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Boudu (North Wales)

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Nana (Classics)
Nana (Classics)
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Venus in the gutter, 22 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Nana (Classics) (Kindle Edition)
An interesting read, Nana is about a female protagonist, who embodies a wider social malaise & a society on the cusp of historical crisis.

The novel charts Nana's rise as an actress without any talent but whose sheer sex appeal ensures her success, her fall & subsequent triumph as she manipulates one of the men obsessed with her to regain prominence and settle scores (two empires between a fall). Nana is presented as a force of nature whose rapacity devours men and money. She seems contemporary in her excess & consumption yet curiously dissatisfied as she seeks constant excitement. She is amoral especially in her treatment of Count Muffat, her most devoted admirer, and ironically her two most passionate relationships are with a man & a woman just as amoral as her.

Yet as someone mentioned on imdb re: the 1968 BBC version (not available, unfortunately), it is about men being destroyed by their indulgences. I think it's wrong to view Nana as just as a femme fatale, absolving the men in the story of any responsibility for their actions. The men represent the establishment & all its hypocrisies. The ruling elite are presented as bankrupt, literally (the deliciously decadent Vandeuvres) & in terms of morals. The Marquis Chouard is an old man who frequents sleazy haunts & then rails against failing morals, another theme of the book is sexual & social hypocrisy (as reflected in Ch. 11 at the horse races where the courtesans gather but are barred from one area of the track reserved for respectable society women).

Yet, ironically, the aristocratic & world of the demimonde are in constant collision (at the theatre & backstage, the race track, brothels & places of disrepute, in the country as rich men bought their mistresses homes there) & perhaps reflect each other: one appears respectable but where the men talk about midnight assignations & undress society women with their eyes - and in the end, the sensuality that Nana represents worms its way into the very foundations of the most aristocratic of salons, even though she is barred from entry herself.

The Marquis Chouard is the father-in-law of Comte (Count) Muffat. The novel doesn't contain a great deal of plot in my opinion & is more of a character study/fable of a woman's rise and fall, but Count Muffat's infatuation & romantic obsession provide the motor of the novel as Zola focusses on a man of dogmatic Catholic faith who cannot resist temptation. Nana undermines the elite at all levels: business (Steiner), the arts (Fauchery), the Army (Philippe Hugon), government, aristocracy & religion (Muffat). All prove rotten. Reason & faith prove no defence against instinct & the body. However, the forces of reaction hover in the background in the much ridiculed figure of the Count Muffat's frigid daughter, Estelle, waiting to reassert themselves.

It's strange to think that Zola was supposedly a failed dramatist because he is adept in dialogue and creating great scenes such as the one in chapter 10 where Nana & her lesbian lover, Satin, another victim/hardened survivor of the Paris slums, rail against the aristocratic men sitting at table with them, the ultimate irony is that the two ladies are intent on spending the night together. As Nana says, 'You ought to have been there to feed us, dear' when they needed bread as hungry children, chastising the men who now lavish her with jewels she momentarily desires but then casts aside later disinterestedly.

It's cleverly structured, the first chapter & the last correspond, chapter 3 & chapter 12 (set in the Countess Muffat's residence), the first half about Nana’s rise & fall, the 2nd about her triumph. It's filled with memorable secondary characters, like Nana's faithful maid, Zoe, who is working her own angle; and the corrupt Vandeuvres, who appears only too self-aware that he is on the verge of self-destruction in a way that so many of the other characters fail to realise as the Second Empire heads towards to defeat against Prussia.

I gave the book 4-stars because I wondered if the subject matter merited such length (450 pages), few of the characters are likeable or empathetic. Chekhov wrote a short story called 'Ariadne' (1895) which covers similar themes, a predatory woman & an obsessed man, which is ultimately a plea for female equality & education for women. Zola's novel is more than entertaining, much more salacious & explicit & not without moments of comedy (farce), but Chekhov's story is just as poignant in its depiction of a (hopelessly idealistic) man in love with a manipulative, shallow woman & he is able to recreate distinct worlds & personalities (& attitudes to life) in a matter of twenty pages.

