Monday, 21 November 2011

travels and more films

Getting around France by SNCF, especially if you are eligible for and invest in, a Carte Senior, booking well ahead, is a very pleasant experience, easy, affordable and stress-free. Too much in our three weeks to reflect upon and write about, as yet. Highlights included the biggest ever Diane Arbus exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and the Musée Angladon in Avignon (great collection of 19th and 20th century art, plus first editions, notebooks, sketches, MSS etc from the likes of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Verlaine, Apollinaire, Jarry, the Surrealists and best of all where I was concerned – 3 of Lautréamont-Ducasse's 7 known letters). The amazing Roman arena/amphitheatre at Nimes, and walking over the hills to the equally stunning Pont du Gard. And staying, for several days in her Provençal village house, with Jean Rhys's granddaughter: thank you, Ellen! Following which, Mourjou's (23rd?) annual chestnut festival, where we spent a wonderful week chez our old friend the grand maître of the chataigneraie, author and cheesemeister Peter Graham. Bliss: wonderful weather, great company and fantastic quality and quantity of degustations of all sorts.

Adjusting to the UK on return has proved gradual if not downright strange. But at least a couple of good films (borrowed once again from the wonderful World Cinema section of our beleaguered local library) to regale us: Larks on a string (Jiri Menzel, 1969) and Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2011). The first, immediately banned in his native Czechoslovakia for years, did not resurface until 1990, and caused Menzel much hassle – disrupting a career that had promised so much, with the Oscar-winning Closely Observed Trains. His colleague on both films and several later ones, the fine author Bohumil Hrabal, also suffered when the shortlived Prague spring of 1968 was followed by the brutal Soviet occupation of their country. Larks… gained an underground reputation however, and in 1990 won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. The 2011 dvd reissue, plus short interview with Jiri Menzel, is highly recommended, a very funny yet poignant and instructive little satire and a colourful (in both senses) slice of European history.

As for this year's foreign Oscar-nominated Incendies, it's closer to Greek tragedy, but set in an unspecified Middle Eastern country whose inhabitants, whether exiled or returned, cannot escape past or present conflicts and all the various dreadful legacies of violence. If that sounds solemn or 'worthy', believe me it's not! This French-Canadian-Arabic production is impeccably acted by a cast that includes both professional and non-professional actors: indeed, some of the latter are actually refugees themselves. The result, adapted from a stage play, is an extremely powerful and moving cinematic drama, full of extraordinary landscapes, faces and situations. Unmissable for anyone interested in contemporary cinema, and also including some fascinating director interviews.

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