Rama’s Second Thought (A Story)

Dilip was a great musician. He had been lucky. He had a great master who was feted in London, Paris, San Fransisco, Benares and Calcutta. In those days, for an Indian musician in particular, this was rare.

Dilip’s Guru-ji was a rare bird – a genius – both musically and as a show man. Guru-ji knew instinctively what the audience wanted; so much so that, years later, he knew exactly when to retire, when the game was up, when he could no longer play well enough to please the connoisseurs.

I didn’t know anything about the sitar, but Dilip made it sing so that even I could understand its beauty. People said that he was Guru-ji’s finest pupil, the most gifted. But Dilip had a taste for whiskey that matched his talent, and many years later he died of a wretched liver, having abandoned a wife and given up on family life. Guru-ji survived him, the great man. He can’t be blamed for Dilip’s end; he has so many disciples, and the others they thrive – most famously his own daughter, who was accepted back into the fold at about the time that Dilip started to fail. She’s had reasonable success as her father’s daughter, as a real bombshell, and a reasonably talented sitarist.

Dilip’s demise was written by his own hand, not in his master’s.

I remember the time, when once, twenty years before the end, he drunkenly fell and broke a lead crystal glass. It cut his right hand so that his severed thumb had to be carried in an ice pack with him to casualty. We wrapped his hand in blood-soaked cloth to prevent him from seeing the real damage. They sewed his thumb back on and he played for many years, appreciated by Calcutta audiences who know so much about music. But for that hour he was a sitarist without a right thumb, a man without a future. Maybe he saw what was coming. Better to end it now.

A father who didn’t provide. A distracted guru. Nothing could be fixed, everything that mattered: empty. Even the music couldn’t give him the love he had lost somewhere along the way. Didn’t he have faith in the music?

Maybe the music is fine, but the hours in between become the problem: how to make them go. The thrill of performance, followed by the crabbed silence of a dressing room, the linoleum corridors of an anonymous concert hall. The loneliness when you reluctantly stagger home at the end of the night; and then, the physical discomfort of a night’s drinking. A smallish man, he must have felt it – that and so much more.

When we were children, Dilip would read to us. He would read from Amar Chitra Katha comics, which he brought for us when he visited from Calcutta.

He told us the stories dutifully, pointing out pictures to illustrate his telling. They were stories from Indian history and about the exploits of the gods. The Ramayana was a favourite of ours. Hanuman, Rama, Sita and Laxman all came to life in his voice. We were always relieved at the end when, on second thought, Rama thought better of putting Sita’s fidelity through a trial by fire. Saved by that moment’s reprieve, they all lived happily ever after. It was only in my twenties that I was told the story’s real ending. Shattered by her husband’s faithlessness, on his insistence that she walk through fire to prove her virtue, Sita called on mother earth to swallow her up. And so she died, and Rama was penitent – like Henry II at Thomas’ tomb – and it was too late.

Dilip didn’t have the heart to tell us the real story.

 

Ramayana

Being a woman in a “gentleman’s club”

It was just that I had the feeling the art scene belonged to the men, and that I was in some way invading their domain. Therefore the work was done and hidden away. I felt more comfortable hiding it. On the other hand, I destroyed nothing. I kept every fragment. – Louise Bourgeois, 1979

When I was twenty, a friend of my grandparents’ invited me for lunch at one of the members’ clubs on Pall Mall. Women were admitted to the club restaurant and other guest areas, but not everywhere in the club. On my way to the ladies’ room, I took a wrong turn and found myself in a richly appointed, high-ceilinged lounge – a sea of Chesterfields. The odd pool of lamp light glimmered over a bald or grey head buried in a broadsheet. I took a few bold strides into the room. One or two heads looked up from their reading. One old man cleared his throat and blinked. I sensed that I was in the wrong place, and beat a hasty retreat. It was only once I was outside that I read the brass plaque reading “gentlemen only”.

I’m not sure why this memory came back to me today. But I have been pondering the odd ways that gender roles and ambivalence can complicate our creativity, and this story has some resonance for me. Working in the film industry as a woman director has sometimes felt like my foray into the forbidden salons of a gentlemen’s club. My feeling is supported by widely publicised statistics – one survey last year put the percentage of female directors working on features at 5%; another estimate is as high as 9%. Either way, the proportion is unrepresentative of the population.

