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Archive for July, 2019

I have wanted to watch the film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘The Painted Veil‘ ever since it came out. (My review of the novel is here.) Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite writers and I am a huge fan of his books. I have never seen a film adaptation of any of his books. I was surprised that someone decided to make a film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘, because Maugham has long been out of favour among readers and critics and only some of us, old fans, continue to read him. Fortunately for me, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton and their fellow producers did not think so and we have this beautiful film adaptation as a result.

The story told in the movie goes like this. Kitty is a young woman in London who attends parties. Her parents are worried that she is not getting married and settling down. When a young doctor, Walter, who is on holiday from Shanghai, meets her at one of these parties, he falls in love with her and proposes to her. Kitty is hesitant, but when she remembers that her parents want her out of the way, she accepts Walter’s proposal. They get married and Walter takes Kitty with him to Shanghai. Kitty is initially bored with her life there. Walter is not really a fun person – he is a nerdy scientist. But once Walter takes her to a Chinese opera and Kitty meets Charles, the Vice Consul there. Kitty finds him charming and before long they are having an affair. At some point, Walter discovers their affair. He decides to do something unconventional, something painful. He decides to take up a posting in interior China, where there is a cholera outbreak. When Kitty refuses to accompany him, he says that he will file for divorce and name Charles as her lover in the divorce application. After some heated conversation and discussion, Walter agrees to this – if Charles agrees to divorce his wife and marry Kitty, then Walter and Kitty can divorce amicably and go their own ways. Otherwise, Walter will go ahead with his plan of going to interior China and he hopes that Kitty will accompany him. Kitty is under the impression that this will work, because Charles loves her. But Charles turns out to be weak and a fake and doesn’t agree to this proposal. Now Kitty is caught between the devil and the deep sea – Charles has abandoned her and Walter is punishing her. She opts for the punishment, eventhough it makes her very unhappy, and goes with Walter to the place deep inside China.

What happens to Kitty when she reaches the small town in interior China? Can a city girl like her survive there? What happens to her relationship with Walter? And what happens in that small town because of the epidemic? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I loved the film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘. Naomi Watts is brilliant as Kitty – I think there couldn’t have been a better person to play that role in all its complexity. Watts dazzles in every scene throughout the movie. I was a little worried about Edward Norton playing the role of Walter, but he does it wonderfully. Liev Schreiber is the handsome Charles, Kitty’s lover. I was also very excited to see Diana Rigg – who played one of the finest Bond heroines in the film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘, and who in recent times is famous for playing the cool and stylish Lady Olenna Tyrell in ‘Game of Thrones‘ – as Mother Superior who runs an orphanage with French nuns. She is wonderful. Toby Jones as Waddington and Anthony Wong as Colonel Yu are wonderful too.

How does the film compare to the book? It is hard for me to say. One of my friends used to say this about book-to-film adaptations – that if a film manages to translate the soul of the book onto the screen, it has done well. I think this film has done that – translated the soul of the book perfectly to the screen. The film takes some liberties with respect to the story told in the book. The book is darker in some ways, and the film tries to make some of that nicer. I am not a purist and so I liked that. There are some things that a film can’t do. For example, one of my favourite passages in the book goes like this –

“But the river, though it flowed so slowly, had still a sense of movement and it gave one a melancholy feeling of the transitoriness of things. Everything passed, and what trace of its passage remained? It seemed to Kitty that they were all, the human race, like the drops of water in the river and they flowed on, each so close to the other and yet so far apart, a nameless flood, to the sea. When all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, attaching an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy.”

Maugham writes this passage at the beginning of a chapter, halfway through the book. How can this be put in the movie? The scriptwriter can make one of the characters speak this. Or there can be a voice over which speaks this. But that is really force-fitting things. The author has the freedom and flexibility to include passages like this in the book. Sometimes the author can go on writing stuff like this for a few pages. The filmmaker doesn’t have this kind of freedom and flexibility. So, I think, if we appreciate this difference, it is possible to enjoy the story told through these two beautiful artistic mediums. I enjoyed both versions immensely.

One of the things I loved in the movie is that one of my favourite classical music pieces, Erik Satie’s Gnossienne 1 is played at the beginning of the movie, and it is a constant refrain throughout the movie. I have never heard Erik Satie’s music played in a movie before and I was so thrilled. This particular piece is so beautiful and haunting. It touches your heartstrings from the first note and refuses to let go till the end. It is so beautiful that it makes your heart ache. If you would like to listen to it, you can find it here.

