Feeds:
Posts
Comments

A few weeks back I went to the bookshop after a very long time – a real bookshop. I spent the whole evening there and couldn’t leave at the end of it. All the old memories of shopping in bookshops came back – the beautiful ambience, the fragrance of books, the wonderful new discoveries, the gentle music, the book-ish conversation with the bookshop assistants. I wondered why I don’t go to bookshops more often, because I love it every time I do. Though these days I discover most new books through blogs and the internet, the bookshop still holds surprises and beautiful gems. I discovered new books that day which I hadn’t seen anywhere or heard anyone recommend – they were beautiful surprises which made me very happy.

One of the books that I discovered was the two volume edition of the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’. I have wanted to read this book for a while and I was hoping to read Gaiman’s original, but when I saw the graphic novel adaptation, I couldn’t’ resist getting it. It was adapted into graphic novel form by Craig Russell, who had done similar work on Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’. My first introduction to Gaiman’s work was Russell’s graphic adaptation of ‘Coraline’ and so I was excited. But this time things were different. The thing was this. Russell had assembled a galaxy of eight artists (including himself) and asked each artist to work on a chapter. (there is one chapter on which two artists have worked and there is another chapter on which three artists have worked). So it was nine chapters and eight artists – and the result was a stunning work of art. Words like ‘stunning’, ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ (my favourite) have become clichéd these days because we meet them in every page and sometimes every passage we read. But here, I am not using it just for effect. I really mean it in its best, most brilliant sense. The artwork is stunning. I didn’t realize the full effect of it till I picked the graphic novel version of ‘Coraline’ and ‘The Sandman’ – both Gaiman books known for their artwork – and checked them in comparison. The difference was stark. The galaxy of artists has done its work brilliantly in ‘The Graveyard Book’ and I think this edition on its own is a brilliant literary graphic work of art. A must read for lovers of the original book and for all Gaiman fans. Though I loved all the artists’ work, I liked some of them more. What is life, after all, if we don’t play favourites and love some people more than others? :) My favourites were Kevin Nowlan (who illustrated the first chapter and part of the eighth chapter) and Scott Hampton who illustrated the hundred-page mammoth seventh chapter and part of the third chapter. My favourite chapter in the book though was the fourth one called ‘The Witch’s Headstone’ in which my favourite character in the book Liza Hempstock first makes her appearance and plays an important role. I wish I had known her and I could meet her everyday – she is such a beautiful, warm, friendly, adorable ghost. (Hempstock seems to be Gaiman’s favourite name – the Hempstocks make an appearance in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ too, though they are a different family.)

TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart1TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart2

So, yeah, I have sung enough praises about the book :) Now about the story. I must be the last person to read the book and so you must already know the story. If you haven’t read it yet, here is a brief summary. A bad man called Jack murders a family – the parents and their daughter. The toddler baby son somehow escapes and enters the local graveyard. The ghosts see him and he is able to see them. The bad man Jack enters the graveyard to kill the baby. The ghosts have to make a decision on whether to save the baby boy or not. They decide to save him. Then the problem arises on what to do with the baby. Because the graveyard is no place for a living baby. The ghosts have a meeting and after a lot of heated discussion and after being mediated by someone more powerful than them, they decide to keep the baby and raise him and keep him away from trouble. The graveyard is populated by fascinating characters – ghosts most of the time, but at times we meet ghouls, a vampire, a werewolf and other strange creatures. But most of them are not what they appear to be – there is more to them than meets the eye. Sometimes humans stray into the graveyard. The boy who is now called Nobody Owens (‘Nobody’ because he doesn’t have any other name, and ‘Owens’ because his adopted parents (who are ghosts) are called the Owens), makes friends with a human girl and they play for a while. But living in the graveyard is not conducive to friendships with real people and things don’t go well with her as expected. Bod (Nobody Owens) tries going to school after a while, but that is hard too. Bod’s parents the Owenses love him but they also bring old-fashioned parental practices while bringing him up. Bod’s guardian is Silas. He is not living and he is not dead and it is never clearly stated what he actually is, but he is tall, wears a dark cloak and looks like the Count – the rest is left to our imagination. There is Miss Lupescu who comes one summer to teach Bod – she is hard and tough on him, she teaches him things which he feels will never be useful, but later he discovers otherwise, and he and we readers, see that there is more to Miss Lupescu than meets the eye.

I can tell the whole story here, but I am not going to. Go, get this gorgeous graphic novel adaptation and read it yourself.

This version of Gaiman’s book is one of my favourite graphic novels from recent times. It is vintage Gaiman in terms of the story, the characters, the dialogue, the humour and it is also a stunning work of graphic art. I would highly recommend it. Now, I want to read Gaiman’s original and see whether I missed out on something.

Other Reviews

Caroline (from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

My reading has gone down a little bit of late, but last week I went on a movie-binge. I have wanted to watch these movies for a while now and I am glad that I finally got around to watching them. Here are the movies and what I think about them.

All That Matters is Past (Norwegian : Uskyld) directed by Sara Johnsen

The story goes like this. A man who is taking a walk in the woods discovers two men lying dead near to each other. There is a woman lying near to them and she seems to be alive, but only barely. It looks like the two men probably killed each other. He alerts the police. The police take the woman to the hospital. When she is in a position to speak, they interview her. She tells them her story. It turns out to be a haunting tale filled with tender moments, sibling rivalry, passionate love and evil.

