April 2021 Reading and Film Summary

Reading

15 books read, of which seven are crime fiction or true crime or, in one case, a literary curiosity labelled as crime fiction. This escapism into my favourite genre was counterpointed by some very good literary reads. Of the crime fiction genre, I enjoyed Rebecca Bradley’s start to a new series in Sheffield Blood Stained, Allie Reynold’s addictive Shiver, set in the world of snowboarding competitions, and Margie Orford’s haunting recreation of Cape Town’s older and more recent history Gallows Hill. For the Virtual Crime Book Club, I finally managed to get A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson from the library: I don’t usually read YA, but his one just zips along in a charming voice (think a slightly older Flavia de Luce set in a very contemporary world, where CDs are sooo last century).

The month was dominated by the reading I did for #1936Club and most of it was written by or about Romanian authors. While I did review Horvath’s plays for the #1936Club, I actually read them in March. However, I did read Max Blecher, Karel Capek, Mihail Sebastian and Liviu Rebreanu in April, all more or less fitting the requirements for the year 1936 or thereabouts.

There were three disappointments in this month’s pile though. The true crime book by John Leake The Vienna Woods Killer was written with too much of an American audience in mind, not particularly evocative of the Viennese atmosphere nor showing enough respect for the victims, but instead overly focusing on the investigation and court case. The novel entitled Sebastian by Gelu Diaconu was too much about other people, not enough about Sebastian (or else, did not add anything new to the Sebastian story). Sad to say, The Chateau by Catherine Cooper did not live up to the expectation raised by her first novel The Chalet, which I read last year. In spite of the fact that French chateaux are amongst my favourite things ever, as you well know.

But let’s not focus on the disappointments, because (aside from the books I read for the 1936 mission, which were all excellent) I also read two wonderful books this month. I reread To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (which I liked, but had never been my favourite novel of hers – that would be The Waves – but which certainly has gone up vertiginously in my esteem now). I still hope to review it at some point, although what can you say about a novel that everybody and their dog has opined about? The other novel I picked up because of my passion for Mozart: The Snow Ball by Brigid Brophy: delightful, frothy, yet very intelligent, with the sort of precise, taut writing I hugely admire. (Very much like Mozart – perfectly controlled, it just seems easy like breathing.) I then listened to the Backlisted Podcast episode about it and appreciated it even more. Two perfect little gems for a rather tiring month (aren’t they all – tiring, I mean, not gems obviously).

Films

My patience for box sets has gone out the window. I started the second season of Succession and it was just more of the same: backstabbing amongst rich people behaving badly, so I abandoned it. Fortitude was beautiful for its landscape, but that stifling small community where everyone seems to sleep with everyone and the rather far-fetched storyline palled after 5-6 episodes (plus there were some unnecessarily graphic gory scenes). Even The Sopranos felt a bit ‘take it or leave it, I won’t suffer either way’ after two seasons, so I decided to cancel my NowTV subscription.

After a very ‘film-less’ March, I caught up with my love for films a little more in April. It was perhaps not quite as diverse as previously, quite international nevertheless:

  • Japan: A Silent Voice – anime about bullying in high school, much harder-hitting than I expected
  • Spain: Pan’s Labyrinth – fantasy, history, once again – much more powerful (nightmarish almost) than I expected
  • Romania: Collective – documentary about the nightclub fire in Bucharest in 2015 and its aftermath, revealing government corruption and the power of investigative journalism
  • France: A Prophet – prison drama, watching Tahar Rahim transform under your very eyes from a naive young man to a criminal wheeler-and-dealer
  • US: The King of Comedy – a satire that manages to be both fierce and very funny, and deeply disturbing, with a brilliant performance by De Niro.
  • UK: The Third Man – still one of my favourite films for the black-and-white atmospheric shots of post-war Vienna and a world that has lost in faith in humanity – but yes, my sons are right that the dialogues between Holly Martins and Anna are stilted and old-fasioned
  • Italy: The Ties – didn’t realise it was based on the Domenico Starnone book, which I had avoided reading because I was still raw about my divorce – so the film turned me inside out a bit, especially the reaction of the children. Felt cynical and glum, at times hammering home the message a little too much.
  • US: In the Soup – another black comedy mocking both wannabe talents and the criminal world, while also being the story of the relationship between a charismatic older man who teaches a clueless young man how to live. Although I did chuckle, it felt like I’d seen this type of story before – and done better – in Zorba the Greek.

