Posts filed under 'Film'

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Updates from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Austria

Would you believe we have already reached the end of January? We’ve already brought you reports from eleven different nations so far this year, but we’re thrilled to share more literary news from South America and central Europe this week. Our Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, brings us news of literary greats’ passing, while her new colleague Maíra Mendes Galvão covers a number of exciting events in Brazil. Finally, a University College London student, Flora Brandl, has the latest from German and Austrian.

Asymptote’s Argentina Editor-at-Large, Sarah Moses, writes about the death of two remarkable authors:

The end of 2016 was marked by the loss of Argentinian writer Alberto Laiseca, who passed away in Buenos Aires on December 22 at the age of seventy-five. The author of more than twenty books across genres, Laiseca is perhaps best known for his novel Los Sorias (Simurg, 1st edition, 1998), which is regarded as one of the masterworks of Argentinian literature.

Laiseca also appeared on television programs and in films such as El artista (2008). For many years, he led writing workshops in Buenos Aires, and a long list of contemporary Argentinian writers honed their craft with him.

Some two weeks after Laiseca’s passing, on January 6, the global literary community lost another great with the death of Ricardo Piglia, also aged seventy-five. Piglia was a literary critic and the author of numerous short stories and novels, including Respiración artificial (Pomaire, 1st edition, 1980), which was published in translation in 1994 by Duke University Press.

The first installments of Piglia’s personal diaries, Los diarios de Emilio Renzi, were recently released by Anagrama and are the subject of the film 327 cuadernos, by Argentinian filmmaker Andrés Di Tella. The film was shown on January 26 as part of the Museo Casa de Ricardo Rojas’s summer series “La literatura en el cine: los autores,” which features five films on contemporary authors and poets, including Witold Gombrowicz and Alejandra Pizarnik.

On January 11, the U.S. press New Directions organized an event at the bookstore Eterna Cadencia in anticipation of the February release of A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Argentinian journalist Leila Guerriero and translated by Frances Riddle. Guerriero discussed the book, which follows a malambo dancer as he trains for Argentina’s national competition, as well as her translation of works of non-fiction with fellow journalist and author Mariana Enriquez. Enriquez’s short story collection, Things We Lost in the Fire (Hogarth), translated by Megan McDowell, will also appear in English in February.

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Waking Up in David Lynch’s American Dream

He’s already inspiring greatness by bringing out the best in those of us who can no longer sit idly by.

In Trump’s America, a Muslim-American filmmaker living in Los Angeles discovers that art meets reality.

The night of the US Presidential Election felt like a moment that could have been stolen from a David Lynch film. At once surreal and subversive, yet strangely fitting, Donald Trump was chosen as the President of the United States. Like Lynch’s own protagonists, an eerie detachment swept over me as I witnessed Trump take the stage to deliver his victory speech.

As a Muslim-American and a son of immigrants, that nightmarish disbelief turned into anger and resentment when I awoke the next day. How could a country built by immigrants on the bedrock of religious freedom elect a candidate who prided himself on xenophobia, racism, and religious intolerance? Yes. I’ve heard the many arguments showing that Trump supporters had very real concerns about the economy and individual prosperity that outweighed worries about his racist and misogynistic rants. But in one fell swoop, my perspective on the American electorate and the promises of this country changed dramatically.

In better times, I imagined the American Dream much the same way Francis Ford Coppola envisioned it in The Godfather, Part II:

Thousands of immigrants rise to their feet and stare at the Statue of Liberty with hope in their eyes as they head to Ellis Island. The camera pans to capture individual faces. The Godfather theme crescendos and then fades away. Cut to a young Vito Corleone standing in line at the Ellis Island Immigration Station. He’s interviewed by an immigration official and sent to quarantine. Fast-forward sixteen years. Vito lives safely in New York with his wife and infant son, over 4,000 miles away from the torment of mob-ruled Sicily.

That is a place where hard work, loyalty, and intelligence get rewarded. Sure, Coppola romanticizes the sometimes harsh facts of the early 20th century. Living in New York’s Little Italy during the 1920s, Vito’s meteoric rise from squalor to fortune has a fantastic quality. We don’t see the America with deep racial divides or a country on the verge of economic collapse. But that idyllic portrayal represents an image that immigrant families have clung to for centuries as they arrived in the United States.

It’s been over two weeks since the election, and the reality of a Trump presidency along with a Republican majority in the House and Senate has begun to settle. But a sense of safety, trust in our neighbors, and a greater vision for a pluralistic society have been lost in the face of an increase of reported hate crimes that personify Trump’s hateful campaign rhetoric.

In some ways, I consider myself lucky in that regard. Outside of my brown skin and the beard on my face, there aren’t many symbols that make me easily identifiable as a Muslim. Verbal and physical attacks appear to be reserved for Muslim women, who are easily recognized by their headscarves.

