quarta-feira, junho 13, 2018

Beach Rats, by Eliza Hittman

This is a beautiful movie, that conveys its message - mostly about longing, coming of age and the wish to belong even when one does not know what to (and isn't that one of the main features of adolescence?) - in an extremely visual, almost voyeuristic, way. And simultaneously very emotional, once more in a mostly visual, wordless, way, by creating atmospheres with the camera eye. Isn't this what cinema is all about after all? It somehow reminded me of the art of silent movies, when they knew how to tell a story without any speech.

The performances are outstanding, especially the main character, the girlfriend and the mother. I was really impressed, it's a magnificent piece of cinema art.

quinta-feira, junho 07, 2018

Before My Feet Touch the Ground, a documentary by Daphni Leef

I just watched this documentary by the Israeli activist and filmmaker Daphni Leef, and I found it very interesting and great food for thought.
It’s a very accomplished documentary, in the way it depicts very vividly the 2011 protests in Israel against the housing prices, how they grew, and the emotional and political development of Daphni, one of its main organizers. She was at the session, and I was very positively impressed by her intelligence and articulate ideas, and how much she grew intellectually since those early days of notoriety. I congratulate her for that, and for the courage it took to expose her doubts, humanity and privacy so poignantly and honestly.

But then there are the questions raised by those street movements that took place in those years, what did they mean, what is the aftermath, now that 7 years have gone by?

I will not discuss here the movements of the Arab spring; even if they happened at the same time and maybe the momentum was related, in Egypt, Syria or Libya, they were true revolutions crushed by totalitarian regimes and military coups or civil war, they are wonderfully and painfully chronicled in books like The City Always Wins, Guapa or The Queue – and certainly in others I haven’t read – and they belong to a different category from the street movements that took place in Western and democratic countries like Israel, Spain or the US, and I think it would be unfair and wrong to group them together.

So I’ll focus on these movements – the Occupy movements in Spain and the US and the protests in Israel. And I’ll say that the question that I wish to ask basically is: what did they accomplish? What are the results, 7 years later? And the answer I give myself is pretty dire. In Spain, they had the appalling government of Rajoy until last week. We had Brexit, and Trump was elected as president in the US. I don’t know about the rents in Israel, but my friends there keep complaining about the cost of living in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu is still Prime Minister and that annoying Regev woman is minister of Culture, so I guess things probably didn’t change for the best.

So, what’s left? A sense of huge disappointment. So maybe we should look critically at those events to try to learn from them. Was it the right way to fight? In my opinion, supported by the aftermath, definitely not. Looking back, I see a lot of well intentioned and very naïve people, dreaming of the ‘60s protest movements, manifesting against what they call “the system”, that they feel it fails them – and it does, in many ways – and getting inebriated by their capacity to be visible, wishing to change the world because they feel it’s supposed to be changed – which I agree to. But, after all the marches, feelings of communion, partying to the sounds of Redemption Song or People Have the Power, what happened? They had their minutes – or weeks – of fame, and then people just got tired, changed the channel and everything went back to the same – or worse. “The system” didn’t even need to be violent, it just reaped the fruits of boredom and inertia. And things did not only change but actually worsened – vd Netanyahu, Trump, Rajoy, Brexit.

So my point is – this is not the way to make things better. How much flawed “the system” may be – and it is, in many ways, dominated by greedy and wealthy people and corporations – the way to change and make things better in Western democracies – and, however imperfect they may be, they’re still the best way of government we’ve achieved – is not by chanting and screaming, but by participating in politics in an educated and informed way, moving “the system” according to our ideas, putting aside petty disagreements and inflated egos, and creating honest and reliable political parties with honest and progressive ideas. I believe the way forward is to perfect “the system”, with trials and errors like the “geringonça” we’re experiencing in Portugal at the moment, that is working, and I hope they will try now in Spain. Less folklore and more efficacy. More education and responsibility and less demagogy.

domingo, junho 03, 2018

La Nuit sera calme, par Romain Gary

It's always interesting how one comes across a book or an author. In the case of Romain Gary, I was curious about him after reading very flattering references in Pumpkinflowers, by Matti Friedman - he mentioned particularly Les Cerfs-Volants, so this was the first Romain Gary book I read, and I was hooked. He's a wonderful writer, and his book La Vie Devant Soi, written under the pseudonym Émile Ajar, is one of the books that moved me the most in the last few years.

