What to Watch, What to Read and What to Listen to in June…

My good friend Liane loaned me Whiplash, a DVD about a young jazz student who is bullied by his music professor.  You learn a lot about jazz, and more about human nature.  This is a well done and exuberantly played video.  Though all the main characters are male (attention: doesn’t meet the Bechdel test by a long shot) –the pace is fast and somehow the film works well. You can borrow the DVD from Halifax Public Library.

I highly recommend the series The Bureau. The Bureau is a brilliant series about the French secret service (like the CIA) – notably the dirty tricks they are up to.  What’s different is the depth of the characters, the sell-outs, the true believers and the master spy whom the series is built around.  It’s five seasons and about 10 episodes each season, so you can watch for a full month (or more!!) and never lose the thread, the plot and the sense of foreboding or anxiety.  We see the remaining tatters of French imperialism – the carving up of the world, France’s interest and tenacity in the Middle East, North Africa and Syria.  It is spell-binding and very nicely done.  I learned about the series from a blog post by pollster Angus Reid.  He claims he watched to improve his French – but I think the series towers above what 90% of what Hollywood, and 75% of what the UK churns out.  A nice touch is the French attention to detail about wardrobe, and about office parties which feature champagne toasts in glass flutes. Here’s the trailer for Season 4: You can get at least the first month free on Sundance, if you sign up.  Watch it on Sundance and then cancel anytime.

Something I read recently put me on to Escape from Pretoria, a 2020 film I borrowed on DVD from the public library. It’s first rate. The film is about Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee, two white recent university graduates imprisoned in South Africa during the Apartheid Days (before the release of Nelson Mandela).  Members of the ANC (the banned African National Congress) in 1978, not only did they leaflet against Apartheid, the best friends also placed smoke bombs in busy shopping districts to disrupt the political situation.  None of the bombs injured anyone.  Still Jenkin received a sentence of 12 years, and Lee’s sentence was eight years in jail.  Once in jail, Jenkin figured out a way they could escape.  They confided in Alex Moumbaris, a fellow prisoner — a  French citizen who had been active in anti-Apartheid activities in South Africa.  I can’t tell you what happened, but the film is exciting and fast-paced.  There are political discussions and good dialogue.  An ongoing dispute with a handful of other leftist political prisoners who insisted they would not take the risk of trying to escape.  Excellent!!  Many can barely remember the terrorism by the assassins of the fascist PW Botha regime (and its predecessors) in the years leading up to Mandela’s release. This film situates the viewer in the middle of the politics and the prisons during Apartheid. Here’s the trailer.

It seemed promising when I first started to watch The Woman in the Window.  It is a 2021 US-mad horror film or thriller about Anna, an agoraphobic woman who is a child psychologist.  She thinks she sees (through her window) the neighbour in the next building kill his wife.  Her portrayal of agoraphobia seems accurate and intense according to what I’ve seen in a couple of agoraphobics I’ve known in my time.  The rest of the plot is wearying and – honestly — mindless. But you may watch to the end (as I did!) so no spoiler alert.  See it on Netflix.  Here’s the trailer.

On Kanopy, I watched The Facilitator, a 2013 film from Ecuador.  The acting is good, especially the portrayal of a young woman from a wealthy family who stumbles over her family’s dirty political secrets.  The film is about wealth, power and corruption in Ecuador, notably about landowners grabbing farmland and privatizing water supplies which affect poor peasants. It’s a bit long-winded, but of course I’ve rarely seen a film that features the arid countryside of Ecuador. Here’s the trailer.

Short Films…

There are a few short films that you may like:  I watched The Paper Boy, an award-winning film from India.  It’s a heart warmer about an impoverished 8 year old child who sells newspapers and sleeps on the streets.  Some may think that it’s great. Here is the trailer, and the 15 min. film.

I also watched an Iranian short film:  Child and Man, which is a delight–   2 minutes long!

Not so adorable is the ViceNews film Life Inside Gaza After Nearly 2 Weeks of Bombing about what happened in Gaza, in May.  It shows the carnage created by the Israeli troops and Israel’s destruction of more than 58,000 Palestinians homes in Gaza. TV journalist Hind Hassan, an Arabic speaker from the UK, visits one street where 48 people lost their lives in missile attacks by Israel, 22 of them from one family.  Hassan is an amazing female reporter who manages to pack a lot into an 18 minute documentary.   Well worth watching.

Day 5 of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City, photo credit BBC

I’ve also discovered Dhar Mann.  He’s a New York based multimedia studio owner who makes modern day morality films about a range of social topics – bullying, wife abuse, unemployment and poverty to name a few.  This one is rather unique, Mean Girl Fat Shames Stranger and Lives to Regret her DecisionOf course the acting and production values are a bit coarse but still:  it’s 8 minutes long– .  What do you think?

What to Read…

Short fiction which is thinly disguised autobiography can be great.  I just read  You Will Love What You Have Killed, by Kevin Lambert.  This recent book took Québec by storm, and has won major literary prizes in France.  It’s about life of a schoolboy in Chicoutimi in the late 1980s and 90s.  It’s nothing like Roch Carrier’s short story, The Hockey Sweater, which is perky and cute.  Instead it’s about murder and death in a small city – and the hazard of knowing too much, and too little– about one’s neighbours. 

