The Channel Four strand ‘Walter Presents…’ is a fantastic way of discovering television from across the world. I loved this hard- hitting drama from Iceland even though the subject matter under discussion by the detectives was grim.
A teenage girl is found hanging in the theatre in Reykjavik in what is an apparent suicide. This is the start of a stream of events that unravel showing how vulnerable young women are treated by disreputable men.
At the heart of it is Gabriela, a determined detective who investigates the case while lawyers acting on child protection cases also take an interest. Also involved is a chaotic, alcoholic lawyer called Logi. What starts as a police procedural soon becomes something more complex as lawyers, family and police all try to sort out what led to a promising ballerina killing herself on stage.
In the course of the series, it becomes clear that polite society in Iceland isn’t! The central plot is hard to see at first since there are blind alleys involving the ballet company’s bullying ballet master, the youth worker with an unhealthy interest in his charges, and the use of websites to humiliate and expose.
Complexity makes the series worth watching. The first two episodes seem to head in one direction only for the third episode to open up a new route. It is worth pursuing to the end. ‘Case’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
For most of my adult life I have been an Americanophile (if such a word exists). I dreamed of visiting. Obviously, growing up in the 60s and 70s much of my cultural background is American- the blog entries here show that! I finally made the journey there in the 90s, when I could afford to fly. I have been back many times since! San Francisco, Boston and Chicago all vie for status as my favourite city.
So what changed? First, the referendum in June 2016 showed me that my own country is divided. I am part of the 48% (this would be the near- half of the voting public discounted by the British Prime Minister as she tries to make Brexit work) and I am part of the majority (?) of people from around the world stunned by Trump’s victory in the USA. I have read acres of journalism on how we got to this point. I am tired of reading about ‘uniting’ as if the diverse views of broken Britain can be reconciled. Instead, I am finding my own way of coping with the current situation.
One of the slogans used by the Leave camp in the referendum was ‘Out and Into the World’. Given that many of the Leave voters were Little Englanders, I cannot believe they actually subscribed to this view but I accept the ‘Into the World’ part of that slogan.
I have decided I need to explore film from the wider world and read more books from, or about, other cultures. My gesture to the Brexiteers is to ensure I read more from Europe and see more European films. My gesture to the USA is to reduce its influence in my cultural life: fewer books from the States; fewer American films. In fact, the wider I spread the net, the better. We could all do with more of the world and less of America.
Others may think my gestures are futile. I will feel better.
This 1963 book by Anne Holm is a classic. It tells the story of a young boy who escapes from a concentration camp in an unnamed country, but probably in the East of Europe, and makes the journey towards Denmark and home.
The book has an enigmatic quality because there are many questions unanswered. We do not know which country he is in at the start of the book or why he is in a camp. It is not clear what a child of 12 is doing in the camp without parents or even why a guard helps him survive and then escape.
The journey takes the boy through Europe. He has been told to catch a boat from Salonika to Italy. He is heading for a country in the north that has a king. David has been cut off from normal life so does not know how to interact with people but, as he travels north, he meets people who teach him how to socialise.
There is an opportunity to live in a family when he saves the daughter from a fire in a shed but, after a time, the parents become unnerved by David’s worldly wise and woeful outlook, which seems out of step with his age.
This is a book about heading home and the ending reflects the hopeful aspect of the book. Yet the most important journey is the one David takes from being a damaged child to somebody who belongs in society.
‘I am David’ by Anne Holm is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This 1998 Canadian film tells the lives of people in five countries over four centuries who come into contact with the red violin of the title. The instrument was made in Italy in the seventeenth century. In this segment, the story is told in Italian of the violin maker and his wife and child. We find out why the violin is red, a particularly sad part of the film, before moving on a century to Vienna where we meet a young boy who is a musical prodigy. He is given the violin by the monks of the orphanage where he lives. He has a bright future and his music master sees a great future for them both. Another tragedy strikes, though, and the violin moves on to Oxford in Britain.
From Oxford in the late nineteenth century to Shanghai, China in the grip of the cultural revolution and on to Montreal, Canada in the late 90s, or what would have been the present at the time of the film’s release, we follow the violin as it passes from one owner to another.
What the film does, rather cleverly, is to show the importance of music in the lives of all sorts of people. Over the centuries, the violin becomes more valuable, especially as stories about its provenance emerge. The owners throughout its history see the instrument not as a valuable item in itself but essential because of what they create on it. In the final scenes in the auction house it seems as if this important message has been lost.
Episodic films can be problematic; if one segment is much weaker than the rest, the whole film is affected. In ‘The Red Violin’, though, each part of the story serves the greater narrative. It was directed by Francois Girard with a screenplay by Don McKellar. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Here is a moment from 2016 that should not be forgotten. It should stand as a reminder of how low we can sink in British politics. The UKIP poster showing non- white faces coming to Britain as a ‘flood’ was unveiled with a week to go in the EU referendum. That such a hateful and hate filled poster should even have been considered is a sign of the illness in our democracy.
Gary Younge, the Guardian journalist I admire, spoke of 2016 as the year that vulgarity, divisiveness and exclusion won. It should also be the point from which the recovery takes place. Surely, we cannot sink lower in our public discourse. So, for me, the unveiling of the poster should never be forgotten and should be the call to arms.
Fortunately, the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell is on hand with the perfect visual riposte to such events. I salute Gary Younge and I salute Steve Bell and I hope 2017 shows the better side of Britain.
This television series from Germany is a fascinating insight into the world of East Germany. I watched a version with an English translation of the commentary as my German is not good enough to follow completely in the original language.
The series was made up of seven films each covering an aspect of daily life in the DDR. The sub-title, ‘A History of the Other Germany’, suggests that West Germany was better known to us in the west and life behind the Iron Curtain was, for me, something of a mystery.
The films were made in 1993 when the people most affected by the regime were able to talk. What struck me was the mixture of the historic and the mundane. Daily life is daily life wherever you live, regardless of political regime. Some complaints were about the restrictions of living in the country but others were about the loss of things since the unification of Germany. Of most importance, though, were the voices of people who felt the full force of the state. Some actively sought to be provocative but there were also the people who did not understand why they had fallen out of favour.
As the series progressed, I got the sense that any country which is so scared of its own people that it had to suppress any dissent does not deserve to survive. This point was most clear in the episode which explored artistic expression in the DDR. I also gained a clear idea that the country was not as independent as it pretended; the power from the Soviet Union acted as big brother on the playground. When fortunes changed there, the writing was on the wall for East Germany.
History is told by the victors but this series is worth seeing because it does not take a simplistic approach to the subject; many voices are heard and no easy answers are given. The final moments of the last episode prove these points. Figures, famous and not, provide a one sentence answer to the question of what the DDR meant to them. It was a powerful ending to a fascinating series.