The Little Traitor

I loved the novella by Amos Oz called ‘Panther in the Basement’.  This film is based on that book and, even though the title is a touch too ‘cute’ for my taste, it is an interesting transposition of the story to film.  The wonderful Alfred Molina is terrific as Sergeant Stephen Crabtree, the British soldier posted to Palestine during the British Mandate.  He is a man fascinated by this land of the Bible and delighted to meet a young boy who looks able to help him understand the language. They strike up a friendship which is odd since the boy, Proffy to his friends, is brought up to hate the British and declares himself a sworn enemy.

The political is personal, though, and soon Proffy is conflicted by the difference between what he has been told about the British and what he likes about Sergeant Crabtree.  The two spend time together, usually at the British mess, and Proffy helps the sergeant with Hebrew while Crabtree teaches Proffy English.

Proffy’s friendship with two friends of the same age as him is based on their sense of fighting back against the British Mandate.  They plot ways of attacking the enemy as young boys do, oblivious to the dangers involved.  Proffy sees an opportunity to use Crabtree as a source of military information to further their freedom fighting cause but things do not turn out that way and when he is followed by his friends his secret visits to the British mess are misinterpreted.

The resulting interrogation of Proffy by a Jewish group was confusing to me: who were they and on what authority did Proffy’s parents subject their son to such treatment?  A sub-plot showing their involvement in the Haganah might explain this.  In any case, Proffy is branded a traitor in his community and he questions the nature of friendship; learning  too late that Sergeant Stephen Crabtree was more of a friend than he realised at the time.  The final scene is worth waiting for since it brings a resolution not found in the book.

On balance, the book is far better than the film, even with the presence of Alfred Molina, but the location filming adds a dimension that I could not see in my mind’s eye when reading.  The sense of Jerusalem in the 1940s is brought to life.  For this reason, the film is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

The Invisible Men

This documentary by film- maker Yariv Mozer is a sad portrait of the lives of three gay men adrift in Israel. The Palestinians are there because their lives are in danger if they stay at home.  The danger comes, mostly, from their own families.  In some cases the men came out to family members but it is also the case that exposure came from perceptions about their personalities or because they were caught with boyfriends.

BlogInvisibleMenThere is a sadness to this story of men living under the radar in Tel Aviv, a city chosen because it is the most accepting of their lifestyles.  Louie is an illegal, though, and he is regularly deported back to the border even though this places him in great danger each time.  Fares enters the film when Louie is asked to help him.  His family is actively searching for him, possibly to kill him, and it falls to other gay men to rescue him.

The third person in this film is Abdou, an out and proud Arab who believes his future lies in Europe where he may be better accepted.  The gay rights group supporting the men believe this is the best route for young gay men who are not given permission to stay in Israel.

The film follows two of the three to Europe where they, individually, hope to build new lives but they can’t escape the idea that this is not the homeland they would have chosen. The rejection from their families still stings and probably always will.  One of the saddest parts of the film was when Louie looked over the valley to his home village before departing for Europe.  He dared not visit and he longed to return.

‘The Invisible Men’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Fire at Sea

This wonderful documentary is both sweet and very sad.  By contrasting normal life in Lampedusa, an island off Sicily in Italy, with the refugee crisis, director Gianfranco Rosi has made a film that shows the human aspects of newspaper headlines.

BlogFireatSea2Two locals in particular dominate the film: a young boy through whose eyes we see ‘normal’ Lampedusan life; and a doctor who comes into contact with refugees because of his vocation.

What makes the film so powerful is the way it shows the details of island life and then the logistics of rescuing migrants; time is taken over both.  As the film progresses, the two strands support each other to make a central point that this migrant crisis is taking place among us.  People die trying to cross the Mediterranean.  Apart from one small scene where the doctor talks about his work in relation to the migrants brought ashore from their un-seaworthy boat, the two worlds do not meet so we do not find out what local people think of the crisis.  This is not the point, however, and it serves to remind us that our lives often continue oblivious to the pain of others.

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Heatwave

BlogApresLeSudThis film with the title ‘Apres le Sud’ in the original French is an interesting study of four people each facing a personal crisis.  The setting is the South of France in what seems to be a heatwave.  Directed by Jean- Jacques Jauffret, the 2011 film plays with time so that when things unfold we pass moments that we have already witnessed.  What makes it all the more interesting is the way the characters cross paths with each other as their personal stories unfold.

Amelie is a young woman with a holiday job at the supermarket.  She urgently needs to speak to her boyfriend, Luigi, but tracking him down is hard and when he appears, she cannot be released from her work.  He has his own issues as his father is harsh with him and he wants to return to his mother in Italy.  He is unaware that the news Amelie has for him could change his decision about leaving.

Amelie’s mother has her own concerns and leaves for another city telling her daughter she is visiting a relative overnight.   Instead, she goes to a clinic that could help with her weight problem.  Georges is the fourth character we follow.  He is a retired man who relies on public transport to go to the local supermarket.  Quite lonely, but not without reason, he listens to classical music and fights off the irritation of teenagers playing football against his garage door.

As you would expect on such a hot day, everyone moves slowly and the camera lingers over small details so that there is a documentary feel at times.

When the paths cross in a final tragic scene, earlier scenes fall into place and the layers built up by the director come together.  It is an accomplished film.  It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

Theo and Hugo

This French film has a lot of heart but to get to it you have to pass through the first twenty minutes or so of rather hard-hitting scenes inside a Paris sex club.  The story concerns two young men who meet and who find their attraction to each other is on a different plane to the other encounters at the same club.

The problem is that their encounter has put one of them at risk and a trip to the hospital is required.  They go together and then walk through the city getting to know each other and dealing with the strong emotions arising from their encounter.  The opening was stronger than I am used to but, once through this, the film is sweet and shows the blossoming of love in a sweet way.  Adding to the power of the film is its rolling out in real-time so that we travel through the night with Hugo and Theo.

We are left at the end with the same uncertainty faced by the boys themselves but with a large feeling of hope that this is a relationship will last.  To make me feel this way after 90 minutes is quite an achievement.

The Future: More Europe- Less America

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.

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The Lunchbox

This 2013 film from India was an unexpected pleasure.  I watched it thinking I knew the direction the film would take, with a romance growing between an older widower and a younger woman ignored by her husband.  Instead, the film explored ideas of connection and loneliness and never tipped into sentimentality.

The story starts with a misunderstanding.  Each day, Ila prepares her husband’s lunchtime meal and stores it in special tins for the purpose.  It does not go with her husband but is delivered to his desk by a special delivery company.  This is obviously a cultural norm that exists in a country where sandwiches are not the staple lunchtime fare for office workers.  On one occasion, the meal is delivered, by mistake, to Saajan, a diligent, aloof claims supervisor in an insurance company.  He is preparing himself for early retirement but the glimpses of his life show a lonely man, disconnected from the world.  He immediately notices the improved quality of the meal.  Meanwhile, Ila is disappointed that her husband has nothing to say about the effort she put into the food she thought he would be eating.  When it becomes clear that the meal he ate was not the one she cooked, she writes a note to the mystery recipient.

Notes are passed between them and it looks certain that they will find in each other the person to fill the gap in their lives.

The film also has a younger man, Shaikh, who will replace Saajan in his job.  Shaikh is an orphan whose impending marriage to his girlfriend has the sensitive social niceties to navigate: at the wedding, he will be alone ‘on his side’ while his fiance will have an extended family with her.

In such ways, the film shows the need for human contact and a sense of belonging.  The film works well because the film’s ending seems clear.  The direction it takes is all the more pleasing because it is unexpected.  ‘The Lunchbox’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?