Dawes Mojave Gents 21 Inch Hybrid Bike
Dawes Mojave Gents 21 Inch Hybrid Bike

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing purchase, 1 July 2015
I've only had this bicycle (new) since late April but it has been a massive disappointment in terms of quality. I expected so much more for the best part of £400. Cycle mechanics have told me 'what do you expect for that money'?, forgetting that most people can't go out and buy a bicycle costing thousands.

Firstly, the bicycle is factory made and clearly there is no quality testing at Dawes. Matters were made worse by the cycle shop not setting the bicycle up properly. So far, since I bought the cycle, I have had problems with a cranking noise when I pedalled due to the drive chain not being properly set up; the rear brake pad set too close to the wheel so that it left a mark against the rim; the Schwalbe tyres (Road Cruiser) are a disappointment, compared to the magnificently durable Marathon Plus edition; the rear wheel was not true; in other words, a litany of problems and they are continuing.

So, to sum up, I doubt I'll ever buy a Dawes item again, the warranty isn't worth the paper it is written on. The frame may be guaranteed but not the inferior parts used to build the bike and on which you are dependent. I think the only time I'd buy a Dawes bicycle is if I got a mechanic to assemble it properly for me.

I was restricted to a certain budget but I'd shop around if I was you. I'm sure there are better bikes within the budget range, though obviously you do get what you pay for.

Shame [DVD]
Shame [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Fassbender
Price: £5.00

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A film about emotional voids, 14 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Shame [DVD] (DVD)
* Contains possible spoilers

Well, I finally got round to seeing this film. It didn't get a release at my multiplex in the sticks and the local library didn't have the DVD despite saying it was in stock. Maybe the theme & story about a sex addict and his equally dysfunctional sister deemed this film 'too disturbing'. This is ironic because the film is far from titillating despite the subject matter.

I enjoyed the film. For a film about sex addiction, the truth, as said by many others, is that it isn't very arousing. Instead, the sex is cold, unemotional. Something has happened to Brandon & his sister, Sissy, it is briefly alluded to in a phone message when Sissy tells her brother, 'we aren't bad people, we just come from a bad place.' A brother & sister, the film began to remind me of 'Festen', what happens to the siblings there, & Henry James' 'Turn of the Screw.'

The film is about a man in constant motion, sex/on the subway/work/jogging, his constant preoccupation with sex (masturbation, pornography, random pick-ups in a bar & consorting with prostitutes) seems like an escape. From what? Himself? His past? Reality? The film is about Brandon's emotional repression and vulnerability as well as his relationship with his fragile unstable sister. Brandon is restless. Why? Perhaps because he is afraid to think, which might meaning confronting himself & some unrevealed deep psychological hurt. And so, instead, he exists in some private hell.

Matters are complicated by the arrival of his sister. Every time, Sissy tries to get close, even climbing into Brandon's bed, possibly to seek comfort & protection, he reacts with aggression and pushes her away. Ironically, when he shouts at her to think, as he watches a cartoon (a reflection of his distorted life, love & sex) he provokes the final dramatic conclusion and it's a credit to Steve McQueen that we do (well, I did) care for these two apparently mal-adjusted individuals, one a sex-addict, the other, an unstable young woman.

How should we judge Brandon? Well, I don't think the director necessarily does. In fact, I felt more sympathetic towards Brandon, though this is a man who uses prostitutes, than his unfaithful boss & his double standards. In his emotional dark authenticity, Brandon is like a self portrait by Egon Schiele: unflattering but truthful.

Brandon, played by the gifted Michael Fassbender, does try to form a 'normal' relationship, with moments of comedy (his conversational-killing line dismissing marriage in the restaurant) & ironically, this attempt is doomed as he goes through the motions as if trying to convince himself and suffers an emotional block.