Unlike Louise Bourgeois, I have destroyed my work. I have trashed drawings, notebooks and whole films (including taped rushes – never film): all part of a complicated relationship I have with creativity, violence and destruction – one which began at an early age – and may have reflected a healthy doubt about my juvenilia. I have also hidden my work. I completely understand and empathise with Bourgeois’ words about the art scene and her reaction to it.

Gender biases and stereotypes are all the more insidious because we internalise them and turn them upon ourselves.

We don’t have to believe the words on the brass plaque.

So you want to go to film school in NYC?

Mythbusting: You need to be rich to go to film school.

No!

But if you’re not, you need to be seriously tough, lucky and imprudent…. Here are some thoughts that may help you navigate this difficult but rewarding journey if you are considering film school in the States.

Graduate film school is a massive investment of time, money and emotion. But not only are there scholarships and bursaries out there to help you, there are also ways of subsidising even the most demanding courses via campus jobs woohoo! There are also loans to help you make up the shortfall. None of this is easy but it does mean that the MFA programmes are more accessible than people think – although they are not for the fainthearted.

Here are some questions I wish that I had asked myself when I jubilantly read my acceptance letter to Columbia’s MFA programme:

  • Can you really afford to spend 3-5 years accruing debt and no savings? Er probably not, but, what the hell! It probably won’t kill you… even if it isn’t what your accountant would advise.
  • Can you face the same wardrobe for that period of time? Seriously.
  • At Columbia, certainly (unless things have changed drastically), you will be footing the bill for 90% of your student projects and this does mean that your peers with access to extra $$$ will be in a better position to make flashy work. But this is not everything, remember: some of the best filmmakers in my year (and throughout film history) were broke.
  • Let’s not glorify poverty. How will you make sure you have what you need in order to thrive? It is really hard to be creative unless your basic needs are taken care of – food, privacy, health and security are really important.
  • Can you face coming out of graduate school burdened with debt? How long will it take you to pay it off and how do you propose to do so?
  • What will you do if your all important thesis film is not a passport to directing/producing/writing professionally? How do you plan to perservere?
  • Are the European schools more able to support and nurture their students financially with grants?
  • A big consideration for Europeans is the fact that the F-1 limits us to campus jobs, which will allow us to earn a fraction of what we can earn back home. So, make a relationship with a temping agency to work in vacations.

If I’d answered all these questions seriously in 2003, I probably would have stayed in London and carried on working. Yet despite the struggle, I am glad I went and braved it through the MFA programme: I came out with expertise, wonderful peers and a serious sense of filmmaking.

I only got through film school thanks to an incredible cocktail of other people’s faith in me, their kindness and my own grit. Figure out your recipe for survival and make it work. Most importantly, don’t give up.

Carrying the Cannes

This is not a round-up of all the meetings I had, films I saw, or cards I collected while at my first Cannes Festival; rather it is a moment that I would like to take just to record how saddened I am by my vivid and direct experience of racial and ethnic tension in Provence-Alpes Maritimes. I was singled out to be stopped, searched, and ID-d at least once on every day of my stay.

I sat next to a French-Moroccan man on my flight back and asked him if things were that bad for him. He told me that he struggles to get a table at a restaurant, enter a night club, live a normal life and is routinely ID-d or searched – especially in the last six months. If Al Qaida wanted to ruin our dream of hybridity and tolerance, they’ve done a very good job. They’ve walked straight into the arms of every xenophobe and racist around, and given people an alibi for their prejudices. And genuinely, it is the diaspora who pay the long term price.

I used to be proud of my accentless French, but now I find people treat me with more respect if I speak with a heavy English accent like a rosbif – I guess at least that way they know I am a tourist. But that is cold comfort for French Arabs who want to lead normal lives.

About Bubbles

Bubbles is a short film about a child’s experience of witnessing domestic violence, starring international star Shabana Azmi. Set in London, it portrays life in the South Asian diaspora from a small girl’s perspective.

Written and directed by Nasheed Qamar Faruqi, the film also features Bhasker Patel, Dolly Ballea and Christopher Simpson. The little girl, Bubbles, is played by talented newcomer, Yasmeen Siddiqui.

The film was produced by Ashwin Desai, photographed and co-produced by Sam William Mitchell and edited by Yann Heckmann. Patricia Grigorescu did the Production Design.