All That Matters Is Past

I loved the movie. It covers many interesting themes – a triangle love story, the contrast between the simple life in the woods, being at one with nature, and the cacophony of the city, sibling rivalry and jealousy, evil and violence, illegal immigration. I have to say though that the screenplay is a yo-yo at times – it tries squeezing in too many things at times and at other times doesn’t give enough depth and detail to some of the elements of the story which require them. For example, the illegal immigration part doesn’t hang well with the rest of the movie, though it might be an important social theme in Norway. Also, the villain is kind at times and it is not clear why he is good and bad at the same time, though that aspect makes his character quite interesting. Also the story shows the heroine having a baby, but her life with her baby is left unsaid and left to the imagination. However, inspite of these, the film is beautifully sculpted scene by scene. We can feel the director’s and cinematographer’s love for their art in every scene. There are some violent moments which are difficult to watch. There is a scene in which the heroine gives birth to her baby – it is not air-brushed like it is done normally, but it is messy, beautiful and hard to watch. The director Sara Johnsen hasn’t shied away from showing the world as it is. Maria Bonnevie gives a haunting, sensitive, brilliant performance as the poetry teacher who abandons everything and leaves the city to go and live in the woods with her childhood sweetheart. One of my favourite actress discoveries of the year. I want to see more of her movies now. I think this is the second Norwegian movie I have seen ever, and I think Norwegian movies are awesome. I will be keeping an eye out for movies of Sara Johnsen and Maria Bonnevie.

Must Have Been Love (Norwegian : En Som Deg) directed By Eirik Svensson

The story told in ‘Must Have Been Love’ happens in four different cities – Istanbul, Oslo, Hensinki and Berlin. Three girlfriends are in Istanbul on a holiday. One late night, one of them, our heroine Kaisa, goes out to get some snacks and a drink from the next door grocery store. When she gets back she realizes that she has forgotten her key and she is locked out. Any amount of shouting doesn’t wake her friends up. While she is sitting on the stairs and sipping her cold drink, three tourists who are staying next door come out. They ask her whether they can help her and when she tells them her problem, they help her with their mobile phone and she uses it and tries calling her friends. When she is still not able to wake them up, the neighbours tell her that she can stay at their place for the night. The next day morning our heroine Kaisa goes back to her place to be with her friends. The three women and the three men next door stray into their respective balconies and before long start having a conversation. It turns out that the girls are from Finland while the men are from Norway. One thing leads to another and they decide to meet that night for dinner at the men’s place. During and after dinner there are sparks flying between Kaisa and one of the guys, Jacob. But she asks him a personal question and things turn awkward and the night doesn’t end well. The next day the men have vacated their place. The story now moves to Oslo. Kaisa is there now and she is a dance teacher. She doesn’t have any friends there and life is lonely. One day while grocery shopping, she sees Jacob. Jacob seems to have a moustache though. When she tries having a conversation she discovers that this is not Jacob. This guy’s name is Andreas. But they strike up a conversation, and later go to a café and have dinner. They keep in touch and they have dates and there is mutual attraction, though Andreas seems to be uncomfortable expressing his affection in physical ways – even a simple touch is hard for him to take. At some point, Kaisa and Andreas become a couple and when Kaisa moves back to Helsinki, Andreas moves with her. But things don’t go well because they have different personalities. And one day Kaisa stumbles upon Jacob. And the sparks start flying again. To find out what happens after that, you have to see the movie.

MustHaveBeenLove

When I first started watching the movie, I wasn’t sure about the story happening in four cities. When I was younger I would have loved that – a love story happening in four exotic cities – what is not to like? But these days, I don’t really care about the names of locations (how does it matter whether a story happens in Venice or Paris or Timbuktu?) but what I care about is the plot, the dialogue, the way the characters evolve, the way the scenes are sculpted. So I was worried about the four-city thing here. But I needn’t have. Because at a fundamental level, the movie tells a beautiful love story – about how a chance meeting leads to attraction which in turn leads to love and to the challenges that surround it which sometimes lead to a breakup till a new dawn shines. In many ways this movie reminded me of Alain de Botton’s beautiful novel ‘Essays in Love’ and a movie which had a similar theme, ‘500 Days of Summer’. Pamela Tola delivers a charming performance as Kaisa and carries the movie on her back. I would love to watch more movies of hers. Most of the movie happens in the evening or in grey afternoons or when it is raining – I don’t know whether Norway and Finland are always like that. The movie has been listed as a Norwegian movie, and I found that classification interesting. Because most of the dialogue happens in English! Kaisa is Finnish and Jacob and Andreas are Norwegian and so Kaisa talks to them in English. Also we see the story mostly from Kaisa’s point of view. Norwegian plays only a minor part in the story.

