Reading and Film Summary for April

April has felt much shorter than March, partly because we are now getting used to our locked down status and are building new routines for ourselves, partly because we had a few days off over Easter. My passion for reading is still not in 100% functioning order, but I’ve tried to just go with the mood and not force myself to persevere or even touch anything that didn’t intrigue me. The 6 days of holidays meant that I managed to read 10 books this month (where oh where are the days when I would devour 16 per month?).

I read three books inspired by the cancelled and much-missed Quais du Polar, although I only managed to review two of them to coincide with the festival, both of them on the topic of international assassins: Deon Meyer and Ayerdhal, an author who lived in Lyon and was very active in the literary community there. Later on, I read Serena by Ron Rash. Although it’s not strictly speaking a crime novel (despite the fact that it’s littered with corpses), I met the author and bought the book in Lyon.

Half of the books I read or am in the course of reading were either in translation or foreign languages: Afrikaans, French, Japanese, Norwegian and German (with a glimmer of Georgian). This month has been quite male author heavy: 7 out of 9 have been men. But it has to be said that the women have been truly unforgettable: Lucia Berlin, Matsuda Aoko and I am currently reading Nino Haratischwili’s The Eighth Life, which will certainly spill into May.

As usual, I find some solace in crime fiction, six of the books were in that genre this month, although I think I might move to subgenres which I’ve neglected in the past, but which now seem enticing, such as historical or cosy crime. I’ve received a batch of British Library reissued classics, and I couldn’t resist diving into one of them, especially after finishing the well-written but emotionally wringing novel by Chris Whitaker We Begin at the End. I wrote about how well they worked as a contrasting pair.  I haven’t reviewed the other fun crime novel I read this month because I was planning to air my views at the Virtual Crime Book Club organised by Rebecca Bradley. Sadly, there was some technical confusion and glitch, so I didn’t make it to that meeting: Peter Swanson’s Rules for the Perfect Murder. I’ve been a bit snotty about Peter Swanson’s writing in the past (I reviewed his first book and was not impressed enough to pick up any more of his), but this one was the perfect book for crime and book lovers, packed to the brim with references to classic crime novels and films, an owner who runs a bookshop complete with a bookshop cat. What more could you want? A caper of a novel which reminded me of 1930s films with fast-talking, wise-cracking protagonists.

It feels like more than a month ago when I read Henry James, which could mean that time does pass slowly in confinement, or simply that the classics operate on a different time dimension.

What I have done a lot of this month is watch films, to make good use of my Mubi subscription I suppose. I’ve written a brief recap of some films I’ve watched in a previous post and reminisced about watching the Three Colours trilogy as well.  Since then I’ve watched the following:

  • Melville’s final film Un Flic, starring Alain Delon as an ambiguous goodie this time (a cop with questionable methods and possibly a heart of stone). Drenched in shades of blue, with an unforgettable silent opening scene of the baddies driving along a deserted street in a small town on the Atlantic coast battered by the wind and rain. Very eerie in the current climate.
  • Eva by Joseph Losey feels a bit dated, but again wonderfully atmospheric shots of an empty Venice, and with a heavy-lidded, snooty-mouthed Jeanne Moreau at the height of her seductive powers.
  • Knowing my love of skiing and gender wars, it should come as no surprise that I loved Force Majeure by Swedish director Ruben Östlund – what is it about these Swedes observing so closely all the uncomfortable interactions and silences between people? Squirmingly true to life and corrosively funny in parts, as well as claustrophobic, despite the unrealistically empty mountain slopes. (I’m guessing they couldn’t film it during the school holidays.)
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma is just so beautiful, so tender, so well observed, every little detail is perfect. For example, the two women address each other with ‘vous’ in even the most intimate moments. There are only two brief instances when they use ‘tu’ and those become all the more significant because of the contrast. Although the Breton coastal landscape is amazing, the scene that most sticks to my mind, is that of the women singing and clapping in rhythm on the beach at night; the words, although hard to make out, are in Latin ‘fugere non possum’, which to me sounds somewhat fatalistically like ‘we cannot flee/escape’. This is, however, what the director of the film had to say about it, which is far more eloquent about the power of love:

They’re saying, ‘fugere non possum,’ which means ‘they come fly,’” said Sciamma. “It’s an adaptation of a sentence by [Friedrich] Nietzsche, who says basically, ‘The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.’”

 

10 thoughts on “Reading and Film Summary for April”

  1. I do enjoy your musings on films! The singing scene in Portrait of a Lady on Fire is amazing, all the more impactful due to the near absence of music anywhere else in the film. There’s the sequence from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, of course – a piece that also crops up in Force Majure! – but apart from that, Sciamma’s use of music is very spare.

    I still need to make a sizeable dent in my Melville box set, but Un Flic is definitely on the list. It was good to revisit Bob Le Flambeur recently – once a gambler, always a gambler…

    1. I feel like a rank amateur compared to film buffs like you and one of my colleagues at work (who’s done her MA in Film Studies), but I had a long break without films when the children were younger – or only watched children’s films – so it’s lovely to catch up now.

      1. Not at all! Your observations are always interesting and insightful. As for my own knowledge of film, it’s very much an amateur viewer’s perspective. I’ve never studied it (or any of the other creative arts for that matter). It’s just a source of entertainment for me! 🙂

  2. Force Majeure made me squirm, too. I’d been looking out for Portrait of a Lady on Fire before we were hit with Covid-19 restrictions, alerted by Jacqui who clearly loved it and now you, too. I’ll just have to stream it.

    1. It’s strange how Force Majeure has been sold to the US at least as a comedy. It’s really not – there are comic moments, but it’s very uncomfortable.

  3. You always have the most interesting posts on films you see, Maria Sofia! And I’ve found that films and good TV series can help you through a reading slump. I’m glad ou mentioned Mubi, too; I’ve been wondering whether to consider a subscription…

    1. A co-worker of mine who is a film buff kept resisting the call of Mubi (she subscribes to several other film sites) but when she saw all the good stuff that is on there currently – they’re just starting with a Fellini retrospective as well here in Europe at least – she has succumbed.

  4. April *has* gone strangely quickly, hasn’t it? I must admit now that I’ve settled into working at home and not going out, the days do blur into one. I go from reading like mad to not being able to read at all which is really weird…

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