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Bubbles: Credits

Yasmeen Siddiqui in Bubbles

CREDITS

Cast in order of appearance

Yasmeen Siddiqui as Bubbles

Shabana Azmi as Nani

Bhasker Patel as Nana

Christopher Simpson as The Young Man

Dolly Ballea as Adult Bubbles

Sarandha Tyagi as Nani’s hands

Written & Directed by Nasheed Qamar Faruqi

Produced by Ashwin Anil Desai

Co-Producers Sam William Mitchell, Nasheed Qamar Faruqi, Shilpa Mankikar

Director of Photography Sam William Mitchell

Production Design by Patricia Grigorescu

Edited by Yann Heckmann

Make-up by Alexa Riva Ravina

Costumes by Nasheed Qamar Faruqi

Assistant Director – David Labi

Set Dresser – Victoria Visco

Gaffer – Theo Milford and Damian

Camera Assistant – Matt Choules

2nd Camera Assistant – Ollie Martin

2nd Unit Camera Assistants – Bob Pipe and Andrea Bellini

Location Sound – Mustafa Bal

Boom Operator – James Friend

Second Unit Location Sound – Dave Sohanpal

Tailoring by Shamraj, and Courtesy of Shabana Azmi and Bhasker Patel

BUBBLES a short film by Nasheed Qamar Faruqi, starring Shabana Azmi

Credits by Pierangelo Pirak

Sound Design by Gernot Fuhrmann

Stills Photographer – Sahil Lodha

Festival Coordinator – Shilpa Mankikar

Production Assistants – Namrata Goyal; Hugo Bronstein; Okianthos; Ollie

Ms. Azmi’s Assistant – Namrata Goyal

Ms. Siddiqui’s Chaperone and Tutor – Amina Gillani

Catering by Fresco, Westbourne Grove; Ashwin Anil Desai; Hugo Bronstein; Alyssa

Tisne and Sulma Yaneth Benavides

Cameras from Filmscape Media and Pixipixel

Lenses from Pixipixel

Lighting from Filmscape Media, Theo Milford and Sam William Mitchell

“Chaabi Kho Jai” by Laxmikant Pyarelal Performed by

Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra Singh from the

Soundtrack of “Bobby” by Raj Kapoor (1973)

Courtesy of Saregama Ltd.

Footage from “Bobby” by Raj Kapoor (1973)

Starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia

Courtesy of R. K. Pictures Pvt.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or

dead, is purely coincidental.

© Bubbles, 2014

Special Thanks for Supporting our Kickstarter Campaign

To Hugo Bronstein; Nadia Fazal Jamil; Kiran Rao; Amina Gillani; Omar Fazal Jamil; Latitude CRS; Ram & Lalitha; Kanchan Desai; Dr. Saroj Auplish; Natalie Wulfing; Adeel Shafiqullah; Shakir Z. Karim; Shewaram; Yasser Phool; Bente Haulund Madsen; Catalina Bronstein & Adolfo Bronstein; Perland Properties Ltd; Katie Fiszman; Nasser Aslam; Arunkaka; Keith Varms; Rashmi Sirdeshpande; Radhika Piramal & Amanda Meade; Alex Peeters; Shakuntala Kalla and Nadia Fazal Jamil.

Thanks for Supporting our Kickstarter Campaign

To Pablo Bronstein & Leonardo Boix; Zahra Mani; Shama Goyal; Himani Gupta; Asma Mani; Julien Domercq; Norbert Morawetz; Sue Tripp; Surrinder and Sudesh Kumar; Amelia Power; Yashodhan Jambhle; Mariana Ziadeh; Richard Stephens; Nasreen Rehman; Pranav Nadkarni; Joshua Bernstein; Emily Grace Randall; Allison Cook; Pierangelo Pirak; Hattie Bowering; Ana Kamath; Mary P. Murphy; Rajan Parrikar; Jay Shah; Zain Masud; Mira Gratier; Buku Sarkar; Nikhil Shah; Saad Iqbal & Charlene Perilla; Rajan Patel and Freddy Foks.

For Patrick Chabal, 1951-2014

Bubbles… More about the cast

CAST BIOGRAPHIES

_MG_6119Shabana Azmi

An of icon of international cinema and leading actress of the Indian New Wave Movement (also known as “Parallel Cinema”) Shabana Azmi has appeared in over 120 Hindi films in a career spanning five decades, winning a record five National Film Awards and four Filmfare Awards for Best Actress. Shabana’s notable films include Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977); Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1976), Junoon (1978), Susman (1987) and Antarnaad (1991); Mrinal Sen’s Khandar (1984), Genesis (1986), and Ek Din Achanak (1989); Gautam Ghose’s Paar; Aparna Sen’s Picnic (1989) and Sati (1989); Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (1982); and Vinay Shukla’s Godmother (1999). Shabana also starred in John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka (1988), Roland Joffe’s City of Joy (1992), Blake Edwards’s Son of the Pink Panther (1993) and Ismail Merchant’s In Custody (1993). Her recent films include Midnight’s Children (2012) and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013).