One more thing I loved about the movie was the location where it was filmed. Most of the movie where the story takes place in interior China, was filmed in Guangxi province in China. Guangxi is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in China, and so each scene is a pleasure to watch.

Well, that’s it from here 🙂 I loved the film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘. I hope to watch it again.

Have you seen ‘The Painted Veil‘ or read the original book? What do you think about it?

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I went to a play last weekend – or rather it was an event in which a scene or a part of a scene from many plays was performed by one actor. A couple of scenes from two Sartre plays were performed. When I came back home, I had a deep urge to read a book by Sartre. I decided to pick his memoir ‘The Words‘. I had two translations of ‘The Word’. I chose one of them using a homegrown method and read it. More on this later in the post.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote his memoir ‘The Words‘ when he was fifty-nine. But the book covers only the first ten years of his life. In the book, Sartre talks about his grandparents on both sides and how they met and how his parents met, how his fascination for the printed word started at a very young age, how he could read books before he joined school properly. During the course of his memoir, Sartre touches on his relationship with his mother (he says that his mother was like his elder sister and so their relationship was more like that of siblings – it is very beautifully described – the scene which describes how Sartre’s mother read a book to him for the very first time and the transformation that happened to her, and the magic that happened, is one of my favourite parts of the book) and with his grandparents, the history of Alsace-Lorraine and how it was related to his grandparents, his favourite books when he was young, his love for films, how he became a writer and other things. In the second part of the book, Sartre flits between the past and the present, but he mostly stays in the past. The first part of the book is called ‘Reading‘ and the second part of the book is called ‘Writing‘. I liked the first part of the book more, because it had a narrative interspersed with introspective thoughts. The second part of the book had a light narrative and was heavier on introspective thoughts. Normally I would like the introspective part more, but this time, maybe because I was in an annoyed mood because I was upset with something and I wanted to rush through the book, the second part looked harder and I had to plod through. Maybe if I had read it with a calmer mind, my experience might have been better.

The Words‘ is a very interesting book. People have compared it with Rousseau’sConfessions‘ and have called it a masterful work of self analysis. The edition I read was around 250 pages long and it had big font with generous spacing between the lines, giving an illusion that it would be easy going and could be read fast. It was, of course, exactly that – an illusion. It was deceptive. The book demands our attention, invites us to pause at important passages and linger there, and rewards us if we do. There were so many beautiful passages in the book that my highlighting pen didn’t stop working. It is not a regular memoir and it is definitely not a straightforward narrative, and so it is not for everyone. But if you have time and you read slowly and persevere, it will unfold its beauty and secrets and reward you.

Now on the translations. One of them was by Bernard Frechtman and the other one was by Irene Clephane. I was undecided on which one to read. I did a test read of both of them for a few pages and then finally decided to read the first one by Bernard Frechtman. When I highlighted a passage that I loved, I went back to the other translation and read that passage and compared the two translations. It was fun 🙂 In the picture below, the book on the left is the Bernard Frechtman translation and the book on the right is the Irene Clephane translation.

I thought I’ll ask you which translation you liked more 🙂 So I took out some of my favourite sentences from the first few pages, from the two translations, and am giving them below. Do tell me which translation you like more. Do also tell me which you think is closer to the French original.

Sentence 1 :

Translation 1 :

“Around 1850, in Alsace, a schoolteacher with more children than he could afford was willing to become a grocer.”

Translation 2 :

“In Alsace, round about 1850, a schoolmaster, burdened with children, agreed to become a grocer.”

Sentence 2 :

Translation 1 :

“…all his life he retained a passion for the sublime and put his heart and soul into manufacturing great circumstances out of little events.”

Translation 2 :

“…all his life, he preserved a taste for the sublime and turned his energies to elevating trivial incidents into great occasions.”

Sentence 3 :

Translation 1 :

“That lively and shrewd but cold woman thought straight but inaccurately, because her husband thought accurately but amiss.”

Translation 2 :

“This sharp-tongued, lively, cold woman had clear but wrong opinions, because her husband had right but muddled ones.”

Sentence 4 :

Translation 1 :

“She saw nobody, being too proud to court favor for first place and too vain to be content with second.”