Blondie (Swedish) directed by Jesper Ganslandt

Three daughters visit their mother’s home for her seventieth birthday. The eldest daughter is married and has two children. She seems to be the good daughter – takes care of her husband and children, has a good job, brings up her children well with a combination of discipline and love. The middle one is a model in Milan and is single. She seems to be the wild one. The youngest daughter is the one who is ignored like little ones are in every home. When the daughters arrive one after the other, things are nice at the beginning. Then the past comes back to haunt the family –  old wounds open up, the daughters are at each other’s throats, the mother doesn’t seem to be the benevolent seventy year old that we assume her to be, the eldest daughter isn’t the Ms.Goody shoes that we assume her to be (she is having an affair on the side), the middle daughter, the wild one, has hidden depths. The birthday party starts well and ends awkwardly and badly, the mother suddenly has a stroke the next day and the daughters come together to support each other and their mother. After that the story goes on to a predictable but a nice and beautiful ending.

Blondie

There are many stories about family reunions where things go bad and Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt gives his own version of it here. Carolina Gynning plays the role of the middle daughter and she delivers a flawless performance. Though she has done many TV programs and as a model has been a public personality for a while, it is difficult to believe that this is just her second film – she acts like a veteran. Helena af Sandeberg as the eldest daughter who tries to balance the roles of daughter, mother, sister and wife while at the same time trying to get her share of happiness while being part of a complicated family – well, she shines brilliantly. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where the three sisters are sitting in a bar having a drink and a smoke and talking about old times – the fun things they did and the mean things they did to each other and sharing secrets – that was my favourite scene from the movie. I will be watching this movie again – atleast for that beautiful scene.

Lore (German) directed by Cate Shortland

The place is Germany and the time is towards the end of the Second World War. Lore is a teenage girl who has a younger sister, two even younger brothers who are twins, and a baby brother. Her father is a high-level Nazi officer and her mother supports the Nazi cause. Lore has been brought up to believe that the Nazi philosophy is great and Hitler is awesome and should be loved unconditionally and Jews are bad and dirty and shouldn’t be touched. One day her dad comes back home and tells the family that they have to pack and leave. Behind Lore’s back he shoots the family dog. Lore is shocked. They move to a house in the Black Forest, in the middle of nowhere. And her dad leaves home. One day Lore’s mom packs some of her things. She tells Lore that the Fuhrer is dead and she is going to be put in a camp. She tells Lore that she is responsible for her brothers and sisters now. She gives her money and all her jewels and tells her to take her siblings and go to her grandmother’s place near Hamburg. She then walks out of the house never to be seen again. Lore tries managing things by getting food from neighbours after paying them, but before long the neighbours turn hostile. Lore decides to take her sister and brothers on the long trek. On route they meet many different kinds of people, most of them poor and struggling for food. Some of them are nice, most of them aren’t. A young man tries to kiss her but she rebuffs him. And he starts following her and her siblings. They get stopped by an American army truck. They are outside during curfew time and it is hard for Lore to give a proper explanation. The young man comes to their rescue and says that he is their brother and they have lost their papers. He then shows his papers and it looks like he is Jewish. He then goes along with them and though Lore is uncomfortable with him, her siblings warm up to him and the young man becomes part of the extended family. Does this unlikely family manage to cross those hundreds of miles to their grandmother’s place? Is the young man Thomas really who he claims to be? You have to watch the movie to find out.

Lore

‘Lore’ is probably one of my most favourite movies from recent times. The scenes are sculpted beautifully, the story is gripping and makes us want to find out what happens next. The way every one’s of Lore’s beliefs instilled by her parents are challenged by what she sees on the ground and how the realization of the truth dawns on her is beautifully depicted. The acting throughout the movie is understated and wonderful. Saskia Rosendahl as Lore, delivers a stunning and brilliant performance. She was just nineteen years old when she did this movie and it is so hard to believe that. I can’t wait to see more movies by this talented young girl.

An interesting tidbit about the movie is that though the topic is German and the actresses and actors are all German, and the characters speak in German, the movie is Australian. I have seen this happen with European movies – French movies made by Belgian and Austrian directors – but I have never seen a German movie made by an Australian director. Interesting!

‘Lore’ is a movie that I will be definitely watching again. I am surprised that it didn’t win more awards.

Our Children (French : A Perdre La Raison) directed by Joachim Lafosse

Before I started watching ‘A Perdre La Raison’, I had a premonition. I had a premonition that things won’t go well. I had a premonition that I will be depressed in the end. And I was right. Murielle and Mounir love each other. Murielle is French while Mounir is Moroccan. They decide to get married. Mounir was brought to France by Andre who is a doctor. Andre helps him with his expenses and even offers him a job. Mounir lives with him in the same house. After Murielle and Mounir get married, Andre offers to pay for their honeymoon as a wedding present. Mounir then suggests that Andre should come with them. It is awkward. And things keep getting worse after that. The three of them live together in the same house. And it looks like Andre is in charge. Mounir is in a hurry to have children and Murielle gives birth to a daughter. Then she gets pregnant again and it is a daughter again. It seems that Mounir wants a boy. After three daughters, finally a son is born. Mounir doesn’t help much with the upbringing of the children leaving everything to Murielle. She finds it very hard to handle four children alongwith her job as a teacher. Andre helps out with the children, but Murielle doesn’t want that. She suggests to Mounir that they move out of Andre’s house and Mounir oscillates on that. When he suggests it to Andre, Andre explodes with anger. All these things makes Murielle feel that she is walled in her house and there is no escape. Gradually her emotional health plummets and she decides to do the unthinkable.

