Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Only Living Boy in New York

I have not seen a movie for a while, quite uncharacteristic for me, but my local cinema has not shown anything interesting for quite a while. I am even wondering what is the reason for that. Change of ownership, lack of money, change of a person who selects the films?  I must say that lately I have not much ventured outside my suburb so I even did not know if the repertoire of other theatres has been any better. Recently my favourite occupation is bridge and the club, I play at, has developed its own social circles. One of them is the circle of movie goers. I have been asked a couple of times by one of the players if I have seen The Only Living Boy in New York. My answer was that I do not think it is on in the local cinema. It has not been, but the friend brought to my attention that there are other movie theatres in Sydney than the one nearby. Quite a revelation, one might say, so I checked and I found the movie some distance from my place, but even without a car quite easy to get to. My horizons suddenly expended and I have seen the film today. I am glad I did as I enjoyed it. Maybe the film did not have many situation  I could really relate to, but it is a good story even if a bit convoluted.
Image result for the only boy in new york reviews
Does Callum Turner (left) look like young Richard Gere? 
I would describe the film as sleek. It was pleasant to watch the known good actors and young ones with a promise. I liked the elegant interiors and the New York scenery. The film is about literary crowd of people: writers and their disciples, publishers and critics. Consequently, the dialogs intended to be sophisticated and some of them are, but many are just trying to follow the intended mood not presenting much depth or originality.

The story is about a young man, son of a famous publisher and a neurotic, intellectual but very warm mother (played by Cynthia Nixon of Sex in the City, I liked her in this film). He wants to be a writer but his father's view is that his work is just "serviceable"  so he is confused and tries to figure out what to do with his life. Being very young he rebels and leaves the elegant home of his parents searching for  his own ways. He meets his neighbour who starts to play a role of his mentor and a guide through  maze of literature circles. The boy, Tom, sees one day his father with another woman and in defense of his too sensitive mother tries to stop the romance by demanding of the girl to stop seeing his father. Instead he also lands up in bed with the girl and here the real story starts leading to a surprising happy end. Maybe too much of meandering, but to me it was fun, even if I most likely soon forget the film.

My attention caught the question about a definition of love and reasons behind people thinking that they love another person. Apparently, the answers do not have to be romantic or idealistic at all. It can be to fix childhood traumas and created earlier needs, it can be just lust, it can be fascination with some parts of the character or abilities of the object of love, it can be sort of dependence and many other reasons based on needs of the “loving” person. I do not quite like this approach, but must say that there is something in it, even if not palatable to romantic souls.

Another “golden thought” that made me ponder and agree with is “anything good happens by accident”. Hmm… so what about living on purpose? Or planning our lives? On second thought, this is not a revelation.

I enjoyed my outing, I liked the theatre, as sleek and the film itself. I liked a lot about the film even if some of the ideas were a bit too contrived, like choices in the soundtrack. Song of Simon and Garfunkel “The Only Living Boy in New York” is about Tom, the same name as the young hero of the film. And Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” with Johanna being another film character. Good music though, so I really do not complain.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Buried Giant

                                  Image result for the buried giant
I have been reading the book with mixed feelings. The fantasy literature and art in general are not something I enjoy or even understand. A bit of a shortcoming of mine. The practical streak in me is very strong and I think I owe it to my great father. Not that I consider myself great, but this is one thing I must have picked from him.

At school I never warmed up to romanticism, I may have understood some of it, but the form never convinced me or seemed appropriate.  And similarly,  I have a problem with the form of The Buried Giant. The essence of the book is of great interest to me, though. It is about memory of our past and in particular about memory preservation.

Kazuo Ishiguro, as per his own explanation, knows what his future book will be all about before he decides on the story setting. Sometimes it takes a long time to find a right setting. In case of The Buried Giant, it took some years and the book was published nine years after his previous one. He decided to place his story in King Arthur’s times. It is a fantasy with ogres, demons, dragons and real people as well. I had a problem with the story setting and this must have influenced my general impression on the book.

               Image result for the buried giantImage result for sir gawain and the green knight

The main question the book asks of us, the readers, is: are we better off to have memories of the past events buried or remembered. We all have in our lives passages that were unfortunate and even harmful or painful. Do we want to live with the memory of them?  Or do we want to forget them. It we do not look at those painful memories that touched our lives, and they must have left a mark on us, aren’t we basing our current life on something phony? 

The memory question can be directed to individuals as well as and nations.