Last minute update: In my last post about Rebreanu, I mention the dance Ciuleandra and I included a film clip. I should also have added (thank you to Calmgrove for reminding me) that there is a fairly good Romanian film adaptation of it dating from 1985. Here is the trailer, which includes the moment when the couple meet at the village dance, with French subtitles.

14 thoughts on “April 2021 Reading and Film Summary”

  1. Interesting set of films. I didn’t know that Ties had been adapted. I still remember the explosive anger of its opening, several years after reading it. I know what you mean about boxed sets but I need something to watch for just an hour in the evening. Walter Presents has been filling that gap for years but I’m a tad weary of crime series.

    1. Yes, I had a few months of mainly box sets, especially enjoyed Call My Agent and Lupin (a change from the crime ones, although I usually love those), but I’ve never been much of a binger and those 8 seasons of 10 episodes or such-like just depress me from the start. Too much commitment!

  2. I’m so glad you had more good reads than disappointments, Marina Sofia. I’m especially glad you enjoyed A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. I did, too, and I’m looking forward to discussing it. I agree with you about the voice in that one; I think it was done quite well. You’ve got some appealing films there, too!

  3. Nice to compare the film’s use of the Ciuleandra dance with the video you posted earlier, especially the big swirling circle dancing in the feature. Circle or round dances seem to be such a feature of Eastern European and Balkan traditions, it seems to me, especially when everyone faces inwards with interlocking hands and waists.

    1. The hora is so much part of the Balkan tradition, it’s a very convivial way of dancing, getting everybody to join in, all ages, you don’t need a partner…

      1. They have similar hora-type dances in Spain, don’t they. Here in a Britain which has lost itself we’ve largely lost that tradition: the hokey-kokey is/was a pale imitation, and women no longer gyrate around their handbags as they used to at discos — that kind of social activity survives intermittently at barn dances with callers or in groups recreating the world of Jane Austen…

  4. A very busy month (and thank you for your contributions to 1936!) Will you be reviewing the Brophy? I have still to read her (I do own one) but have wondered about this reissue as it does sound good!

  5. Love Tahar Rahim. He is consistently excellent in everything from A Prophet to The Looming Tower to The Serpent. It’s great to see him having a bit of a moment as it feels so well deserved. Like you, I’d been knocked sideways by Collective and had hoped it might pick up at least one award at the Oscars, but sadly that was not to be. Around Round is a solid enough film, but somewhat overvalued, and I was a bit disappointed to see it winning out over Collective in the International Film category.

    As for the Best Documentary, that should have been a straight choice between Collective and Garrett Bradley’s Time. I would definitely recommend that if you’re looking to catch up on any of the other nominees.

    1. Yes, it’s good to see that Tahar Rahim is no longer being typecast in his roles – he really has an impressive range (although in real life he seems like a cuddly teddy bear with a huge grin). I haven’t seen Another Round, so cannot judge, but am quite interested in seeing it. I didn’t expect Collective to win in the International Film, because they do tend to prefer fiction in that category, but I thought it had a really good chance in documentary. Ah well, the Romanians are cheering themselves up by saying that even the nomination will help with funding and collaborations in the future – always look on the bright side!

      1. Another Round is good (and Mads M puts in a great performance, just as you might expect), but I’m not sure it’s an Oscar Winner. I’ll be very interested to hear what you think though, as maybe I’m being a little harsh. (Vinterberg’s daughter died in a terrible accident a few days into the shoot, and the film was subsequently dedicated to her memory, so I do wonder if that influenced some of the voters? Difficult to tell, I guess.)
        If anything, I would have liked to see Minari being honoured in one of the ‘film’ categories but there were some issues around its eligibility for the main ‘Best Picture’ category vs International/Foreign Language Film, particularly at the Golden Globes…It did pick up the Best Foreign Language Picture at the Globes though, which was great to see.

  6. I’ve still never watched Pan’s Labyrinth – must do – I have the DVD. I’d love to rewatch The King of Comedy too, so long since I’ve seen it I can’t remember the plot which is good.

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