When I compare it to two other French bestsellers, which take place in France – not Québec, The End of Eddy, by Edouard Louis, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, the books are all of a set.  In You Will Love and The End of Eddy, each book’s protagonist comes from a working class family, in which the father was either absent, or unemployed, vicious and drunk.  In both books, the young boy is misunderstood by his mother and other relatives.  He is ignored and mistreated by school officials. Both boys know they are gay but dare not come out.  The community boasts that small town life is idyllic and supportive, though the town folk suspect any outsiders or critics.

In You Will Love What You Have Killed, there is a wittiness and gallows’ humour which lurks on every other page.  In The End of Eddy – the fear and self-loathing the boy wears is relentless and hopeless.  When I compare those two books to one which was an international bestseller a few years ago, there is a difference.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog Is also a French novel.  It’s  about an upper middle-class school girl in a well-off Paris arrondissement who is friendless and seriously depressed.  Her parents do not even pretend to be encouraging or hopeful.  The girl makes friends with the rather crusty female concierge in the apartment building. 

I read another excellent novel, Miral, by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian citizen of Israel.  Jebreal, is a literary star and critic who 20 years ago won a scholarship to attend university in Italy.  She lives there today.  Her book is a thinly disguised autobiography and she insists in an interview here, that every event and incident in the novel is true.  The novel spans Palestine – specifically east Jerusalem – from the Nakba in 1948 to the Oslo Peace Accords in 1994.  Jebreal grew up in a progressive girls’ orphanage and school, when her mother died and her father (an imam at Al Aqsa Mosque) could not manage to care for her and her sister full-time.  The book traces what happened to her family and others’ when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and their land by Israeli soldiers in 1948, and when Jordan controlled land and housing  around Jerusalem.  The descriptions of a young woman’s life in arguably the most politically exciting  of times is fascinating.  During the first Intifada, Miral (actually the author), while still only in high school, was imprisoned by Israeli police for leafletting against the Occupation.  She was severely beaten and terrorized in jail.  She was released after a few days — due to her age, and her father’s status as a leading Jerusalem imam.  The book is worth reading – though some of the characters (excluding Miral) are a bit wooden.  There is also the 2010 film, Miral,  you can watch on Youtube here. – well worth seeing. Here is the trailer.  I liked the book enough to recommend it to the Independent Jewish Voices Book Club – we read and discuss tonight!

Spring Magazine features a good article by Jason Kunin, a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV),  Kunin takes a fresh look at the issue of antisemitism in Canada, why the Jewish community is always both defensive and offensive and why Jewish Canadians often set themselves up as “special”. He also write persuasively why anti-Zionism is not the same as antisemitism.  I found this quotation gets to the heart of the matter:

As Kunin notes correctly, “When your sense of personal safety is wrapped up in uncritical support for a state that does terrible things openly; when every criticism uttered against it is explained as an act of anti-Semitism; and when your own inability to grasp how expressing pride in a state that does terrible things might make the victims of those terrible things angry, then yes, the world will seem a frightening place.” Read the article here

“When your sense of personal safety is wrapped up in uncritical support for a state that does terrible things openly; when every criticism uttered against it is explained as an act of antisemitism…the world will seem a frightening place.”

Jason Kunin, in Spring Magazine

What to Listen to…

The Big Story (Rogers) hosts podcasts on a wide variety of topics – all current and most Canadian.  I liked “How Medicine Hat became Canada’s first certified ‘zero homeless’ city. ”  (22 minutes).

For years two Canadian cities – in Alberta – have fought homelessness and have (just about) won.  In Medicine Hat, if a person can prove he’s been homeless, couch-surfing, or staying in shelters or with relatives for at least three months, that person gets a permanent apartment or house. No kidding.  In this podcast we find out how this began and why it’s made it a success. 

“[Medicine Hat] has achieved what is called functional zero chronic homelessness which means they have been able to prove that there were no more than three individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in the community for three months.”

Calgary CTV News, June 2021

The mayor of Medicine Hat asks, since we all pay taxes isn’t it better to use that money to fund permanent decent housing than to pay for shelters and hotels to house the homeless?  He says, we pay our taxes anyway – let’s get what we need.  

In British TV and movies, a fatigued character often says, “I’m knackered,” meaning completely tired out.  Well I understood the meaning of the term better after listening to Knackerman: The Toughest Job in British Farming on the Guardian Long Read.  A knackerman drives around the countryside and picks up dead animal carcasses from farms. Sometimes the sheep or cattle die of disease, of infection or of failure to thrive.  Sometimes the animal has to be killed because the farmer can no longer afford the feed for animals who are too old or injured to go to market.  It’s a brilliant podcast about modern day farms in the UK.  And none of it sounds like something out of the bucolic life on the iconic farm featured on BBC Radio 4’s The Archers. I highly recommend it-– listen to The Knackerman here

I also enjoyed the Long Read podcast “As borders close, I became trapped in my Americanness’: China, the US and me.”  At first I wasn’t going to listen – but I got hooked by Angela Qian the writer of the article who born in the US of Chinese parents.  As a romantic notion, she had thought she could somehow straddle the two countries but this very personal and intricate story demonstrates there is no “family base” to return to – and why. 

Featured Image: Banksy’s portrait of possibly Oscar Wilde escaping prison, painted on the wall of UK’s Reading jail. He escapes via a bedsheet tied to a typewriter. Photo credit: The Guardian.

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