On individual basis one can ask a question: would our love to other people survive if we remember all the wrong doings? Is true forgiveness possible if we remember past hurts? The answer given on the last page of the book is – NO. Looking at my own life and some of its hurts I would have to, with some chagrin, agree with the book view. All hurts may be forgiven, some totally and some only to a certain level. Some of them once forgiven may allow us to go back to the old relationship but some even if forgiven change the fabric of the relationship forever and the good emotions cannot be rekindled.  This is how I understand the end of the book and the main character choosing to take the last boat passage without her husband. She does it with love for him, but she decides to do it on her own.
I think that Ishiguro writes books with depressing messages. The stories make you think, and the conclusions  uncover the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

The same question of preserving memories or not applies to nations. Remembering the old harms leads to wars or prolonged partisan violence. There are too many examples of it in the recent years and in more distant history. Often, one would like to put the end to the remembrance, but in many situations, it seems impossible. So people hate each other and kill each other.

Ishiguro gives, in his interviews, example of the French history related to the World War II. Collaboration with Nazis was a hard memory to cope with. It was difficult after the war to consider France victorious remembering role of many Frenchmen being on the wrong side during the occupation of France. It was the deliberate politics of Charles de Gaulle to create propaganda focusing on heroes of anti-Hitler underground ignoring the other side of activities of the French population. This kept the spirit of the country up and helped in rebuilding the country after the war. I feel uncomfortable to quote this example as collaboration with Nazis was present in all of the occupied countries. In Poland as well. This is still being processed and often denied as the burden of such memories is too high to carry. Does the book offer a solution? No, it does not, but I do not think there is one. This is the matter of choice, strengths and courage of a person or a nation. I must admire Germans for their apology to the nations they hurt so badly. Sure, they did not have very much of an option, but still they were able to do it convincingly and with dignity.

I am sorry, that some Poles so strongly deny some events leading to loss of lives during the II World War. It did happen, but in exceptional situations and only minority of Poles were involved.  Strong denials of wrong doings make me feel very uncomfortable and ashamed.

I would say that The Buried Giant is a really good book stirring emotions and posing important existential questions.  

P.S. Writing the post and my comments about France and French resistance in the World War II, I felt uncomfortable even if I was repeating what I had heard. I know that France was criticised by some nations for not participating in the war strongly enough and early enough.  But a couple of days ago the world celebrated The Remembrance Day. This made me think that France had a very strong involvement then and paid great price losing too many of their young men. It was perhaps the country that suffered the biggest loses in this war. Some reluctance in starting another tragic chapter in the country history is fully understandable to me. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Literature Nobel Prize 2017 and The Remains of the Day

                                            Image result for literature nobel prize
Having some old sentiments for Scandinavia and feeling European I particularly respect the Nobel Prize awards. The one that commands most of my attention is the Literature Prize. There is usually some controversy regarded the Nobel Foundation choices and that how it is this year as well.

                                 Image result for the remains of the day

It has been only two or three weeks ago that the Nobel prize was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro. It was given to the person "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

Is the author worthy the honour that was bestowed on him? Apparently, he himself, at first, could not believe the news about this year’s literary verdict. It may only mean that he is a modest man. This is what I have assumed and decided to find out by myself what kind of a writer Ishiguro is. Frankly, this is the time that I heard his name for the first time. I decided it is the time to catch up and educate myself. Going through Wikipedia, I relised that I actually know and like the film based on one of his novels – The Remains of the Day. However, it did not seem like a Nobel Prize candidate or even the Man Booker Prize winner the book actually received many years ago. I knew the story pretty well, but film versions and originals very a lot, so I was happy to read the book. It is a smooth book, one could say an old-fashioned kind of a book. It could not be anything else as it is written in the first person and the narrator is a model English butler.  Very proper language without any colloquialisms and with good vocabulary the narrator is very proud of. Reading the pages, I almost heard a well measured voice of a traditionalist. A bit toffee-nosed, but in an endearing way. I like the language, even if I realise that it may be considered too proper and as such criticised as not literary enough. I read some critical comments regarding the form of Ishiguro books not being experimental enough. I am not quite sure why it has to be.

Yesterday, I heard that the film The Remains of the Day is a “girls film”. This stirred some feelings in me I did not like.  I typically respect the judgement of the person who expressed this view, so it was disturbing. For some reason a girl’s kind of film seems to me to be a put down. Maybe it is not? Maybe my sensitivity uncovers things I have not been aware of?