APerdreLaRaison

‘A Perdre La Raison’ is a devastating portrait of a young, cheerful woman whose emotional health plummets because of circumstances beyond her control and when every attempt she makes to make situation more bearable is thwarted by others how she opts to do the unthinkable. It is a movie which is difficult to watch and when I discovered that it was based on a real story, it made my heart ache. Emilie Dequenne as Murielle delivers a haunting, sensitive and flawless performance. I am not sure I will watch this movie again though. It made me depressed. I will however be looking forward to watching more movies by Emilie Dequenne.

Black Book (Dutch : Zwartboek) directed by Paul Verhoeven

When I discovered that ‘Black Book’ was directed by Paul Verhoeven, I wasn’t sure whether I should watch it now. Verhoeven directed the (in)famous ‘Basic Instinct’ and so I wasn’t sure what kind of movie ‘Black Book’ was. (Verhoeven has also directed hits like ‘Robocop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Hollow Man’, but still…) Well, after I started watching ‘Black Book’ I realized that I shouldn’t have worried.

Zwartboek

It is the year 1956. Some North American tourists who have come on a visit to Israel. A woman who has come with her husband tells him that she is going to take some pictures. They are in a kibbutz right then and she somehow gets into a school and takes a picture of a teacher teaching her students. The teacher objects in Hebrew saying that she is intruding in her class, when the tourist recognizes her. She asks her whether she is Dutch and whether her name is Ellis. The teacher Ellis recognizes the tourist as her old friend Ronnie from the war years and they have a long conversation. After her friend leaves, Ellis goes to the beach, sits down and thinks about her past.

Before the Second World War Ellis was called Rachel. Rachel is a young Jewish woman who is a famous radio singer. But after the Second World War starts and Holland is occupied by the Nazis, she is in hiding and survives because of the kindness of neighbours. One day the house she lives in is bombed and she is saved by a young man in the nick of time. He takes her to his home and helps her. One day a car arrives at their place in the evening. A man gets out and warns Rachel and her friend that the Germans are looking for them. She realizes that he might be part of the resistance and asks him for help. He tells her to pack her things and come to a particular place. She gets money and valuables from a friend of her father’s and goes to the appointed meeting place. She finds her parents and brother there and she is delighted. The stranger who is part of the resistance helps them all board a boat and he leaves. The boat is supposed to take them across the lake away from German occupied territory to the liberated part of Holland. But midway through a Nazi boat catches up with them and everyone is gunned down. Rachel survives. But Rachel sees the face of the Nazi officer who is responsible and that image is seared in her mind. By a series of events, Rachel gets in touch with resistance. They help her in getting a new identity as Ellis, offer her work in their soup kitchen and when the time comes they offer her work as a spy to spy on the German officers.

Well, I can tell the whole story here, but I am not going to. Events move at a fast pace, there are some interesting new characters who come up, the supposedly bad guys have hidden depths, the good guys are not all they seem to be, there are some unexpected surprises in the end and a shocking revelation which is too hard to digest and the movie seems to end in a nice note, but then there are fighter planes flying above in the air again.

‘Black Book’ is a fast-paced gripping war movie, in which the story is told in the old-fashioned way. There is style, there is romance, there is gripping action, there is suspense, there are unexpected surprises and a shocking revelation in the end. The movie doesn’t shy away from war happenings – good people are killed, likeable characters get executed and some really nasty things happen in the end, about which I cannot even write about here. But overall, it is a stylish, cool movie which keeps us glued to our seats. One of the things I liked about the movie was the moral relativity – some of the supposed bad guys have more to them than meets the eye, and some of the good guys aren’t as good as we think them to be. The story also has a classic finish – all the loose ends at tied up in the end and just when we think that things are going to be peaceful from now on, the story tells us that war never ends. Carice van Houten delivers a charming performance as Rachel / Ellis, always holding her head high, always finding a way out of any tricky situation, keeping her good humour and beautiful smile intact and always keeping up her positive attitude – it is so infectious to watch and her enthusiasm and good humour rubs off on us.

When I finished watching the movie, I was happy and I was on a high – which always means that the movie was fantastic. ‘Black Book’ was voted by the Dutch public as the best Dutch film ever and I can see why. It is definitely one of my favourite movies and I will be definitely watching it again. Paul Verhoeven – well, as Optimus Prime says in ‘Transformers’ about humans, there is more to him than meets the eye :)

I recently opened an old box which had been packed years back with books. It is wonderful when we pack a box and leave it to gather dust and then open it after many years. We are surprised by some of the treasures that we find inside. Sometimes we don’t know how a particular treasure got into the box and why it has been lurking there for many years. That is exactly what happened when I opened this box. I was surprised by some of the treasures I found and I was very excited. One of these was Sidney Lumet’s ‘Making Movies’. I vaguely remember the time around which I had bought this book – I remember buying a few books on movies. But I also clearly remember that I hadn’t seen a single Sidney Lumet movie at that time. So either I had heard his name and picked the book, or I picked the book after reading the blurb and browsing inside. I am glad I picked it up. It has taken me years to read it, but I am glad that I did – I am glad I packed it in a box all those years ago, I am glad the book was in good condition and I am glad I opened the box at the right time when my movie taste was reasonably sophisticated and picked it up and read it.