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Yasmeen Siddiqui

Yasmeen Siddiqui was born in London and haslived in the UK and Dubai. She will be beginning senior school in 2015. Thisis Yasmeen’s first role in a film.

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Bhasker Patel

Bhasker Patel was born in East Africa and lived in India and the UK. He is a regular in the cult UK serial Emmerdale. Bhasker has also appeared in a number of features including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Kidulthood. Bhasker will be appearing in Oliver Stone’s forthcoming Snowden.

Christopher Simpson

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Christopher Simpson is an actor with a wide ranging creative practice that includes writing, directing, mask and teaching. His work on screen includes White Teeth, Brick Lane and Spooks. On the stage, Christopher has played Pericles at the National Theatre.

Dolly Ballea

Dolly is a London based actress and model. She has appeared in episodes of Holby City, Midsummer Murders and Eastenders.

Bubbles, A Synopsis

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SYNOPSIS

Bubbles is a tense and atmospheric short film about a little girl who witnesses an act of horrible violence at home, and how it drives her to despair and obsession.

LONG SYNOPSIS

Living in London with her South Asian grandparents, Bubbles sits watching Hindi film songs on the TV. Around her, the family is stifled by an atmosphere of thinly veiled violence – a shouting grandfather; a grandmother (Nani, played by Shabana Azmi) obsessively chopping betel nut; an uncle washing obsessively. Uncle (Christopher Simpson) and grandfather (Bhasker Patel) are at each other’s throats. And in spite of Nani’s attempts to protect Bubbles, when this violence is unleashed, the child sees too much and her world changes forever.

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Bubbles: Key Crew

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CREW BIOGRAPHIES

Nasheed Qamar Faruqi (Writer & Director)

Nasheed is a London based filmmaker of Pakistani parentage, who’s made several short films and music videos. Before gaining her MFA in Filmmaking from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Nasheed worked for Merchant Ivory Productions. She was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, where she read English. Nasheed is an Arts Council of England Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme 2015/2016.

Website: http://www.nasheedqamarfaruqi.com

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2489922/?ref_=tt_ov_dr

Ashwin Anil Desai (Producer)

Ashwin Anil Desai works for Arise Pictures, a global film finance and production company with offices in London and Los Angeles. Ashwin holds a Masterʼs in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and an undergraduate degree in Politics and Economics from the London School of Economics, where he spent the majority of his waking hours directing and producing for the stage – from Rabindranath Tagoreʼs Red Oleanders and Brechtʼs Fear and Misery of the Third Reich to Ben Eltonʼs Gasping and the hit musical Guys and Dolls. In 2010, he wrote and directed a brand new, one-off musical, TIMELESS!, which played to an audience of over 1,500 at Sadlerʼs Wells Theatre, Islington.

Yann Heckmann (Editor)

A recent NFTS editing graduate, Yann has edited more than a dozen short films, with an emphasis on drama. Along with technical expertise, Yann boasts a profound grasp of dramatic narrative. His graduation film Manila Dreaming won the 2014 One World Media Student Award.

Website: http://www.itsacut.com

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3486942/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr6

Sam William Mitchell (Cinematographer)

Since graduating from the NFTS, Sam has worked on a range of commercials, promos and short films. He has also shot two features. His array of commercial clients include: Red Bull, Christie’s, the Tate, Monocle, Samsung, Moët and Chandon, Sony, Motorola and Google. Sam has a flair for narrative work and an ambition to continue working on dramatic features.

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1624002/

Gernot Fuhrmann (Sound Designer)

Since graduating from the NFTS, Gernot has done the sound design for more than forty features and television programmes, ranging from The Deep Blue Sea (Davies, 2011) to March of the Dinosaurs (Thompson, 2011). He has also worked on several award winning shorts. Gernot combines sharp technique with sensitivity and creative flair, bringing dramatic stories to life.

