Films and Books

Despite having a houseful of children for most of this past week, I have been able to partake in some cultural events as well, both inside and outside the house.

Pain and Glory – Almodovar’s latest film shows the master has mellowed in middle age. The story of a lonely middle-aged film director struggling with lost creativity and ill health is not new, but Antonio Banderas turns in a beautifully nuanced, subtle performance. The flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood are rich in colour and emotion, but what stayed with me most is how we select and package our memories to attempt a coherent narration of our lives… and yet the truth is always more complex than that.

Marriage Story – Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are believably flawed yet appealing as a couple struggling through divorce. It was a little too close to the battlegrounds I am currently experiencing myself, so I’m afraid I embarrassed myself with tears. Filmed in a minimalist way, with close-ups of the actors’ faces engaged in monologues or dialogues, this had the feeling of an indie, mumblecore type of film. There was one particular scene I found all too familiar: where the attempt at having a conversation away from the lawyers descends into a screaming match, with all of the long-hidden resentments and accusations bursting out like an overflowing dam.

Lara – ice-cold in Berlin*. Another carefully observed film, full of significant details, but one where nearly all emotion has been drained. Lara is a domineering mother whose dreams of becoming a concert pianist were dashed in her youth and now feels proud yet nervous about her pianist son’s major concert, which takes place on her 60th birthday. We never see the drama of what led to the estrangement between mother and son, but there are hints of bad behaviour and nervous breakdown. Emotions are very tightly held in check for the most part, yet there are unexpectedly candid (if frosty) conversations between Lara and the people she encounters on her birthday.

*As a child, I firmly believed that ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ was a film version of Berlin Alexanderplatz

Since I had a few hours to kill between the two films at the London Film Festival on Friday, I meandered down Charing Cross Road, mourned the loss of so many second-hand bookshops (when I first came to London, I remember it used to take my hours to go down that road, there were so many bookshops, now turned into cafes or clothes shops – boo!). Nevertheless, I did stop at the few remaining bookshops, at Foyles, then at Second Shelf (again!) and at Waterstones Piccadilly and emerged with the pile below.

7 books for £30 total, of which only one was a new one and cost £10.99

However, I’d also been busy ordering some books online, especially while sitting around waiting for the Nobel Prize for Literature to be announced. I ordered a couple of Russians, especially since I thought Ludmila Ulitskaya might be a contender…

And two Orenda books arrived on cue for my #Orentober reading. I’ve already devoured Little Siberia, which is less slapstick than Tuomainen’s last two books (I absolutely loved the black comedy, don’t get me wrong!) but not quite as bleak as his earlier books. I think it would be fair to say that the set-up is ridiculous and richly comic: a suicidal racing car driver has a meteorite drop into his passenger seat. A pastor with experience of fighting in Afghanistan is guarding the local museum where nearly everyone wants to steal the precious piece of rock. He gets plenty of opportunity to question his own faith and choices in life, as well as being exposed to the venality and self-serving excuses of others.

Last but not least, I’ve also watched some TV. Helen Mirren is commanding yet deliciously vulnerable as Catherine the Great (and, although she is almost certainly too old for the part, I cannot help but rejoice that an older woman is shown as both powerful and intransigent, yet also having sexual fun on our screens). And, of course, I’m excited to see the new series of Engrenages (Spiral), the first in a long while without Anne Landois as show runner.

19 thoughts on “Films and Books”

  1. Hi – I was trying to post a comment but I keep getting the ‘this page does not exist’ message when I click through the links?

    Anyway, it was just to say that I also enjoyed Pain and Glory, but much more in the second half – I found the first part just too slow (as did the daughter who came with me.). The second part was excellent though.

    Your comment on identifying a little too painfully with a film certainly resonated. These days I don’t think I’d go to see a film if I thought I’d find it too close to my life at the time.

    I haven’t read any of the books you mention; I haven’t been to Foyle’s for may years, but as a teenager at school in London I used to love wandering around its (then) ramshackle, disorganised sections and (occasionally) engaging with its weird payment system. I have to admit I have also been avoiding ‘Little Boy Lost’ as the Persephone catalogue makes it sound just too upsetting for me. I am currently reading The Weatherhouse’ (Nan Shepherd) for #1930Club; it’s set in NE Scotland and much is written in the Doric. I lived in the area when my children were tiny, and although the events in the book bear no relation to my life, I still find myself becoming a little morose and thinking ‘why didn’t I stay there in my little cottage?’ Must be my age I think; evidently, as I get older I become more and more escapist!


    Sent from my iPad


    1. I keep intending to be escapist, and then somehow end up with those very earnest, very depressing films and books… That’s why I got myself the book about Stoic philosophy. I was actually looking for Montaigne’s essays, but couldn’t find them, so I got that instead. In the hope that I can learn to let go and bear things with equanimity!

  2. I’ll keep an eye out for the Scarlett Johansson film, such a watchable actress.. I read a review of Catherine the Great which was. Or very complimentary, Mirren didn’t act much it said, just paraded and postured.

    1. It just started this Saturday past – I was out, but caught up with it on iPlayer. Looking good so far, although some of the main characters are missing.

  3. Thanks for the film recommendations! I’m always looking for good ones. I can be very picky. I also have a copy of Waling Naked. It’s sitting on my Virago pile. Very interested to see how you like it!

  4. I love seeing all the books you got on Charing Cross Road, although sad to hear that there are so many fewer bookstores than there used to be. I love Persephone books so that grey cover jumped out at me. And Nina Bawden and Tove Jansson! I’m interested to hear what you think of those. The movies you mentioned made me wonder if maybe you’d like Juliette Binoche’s movie, Let the Sunshine In? She plays a Parisian painter who is divorced and still interested in love but not willing to settle. You might like that more than Marriage Story? Sounded like that hit too close to home…

    1. I’ve been meaning to watch that Juliette Binoche film ever since it came out, but sadly our local cinema only seldom has less mainstream things on. I did see I Got Life (Aurore in the original French) – which is on a similar theme and just lovely!

  5. Amazing all that you do while working full time and raising two sons, doing dinner and all the rest. Love Helen Mirren and Juliette Binoche, so have to check out these movies.

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