He finally endures a dark night of the soul, this is sex as some kind of purge. I liked the ending, with the girl on the subway train, seen at the beginning. I read an interesting interview with the actress, who makes a great impact with such a short role, that the young woman, too, has been on some kind of journey. Initially scared, she now seems ready for Brandon's attentions, his hunger, (as if a play on Steve McQueen's first film). But the ending is ambiguous. Is Brandon ready for an adult relationship where he will be left vulnerable? Is it just going to be another fling that goes nowhere? Is he indifferent?

I don't know, except I like McQueen's work.

American Dervish
American Dervish
by Ayad Akhtar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Oneness of All, 17 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: American Dervish (Paperback)
I originally came to Akhtar's novel because of similarities I read in one review to LP Hartley's `The Go-Between' & certainly Hayat, the ten year old lead protagonist, does commit an act which has far-reaching consequences in the way that he does not intend. `The Go-Between' was about class/social barriers in 1900 England. `American Dervish' is about perhaps an even more incendiary issue, that of religion & cross-cultural relationships, in early 1980s middle America.

The very personal story in the novel can almost be seen as representative, as pointed out in earlier perceptive reviews, of the complex, long-standing relationship between Islam & Judaism, connected by history and sharing so much in common (prophets), but soured by recent grievances over territorial issues.

With regards to the novel itself, it is a page-turner, full of deft characterisation, the dialogue capturing a range of voices, from those of a vibrant, soulful woman, Mina, to those of children, the curious Hayat & the more innocent Imran, as well as the unctuous members of the local Muslim community in Milwaukee. The book itself is more cinematic in tone than literary, and would probably lend itself to adaptation quite easily though this is not to devalue its emotional power and the complexity of Mina's very personal interpretation of Islam.

The novel is filled with several dramatic confrontations, indicative of Ayad Ahktar's background as an actor/playwright, and I felt it did occasionally lurch towards melodrama. Having read a piece on Ahktar & his work, his acclaimed play `Disgraced', he is conscious of his audience & I found `American Dervish' poignant at times, some scenes emotionally intense(the parting between the Shahs & Mina, the scene in the hospital), if a little manipulative. But they worked because they pulled my heartstrings.

The novel itself is in the tradition of a Bildungsroman, the coming of age story of ten year old Hayat, as he comes to terms with Islam and a multiple identity as a Pakistani-American, the secular & the religious. Through Hayat, the first person narrator, we explore the transforming quality of religion, but also its more negative side, about how it can indoctrinate an impressionable young mind. `Allah's light' eventually guides Hayat to a very different revelation, an insight into the human heart & a journey - foreshadowed by his own `night journey'/dream in hospital - from a willing, often literal acceptance of things (hellfire, anti-semitism) to a new scepticism.

`American Dervish' is very much about the push-pull dynamic & tension characters experience as a consequence of a dual identity and the hope embodied by Hayat & his inter-faith relationship at the end of the novel is counterbalanced by the tragedy that ultimately leads to the physical and mental disintegration of his beloved Aunt Mina in the novel. The charismatic Mina, who has sought sanctuary in the US with her son after getting divorced in Pakistan, transforms an unhappy household, bringing light & love, and falls in love with Nathan, a Jewish colleague of Hayat's father. Already febrile, this mix is intensified by Hayat's infatuation for his Aunt and his jealousy of her new found happiness. He is a young boy conscious of feelings that he does not understand.