Making Movies By Sidney Lumet

In ‘Making Movies’, Sidney Lumet shares his thoughts on movie making and the movie business based on his own experiences. Lumet started making movies in the ‘50s, when Sidney was a boy’s name and continued making movies well into the 2000s, when Sidney had firmly became a girl’s name. His first movie featured Henry Fonda and his last one had Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei. In between there were a galaxy of stars who worked with him (Sean Connery seems to have worked with him in a lot of movies) and Lumet writes about them all in his book. My favourite parts of the book were those in which he describes his interactions with Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway and some of his wonderfully talented cinematographers and an absolutely fascinating lady called Margaret Booth who worked as the Chief Editor for MGM. While sharing his thoughts on movie making and on the fascinating personalities he worked with, Lumet also takes us on a guided tour on movie making. Each chapter discusses a different aspect of movie making and Lumet takes us from the time the movie is a concept till the time it is released. There are some parts of movie making that he loves and there are other parts which he is frustrated with. Lumet talks about them all – both the good parts and the not-so-good ones. This book was published in the middle of the ‘90s and so some of the things that Lumet says might probably feel a little dated now – for example, how the limitations of photographic film influenced many decisions in film making. Since the book was published the world has gone digital and many of the limitations of photographic film no longer apply to today’s world. (Scott Adams said in his introduction to ‘The Dilbert Principle’, all those years back, that today any idiot with a laptop can write a book. We can modify that slightly now and say that today any idiot with a smartphone can make a movie J) But even with that caveat, Lumet’s book is a wonderful education in filmmaking. Reading it was like sitting in the class of our favourite teacher and listening to him sharing his wisdom on the practice of his art.

Reading the book inspired me to watch more of Lumet’s movies. Lumet started with a bang with ’12 Angry Men’ (a movie which has been imitated an infinite number of times but has never been equalled), and after an indifferent decade during the ‘90s, ended with a bang with ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. I have watched ’12 Angry Men’ and five of his other movies – ‘Network’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ – and three of his ‘90s movies – ‘A Stranger Among Us’, ‘Guilty as Sin’ and ‘Gloria’. These last three were all panned by the critics, but I still liked them (who cares about the critics anyway?), especially ‘A Stranger Among Us’, which I really loved. (I adored Melanie Griffith those days and she was wonderful in this movie.) I also think I have seen half of ‘Serpico’. There are countless other great Lumet movies out there which I have not seen. I want to watch them all. And then read this book again while watching them.

12_angry_menMurder On The Orient ExpressNetworkAStrangerAmongUsGuilty_as_sin_posterGloria_1999_poster

There is one more thing I want to mention before ending this review. It is a shameful thing that the Academy never gave Sidney Lumet an Academy award for Best Director. He is one of the greatest directors of the 20th century and though his movies were nominated a countless number of times for the Best Director award, it is sad that the Academy ignored him, though they grudgingly gave him a Honorary award in the end. (Another great Martin Scorsese was ignored by the academy for many years before they grudgingly gave him the award for ‘The Departed’). It sticks out like a sore thing in an otherwise brilliant film making career in which Lumet brought delightful pleasure to generations of moviegoers.

Here are some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…the truth is that nobody knows what this magic combination is that produces a first-rate of work. I’m not being modest. There’s a reason some directors can make first-rate movies and others never will. But all we can do is prepare the groundwork that allows for the “lucky accidents” that make a first-rate movie happen. Whether or not it will happen is something we never know. There are too many intangibles…”

Commercial success has no relationship to a good or bad picture. Good pictures become hits. Good pictures become flops. Bad pictures make money, bad pictures lose money. The fact is that no one really knows. If anyone did know, he’d be able to write his own ticket. And there have been two who have. Through some incredible talent, Walt Disney knew. Today Steven Spielberg seems to.

I’ve also been accused of being all over the place, of lacking an overwhelming theme that applies to all my work. I don’t know if that’s true or not. The reason I don’t know is that when I open to the first page of a script, I’m a willing captive. I have no preconceived notion that I want the body of my work to be about one particular idea. No script has to fit into an overall theme of my life. I don’t have one. Sometimes I’ll look back on the work over some years and say to myself, “Oh, that’s what I was interested in then.”

I don’t know how to choose work that illuminates what my life is about. I don’t know what my life is about and don’t examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the them is something I care about at that moment, it’s enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about.

When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same questions I’ve asked myself. What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mood do you want them to leave the theater?

We are two different people trying to combine our talents, so it’s critical that we agree on the intention of the screenplay. Under the best of circumstances, what will emerge is a third intention, which neither of us saw at the beginning.

Making a movie has always been about telling a story. Some movies tell a story and leave you with a feeling. Some tell a story and leave you with a feeling and give you an idea. Some tell a story, leave you with a feeling, give you and idea, and reveal something about yourself and others. And surely the way you tell that story should relate somehow to what that story is.