La Nuit sera calme is a kind of a long interview, des entretiens, as they say in French, and in it Romain Gary comes across as an extremely intelligent, interesting and sensible man of the 20th century, from a time and place when French culture was still at its best. It shows how sound political thinking and honest morals are timeless, and it somehow gives us some hope - as long as there are intelligent and committed people there is still some hope...

La vraie valeur n’a jamais rien à craindre de ces mises à l’épreuve par le sarcasme et la parodie, par le défi et par l’acide, et toute personnalité politique qui a de la stature et de l’authenticité sort indemne de ces agressions. La vraie morale n’a rien à redouter de la pornographie – pas plus que les hommes politiques, qui ne sont pas des faux-monnayeurs, de Charlie Hebdo, du Canard enchaîné, de Daumier ou de Jean Yanne. Bien au contraire: s’ils sont vrais, cette mise à l’épreuve par l’acide leur est toujours favorable. La dignité n’est pas quelque chose qui interdit l’irrespect: elle a au contraire besoin de cet acide pour révéler son authenticité.

L’O.N.U. a été dévorée par le cancer nationaliste. Le nationalisme, surtout quand il est jeune, frais et pimpant, c’est d’abord le droit de disposer sans appel d’un peuple – par tyrannie intérieure – au nom du droit des peuples à disposer d’eux-mêmes. C’est le droit de couper les mains ou le clitoris des filles, de lapider les femmes adulteres, de fusiller, d’exterminer, de torturer, au nom du droit du peuple à disposer de lui-même. Tu peux faire tuer un million d’hommes à l’intérieur des frontières de ton pays et siéger aux Nations Unies à la Commission des Droits de l’homme, monter à la tribune de l’Assemblée générale et prononcer un discours sur la liberte, l’égalité et la fraternité et te faire acclamer, parce que les affaires intérieures d’un État, c’est sacré.

Sur le plan de la réalité seule, l’homme, enfin, c’est indiscernable, parce que toutes les notions de fraternité, de démocratie, de liberte, sont des valeurs de convention, on n eles reçoit pas de la nature, ce sont des décisions, des choix, des proclamations d’imaginaire auxquelles solvente on sacrifie sa vie pour leur donner vie.
Ces rapports “chien sans maître” avec Dieu ou avec l’absence de Dieu, que Dieu soit ressentit comme une préférence ou comme un manque, sont toujours des rapports avec un collier et une laisse qui me sont totalement étrangers.

domingo, maio 27, 2018

Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi

I was really impressed by this book. It's a wonderfully written tale, between the fantastic / surrealistic and the factual depiction of a war torn city, where the surreal of the imagination blends smoothly with the surreal of life under those conditions, creating an atmosphere simultaneously dreamlike and starkly real. Adding to that masterly storytelling a touch of dark humour, the author creates a true masterpiece.

The human capacity to live under extreme circumstances always fascinates me, and it is extremely vivid in this book. I'm also always interested in reading about the present events and realities of the Middle Eastern turmoils, told by people who experience them, instead of the black-and-white pictures the news convey us. So, this book is one of several about this subject that I've greatly appreciated in the last year: Guapa, The City Always Wins, The Queue.

A beautiful, moving and disturbing book, I highly recommend it.

Mémoires de La Rochefoucauld

I first became acquainted with the duke de La Rochefoucauld through the books of Alexandre Dumas - La Guerre des Femmes and the Trois Mousquetaires series. These books, that I read in childhood, left me an indelible taste for everything regarding the Fronde and its troubles - later I read the Mémoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier, du cardinal de Retz, and there were still lots of references to that troubled period in Saint-Simon. So I guess it was just a matter of time until I read La Rochefoucauld. And I'm glad I did - the language is extremely elegant - and how I love that archaic French! - and the narrative reads like a Dumas novel - actually, it was from this book that Dumas took the idea for the diamonds jewels in Les Trois Mousquetaires. Never boring, it is extremely interesting in the way it shows how politics was done in those days, the Nobility privileges and what they considered their God-given rights, and all the petty intrigues that determined such important and fateful events as a Civil war. It sounds simultaneously familiar and remotely romantic.

I wonder what will be the next book I'll read about the Grand Siècle?

sábado, maio 12, 2018

The Sparsholt Affair, by Alan Hollinghurst

Years ago, I loved The Line of Beauty, and then read Alan Hollinghurst's previous books and liked them extremely, especially The Swimming Pool Library and The Folding Star. Later, The Stranger's Child was a disappointment, and now I was curious about his latest book, The Sparsholt Affair.