The novel casts a critical eye over Islam in America, of the religious intolerance and hypocrisies practiced by the local Muslim community in Milwaukee, such as the dark satire on Imam Souhef's rather bizarre sermon (showing how even the most tenuous of links can be used as a vehicle to peddle hatred, an interesting philosophical premise simply winds up as pandering to the lowest common denominator, anti-Semitism), the shared complicities, even by wives, but the book should not be seen as a diatribe against Islam. Rather, I see Akhtar's portrayal of Hayat's beloved Aunt as representing Islam in a positive light & that under fairer, less patriarchal circumstances, such a woman possessed the intelligence to become a maulavi herself (imam). The independent Mina practices `ijtihad', a personal interpretation of Islam, humane & compassionate. Dragged down by fate & circumstance, she ultimately becomes the eponymous 'American Dervish', whose suffering and pain brings her closer to Allah - and where it should be perhaps remembered that `sufism' (mysticism) emerged as a reaction to the more austere teaching of Islam.

I did like the characterisation of Hayat's parents, Naveed & Muneer, their volatile relationship, and Muneer's bitterness towards her husband's drinking & womanising, though she ultimately realises that their marriage is one of equals and a proper marriage in name rather than the virtual act of self-sacrifice made by Mina. Though their marriage, too, is a comment that same-faith marriages contain the same inherent problems as any marriage: the need to communicate; and ironically, Mina & Nathan are perhaps more emotionally compatible than Hayat's parents despite their cultural differences.

I did like the easy-going, irreligious Naveed though, perhaps the other extreme of Muslim experience in America (he is aloof from the community, preferring a Western lifestyle), and, ironically, his rare acts of intolerance are usually directed towards Islam/fellow Muslims and one in particular, an ironic reversal of the Rushdie affair.

Browsing other reviews, on the both UK & US amazon pages, I did feel some of the criticism about the authenticity of the characters and situations perhaps had a ring of truth. The ill-fated lovers from warring faiths, Hayat's later relationship with Rachel are perhaps more wish-fulfillments & the well-intentioned hopes of an author trying to posit a solution - the need for more tolerance & understanding of people of different backgrounds through the personal. Upon reflection, I really do wonder how likely, or how possible this is in a world where people do categorise/compartmentalise one another and frequently lead separate lives side by side.

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Clothbound Classics)
The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Clothbound Classics)
by Alexandre Dumas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic story with flaws, 20 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The first three hundred pages of `The Count of Monte Cristo' are gripping, the story of an innocent man condemned, by a combination of accident & design, but who receives salvation at his moment of despair. The remainder of the novel is much more slow-burning as the Count engineers an introduction into Parisian society to exploit the weaknesses and dark secrets of his enemies: corruption, sexual misconduct & scandal.

'The Count of Monte Cristo' is a picaresque novel with a dramatic plot. But the novel, for me, appears to sacrifice character and depth for the exigencies of plot, and subplots, such as Maximilien & Valentine's thwarted romance & the serial poisoner, affect the overall pace of the novel and are both clunky and melodramatic.

There are glimpses of real style, such as the wonderful description towards the end of the evening sun reflected in the bosom of the waves. Despite the novel's length, there is a great deal of dialogue, revealing Dumas' theatrical background and his obvious talent at writing speech & conveying characters. There are some great secondary characters such as the wheel-chair ridden Noirtier; the passionate Mme Danglars, a proto-type for Madame Bovary; her daughter, Eugenie, unloved by her parents & treated as a commodity by her father, artistic and independent & clearly lesbian; and Abbe Faria, who gives Edmond Dantes the secret to a hidden treasure but also gives him another kind of treasure, knowledge.

A missed opportunity
But I did feel the novel missed a great opportunity by not having the Count confront one of his enemies, de Villefort in particular, the figure of absolute justice, who condemns Dantes through a combination of accident & design. I felt short-changed, in a novel that depicts fashionable society's obsession with wealth, that the most selfish & boorish villain, Danglars, is shown mercy. From what I remember of `Les Miserables', there is a more spiritual dimension to the novel with Valjean & Javert having a final confrontation during the Paris revolt that changes the dynamic of their relationship. De Villefort is the Count's intellectual equal, (the chapter Ideology) and it would have been interesting to see the Chief Prosecutor show genuine remorse or learn of a law that tempers justice with mercy (de Villefort's guilt & conscience are hinted in the beginning of the novel before he allows ambition and selfish motives to condemn an innocent man). It could have been interesting to see de Villefort challenge the Count about the morality of revenge. In the hands of a novelist, like Dostoevsky, this could have been fertile territory.