Someone once asked me what making a movie was like. I said it was like a making a mosaic. Each setup is like a tiny tile. You color it, shape it, polish it as best you can. You’ll do six or seven hundred of these, maybe a thousand. Then you literally paste them together and hope it’s what you set out to do. But if you expect the final mosaic to look like anything, you’d better know what you’re going for as you work on each tiny tile.

If the cliché about pictures being made in the cutting room is false, that other cliché, ‘It’ll play better when we add the music,” is true. Almost every picture is improved by a good musical score.

Life has a cruel way of balancing pleasure and pain. To make for the joy of seeing Sophia Loren every morning, God punishes the director with the mix.

I know that all over the world there are young people borrowing from relatives and saving their allowances to buy their first cameras and put together their first student movies, some of them dreaming of becoming famous and making a fortune. But a few are dreaming of finding out what matters to them, of saying to themselves and to anyone who will listen, “I care.” A few of them want to make good movies.

Have you read Sidney Lumet’s ‘Making Movies’? Have you seen movies directed by Sidney Lumet? Which one is your favourite?

I have wanted to participate properly in the Literature and War Readalong hosted by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ for a while now and this year I thought I will do it. The first book which was part of the readalong was Kim Echlin’s ‘The Disappeared’.

The Disappeared By Kim Echlin

‘The Disappeared’ is set in two time periods. Three actually. The present time when the story is narrated, the late ‘70s, when many of the initial events in the story happen and the main characters meet first and then the early ‘90s, when one of characters goes on a quest. Anne is a high school student in Montreal. Her mother passed away when she was young. Her father raises her with the help of a nanny. He is a kind person but he doesn’t have time for her. Her nanny Berthe introduces her to music by smuggling her into bars as a child. Later when Anne has grown up to become a teenager and no longer has a nanny, her father hires one of his students to keep her company occasionally. This student Charlotte, whenever she goes out with friends, takes Anne also with her. Once when they are sitting in a bar listening to music, she meets a man Serey. He comes and sits with them. He shows special interest in Anne and soon they start spending a lot of time with each other. Serey is from Cambodia and he left his homeland before the borders closed because of the civil war. Now he is a student and a tutor at the university. Anne and Serey fall deeply in love and spend every free minute together. Serey tells her about Cambodia and introduces her to a lot of Khmer music. Anne’s father finds out about Serey and warns Anne that he would leave and go back to his home country. But Anne doesn’t believe him. Unfortunately, that day arrives soon. The Cambodian borders open and Serey goes back to his home country. He says he will write to her but Anne doesn’t receive any letter from him. When she writes to him she doesn’t receive any reply. The years pass. Anne is not able to forget Serey and she is still very much in love with him, but he seems to have disappeared from her life. Then one day, around ten years later, while watching television, Anne recognizes Serey among a crowd which is shown in the news. She decides to go to Cambodia in search of him. In the next part of the story, Anne reaches Cambodia, makes friends with locals, searches for Serey, and finally finds him. They get back together and Anne discovers why she has not heard from him in years. They resume from where they left off and live the happy life of lovers. Serey doesn’t tell her what work he does, but he leaves everyday in the morning and comes back in the afternoon. Then one day Serey goes to an election rally. There are explosions at the rally and Serey doesn’t come back. He is not among the dead and he is not among the survivors. He disappears for a second time from Anne’s life. And Anne begins her quest again.

Is Anne able to find Serey? Is he dead or alive? Does the story have a happy ending? You have to read it to find out.

‘The Disappeared’ is a historical novel, a war novel, a love story, a story of a quest, all rolled into one. I learnt a lot about Cambodian history through the book. It made me want to read more, though with all the violence, I don’t know whether I have the stomach for it. Kim Echlin’s research and attention to detail shows through in every page. The love story of Anne and Serey is beautiful, tender and poignant. It made my heart ache. The everyday scenes of Cambodia are nicely depicted – the roads, the markets, the shops, the noodle carts, the tuk tuks, the dance class, the palace, the floating houses, the food – it took me into the heart of this beautiful country. I liked most of the characters in the book, the good ones atleast. My favourite was a minor character called Sopheap – she owns a noodle cart and serves noodles to people at breakfast and though she comes only in a few scenes, she is kind and affectionate and friendly and generous and she is nice to our heroine Anne.

There was also something in the book which made me feel nostalgic. It was the story of a woman who has lost her child. She goes and sees the Buddha and asks him to bring her child back to life. And Buddha asks her a question and gives her an assignment and when the woman tries to find the answer to that, she learns some profound truths. I remember my friend’s father telling us this story when I was in school, to introduce us to the difficult and philosophical parts of life and when I read this story in Echlin’s book, it took me back to the old times when a few of us young boys were hanging out with a wise elder and this wise elder shared his life wisdom with us.

A word on Echlin’s prose. Echlin doesn’t use any punctuation marks in the story, except for the comma and the fullstop. The punctuation is pretty spare and makes one think of the similar styles of James Joyce, Nicole Brossard, Alexis Smith and Cormac McCarthy. The book is filled with beautiful sentences and passages throughout. Reviewers have described Echlin’s prose in different ways – some have called it ‘as lyrical as it is honest’, while others have called it ‘taut and plain prose’ and ‘beautifully spare narrative’. My own favourite was ‘prose that is both tender and charged’. I think that describes it perfectly.