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2370539/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr10

Bubbles: Our Charity Partners

Asha Projects, UK Asha is a South Asian organization that works to end violence against women and girls. If you are experiencing violence – or know a woman who is – please contact them for confidential advice and information. They offer secure temporary accommodation. http://www.ashaprojects.org.uk

Awaaz, USA Formed in 2011 and based in San Antonio, Texas, Awaaz (meaning “voice” in Hindi and Urdu), is a non-profit organization that advocates peace, promotes healthy relationships and assists families to break the cycle of violence. Awaaz focuses its efforts on supplementing and complementing existing services and acting as a bridge between these services and the people who may need them. http://www.awaazsa.org

My Choices, India My Choices is an organisation based in India, that has been created to give women Choices: To allow women to live a life free from abuse. At My Choices our mission is to stop domestic violence by training and employing local women (PeaceMakers) who work within their community to create meaningful change in victims’ lives. We believe that domestic violence can be stopped by healing and reconciling families in a peaceful manner and will resort to further action only when such an option is no longer available. http://www.mychoices.asia

The Domestic Harmony Foundation, USA The Domestic Harmony Foundation (DHF) is a community-based, non-profit organization created in response to the social, emotional, and psychological needs of a growing South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim community in Long Island. Although DHF works mainly with Muslim women who are victims of domestic violence, these services are available to individuals irrespective of creed, culture, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. http://www.dhfny.org

Mai Family Services, USA Mai Family Services was established in 1986 to provide assistance to Asian Indian families and individuals in need. Since it was formed, Mai Family Services has expanded to offer services to all South Asians in Michigan. http://www.maifs.org

Bubbles

Bubbles: My Director’s Statement

BUBBLES is a film about a child’s shocking encounter with the adult violence; it is also about how violence is like a fog that seeps into family life and infects everyone. There are no easy answers in this short film, but I hope that it will move and provoke audiences to think about violence in new ways – especially when we know that 275 million children, across the world, witness an act of domestic violence every year (Source: UNICEF).

Bubbles Still

When I started to write the screenplay for Bubbles, it was early in the morning and I had just woken from a strange dream. In the nights that followed, I had successive dreams, which added to the haunting images of my first. As I wrote these dreams down, image-by-image, sound-by-sound, I saw that they were connected and that my imagination was trying to communicate something to me through these seemingly disjointed fragments.

These fragments have been beautifully translated to the screen in collaboration with my wonderful cast and crew. DP Sam Mitchell has done a gorgeous job creating a nostalgic and cold beauty in digital anamorphic and the actors have given wonderful, profound and humane performances. Shabana Azmi (Nani) is an international star and it was a delight to work with her. I was also delighted to work with Christopher Simpson once more. He makes a moving and nuanced turn as the Young Man, while Bhasker Patel plays his angry and imposing father fantastically. I am especially excited about showing our young star – Yasmeen Siddiqui’s performance to the world. It is Yasmeen’s first time in a movie, and her performance is remarkable.

After writing the script, I understood quickly that Bubbles is our anchor: she is an eyewitness and captive in this fragile and claustrophobic home. Bubbles watches the classic 1973 film Bobby. Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia sing a seemingly playful number of sexual desire and fantasies of violence: she can’t understand them, but she is somehow captivated by Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s playfully brilliant score. The song captures and recapitulates the tension between inside and outside that is at the heart of this little film: You and me locked in a room and no one can get in. But can we get out if we want to?

This is a film as much about exclusion – not being part of the outside world – as it is about a little girl’s haunting encounter with violence at home. It is never clear whether it is the house full of marooned North Indians who are rejected by London, or whether they have successfully barricaded themselves into a world of their own fashioning: a world of paan-daans (betel nut boxes) and Hindi films. Bubbles bears witness to a reality of exclusion, isolation and patriarchy lived by countless people.

Bubbles: Press Links

Here is some of the coverage we’ve already had:

Elle India Name to Know May 21st, 2015

The Friday Times, April 24th-30th 2015 “What the Eye Doesn’t See” Maheen Pracha in Conversation with Writer-Director Nasheed Qamar Faruqi.

Ebuzz Interview, January 26th, 2015 (please note, there is currently a small error on this page. I wrote and directed Bubbles; Yann Heckmann is the editor).

Times of India, August 31st 2014

Contact us on jungleesaticloud.com to find materials for media professionals.

