Saturday, November 28, 2015

Michael Cunningham's new one, Muji Flagship story in NYC, German photographs from 1900, Image+Nation starts this weekend: Links of Note

Germany in 1900

Elizabeth Bishop biographical documentary at Image+Nation

Friday, November 27, 2015

Que Horas ela volta? / The Second Mother by Anna Muylaert

I think it's too late to see it in theatres, but maybe it'll be available on DVD soon, this film really blew me away. I saw it a few nights ago at Cinema du Parc and I do have to admit, that I have a particular fondness for Brazil films. I don't know why exactly since I've never been to Brazil nor do I speak Portuguese (I also like Brazilian writers), but I suppose it has to do with the vast differences between a country like Brazil and Canada (the heat, the chaos of it, the warmth of the people).

This film tells the story of a wealthy family and their maid, Val, in Sao Paolo and what happens when the maid's daughter, Jessica, comes from the north to stay with her mother before she takes the entrance exams at university.

The contrasts of class are stark and it takes the daughter's presence to make them apparent: her mother is outraged that Jessica refuses to know her place as the maid's daughter, in this kind of class limbo-land, asking to sleep in the guest room, letting the teenagers drag her into the pool. The wealthy wife, too, recognizes the class distinctions and wants to maintain them but she also sees the fact that her husband is very attracted to Val's young beautiful and very intelligent daughter. A complicated arrangement results and is even further complicated by the relationship between Jessica and the teenaged son of the family.

The film exposes the lie that domestic servants are "part of the family" as they aren't, really, and it takes someone shaking up the strict protocol that is so present in this kind of relationship for everyone to feel ruffled, uncomfortable, out of sorts. Oddly, it's the men in the family who don't seem to be so affected by the class rifts, but there's also sexual attraction there to circumvent those distinctions. Sex trumps all.

It's a really lovely film, full of sensuality and pain, but also hopeful, ending in the way we all hope it ends. I somehow managed to miss the entire Montreal Brazil Film Festival this year (where was I?!) which is unfortunate because last year I saw an incredible Brazilian film there (based on a Stefan Zweig short story). Here's to hoping that Cinema du Parc will continue to show Brazilian films.

On a related note, very sad to see that Cinema Excentris has closed. Apparently it's a temporary closure but we need more repertory cinemas in this city. There's no shortage of film festivals but it's so important to have cinemas that are devoted to less huge films, and more art-house or foreign films. It's sad to see how the film world has become so concentrated on huge blockbusters and there is so little room left for other kinds of film.

But that's a topic for another day.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don't have a lot of time for reading this time of year since I'm overwhelmed with Festival-planning and several other projects next year but I have managed to read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel, The Prisoner of Heaven. Because I was in Barcelona last week for a work project, I started the novel the week before I left but have still only managed to get about halfway through it.

It's interesting. Set in the 1950s in Barcelona, the novel tells the story of a young man on the cusp of his adult life, newly married with a young child and working in his father's bookshop in the city. Due to a mysterious stranger he learns about the sacrifices made by a close family friend during WWII and the Spanish Civil War. The novel skips around in time which is an interesting aspect to the way the story is presented and the dry pages of history really come alive here.

Zafon's novels that I've read are engaging and very readable (translated from Spanish) but I also struggle with their lack of depth. Sure, there are historical secrets revealed and I love the setting which he so richly captures. But I don't really find the characters that alive or that realistic. They are too extreme: either all good and saintly or pure evil. As most of us know, that's just not how people are. I prefer characters that are more complex; I prefer more ambiguous, complex questions about morality and history.

Perhaps I'm being unfair since I've only read half the novel - and perhaps I will change my mind later - but this is what strikes me so far. I'm still enjoying it but I find these kinds of novels don't stay with me. In a few years, I'll be able to read it again and will remember very little about it. I contrast this, for example, with Elena Ferrante's main characters in her Neapolitan novels who are devilishly complex: sometimes you adore them; other times you detest them. They are not easy people to understand, their motivations are complicated and deep, like most humans are.

Still, it's a book worth reading and I can see why Zafon is such a broadly appealing writer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dante's Inferno Lego-style, On Being consumers, Buster Keaton the master of the visual gag, Books as subway passes: Random Morning Links

The Inferno: Not quite as powerful when conveyed Lego-style

Subway pass books: I'd buy them just for the design

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Culture to Consume: W.H. Auden, James Bond boxed set, standing desks, French Jazz albums...

