fair Enough. Not every book speaks to every reader. But the vast majority of people have really liked them a lot and become a bit crazy about the Naples series in particular.

We did an Elena Ferrante Breakfast at the 2015 Festival which was one of our biggest breakfast events ever. We generally try to keep these breakfast events at 10-12 but 27 people showed up to that one! And a very interesting discussion ensued (participants kept asking if the host was really Elena Ferrante which made us laugh hysterically afterwards).

Given the fact that Ferrante refuses to do publicity and is highly mysterious, when she does rarely agree to give an interview, it's a big deal. She spoke to the Paris Review several months ago and Vanity Fair managed to score an interview here as well. This one I find better than the Paris Review interview because there is so much about the friendship at the core of the books. But I wouldn't read them until you've read the books because lots is given away (not spoilers per se but one of the pleasures of reading the books is simply going in blind and discovering the world for yourself). Scott Esposito has a review here on SF Gate of the latest.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, they chart the friendship of two girls in Naples in the 1950s and each new instalment traces the women's relationships through the ups and downs of late 20th century Italian history. But that makes the books sound dry and detached and they are far from either.

The Story of the Lost Child is released tomorrow.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book-scented candles, Margaret Atwood beermeister, Film Festivals, London Ontario as serial killer-ville, Marilyn Monroe in psychiatric hospital: Cultural Digest August 28

Mags' brew

Friday, August 28, 2015

Krakatoa Changed the World

An interesting Mental Floss article here on 10 Facts about Krakatoa, the volcano that erupted in 1883 and caused massive destruction, killed 36,000+ people and affected weather patterns for a generation.

The blast was so loud, apparently, it could be heard more than 2,500 miles away.

Simon Winchester's 2005 book, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, suggests that the eruption's
Munch's sky looks downright Krakatoan
effects were so far-reaching, even contemporary Indonesian politics and society still haven't escaped the long shadow of the horrific eruption nearly 150 years later.

Oddly (I've heard this before), so much ash and so much gas was released into the atmosphere after the eruption, that sunsets were brilliant for years and years later, so much so that many have speculated that the sky in Edvard Munch's iconic painting, The Scream (first painted in 1893), shows evidence of the effects of the eruption in how the painter approached the vibrant reds and oranges in the sky.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the role that the Colonial Powers played in disseminating news of the tragedy around the world via the new fangled technological advance, the telegraph. There's racism here. There are heroes. There is tragedy and there is triumph.

Winchester's books are consistently readable, and the range of subjects that interests him is quite impressive: from the tale of the Oxford English Dictionary, about the birth of modern geology, and the history of the US.

Anyway, the Mental Floss article just reminded me about what a great book Winchester's book is and I pulled it down off the shelf and re-read most of it last night. Such a great read!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Poetry attire, David Foster Wallace on audiobook, Joseph Roth, Fictionalizing Life, Gamache is back, World Press Photo and Film Festival Opens in Montreal: Cultural Digest August 27

Thomas Hirschhorn,  Subjecter (News-poetry), 2010

Gamache is back

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Helping Syria through soup, Joseph Roth in hotels, Mona Lisa's grin, book covers in Weimar Era, Montreal's Chinatown: Cultural Digest August 26

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Drago Jančar's The Galley Slave

One of the best parts of traveling is getting to know writers and books that I might not discover otherwise. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I had been in Slovenia earlier this summer and how a few people had recommended Slovenian writer Drago Jančar to me. So I picked up his The Tree with No Name and was blown away by it.

I read several other Slovenian novels and other books in the Slovenian Series that Dalkey Archive has been doing. I enjoyed them but there is something about the voice and pre-occupation of Jančar that speaks to me. The Galley Slave tells the story of Johann Ot who in the late middle ages travels as a kind of spiritual renegade from village to village in the midst of a country-wide religious revival.

Suspicion is everywhere: villagers are suspicious of newcomers, the corrupt government is suspicious of any kind of underclass stoking revolution and uprising, and the criminal class is suspicious of the new religious temperature which sees witches and devils in every unknown action, face or mystery. Johann Ot's aim is merely to survive without being burned at the stake or being installed on one of the many torture devices he hears about.

Published in 1978 behind the Iron Curtain, many saw this as an allegorical portrait of life under the brutal Communist occupation (even if Yugoslavia, which Slovenia had been swallowed up by, had a more benign and less oppressive version compared with much of the Eastern Bloc and USSR). I think this simplifies the tale in a certain way and largely detracts from it: it may well have intended to be an  allegory but I found it alive in its portrayal of society in the Middle Ages where dogma had no basis in any kind of rational thought. And as is often the case in these kinds of tales (oddly, I kept thinking about Mad Men and how it portrayed the 60s and 70s), it attempts to tell us more about our own era than some time in the past we can never experience first-hand.

The novel starts out a bit slow and it takes a few dozen pages to really get into the story but once I was hooked, man, I raced through this book (read most of it this weekend). It's got long funny passages and moments when you have to stop and think for a while about how so much of what we worry about day to day is pointless since only the broad brushstrokes of life will be accessible at some distant point in the future. It made me wonder what people will think about life in early 21st century North America in 500 years and our religious devotion to scientific reason.

I have become a full-fledged Drago Jančar fan after this book. I still found The Tree With No Name more compelling (that one is set in WWII and in contemporary Ljubljana) but The Galley Slave was an excellent weekend read and when Jančar's latest is released in English in January, I'll definitely be adding that to my must-read list.