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Picture Lock

We’ve locked picture on Outside/Bubbles. I have a strange empty feeling, that is only mitigated by anticipation for the sound mix and grade. It has been a long and rewarding journey to reach this point and I am so grateful to everyone I have worked with. So much to say, so many people to thank, so much further to go…..

My Father’s Son… or Memory Lane

Sorting through photos of our shoot in 2007, I thought I’d share some of my faves….

Tom Havelock, Christopher Simpson, Alex Sayhi and Nathalie Richard rehearsing (Photos Courtesy of Jane Burke)
Tom Havelock, Christopher Simpson, Alex Sayhi and Nathalie Richard rehearsing (Photos Courtesy of Jane Burke)
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Nathalie and Chris study their scores
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Tom shows us how its done – and it is revealed that Mme. Director does not hold a tune (that’s why actors are better).
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“Yes, Monsieur Gendarme, we have a permit to shoot outside the prison (what prison?)”
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Girl Power: DP Macha Kassian, Director Nasheed and Continuity Melanie D’Orange

Outside …. OR Bubbles

After an invigorating Kickstarter Campaign – which amazed me for the generosity and groundswell of support we garnered – we completed the shoot of my latest short film Outside (now called BUBBLES) last month. I am currently working with Editor Yann Heckmann to cut the film and am really excited about getting it out into the world as soon as possible. Here’s a still from the shoot. The movie is about a little girl (played by newcomer Yasmeen Siddiqui) witnessing a horrible act of domestic violence.

Shabana Azmi on the set of Outside  (Photo Courtesy of Sahil Lodha)
Shabana Azmi on the set of Outside (Photo Courtesy of Sahil Lodha)

Ten Years Later

Ten years later after the Iraq War began, I wake to hear Radio 4’s Today programme commemorate the event. I am shocked and appalled by the level of Orwellian newspeak inflicted on me. As if to disavow British involvement in the atrocity, they refer to an offensive started ‘by the United States and its allies‘. John Simpson’s reporting makes things a little better, with his human touch, but I can’t help but hear in his report an effort give us an upbeat image of what the prospects are for Iraqis ten years on: ‘The glass here is actually half full… time now to turn the page…’ Easy to say. I don’t share such disregard for the longevity of trauma and violence. Nor can I excuse the propagandistic attempts to distance ourselves from British involvement in this brutal war.

Salt

There are wounds that never heal; scars that are stubborn; memories that will not fade or be forgotten.

I have dreams which return: night after night, the same images.

God transformed Lot’s wife (did she have a name?) into a pillar of salt because she looked back. The unconscious is made of salt – buried, a crystalline past.

Maurice

Maurice, Merchant Ivory (MIP)’s 1987 adaptation of E. M. Forster’s posthumously published novel, is playing at the BFI this week, as part of their “Out at the Pictures” Season.

James Wilby, Rupert Graves and Hugh Grant
Staggeringly Beautiful: James Wilby, Rupert Graves and Hugh Grant in “Maurice”

It is one of my favourite movies, with its profound and emotive central performances and bitter sweet ending. Seeing it on the big screen is a rare treat worth savouring.

An unapologetic gay love story – one with a happy ending to boot – was not an easy proposition in the mid-1980s. Made in 1986 – immediately after the Oscar success of A Room with a View – the film is both brave and way ahead of its time;  just consider the difficulty Stephen Soderbergh has faced in making Behind the Candelabra even in this (supposedly enlightened) day and age.

Did you know? The screenplay was written by James Ivory and Kit Heskith-Harvey (of Kit and the Widow), but the Risley sub-plot was apparently Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s idea. Without giving too much away, this sub-plot does a great deal to shed light on how prejudice and institutional bigotry ruin lives.

I thoroughly recommend watching the film – ideally at the cinema!

Stuff & Nonsense

  • We don’t ask to be born, but some of us get used to the perks. The rest of us struggle.
  • At the core of sociability is a vasty silence, a deafening hollow, implacable loss.
  • Some weave a tapestry of consolation. Others construct a bubble of denial in which they bounce, until it – and their hearts – break.
  • Food gives life purpose. It furnishes our hearts, minds and families with consolation: psychic glue.
  • Art ought to be about looking at life and death more closely, but is an alibi for ignoring them.
  • People talk about genre. What they mean is that they’ve lost touch with reality and run out of ideas.
  • Truths are what we look for every day.
  • Love is what defines the distance between people. To love is to be a satellite in orbit.
  • School teaches you to follow instructions. Education is about working around them.