‘The Disappeared’ is a beautiful book. Though it is about violence and war and genocide and some of the descriptions of that in the book are hard to read, it is also a beautiful, poignant love story. Echlin’s prose is beautiful and I will definitely be reading my favourite passages from the book again. If you like reading about Cambodian / East Asian history, I would highly recommend this book.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

This was new, a man wrapping his feelings for me in a song.

A girl wears her lover’s clothes because she likes his smell and she wears his clothes because she is trying to understand why she feels both freed and broken. Why does she feel whole when she has given away her body, her mind and her heart? Why is she not tempted to escape? She wants to smell her lover on her skin, and she cannot understand this feeling that imprisons, frees her. She does not guess that she will remember wearing her lover’s clothes when she is old. She tells herself that what she feels is forever. But she has already observed in the world that it is not.

I went to the university and I studied languages. I was seduced by the shapes of words in my mouth and when I wrote them on the page they were raw and muscled and shining like a man who performs on stage. I needed memory and hope and since I could find them nowhere else, I looked for them in the declensions of verbs. Words swallowed me like a deep river. I dreamed false etymologies. I dreamed I discovered the beginning of the world in the sound of the adjective vraiment : vrai for truth and ment–ir for lie.

It takes centuries to shape the discipline of freedom and it takes forever to guard it.

Her eyes held my grief, and her body gathered in my pain and knit it into herself as if she were an old marsh creature weaving baskets from rushes.

I was no longer wedded to life. Neither was I yet married to death. I was memory and hope calculated to their smallest ratio.

Other Reviews

Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

My Book Strings

Today I am honoured to participate in a guest interview with Delia from Postcards from Asia. There I talk a little bit about myself and share my thoughts on my favourite books and writers, my favourite quotes and my thoughts on writing and other book-ish topics. You can find the interview here.

Delia is one of my favourite bloggers and her book reviews are a pleasure to read. Do check out her wonderful posts on books, music and movies at her blog, especially her recent posts on Natalia Clavier’s haunting song Claridad and her favourite books from 2014.

Happy reading :)

I first heard about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir ‘Wild’ when I read Valorie’s (from Books Can Save Your Life) review of it. Since then I have wanted to read it. When I discovered that Reese Witherspoon has made a movie out of it, I decided to watch that first. 

Wild Directed By Jean Marc Vallee

‘Wild’ follows the life of Cheryl Strayed when she decides to take a hike for more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. She has recently gone through a divorce and her mother, whom she loved dearly, has passed away after suffering from cancer. Cheryl feels that the hike will heal her heart and make her see things from a new perspective. She has no experience of hiking before and so she learns new things everyday – her stove doesn’t work initially and she has to throw it out, her shoes are too small and her toes start hurting and bleeding soon and her backpack, which she has carefully packed with all things which she considers necessary including a few books, is heavier than her (one of the characters while welcoming her to a resting place tells everyone there – ‘Say hello to Cheryl and the monster’, the ‘monster’ being her huge backpack.) She meets strangers on the way, most of whom are hikers or who work in farms or live in the countryside, and they are mostly friendly and help her out. One of them shows her a resting place and when she reaches there welcomes her and makes her comfortable and introduces her to other hikers there. Another cooks her a meal and shows her how to travel light. Another takes her home, when she is stuck in the middle of the wilderness without food, and Cheryl is able to have a hot shower and a hot meal. There are virtually no woman hikers, but Cheryl meets one accidentally and she is so happy with the encounter and they have a long conversation. Cheryl also meets a shady character or two, some of whom look threatening and dangerous. She also meets a snake, a fox, a llama, a dog and a horse. She traverses through different kinds of terrain – deserts, fields, mountains, snow-covered peaks, small streams and big rivers – she hikes through them all. During her hike, while resting in the night inside her tent she reads books, mostly Adrienne Rich’s poetry. At every rest place she leaves a quote from a poet or a writer with her name written alongside. Other hikers see that and Cheryl becomes famous among hiking groups. 

While the movie shows Cheryl’s hiking in a linear manner, it also goes back and depicts her life as a child with her mother and brother, her relationship with her mother after growing up, how her mother is always happy though the situation of the family isn’t that encouraging (Cheryl says this while talking to her fellow woman hiker – “My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. And you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” It was one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie and one of my favourites. I live near the beach, but I am ashamed to say that I rarely go there these days. After seeing that scene, I feel I am wasting all that beauty. I should put myself in the way of beauty – in the middle of that sunset – one of these days), how her relationship with her husband changes and how they end up divorcing each other, how her mother gets cancer and how that breaks her heart, how after her divorce and after her mother has passed Cheryl’s life takes a turn for the worse – all these are depicted as flashbacks throughout the movie.

Though there are many human characters and a few animal characters, I feel that most of the movie is about Cheryl’s conversation with nature – the desert and the mountains and the river and the snow and the forest and the trees – and what she learns from those interactions and how she evolves as a person because of that. Nature is probably the main character in the movie and exerts its profound presence throughout.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is wonderful. Laura Dern as her mother, who is always happy and singing and dancing, is wonderful too. She is a very inspiring character. My other favourite characters were the woman hiker with whom Cheryl has a conversation, and a young boy and his grandmother who come with a llama with whom Cheryl has a conversation.