Having seen the film and then reading the book, I consider them both very good. I also consider the film faithful to the book story. If I remember the film correctly the emphasis on assessment of Mr. Steven’s life did not come that strongly as it is presented in the book. For me the book is all about Mr. Stevens retrospection and final realisation that his earlier values lead him to missing the point of what the life could have been.   Everything else including Miss Kenton is only necessary to make the point.

The story is about a middle age butler who realises that due to his values and upbringing, he lost the most important thing in life and this is love of a person he admired. This realisation becomes obvious as we read the book. The reader knows first what is going on in emotional lives of Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton also soon knows, but not so Mr. Stevens. When he eventually understands his emotions it is too late, all he is left only with is continued service to his American employer. The service may not be that perfect as it used to be, but the perfection is no longer required. The addition to the master and his butler relationship is bantering, something Mr. Stevens has still to learn. For him it is a big challenge but it promises possibility of adding warm accents to the life of this exceptional butler. This is very little to be content with at “the remains of the day” of Mr. Stevens. Towards the end of the book Mr. Stevens knows it as well as we, the readers, do. And this a hard thing to face up to.
                             Image result for the remains of the day
Even if the book is about an English butler and it is a good story in itself, it is also a metaphor on more than one level. What resonated with me is the issue of dedication to one’s occupation often extended to blind loyalty towards the employers. Mr. Stevens dedicated his professional life to the man whose motives and deeds he never questioned. He even derived the sense of personal dignity from serving the man who was not worthy his admiration and obedience. He did not know it at the time (or maybe did not want to know?). 

It was one time in my life when it struck me that I may be wasting my life staying in my job. I was working on my mission statement and I could not link anything worthwhile to the job I was actually in. I was working diligently and successfully at a bank. Was my mission to make the successful bank even richer? Nothing wrong with that, but definitely not enough as a life purpose. There many people who work in industries that harm societies and they do not question it as the money is good. Maybe be The Remains of the Day is a good wake up call for all of us who work diligently for our employers without questioning what is behind the scenes.

Another issue that made me ponder was the question of dignity. This is what Mr. Stevens deliberates on from the first pages of the book. His definition is never too clear and never final. It is adjusted as the journey of our hero progresses. Reading the book, I have realised that dignity is important in my life as well and that I am not clear on my definition either.

There are many definitions of dignity as we look up various dictionaries. I selected the two:
  1. Bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.
  2. Nobility or elevation of character; worthiness: dignity of sentiments 
To me  me the second point is the more relevant one, but first of all courage of living in accordance with one's convictions and values is the basis of dignity for me.

Do I agree with the Nobel Foundation verdict? Not sure yet. I am reading The Buried Giant and I am struggling with the fantasy form of the book. Not my cup of tea.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Strawberries, memories and regrets

In current times strawberries and generally berries are considered to be super food. I have been always a bit careful about what I eat and, I must confess, even worried about my health. Perhaps overly so, but with my Polish background this is normal. An average Pole is very much preoccupied with health and diet. I even heard that Poles like to be sick. Being sick gives a certain amount of self-importance and commands attention of others. But I have digressed and the simple point I am trying to make is that I eat strawberries every day as I consider them good for me. When at home, I eat Australian type of strawberries, the berries  I looked down at some years. I even did not eat them for a long time considering them inferior to the strawberries I was used to in Europe. With time my memories of old fashioned European type of strawberries faded and the Australian strawberries improved its taste and prices, so now I eat them every day with my breakfast. The strawberries here are big, read and firm. From time to time, they even have pleasant taste. They last few days in my fridge and much longer in the fridge of the local fruit market and prior to that at the growers’ fridges. I wonder how many days pass from the time the strawberries are picked to the time they land up on my plate. 

Often, the memories of old days come to me together with the memories of fragrance of old fashioned strawberries my father used to grow. He came from the family of farmers and always had a farmer sole in him even if he led an urban life of a business person. As his business became successful he was able to indulge in a hobby farm near the industries town we lived in. He started an orchard which with time became a show case for the university of agriculture. The famous professor and his students used to come and visit my father’s orchard as it was considered to be a model and example for modern cultivation of apples.  

My father was a very pragmatic person and considered a waste of opportunities to be sinful. He had this orchard and as the apple trees were taking their time to become productive he considered it a good idea to plant strawberries under the trees. As I recall, in  the first years potatoes were planted and strawberries followed as my father’s knowledge of horticulture improved. My parents had a business to run so there was little time to dedicate to the farm activities, especially that my mother did not support my father enthusiasm for growing things. I was a child of urban tastes with reading being my favourite pastime, but taken to the farm I would partake in activities of the moment. I remember one day of potato-lifting time. It was September or October and the air was cool and fresh. The hired people were working on the field and after a while of observing the activities I joined in. As I was only a child my work had to be light, but father looked very proud observing me lifting the potatoes from the black fragrant soil. I will always remember the time and the smell of the air and the soil. I enjoyed what I was doing and it gave me the feeling of accomplishment, but I did not understand then how magical the time actually was.   