Translation 2 :

“She did not see anyone, because she was too proud to covet first place and too vain to accept the second.”

So, what do you think? Translation 1 or Translation 2? Bernard Frechtman or Irene Clephane?

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

“What I have just written is false. True. Neither true nor false, like everything written about madmen, about men. I have reported the facts as accurately as my memory permitted me. But to what extent did I believe in my delirium? That’s the basic question, and yet I can’t tell. I realized later we can know everything about our attachments except their force, that is, their sincerity. Acts themselves cannot serve as a measuring-rod unless one has proved that they are not gestures, which is not always easy.”

“The social hierarchy of the theatre had given my grandfather and late father, who were accustomed to second balconies, a taste for ceremonial. When many people are together, they must be separated by rites; otherwise, they slaughter each other. The movies proved the opposite. This mingled audience seemed united by a catastrophe rather than a festivity. Etiquette, now dead, revealed the true bond among men : adhesion. I developed a dislike for ceremonies, I loved crowds. I have seen crowds of all kinds, but the only other time I had witnessed that nakedness, that sense of everyone’s direct relationship to everyone else, that waking dream, that dim consciousness of the danger of being a man, was in 1940, in Stalag XII D.”

“But the fact is this : apart from a few old men who dip their pens in eau de Cologne and little dandies who write like butchers, all writers have to sweat. That’s due to the nature of the Word : one speaks in one’s own language, one writes in a foreign language. I conclude from this that we’re all alike in our profession : we’re all galley-slaves, we’re all tattooed.”

“Middle-aged writers don’t like to be praised too earnestly for their early work; but I’m the one, I’m sure of it, who’s pleased least of all by such compliments. My best book is the one I’m in the process of writing; right after it comes the last one that was published, but I’m secretly getting ready to be disgusted with it before long. If the critics should now think it’s bad, they may wound me, but in six months I’ll be coming around to their opinion. But on one condition : however poor and worthless they consider the book, I want them to rank it above all my previous work. I’m willing to let them run down my whole output, provided they maintain the chronological hierarchy, the only one that leaves me a chance to do better tomorrow, still better the day after, and to end with a masterpiece.”

Have you read Jean-Paul Sartre’sThe Words‘? What do you think about it?

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My reading is going badly and I have been distracted, first reading one book and then another and then a third one. So, to break that cycle, I thought I should read a short book which I can complete in a short span of time. What better short book to read than a graphic novel? I got ‘No Sea, No Land‘ in this month’s comic subscription and I decided to read it.

The story told in ‘No Sea, No Land‘ goes like this. Five young people, two young men and three young women, are sailing somewhere on a boat. They get stuck in a storm, and their boat ends up on a huge piece of rock, in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of nowhere. There is a building and a lighthouse there. They enter the lighthouse and they find a strange looking man there. He looks like a cross between the mysterious butler of a castle that we encounter in horror stories and Mrs.Danvers from Daphne Du Maurier’sRebecca‘. Or maybe he looks like Count Dracula, when Jonathan Harker first encounters him. This man is not happy to see these five young people and asks them what they are doing there. Before long, another man joins them. He is bigger, with a paunch, but he speaks more nicely. He helps them get settled while listening to their story. Then bad things start happening. What else can we expect? There is a fierce storm blowing outside, five young people are trapped in a lighthouse in an island, with two shady characters for company. This is the recipe for bad things to start happening. There seems to be some dark secret behind the journey that these five friends take which involve a sixth person who is not there, and there seems to be some dark mystery in the lighthouse too. What happens after that and what revelations jump at us and shock us is revealed in the rest of the story.

I enjoyed reading ‘No Sea, No Land‘. The story was gripping and made me want to turn the page, till I reached the end. The revelation in the end was stunning and unexpected. The story looked like a cross between Agatha Christie’sAnd Then There Were None‘ and Donna Tartt’sThe Secret History‘. The artwork depicted the mood of the story very beautifully – it was atmospheric and very noir-ish.

If you like noir-ish, dark mysteries, you will love ‘No Sea, No Land‘. I liked it very much and can’t wait to read more by this storytelling team. The original of this book is in French and I read the Tamil translation. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is an English translation. If you’d like to read the first few pages of the book (it is in French), you can find them here.

Just click on the picture of the cover a couple of times, and it will take you to the first pages of the book. Happy reading!

Have you read ‘No Sea, No Land‘? What do you think about it?

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