Warning: Spoiler alert
The novel is about Dantes' loss of liberty & revenge, but as the novel reached its climax, I felt that Mercedes, his lost love, was just as great a victim. In her own way, Mercedes `betrays' Edmond. She momentarily falters, failing to `wait' & `hope' so that she marries Fernand. But Mercedes remained loyal to Dantes' memory, like Penelope, yet ultimately she is the one who loses everything: her son, her husband & her fashionable Parisian life. I also felt she lost the one thing that she had cherished from her past life, the memory of her lost love, which becomes tarnished when she realises that the man she had mourned for is also the man determined to kill her son. For me, the scene where Mercedes intercedes with the Count on behalf of her son was one of the most moving in the book, Shakespearean in tone, like Volumnia with Coriolanus. I thought the final parting between the Count & Mercedes left much unsaid and unresolved as in life, a greater distance now existing between them, than it ever did when Edmond sailed the seas and Mercedes stood waiting for him in Marseille. I found it poignant as Mercedes stood watching her son's ship leave for Algeria, the past & the present blurred as she utters Edmond's name. I feel Mercedes is the one left bereft in the end, whereas the Count is offered a second possibility of happiness with Haydee and some form redemption by saving Valentine.

I imagined Mercedes, the Countess de Morcerf, as Goya's portrait of Dona Zarate.

The Count
I found it interesting how the Count begins to question his own actions, the moral dilemma about revenge and how it harmed the innocent as the guilty. Did so many have to die in the serial murder plot? That seemed more grand guignol than a calculated revenge. I would have liked to have seen more of the Count's dark, brooding personality as revealed in the chapters in Rome, the execution and the discussion about the nature of revenge & punishment. I did enjoy how the Count sets himself up as Providence with the power of life & death over others, but how this sense of power corrupts him. It was interesting to read a review on here that describes the Count as the actual villain of the novel, an alternative take on his character.

There was much that I enjoyed about the book: the first 300 pages; Franz travelling to meet the Count on his `magical' island and his hallucinogenic fantasy; the scenes where the Count discovers the treasure; how the Count sets up Caderousse, another of his `enemies', the man who stood by and did nothing whilst Dantes was implicated in a Napoleonic plot; the judicial investigation and Haydee's dramatic entrance; the comic scene about the telegraph receiver sending the wrong information (echoing `Trading Places', with the Dukes the son & heirs of Danglars & the misinformation they are given).

Read the novel before seeing a dramatised version
I am glad that I read the novel before seeing any film adaptation. I've been quite taken aback at how the 2002 film version played fast & loose with the text, probably attempting to capture Dumas's spirit, but ending with a duel, which does not happen in the novel. Similarly, I caught the ending of the Depardieu version (1998). It seemed to capture the authenticity of the period, but the ending left me thinking that I was glad that I read the book for myself.

Shadow Dancer [DVD] [2012]
Shadow Dancer [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Clive Owen
Offered by Door2DoorEnt
Price: £3.54

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing thriller, 6 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Shadow Dancer [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
I haven't read the source book, but the film reminded me of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' which I enjoyed, as it is also about the search for an informer. The film begins with Colette McVeigh, a young mother, intercepted in London after she plants a bomb & the complex relationship that grows between her and her MI5 handler, Mac, who allows emotions to cloud his judgement. I could believe in the complexity of their relationship and I thought the ending of the film, honest & unsentimental.

The film is about mothers & sacrifice, the clash between the loyalty to your family & the loyalty to a cause/a group, the IRA another type of enclosed family (the personal & political); surveillance & paranoia; how a (terrorist) war is not just about acts of violence but is, in fact, about information, infiltrating the enemy or rooting out informers (like Ben MacIntyre's work on spies in the Second World War). I may be mistaken but I gather the IRA's effectiveness had been reduced due to British counter-intelligence's success in infiltrating their organisation.