  • I've been kind of crazy about reading the work of W.H. Auden lately. Not sure what opened this door for me, but I've been slowly reading his Collected Works, reading a biography of the poet, and listening to an audiobook of Alexander McCall Smith about his work. Where do these literary paths come from? So many of his poems I want to write about...later.
  • After seeing the fairly terrible James Bond film, Spectre, over the weekend, I'm kind of thinking about buying this. Once, many years ago, my friends bought me the entire boxed set of all James Bond movies that had been made (this was around the year 2000) and I spent an entire week at home on vacation watching every single one of them. It was a week when I realized that most things in life can be found in a James Bond film (none of them profound). Not sure what happened to that boxed set (it was an old format that doesn't work anymore, I think) but it might be time to rewatch the entire oeuvre... at Christmas, we won't go anywhere and I can lay around on the sofa and watch all 23 films!
  • I've been listening to these Jazz albums recommended by Les Inrocks. So far I've listened to more than half of them. I am loving Panorama Circus, Eric Seva and Virginie Teychene. For me, it's classical music in the morning and Jazz in the evening (with beer).
  • I started using a standing desk a few years ago at work. Fewer headaches. More energy. No back pain at all. Also, when I have to sit for a meeting or something, it's so nice and feels so relaxing. Down side: I can't sit for more than 15-20 minutes now (anywhere) before getting restless and uncomfortable. Now that I am used to it, maybe it's time to spring for this version of the standing desk.
He's not as popular as Connery but I like Timothy Dalton as James Bond (I'm a child of the 80s)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Giller Picks: Samuel Archibald's Arvida

The prize is announced tomorrow which allows me to get one more pick in for the prize. I love Samuel Archibald's collection, Arvida.

It's unusual for the Giller to short-list a collection of stories and even more unusual to select a translation of short stories but Archibald's collection is so innovative and interesting that it's no surprise people have been raving about it.

Set in the real life town of Arvida in the Saguenay region of Quebec, the stories are loaded with rag-tag characters: criminals, chancers, posers, losers and clowns.

One story is a road-trip across Canada as three delinquents try to sneak a woman into the US. Another story echoes Faulkner and tells the story of a lonely woman whose husband has moved to Montreal to make his fortune while she waits for his return in a creaky old family home. She never doubts that he'll come back though everyone in the town is convinced he's abandoned her. This story contains some of the most beautiful writing I've encountered in French to English translation (translator Donald Winkler won the Governor General's Award for the translation of this work and it's obvious when reading this why Winkler is one of the most sought-after translators working today).

The greatest thing about short-stories is keeping them on the nightstand and reading one each night before sleep, those ditties roll around in your dreams and are there when you wake up with the sun.

I don't know if Arvida will win the prize (I'm terrible at predicting it) but stay tuned tomorrow for the big reveal.

Archibald talks Arvida

Nicolas Billon's Butcher at Centaur Theatre in Montreal through November 29

We saw Butcher at the Centaur over the weekend and wow was it impressive. I've not seen any of Nicolas Billon's plays before, but he's one of Canada's most talked-about young playwrights and I can see why.

The play, set in a police station on Christmas Eve, explores truth, justice and revenge via the lense of a suspected genocide on the other side of the world. The writing in crisp and the story moves at a quick pace. There are just four characters, each offering a different turn in the process of exposure, defense, prosecution, the past and the present.

I see lots of plays but this is one of the best I've seen this season so far both in terms of its writing but also the large questions it raises about all the things we take for granted here in Canada when we think about the rest of the world.

The acting is good but the final twist kept causing me to revisit certain scenes, certain lines said  by certain characters that rang false at the moment but opened wide after the twist was revealed.

Nicolas Billon has really made quite a name for himself in recent years, writing The Elephant Song (which was adapted for the big screen) and winning Governor General's awards for Fault Lines.

Butcher is also being produced in various theatres around Canada this year and next and several US theatre companies have also picked it up.

Whether or not you're a fan of English theatre in Montreal, I highly recommend this one. It was packed the night I went so don't wait too long.

 Butcher plays at Centaur Theatre through November 29.