The country also faces an enormous political divide as protesters march in the streets in over a dozen cities to let their disaffection be known. President-elect Trump continues to vilify his opposition through Twitter and criticize the mainstream media. The events since the election are a far cry from the American Dream Coppola portrayed in The Godfather, and even David Lynch’s peculiar world no longer serves as an adequate metaphor for the current state of affairs. Instead, I find myself thinking of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and its depiction of the violent, nativist reaction to Irish-Catholic immigration in the 1860s.

But succumbing to that kind of negativity is a trap that leads to cynicism. Throughout the week I’ve witnessed glimmers of hope and courage from my own community. Three days after Trump’s win, the Islamic Society of Southern California’s interfaith allies from the Episcopal Church, in collaboration with local synagogues, stood in front the mosque’s doors with signs of solidarity. Later that week, I joined a group of protesters in downtown Los Angeles, where we chanted “No Hate! No Fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”

Donald Trump started his campaign on the vague promise of making America great again. By the looks of it, he’s already inspiring greatness by bringing out the best in those of us who can no longer sit idly by in this new America. Let’s just hope he meets us halfway.

Jawad Qadir is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

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Oh Canada: Donald Winkler’s New Translation of Samuel Archibald’s Arvida

"It is not clear where one story begins and the other ends, or where the animal begins and the man begins."

A story that can be retold and rewritten, but can all the while retain its own thingness—a story that can evolve in the imagination—is a finger in the face of the insipid outpouring of gifs and memes we daily consume, like Technicolor marshmallows shot out of the all powerful maw of the Facebook-Disney machine.

We of the lower forty-eight are fortunate, then, that something like Samuel Archibald’s Arvida, has been recently translated from the French by Donald Winkler. We need stories. And these stories from a land we’ve all been living alongside our whole American lives will do nicely. These are American stories. But another America, a hidden America, maybe even more American than the America we think we know.

Canada. In Archibald’s Arvida, there is an echo of some of the wavering visions we have of our northern neighbor (evergreen, flannel), but they are woven into the fabric of a working-class town, both factual and fabulous, immediately calling up comparisons to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s evocations of Winnipeg. Both Maddin and Archibald tell their tales utilizing a personal history of a family and a discreet location, while at the same time breathing into them a dream logic and fairy tale or fable-like tropes.

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Au Comptoir, Au Terroir: Eric Rohmer’s Nadja à Paris

Nina Sparling's latest essay on foreignness, film, and fluidity between private and public spaces.

Eric Rohmer’s 1964 film, Nadja à Paris, follows a Nadja Tesich through the city. Tesich is an exchange student at the Sorbonne, living at the Cité Universitaire at the southern edge of the city. The film is short—just ten minutes. There is no plot; Nadja leads Rohmer, he in observation of her movement through the city. Nadja narrates the film in a voice-over. The film treats Nadja’s position as a habitual stranger, a regular foreigner. She is not French, nor does she desire to be. She learns the habits and patterns of the city and participates in them as she is: a Yugoslavian-American studying in a city that is not her own. The habits she adopts fixate on two spaces, le terrace and le comptoir. READ MORE…

In the Meantime Nothing Happens

A review of the Belgian documentary film Ne Me Quitte Pas—a tragicomic ode to pain, boredom, and the spaces in-between

There’s a moment in the documentary Ne Me Quitte Pas that should be utterly unremarkable but got to me beyond all logical proportion. We’re about an hour into the film, and the protagonist, Marcel—middle-aged, morose, pyjama-clad—is sitting alone in the hospital room where he’s being treated for alcoholism. Before him is a large plastic bottle, filled to the peak with a litre of water, and when he goes to pick it up he spills a little. He curses, stands up, and with almost balletic attention to detail embarks on an intricate process of cleaning it up, manoeuvring paper towels as if polishing a masterwork of carpentry. Finally satisfied, he walks across the room, bins the towels, trudges back, sits down with a sigh, slides the bottle over, and delicately extends his hand around it once more to take a sip—only to spill it again. “Merde!” he yells, “C’est pas vrai!” READ MORE…

Lilt is the New Voice

A review of Hong Khaou’s newly released drama “Lilting”

Many translators might agree that language is song, a kind of mouth music. Each text has a unique time signature and timbre, and when we translate voice, we have to open our ears before opening our beaks to become songbirds. And translators have a special insight into how a language’s sounds are made up of tones: pitches that help to convey meaning. A toneless voice, whether spoken, written or translated, is like a song without melody.