I thought the film was interesting in showing the similarities between the IRA & MI5: both secretive organisations, one using safe houses/the other hotels, run with military precision (McMullen is the mirror image of Mac) but how even its participants are often kept out of the loop & are pawns in a greater game (Mac the MI5 handler, Colette). Everyone is playing a different angle.

'Shadow Dancer' is filmed through the prisms of grey with Colette (Riseborough in a quiet understated role befitting of a woman who must always be on her guard) wearing a red jacket, the exterior symbol of her guilt/confusion & as a constant target. I particularly liked the chaotic scene at the funeral, where the women stand against a house frightened, confused by the disturbance and the late scene where Colette's mother slowly buttons up her coat and waits. Wars are not just about soldiers, but about mothers & families too, the impact on them, as the opening scene, set in 1973, shows.

I also liked how certain situations mirror/echo others: Colette attended the funeral of an employer whose murder she participated in & the funeral of Brendan O'Shea. Colette is a mother who informs out of love for her son, Mark. And likewise this is echoed in the film.

To sum up, an engrossing thriller with good twists and a satisfying ending. I did struggle with the sound/voices, less the Belfast accents in general but the lack of clarity on occasions. I thought Clive Owen & Andrea Riseborough were excellent in the lead roles and the supporting roles were well played, too, particularly the exterminating angel figure that is McMullen, Colette's brothers and her mother (Brid Brennan). A word of praise, too, for the score, orchestrated by Dickon Hinchliffe of the Tindersticks.

The Death Of Mr Lazarescu [2005] [DVD]
The Death Of Mr Lazarescu [2005] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Cristi Puiu
Offered by Replay-International
Price: £16.97

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where's the accused?, 26 July 2011
I found 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu' difficult viewing at first, not for its subject matter, but its pace (slow) before it grips your interest. It is a real slow-burner of a film.

I'm surprised that nobody so far has picked up the analogy to Dante Alighieri's 'Divine Comedy', the circles of hell becoming the nightmare world of bureaucracy in modern life (disclaimers, stamping documentation) as Mr Lazarescu is driven around Bucharest in his surreal night journey. Mr Lazarescu's first name (Dante), his brother-in-law (Virgil) and, at the end of the film, as a comatose Mr Lazarescu lies awaiting his operation from which perhaps he will never awake, he is sent to a doctor (Anghel) and another medical colleague, Virgil. It may be pushing the correspondences, but the female paramedic who accompanies him becomes his 'Beatrice' (guide) as they navigate the harassed, overworked world of social care beset by bureaucracy and indifference. I think one reviewer correctly said that this film isn't just about social care in Romania, but about hospitals everywhere.

The film does possess some grim, black humour as poor Mr Lazarescu is carted from one hospital to another (and different departments) with his condition rapidly deteriorating. Nobody ever seems to know what is wrong with him as he encounters different medical staff who are either rude, coldly efficient (illness is their business) or bored indifference. Mr Lazarescu thinks it could be his stomach; one doctor thinks it's his liver; another specialist identifies a blood clot on his brain. As a patient, Mr Lazarescu represents us, the everyman, and he is presented as confused and rude, as anyone would be who suddenly experiences the disorienting effects of illness, but he is also allowed moments of dignity (his concern for his cats, he apologises to Mioara the paramedic for causing her trouble and asks about her family background - simple moments of human connection, understated but made all the more powerful because Dante Lazaresu is a widower with a daughter living abroad in Toronto). One doctor brutally tells Dante that he has problems alright,but 'in his head'. Mr Lazarescu receives 'care', but nobody ever asks why he drinks and it becomes clear to the viewer that he has never quite got over his wife's death and his life has fallen apart. Well, that is my 'emotional diagnosis'.