Illiterati or Misreading Mantel

As if we needed proof that hacks indulge in wilful misinterpretation, the media is up in arms about Hilary Mantel’s quizzical and actually rather sympathetic piece about royal bodies in the London Review of Books. Metro’s Tariq Tahir roared Anger at machine made Kate! Cue irate pieces in various papers about the worst excesses of the liberal press. The Beeb and the Prime Minister also entered the fray.

I don’t expect subtlety from the press, but it is their obvious cynicism that appals. Anyone who had read Mantel’s piece couldn’t come to such an extreme conclulsion without misquoting out of context and twisting her words beyond recognition. Which suggests to me that yesterday’s headlines were just cynical attacks at a writer who doesn’t pander to the press (and had dared to criticise it). Hadley Freeman’s piece in the Guardian is totally spot on.

Slowness

I so frequently find an outlet in the Twittosphere these days, that I haven’t written a post in criminal ages. Forgive me, faithful readers – all four point five of you.

There should be plenty to say. Life is eventful, interesting – full of spectacle, loss, dreams and anxiety. And that’s just two weeks! Lots that’s too private to write about (though my notion of privacy is uncommon, I am sure you’ll understand).

Here’s a picture of Berthe Morisot by Manet.

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This painting says a thing or two about privacy and secrets. You can see the real thing at the Royal Academy right now. I should warn you that while the paintings are amazing, I did not like the way the show was curated. The illustrious curator kept banging on about “bourgeois leisure pursuits”, wheeled out every cultural theory cliche about Paris in the Nineteenth Century, and made the odd intrusive judgement about the canvases, which irritated me. Still the Manet show was far less troubling than the captions I had to suffer at the British Library’s exhibition about Mughal India. The venerable place had some wonderful pieces on display, but I was disappointed by some real Orientalist clangers in the curating.

Paolo Zanotti

Last night I found out that my friend, Paolo Zanotti died on December 5th, last year. He had been diagnosed with a tumor in the pancreas six weeks earlier. He was only 41.

Paolo

I met Paolo in 2002 at the Synapsis School for Comparative Literature in Pontignano near Siena. At first, I was struck by his resemblance to a character from the Commedia dell’Arte: his distinctive eyebrows, his expressive, expansive hand gestures. But the real magic of knowing Paolo lay elsewhere. I didn’t spend huge amounts of time with him, but over the years we met in Pisa, London, Oxford and, finally, in Paris. Every time, Paolo would leave me with an insight, something sharp that others might not have had the courage or wit to see. We had planned to meet in 2010, when I was in Italy. I sent Paolo an email saying that I was visiting. He wrote back that “since we HAVE TO meet, there are two options: either you may make a stop in bologna while on your way to pisa, or I can join you in your visit to Pisa!” We did not manage to meet that time.

Paolo was a distinguished scholar; he had written several books on different literary topics. He had also written two novels and several short stories, which his publisher is planning to reissue in a single volume. Paolo had grown up in a small town called Novara in the middle of Italy; when I once asked him about it, he shrugged and told me it was tiny. He told me that his father made “rubinetti” – taps. I had never asked Paolo about his family before. It is his father and his mother, his girlfriend Georgia, and all the many people whose lives he touched, that I think about now. How very sad.

I remember Paolo, walking along the narrow wall outside my college in Oxford on a sunny afternoon. I remember tramping with him from the Marais to St Germain, all the while discussing our hang-ups and creative blocks. I remember him telling me never to wash a coffee maker and, when I resisted, (I had been trained to wash all dishes with plenty of fairy liquid) his insistance, “Ma viene meglio il caffe! Lo so. Sono Italiano.”* I’ve never washed a coffee machine since.

I wish I had a chance to say goodbye; but maybe every friendship contains a form of leavetaking within its most carefree moments.

*But the coffee turns out better. I know. I’m Italian.

A Man and A Woman

Is Amour really about love? ‘Cause I’m not feeling it.  Haneke’s films are secretive, elegant and cold. He is a master of his art, and nothing demonstrates this better than his casting of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant: just watching them is a pleasure and a privilege. Moreover, they bring with them the intertextual connotations and freight of all the roles they have played before. Yet, for me, even they do not deflect the  cold touch of the filmmaker’s gaze (excuse the synaesthesia). Critics applaud Haneke’s cool, intellectual detatchment, and his flawless mise en scene, but I remain undecided about whether I wholeheartedly admire his films or not.