I learnt recently that mouth music is the alternative name for lilting­­, the subtle rise and fall of words in a sentence, and originally a style of Gaelic singing. Given that the nitty-gritty of literary translation is the picking up on nuances in voice, it strikes me as odd that translators, myself included, don’t dedicate much airtime to lilting. Why don’t we talk about lilting when we talk about voice? Isn’t it odd that translation theorists—boasting the loftiest and loveliest buzzwords in all the humanities—haven’t yet adopted it? After all, lilts are not merely ephemeral: a good prose stylist (and good translators too) can conjure them in writing. In James Joyce’s Dubliners, “The Dead” presents a good example of a lilt woven into a text, one that reverberates off the page when read aloud:

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Translation Tuesday: “The Jails Take to the Streets” by Carmen Boullosa

Fresh fiction by Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa, translated by Kristina Zdravič Reardon

Featuring a kidnapping, a prison, a drug lord, an inmate called the Inmate-Prince, and a prostitution network, Carmen Boullosa suggests through stark satire in this story that truth is, indeed, stranger—and more complex—than fiction. At the same time, she addresses the narrative gaps between truth and fiction head-on with four levels of meta-narrative.

To begin, she writes that this piece is “a conversation between a film producer (John Grandcaca), a multi-award-winning Mexican writer (Julio de la X), and the assistant producer, with a moralizing note from the author.” At once, we see four levels of narration: the writer’s script, the summary of the script from the assistant producer, the commentary on the summary of the script from the producer to the writer, and the commentary from the fictional stand-in for Boullosa. Yet the narrative proves even wilder than the layers might at first suggest.

Mexico released official crime rate statistics from the last several years this spring. While some claim the statistics are dubious, the publication highlights a high number of kidnappings, extortions, and thefts across the country. Boullosa draws attention to these through dark humor here, and in doing so, forces the reader to reflect on the gaps between truth and fiction and how we, as readers, navigate that divide.

—Kristina Zdravič Reardon

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Reviewing “Red Monsoon,” Interviewing Eelum Dixit

"I think that Nepali cinema is at a point now where if people at the top work together, we can really create a proper industry. "

Red Monsoon, a Nepali-language feature film directed by young Nepali filmmaker Eelum Dixit, will open in Kathmandu multiplexes in May. A select crowd of Lalitpur intelligentsia, myself included (I say this with my tongue firmly in cheek!) were invited to preview the film last week in the more intimate atmosphere of the refurbished 1920s-era Yalamaya Kendra complex.

South Asian film is perhaps too often synonymous with Bollywood. The overwhelming image is of the colourful, sequined song-and-dance routine, melodrama, three-hour-plus duration, as well as big-budget, cartel-backed production.

But Red Monsoon contains only one of these characteristics. The low-budget film (starring several members of Eelum’s family) opens with footage of one of Kathmandu’s many crowd-pulling religious festivals, yet riot police are beating back revelers. In the next scene, a group of young men discuss migration to the Gulf. “Good luck with your new life in Dubai,” says one friend. READ MORE…

Pop Around the World: the Russian Invasion of 1962

Songs of revolution and regret

Though those Russian missiles never made it over from Cuba to the US in 1962, several Russian songs did hit their targets, flourishing in foreign ears even in the permafrostiest months of the Cold War.

Perhaps the best-known Russian tune out west is “Those Were The Days,” a song based on “Дорогой длинною,” pioneered by Ukrainian-born cabaret singer Alexander Vertinsky (who recorded the version embedded above) and written by Russian composer Boris Fomin to lyrics by Konstantin Podrevskii. Read in translation, the song sings of grief and of regret for past joys gone too soon:

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Pop Around The World: الأرنب الأبيض

Cover songs in American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street

There’s a great deal of music in American Hustle (originally and more appropriately called American Bullshit), no surprise for a period picture that takes great care with the costumes and especially the curls of its con-men characters. What is surprising is that a great deal of the admittedly great music chosen is a little rote, either in terms of sonic 70s shorthand (Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” stands for disco and drugs) or through blunt lyrical parallels (Santana’s “Evil Ways” or Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”). It’s not all that obvious, though, as on-set improvisation led director David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence to take Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and turn McCartney’s Bond tune into a villainous call to arms for Lawrence’s dangerously unbalanced character.

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Fascinations

My year in film, art, and reading

I’ve been working on an art exhibition called LOST HORIZON this year which has meant re-visiting the James Hilton classic from 1932 — ‘The first paperback ever published’ —or so the blurbs say.  This is where the term ‘Shangri-La’ comes from. The movie, by Frank Capra is wonderful, too.

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Alejandro Zambra’s “The Novel I Lost”

The Chilean writer reflects on the film adaptation of his novel

Alejandro Zambra is a Chilean writer at the forefront of literature today. The appearance in 2006 of Bonsái, his first novel, was an event—“A bloodletting,” as Marcela Valdes called it. In 2007 he was one of the Hay Festival’s “39 under 39” list of the best young Latin American writers, and in 2010 he was featured in Granta’s Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists issue. He has written two more novels: La vida privada de los arboles (tr. The Private Lives of Trees, Open Letter), and Formas de volver a casa (tr. Ways of Going Home, FSG); his new collection of short stories, Mis documentos, will be out from Anagrama in early 2014.

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