Often I found the apparently mundane scenes happening in the background illuminated the main story. In one hospital, a wife receives healthcare accompanied by a supportive husband (their fortieth wedding anniversary). In another, Mariana & Mioara talk about marriage. We are subtly reminded of Mr Lazarescu's late wife and that his physical disintegration has been preceded by an emotional one.

The film is also about the paramedic as she struggles to get Mr Lazarescu to receive treament. She almost becomes a surrogate wife, helping him change clothes, chiding & comforting him. She and Mr Lazarescu are the emotional heart of the film. I particularly enjoyed, if that is the right word, the scenes in the Filaret hospital where she encounters two very stroppy doctors who do not take kindly to her comments for them to act (they argue over the scan results) and spend more time arguing with Mioara the paramedic whilst the patient slips into a coma. That is where the film reaches black comedy, particularly over the 'disclaimer' venturing into Catch-22 territory.

I thought the final scenes moving as Mr Lazarescu perhaps receives the final dignified moments denied to him in the film as he is shaved and washed by a nurse. There is little dialogue, just a final ablution of a dying old man. Naked and shaved, Dante reminds us of a new-born baby, helpless.

The film is also about how life & death are entwined. As Dante Lararescu receives treatment or should that be 'endures', medical staff exchange banter on married life such as Mioara with Mariana, a colleague at the University Hospital; the doctor who needs a Nokia mobile to get in touch with his wife. Life still carries on around Dante as he is slips out of this world such as the neurologist who flirts with a fellow colleague and then tells a brazen lie to do her a favour regarding Dante's treatment.

If this film makes us uncomfortable, then perhaps it is because it is a much more truthful depiction of what it is to be ill in the modern world. The particular locale of Romania adds another dimension (hints of bribery), but this film is a necessary antidote to a many of the films/television about social care (exaggerated soap operas) as well as a film about life & mortality as happens to one lonely old man, who represents us in all our shared vulnerability.

The Taxi Queue
The Taxi Queue
by Janet Davey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truth is a feather, 17 Mar. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Taxi Queue (Paperback)
A deceptively subtle novel which refrains from plot developments and appears sometimes to be a still life of still lives. Its style a combination of the mundane (middle class preoccupations) and deeply human. The one-night stand between a married husband and a relatively care-free young man reverberates because of the past. The novel is about emotional authenticity in that Richard, the married man in his early forties, has not truly lived or experienced love since an earlier gay relationship as a young man. He briefly searches for Abe but instead follows a false lead, perhaps a metaphor for the way our lives fall out of step with our true natures. Davey does not describe her character's minds, her writing is much more carefully nuanced than that; a situation, an action, even an object worn (sun-glasses with Platonic hints) carry metaphorical undertones, suggestive of deeper meanings.

The novel broadens out to convey the lives of those people around Richard & Abe, Richard's wife Vivienne, a dutiful mother & daughter, and Abe's younger sister, Kirsty, who is experiencing, like Richard as a young man, a period of moody introspection. A recent graduate, she is between jobs, living in a 'half-way house' with her brother occupying the upper floor whilst she inhabits the lower, discovering that life is very much about 'muddling through (or hanging in there as Gloria, Kirsty's mother, has done). This short, but allusive, novel is also about communication or rather the absence & lack of it between the various characters. Like a piece of music (Abe mentions he likes Baroque), there are also recurrent similarities/echoes between characters, especially the restlessness of Richard & Kirsty. Happiness becomes a by-product of doing other things: listening to music, just enjoying life as it happens or family life.

Bubbling in the background, the novel pokes gentle fun at a prayer group and esoteric New Age religion, but with a serious point. Kirsty must work through her funk/disappointment to appreciate her boyfriend, Luka, with whom she has a distant relationship. Richard's life resumes its equilibrium too, but for the characters emotional authencity has to come from within themselves.