I loved ‘Wild’. It is a very inspiring movie. It is a shame that it didn’t make it into the ‘Best Picture’ nominations list. Cheryl Strayed says that it was snubbed because of Hollywood sexism. It is hard to disagree with her.

Have you seen ‘Wild’ or read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir? What do you think about them?

One of my book club mates saw ‘Boyhood’ when it came out and he has been raving about it since. So, I thought that I should watch it sometime. When I discovered that it was directed by Richard Linklater, I was quite excited. I fell in love with Linklater after watching ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ and was wondering why he didn’t make more movies. Well, he has done that now. Now, about the movie. 

Boyhood Directed By Richard Linklater

‘Boyhood’ is, as the title implies, about the life of a boy who grows up to be a young man. Mason is six years old when the story starts and he lives with his sister Samantha and his mother Olivia. Olivia is a single mom. Mason’s dad visits them occasionally and takes them out for fun activities, but he is not really involved closely with their lives. Olivia gets involved with men who are nice in the beginning – one is her professor in college, another is a veteran of the Iraq / Afghanistan war – but in the end they all tend to be bullies who get drunk and treat her children not-so-well. The story closely follows Mason’s life – how he misses his friends every time the family has to shift because his mom breaks up with an abusive boyfriend / husband, how he gets used to a new school and makes new friends and sometimes has to confront bullies, his friendship with his mom’s new husband’s children, his interest in art and photography and the other transformative and messy things that happen in life like drinks and drugs and love, which is all part of growing up. Though we see the story mostly from Mason’s perspective, we also see a lot of Olivia, Mason’s mother – in the way she struggles to find love, how she has to work hard as a single mom and at the same time try to get a college degree and a job and find a career which fulfils her, the contrast between her relationships with her children’s father (which is mostly cordial) and with her current boyfriend / husband (which always spirals down after the initial excitement). Olivia’s life is a hard one but it is also rewarding and fulfilling and filled with love and kindness sometimes from unlikely places. Mason’s father, Mason Sr., is an interesting character. He has a good relationship with Mason’s mother and he is more a friend than a parent to Mason and his sister. He doesn’t play any part in the hardwork of day-to-day parenting, but when he makes an appearance in the children’s lives, he makes them happy and gives them good advice. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones in which Mason and his sister have long conversations with their dad, including one in which he gives ‘the talk’ and tells them about contraceptives. I also loved the scenes which depict Mason’s relationship with his girlfriend Sheena and how their relationship ebbs and flows across time. 

I loved most of the characters in the movie. Even the abusive ones were perfectly portrayed. The main characters who get the maximum screen-time – Mason, his sister and his mother – were, of course, all wonderful, but the other main characters who are sometimes the minor ones were also fascinating. My favourites were Mason’s dad and his girlfriend Sheena – the scenes in which they come were all wonderful. In the last scene of the movie, Mason joins college and goes on a trek with three of his new collegemates. Mason has a long conversation with one of them after they reach the mountains and that is one of the fascinating scenes in the movie. The movie on the whole is vintage Linklater, with each scene sculpted delicately, the story waltzing slowly and a lot of conversation happening on screen – conversation which we love listening to.

Ellar Coltrane (Mason), Lorelei Linklater (Mason’s sister Samantha – how can one not like the name Lorelei :)) and Patricia Arquette (Mason’s mom Olivia) are all wonderful in their respective roles and Ethan Hawke teams up with his old friend Linklater and is brilliant in his role as Mason’s father.

This is all about the story and about the performances of the leading players. The movie was wonderful, on these aspects alone. What amazes us even more is that the movie was made over a twelve-year period with the same set of actors and actresses. So we can see Mason getting older across the years (and Ellar Coltrane plays that role throughout) and so do Samantha and Olivia. I have seen this happen in TV series where the same set of actors and actresses work together for many years – for example the way Amber (Mae Whitman’s character) grows up from a wild brat to a responsible young woman in ‘Parenthood’ and how Jake (Angus T. Jones) grows up from a cute, smart talking boy to a handsome young man in ‘Two and a Half Men’ and of course how all the main characters grow up and evolve in ‘One Tree Hill’), but this is the first time I have seen this in a movie. Because it is next to impossible to make a movie across twelve years – so many things change across time – for example the actors / actresses may not be available, the story and the screenplay might get dated – but this didn’t faze Richard Linklater in taking this huge risk and making this movie across more than a decade. His effort shows in the final result, in the exquisite beauty and brilliance of the movie, as the story and the characters feel wonderfully realistic, like people from our own family whom we watch from up close as they evolve as people.

So, what is my final verdict on ‘Boyhood’? It is a beautiful, remarkable work of cinematic art. Richard Linklater takes big risks with the way he tells the story and the main actors and actresses play their roles perfectly with realistic understated brilliance. ‘Boyhood’ has been nominated for both the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ Oscars and I hope it wins both of them. I haven’t seen most of the other movies which are competing in these categories, but I think Linklater’s movie is gong to be hard to beat. Highly recommended.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 155 other followers