In those times agriculture was based on the rhythm of the seasons. Strawberries were ready for picking late June and early July. This is the time in Europe when the school year finishes and it is time to go away for summer holiday. My family could not do it, this was the strawberry season and one had to take advantage of it. This was however only my father’s view, the rest of the family did not share his love of farming and I even felt deprived of rightful pleasures available to my school friends. 

                                   Image result for old fashioned strawberries

During the day my parents worked in their business, but come afternoon, my father sneaked out to go to his garden farm to pick a couple of baskets of strawberries for his family. He would proudly put them on the table in front of us and we would reluctantly pick at some the most beautiful strawberries I have even tasted. Only I did not know then that the fruit in front of me was so very special. I was upset that I had to stay at home when some of my friends were at the seashore. And I did not realise that my father was a very special man. The man of passion and wisdom, perseverance, courage and many talents. I did not understand so many things then... He was lonely in his passions; the family did not want to share his dreams. This must have been difficult and discouraging, but he was not to be stopped even if unappreciated by us. I am relieved to know that he was greatly appreciated by the agriculture authorities of Poland, but saddened that this is only now that realise those things.

This was the man who considered my father an authority on growing apples. This man even has a monument. How blind I was not to see my father achievements...
I know now that my father was a great role model and I must have learned from him some things by osmosis, and I am grateful to him for that.  I feel  sad, however,  that I never told him  about my respect and admiration. I understood things too late.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Books we read

                                                      Image result for rocks in the belly
I belong to a book club and, of course, I read books not of my choice. Actually, this was the whole point of joining the club. That and the possibility of discussing the books with like-minded people. But, it somehow does not work for me very well and I wonder why. I always have been individualistic and do not like to be directed in my actions. Maybe this is the reason why I look at the club books in a negative way? I think, however, that there is more to it than that. I, often, do not find the books relevant and I question the time spent on reading things I do not learn from, enjoy or even approve of. The book I am reading now is Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer. A young Australian writer and his first book. I must say that it is well written book and because it is well written its depressing impact is rather profound. Does it make the book worthwhile reading? I would say that the effect of reading the book may be even harmful for somebody of more sensitive feelings. Like me. I have been reading the book for a couple of weeks now, I could not take more than a couple of short chapters in one go. I felt dirty, sticky, ill, depressed and generally horrible. This power of the book makes it perhaps a good book. I am asking myself a question though, how relevant it is to me? What does it bring into my life in addition to depression? And I do not find a good answer. One could say that I should watch a comedy show or a film or read a funny book if I want to be entertained. But I not always want to be only entertained. I want the time I spent on reading to bring some new thoughts relevant to my life (to any life in fact), even some answers to existential questions or at least some insightful observations.

Dostoevsky is not a cheerful lecture, but I consider his books worth reading, even if one should read them with caution. My literature teacher at school was saying that two Dostoevsky's books read one after the other present a danger to one’s emotional life, more than two present a danger to the reader’s life. Jon Bauer wrote only one book so far and I think it is save to read this one book, but I wonder why I should put myself through the process of reading it. I think, I got the message the author wanted to pass. People are cruel, parents can profoundly hurt their children psyche, bad is inherent to our nature, what you soak in at your early years will show up in your later life, cancer is a very cruel illness, sex is good to get you out of the dumps, if only for a short moment, we’ll all die at the end.  This is what I got out from the book, this and a very unpleasant sticky feeling. This is a very brutal book in my opinion.

The life truths the book reveals have been known to me for a while, I find them pretty obvious and not particularly worth spending hours on reading the book and pondering on the intended messages.
One observation, however, caught my attention and this is the uncertainty of what we actually experience versus what belongs only to our feelings, predispositions and imagination. The hero, who is unnamed in the book, wonders if the drama created in his life was a result of actual neglect by his mother or his own blinding jealousy of her feelings towards foster children who lived with the family. Reflecting on it, I am not sure myself what the deciding factor was, because both aspects were there.  The mother was not attuned sufficiently to her son feelings and sometimes behaved in the way I would consider neglectful or even cruel. On the other hand, the eight-year-old boy was predisposed to see live as negative and scary. However, a loving, careful mother should have seen his sensitivities and act with more care. 