The characters were interesting, especially Richard & Kirsty, as well as Vivienne, Richard's wife, who senses that her husband is unhappy and becomes suspicious, though wholly ignorant of the real reason, so that ironically, Abe, whom she contacts via a New Age card (with a feather symbolising truth) is the one who is able to deflect her anxieties with an impromptu explanation.

My main criticism of the novel is that the character of Abe is sketchily drawn though, unlike Richard, he is comfortable in his sexuality but restless in terms of career. I didn't warm to Abe, perhaps he came across as too carefree and a little selfish, little realising the dramatic effect his one-night stand had had on the older man. It may be that, this being such an intelligent novel, Abe is simply a force of nature, breezing into another person's life and leaving it disoriented. Our real empathy lies with the other characters.

Man Push Cart [2005] [DVD]
Man Push Cart [2005] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ramin Bahrani

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The myth of Sisyphus, 4 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Man Push Cart [2005] [DVD] (DVD)
A naturalistic film with echoes of `The Bicycle Thieves', 'Man Push Cart' is the story of a man who has even the very little he possesses (his son, coffee stall, brief glimpses of happiness) taken away from him. It is the story of Ahmad and his struggle to survive in New York after a personal tragedy & loss. The sparse, well-written screenplay reveals information as the story unfolds.

We discover that Ahmad was a famous musician in Pakistan, but is now forced to earn his living serving coffee to New Yorkers. The coffee stall becomes Ahmad's small enclosed world from which we view the urban landscape of New York through his eyes.

Possibilities such as the resumption of his music career (he begins to listen to his old tapes again and even attempt new songs) & the tentative relationship with a young girl, Noemi, from Barcelona offer brief glimmers of hope before these are extinguished and Ahmad is let down.

In the final Act, the director makes you, the viewer, endure Ahmad's desperation as he even loses the very little that he possessed. It is a story about perseverance, endurance and perhaps ends on a small note of hope in that Ahmad pushes a cart together with another man, Altaf.

I thought `Man Push Cart', an honest, truthful film which will not to be for all tastes (coffee tastes bitter, no saccharine-sugar in this film). Yes, not a lot `happens' in terms of plot, but it happens in particular to one man; it is essentially a character study about a man who must struggle against his fate & emotional circumstances. The lead actor plays his role excellently, especially when one considers he is not a professional actor.

Forty Shades of Blue [2004] [DVD]
Forty Shades of Blue [2004] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Dina Korzun
Price: £6.67

5.0 out of 5 stars All tangled up in blue, 4 Feb. 2010
Set in Memphis, where the worlds of black & white music meet, `Forty Shades...' is about a complicated love triangle , family estrangement (between a father & a son from an earlier marriage), resentment, renunciation as well as a desire not to repeat the past.

The film is framed by three social gatherings that feature each of the three main characters in a drunken, unhappy state. It begins with Alan (Rip Torn), a famous musician, feted by his peers and with a much younger trophy Russian girlfriend, Laura (Dina Korzun). Into this mix, returns Michael (Darren Burrows), a son from Alan's previous marriage, an aspiring writer who has just split up from his girlfriend.

Laura is lonely (she gets drunk at the first gathering) whilst Alan is selfish & unfaithful. Gradually, Laura and Michael are inevitably drawn to each other after she reads some of Michael's work. Michael, in turn, wonders how Laura can tolerate life with his selfish father; Laura answers that `she just keeps going' and this line later reverberates (like a chord) at the end of the film.

A subtle, well-structured and moving film about relationships, it reminded me of classics like `Five Easy Pieces', mood pieces about family relationships and individuals; `Forty Shades' is a poignant film without being sentimental, more emotionally truthful about life than your average film by refusing to tie-up things into a neatly packaged resolution. Like a powerful short story, you know the lives of the characters and the relationships between them have changed irrevocably, and like a good story, you also wonder what will happen to these characters after the film has ended.

*The film is apparently based on Satyajit Ray's 'Charulata', itself inspired by a story by Tagore.

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