On the topic of masters, I enjoyed The Master. Early on in the movie we see the image of a woman, made out of sand.* Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) mimes sexual acts with this woman-made-of-sand (which is metaphorically what he continues to do throughout the movie). Around him, sailors, who could have stepped out of Kenneth Anger’s 1947 homoerotic short film Fireworks, frolic by the sea. Thus, from the outset, the film problematises both femininity and masculinity. It helps that the world of this scene is steeped in South Pacific, another film which is preoccupied with how men imagine women and how the two might co-exist.

Freddy Quell and the sand woman
Freddy Quell and the sand woman

It is easy to miss, because there is so much else going on at the same time, but this movie insistently considers different versions of twentieth century womanhood. In a later sequence, pretty young women parade through a department store wearing synthetic gowns. They sport large price tags. Note, the tags are large, the prices small. What’s for sale, the woman or the dress?  As much as it is a film centered on a relationship between two men, women loom large and problematic in The Master. I must mention Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), monumentally pregnant for much of the film, she keeps a sharp eye – and hand – on her husband, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Peggy becomes an ambivalent maternal presence as the movie unfolds, at once steely and vulnerable, by turns nurturing and controlling.

Because of a prolonged cold, I haven’t been to the cinema since seeing these two substantial pieces. Maybe it was Amour that gave me the chill.

* This does not bode well; we all know what happened to the house that Jack built.

Here and there

I’ve been meaning for sometime to write about a wonderful film made by a friend and film school contemporary. We saw it when it was screened at the London Film Festival last month.

Antonio (Mendez Esparza) has made an elegant and humane film called Aqui y Alla, about a Mexican family, living through the reality of immigration and separation. The film contains humour and sadness alongside moments of rare beauty and stillness.

I hope you get a chance to see it. Following a great festival run, some savvy distributor will surely release it soon.

Beauty and the Beast

To see Holy Motors and Skyfall in the same week is the cinematic equivalent of eating surf and turf.

Holy Motors is preoccupied with cinema, fantasy and representation, how we create images, and how they in turn create us. Every sequence is rich with cinematic tropes: the car, the girl, the gun, the gangster, the impossible love. There is, in fact, a lot of Bond in Holy Motors. And a lot of Holy Motors – its wistfulness and open savagery, perhaps – hidden in the latest installment of Bond.

Indeed, both films present the viewer with images of beauty and ugliness. Skyfall juxtaposes Silva (Javier Bardem), and his ravaged body with the exquisite Sévérine (Berenice Marlohe). Meanwhile, Holy Motors unwinds a sequence in which Oscar abducts Eva Mendes from a graveyard fashion shoot. He has donned a monstrous disguise for the appointment. As the kidnapping unfolds, a spoofed tennis-white-clad photographer utters the words  “beauty” and “weird” like orgasmic mantras. He could be talking about Silva and Sévérine.

Berenice Marlohe’s indelible nails

On a more trifling note, both films present the viewer with the spectacle of iconic nails. Beatrice Marlohe’s nails have etched themselves into cinema history. Was Sévérine’s doom sealed by their sheer impracticality and length? She is not alone: witness Eva Mendes and Denis Lavant in the aforementioned sequence of Holy Motors.

Eva Mendes and Denis Lavant, Claws and All

What does this tell us? I don’t know exactly, but I sense something feral at play. All this surf and turf comes at a price. Is that blood on my claws?

Loopy

The loopholes in the time travel plot of Looper were irritating. You can give me all the filmic references you want (they range geekily from North by Northwest to Terminator), and solid performances (we have the usual saga of accomplished actors battling a loose script and poorly paced editing) but if I don’t believe in your world then, sadly, you’ve lost me.

I’m also wondering why the “rain maker” wasn’t set up properly – and sooner. Any thoughts?

Andrew Sarris, The Real Thing

The American Cinema has to be one of my favourite books about movies, probably one of my favourites on any subject. It was written by a man who had watched and loved the movies he wrote about, even the ones he didn’t like. Though erudite and authoritative, Andrew Sarris (1928-2012) wore his own expertise lightly. He also had a good sense of humour, which made his seriousness about movies and people all the more readable.

I feel lucky that I could attend some of his lectures at Columbia. I remember his sheer delight at finding a kid in the room who’d watched all the latest releases and all the Maurice Chevalier musicals he was talking about that day: “This guy’s good, he watches everything.”

Read the book. Enjoy it.