I am glad that I am trough with the book and I will try not to be too critical of the book choice in the forthcoming book club meeting. Especially, that the situation will change and soon the members of the group will be picking themselves the books to read.

I find The Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara by far the best book I have read the last year, but this is not the book I will be recommending for the group. My three candidates are Pamuk’s The Red-Haired Woman, Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and the new Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. I started reading the last book only today, but I know and love the film made based on the novel. So, I have high hopes I will love the book as well.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

I am back at home

So, I am back in Sydney! I must say that I was not much looking forward to my Sydney day to day life. I was enchanted by European type of attractions and the time spend with my friends and family. I must say that my place in Poland is more attractive and comfortable than my Sydney equivalent. It is also much cheaper to live there and the shopping is really good. Not to mention the time spent with my dear friends playing canasta and chatting about nothing and everything. Going out was also a strong point of the holiday. It is good in a way that I am not tempted by Aussie cakes. I do not feel that I want to go for coffee at all. And this is one of the positive things I find about my life here. Poland is a carbohydrate country and this needs to be controlled by a strong will. Unfortunately, I did not do too well in this department and now there will be a bit of work to get back to healthier look and diet.

                                        Image result for historical gdansk

After one week, I am happy to realise that my feelings towards Australia returned to normal and that I still call Australia home. It feels nice, safe and comfortable. Like an old slipper as per Polish saying. I am not sure if it is used in English as well. Maybe there are no great cathedrals, maybe there are not that many parks and greenery around, maybe there are no rolling hills, birches, lilacs, chestnuts, maybe women are more casually dressed but there is something in the air that makes me feel like breathing lighter and the sky above has been so blue as I had not seen for four months.

                                 Image result for australian sky

I am happy to be in my home number ONE and plan my next trip in few months’ time to my second more complex, charming home.   Looks like I am a lucky girl.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Double Lover

I have not written a film review for some time. Being in Poland during summer holidays meant that I have been here when movie premiers were stopped. This has now finished and on Monday the new school year starts and new movies enter the cinemas. Since my Polish stay is coming to an end I have the feeling similar to being in a departure lounge. I need to pack my suitcases, do some final shopping, organise and tidy up the apartment for the next few months and nothing more. There is time to spend.

There were a couple of new films on and I decided to see one of them.  It was either The Double Lover or The Beguiled. Both of them by famous directors Francois Ozon and Sofia Coppola. The Double Lover was nominated for a Palme d’Or in Cannes this year and I have seen two films by the director The Swimming Pool and Frantz. They were both a little ambiguous, moody films so I thought that this may be more my cup of tea than The Beguiled as I could guess some unsavory scenes in this film watching the trailer.

So, I went. I expected a psychological thriller. The starting shot was rather shocking and I will not go into details of it (too demure or prude for that), but aesthetics was rather pleasing, so I accepted it even if I raised my eye brows in surprise. The film intended to stir the audience and it did, but except for that did not present much more, at least not to me. The sex scenes were back to back, and this would not bother me if there was more of a point to it.

There are elements of psychology as the heroine has some problems related to cannibal twin syndrome blocking her emotional life. She goes to a psychiatrist and then promptly seduces him and turns him (or he turns her) into a lover. And so, it goes. It gets stranger and stranger and eventually the climax of the film indicates that her blockage has been removed. Hmm…

                                       Image result for double lover

The actress is very beautiful and it has been a pleasure to watch her as one watches a flower, able to see just the shape of it, but not much behind that. And there are a lot of other flowers in the film, mainly orchids. I wonder what the film director wanted to draw our attention to.

To me it was a fluff which brought an unpleasant feeling of stomach queasiness. I would not recommend the film, but I suspect that what I have written may entice some to see it anyhow or maybe because of what I have written.  Such is human nature.

                                         Image result for subconscious      

I thought more about the film or maybe my subconscious ­čśĽworked over the night giving me in the morning a new perspective to the film. On reflection, the presented story is filmed cleverly, maybe even very cleverly. Subconscious plays very important role in the film and it all makes perfect sense when one thinks about it and synthesise the story a bit. It is actually all very logical when one reflects on it and recalls the scenes. Some of the film presents “real life”, some subconscious of the girl and some her sexual fantasies.  Very clever indeed. Yes, there are many sex scenes, but the film is French, so what would you expect. Apparently in France the classification of the film is for “Over 12 years old”.

Since I am not really a prude, my uneasy feeling in the stomach must have come from this cake I had had before I saw the movie.

I guess that my comments made the film a “must see” proposition.  ­čśĆ