Billon: an artist to watch

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Women Directors and Women in the arts, a Turin stroll in the footsteps of Nietzche, Gouin's amazing houses, On Being with Krista Tippet: Cultural Digest November 4

  • When one considers that women are highly under-represented in the arts, articles like this are very important: A Hundred Women Directors that Hollywood Should Hire. This is always such a hot topic: women in the arts. A huge proportion of women working in the arts are women: marketing people, Festival people, fundraisers, etc. Yet sometimes I have to consciously make the decision to read something by a woman as most "literary" writers are still men. Not all by any means, but if one just read what came across one's desk, it would be easy to read books by only men. And this is one thing I think we do well at Blue Met: create events with, give prizes to, promote the writing of women. 
  • A Turin stroll in the foosteps of Nietzche. I may take this stroll in the spring as I think I may try and go to the Turin Book Festival in May to meet various people. I've spent a good deal of time in Italy the last 18 months and I will again in 2016 but I've never been to Turin...I love exploring new places that are linked to literature in this way. After reading the article above, I was surprised at how Nietzche died...
  • Beautiful historical houses in Montreal along boulevard Gouin. This is an area of Montreal I don't know well but the houses sure look beautiful. Or did. (The link's story is in French).
  • I've been listening to this show on the radio (well, online) lately: it's fantastic. It can get a bit touchie-feelie on the corresponding blog (something I rarely appreciate) but the show itself with Krista Tippett is incredibly smart and thought-provoking. Some recent shows include Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain on The Dignity of Difference and another recent show on the work of American poet Mary Oliver.
Jonathan Sacks: On Being

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fall Reading and Why it's such a challenge.

So hard to find the time to blog this time of year. Lots of events each night: readings, discussions, interviews, cocktails, going away parties, welcome to Montreal parties.

I always find the middle of autumn the hardest time of year to read. Since I've been doing this Festival for five years now (six festivals in total including the next one), I get into this "reading rhythm": I read all summer and well into September. Then in early October, time just seems to speed up and I go from 6am until 11pm every day with work stuff.

Last night three events (I made one, made an appearance at another and had to bag out of the other
one). Tonight two events. Tomorrow two events, etc until early December it will be this way.

No, I don't go to every event but I go to at least 2-3 a week. Which is a lot!

I still read at this time of year but I have to squeeze it in here and there, on the subway, waiting in line, on the weekends.

And I do manage to read, just not nearly as much as I usually do. I need to read: this is the time of year I am reading Festival authors and planning events.

Once Christmas is here, I read a lot and well into January. Then I start reading non-Festival authors after that until the Festival (I don't want to read a book by an author coming and then realize I've missed something interesting about their work, something I could have planned an event around).

From January until April I read books of interest but I am so worn out at the end of each day that even then I read much less than usual. Some evenings on the metro going home, all I have the energy for is staring into space.

After the Festival, I swear I'm going to take a vacation from reading, go 2-3 weeks without reading anything. This lasts about two days and once spring is here, I'm back to reading like mad until the autumn again.

Lately I've been reading:

Will Aitken's Realia. It's too bad Will isn't better known as a novelist because his books are so interesting. And funny. This one is set in Japan in 1980s and tells the story of an Albertan woman trying to find her place there.

Neil Smith's Boo. Odd little book. I'm enjoying it but I can't help but wonder if this was Smith's idea of "riffing" off Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. It's funnier than that book, much much funnier, and, in fact, it's a much better book, about a boy who's died and is telling his parents about life in heaven. (I've only reached about 1/3 of the way through it so that's the story so far).

Mary Oliver's Felicity. I love these poems. They are so simple and short but on the third or fourth reading, they suddenly open up and their complexity blasts you in the face.

Joseph Roth's The Hotel Years. I am a huge fan of Roth and I read one or two stories from this each night before I sleep. The little stories, newspaper articles that Roth wrote between the wars as he traveled from one European city to another, predict the calamities that waited for Germany, France, the future Eastern Bloc. But the power in these vignettes reside in the small moments: the angry German youth, the Jewish peddler, the prostitute. They are such humane and beautiful little snapshots of life.

That sounds like a lot but when you figure I can usually only find an hour or so total to read this time of year, it'll take me a while to get through the above books.

Plus I'm on a jury now and I just got a new library of five short-listed books that I have to read by the end of this month. More about that later.

I don't have any kids. How people with kids while working full time ever manage to get any reading done is a miracle.