I was glad it is a much better book than The Stranger's Child, but it still felt like a somehow failed book. It reminded me of Virginia Woolf's The Years - a good read, a clever period piece, elegantly written, but somewhat weak, falling short of the author's capacity, failing to achieve that sense of "yes, this is it" that a truly great book does, it leaves us with the feeling that its point was not quite made.

But it's still a good book, so I guess I'll wait for Hollinghurst's next work and read it.

quarta-feira, maio 09, 2018

A nice holiday in Portugal, Spain and Paris

I usually consider a holiday to be truly fulfilling when I leave my familiar surroundings, travel some place I've never been to, discover new sights (and, if I'm lucky, new people). But sometimes it feels just as good to revisit familiar places, especially in good company - the joy of seeing and experiencing again can be just as good as the pleasure of seeing anew. And that's what I did this time, the occasion was a visit from a dear Aussie friend - - someone who showed me his country in two fantastic and unforgettable roadtrips (and whose acquaintance is one of the many reasons I'll always be grateful to Facebook), and to whom I looked forward to share some of my Europe with.

So I started by playing the tourist in Lisbon, something I rarely do, numbed by the familiarity of driving through it every day. But it is really a beautiful city, especially under the clear spring light - the red roofs, the cobblestone streets, the lively squares with café terraces, the Baixa, Chiado, Belém, etc. And of course the tasty food and wine. I felt happy walking around my city, showing famous sights like Jerónimos, the Belém tower, the castle hill, the belvedere in Graça, the Gulbenkian museum, the modern architecture at the Expo 98 site - they have become very (sometimes too) touristic, but there are good reasons for that. I dislike the tacky shops that are taking over the Baixa and the crowds in Belém, but it's still a remarkable city, and I was proud of it.

The weather was beautiful, and then I showed him the Cascais line, Guincho, Azenhas-do-Mar and the Capuchos convent in Sintra; another day was spent visiting Cabo Espichel, Sesimbra and the Arrábida, where we had a great fish lunch at Portinho.

My friend is a great admirer of Islamic architecture (and a keen fan of Game of Thrones) so then we went on a roadtrip to Andalusia. We stopped in Évora, Monsaraz and the Alqueva, gloriously beautiful in spring, and stayed at Seville, where we visited the town and the Alcazar, the shooting place of Dorne in Game of Thrones. Ate a lot of calamares and oxtail, and enjoyed the lively sevillian street life.

From Seville we went to Granada, one of my favourite Spanish cities. The Albaicin, the walk by the Darro, the Alhambra at sunset, everything was as beautiful as I remembered it from my visit exactly 10 years ago. I hadn't visited the Realejo, the old Jewish quarter, before, and it was a joy to walk up its narrow and winding stairs.

After Granada, Cordoba. The city is beautiful, and the Great Mosque one of the most amazing buildings I ever saw, with its forest of columns and its unique bending of styles - Roman columns supporting Islamic arches and then Gothic reliefs. And we got a treat of a contest of Flamenco dances by young people at the Plaza de las Tendillas, lots of fun.

Near Cordoba, we visited the castle of Almodóvar del Rio, Highgarden in Game of Thrones, a restored castle overlooking a beautiful Spanish landscape.

Then back to Portugal, driving by beautiful olive groves and vineyards. A visit to Sintra, the amazing National Palace (probably my favourite Portuguese palace) and the Quinta da Regaleira, an early 20th century folly with lovely gardens and the romantic well.

To end the holidays, nothing could be better than a few days in Paris, in a glorious spring weather. We stayed at he Marais, one of my favourite Parisian neighbourhoods, and walked miles and miles - along the Rive Gauche (Saint-Germain-des-Prés, etc), the Champs-Elysées, the Île Saint-Louis. I love Paris, and never get tired of it.

We visited the Musée Picasso, that had fascinated me some 20 years ago. It has been extensively renovated since, and I missed many of his '20s paintings and the Las Niñas studies that I had so much admired then, but I guess they haven't enough space to show their whole collection, and there was a very good exhibition about the Guernica.

Paris, Granada, Cordoba, Seville. Lisbon... and good company. Can one ask for something better?

terça-feira, maio 01, 2018

Sleep Demons, an Insomniac Memoir, by Bill Hayes

Another very good book by Bill Hayes. I particularly love how he weaves his memoirs along with the depictions of sleep disturbances. And how moving and engaging his memoirs of the AIDS epidemic are. As is the narrative of his coming to terms with his sexuality and his life. And his writing is extremely elegant and intelligent. I highly recommend his books.