My cousin Rachel

There is a cosy little cinema tucked away from the main complexes in one of those alleys only locals wold seek. I even like its name – Lighthouse.

From time to time, when a promise of a good story coincides with a session only few people would attend, I treat myself to sitting for couple of hours or so in an almost empty theatre transported into whatever world opens before me.

I judge how good a movie was by the length of time it takes me to return to the world around me.

Which some might call the real world but to me ‘real’ has always been rather fluid notion.

Who is to say that the world we think of as ‘real’ simply because we can touch it –  is any more (or less) ‘real’ than those worlds we cannot touch – but are rather touched by?

It was with those thoughts, or some variation of them, that I went to see ‘My cousin Rachel’.

If I am to summon it in one sentence – I would say that it is a story of possibilities. It has been described as a mystery, a speculation, even a dark thriller … but to me none of those descriptors really fits.

To me the whole story – the one viewer is openly presented with as well as the one hidden and only hinted at, are the tales of possibilities. Probabilities, risks and chances, a woman determined to be a master of her own destiny is prepared to take in order to accomplish that goal.

When a wealthy but rather lonely country gentlemen (Ambrose) leaves his picturesque Cornish estate to travel to Italy to improve his health, leaving behind his young cousin (Phillip) who he has raised alone since the youngster was orphaned as an infant, the lives of them both are set to change forever.

In Italy, Ambrose meets and falls in love with Rachel, a beautiful and mysterious woman with, it is said, a somewhat excessive past. The letters Ambrose sends to his young cousin in England alternate between state of newlywed’s blissful happiness to cruel sufferings inflicted on him by his wife and his tormenter – Rachel. Some of the letters seem written in secret and haste beseeching Philip to come to Ambrose’s rescue as soon as he possibly could.

Confused and angry, Philip travels to Italy resolved to rescue his cousin from whatever evil has befallen him there.

But he is too late.

Ambrose is dead and Rachel is gone to an unknown destination.

Or so an elegant Italian lawyer tells him. He is the only one left behind to sort the dead man’s affairs.

Lawyer’s attempt to explain how very seek Ambrose was and how his illness caused him to hallucinate and even display violence towards his wife, are met with Philip’s deep suspicion and an open dislike.

Bereaved and outraged, Philip returns to England only to learn that despite all the suspicions – legal papers prove that Rachel did not benefit from the death of her husband. Not even a small living allowance had been provided for her as it was customary for a widow.

Philip’s conviction that Rachell caused his cousin’s death to inherit his wealth no longer holds any substance.

Were Ambrose’s frightened letters really just hallucinations of a man dying from a brain tumour?

But it will not be long until news of Rachel’s arrival to Cornwell estate stirs new theories.

Phillip’s determination to meet Rachel with nothing less than open hostility soon melts like a left-over snow under an early spring’s gaze.

Philip, a dewy-eyed youth whose experience with women do not extend further than a comfortable companionship of his wholesome childhood friend, a daughter of his godfather and guardian, who, by everyone’s account, he should one day marry, is bewitched and besotted by Rachel within days of her arrival.

Exotic, secretive, seductive Rachel.

Woman determined to live her own life on her own terms.

Woman who, in the 19th century England, refuses to explain or justify her actions to anyone, least of all a man.

When Phillip arranges for a generous allowance to be provided for Rachel – she is outraged.

When his guardian warns him of a significant overdraft she had rapidly amassed, Philip’s answers is to double the allowance to cover the overdraft.

When he gifts his late mother’s precious pearl neckless to Rachel for their first Christmas together, she returns them to his guardian to assuage his disapproval.

While Philip cannot wait to reach the age when he will be able to make his own decision, which for him means transferring the estate to Rachel who, he believes, should be its rightful owner after Ambrose’s death, not to mention a story of an unsigned will, Rachel describes Phillip as “a glorious puppy, miserable and wet-nosed, looking for its mother.” When she kisses him goodnight and tells him to “go to bed like a good boy” there is no escaping Oedipal reminder.

And still, once they become lovers, Philip is certain that they will marry soon.

It takes his wholesome childhood friend who is suffering silently while watching her beloved felling ever deeper under Rachel’s spell, to explain that Rachel is not likely to marry him since that would mean, by the provisions he made himself while arranging the estate’s transfer, that she will be answerable to him as her husband.

Philip, as any man of his time and no small number of contemporary men wold, found the idea that Rachel would value her freedom more than marriage astounding.

Still he brings her all the jewels he can lay his hands on in a scene that artfully portrays youthful extravagances born from the first passionate love.

It would be some time before Philip found that Rachel returned all the jewels to his lawyer.

Were they not to her liking? Or perhaps not opulent enough?

After all it is said that she is a woman of refine taste and unbridled excesses.

Is she really after the whole estate so to be as wealthy and therefore as independent as any man? So that she can do as she pleases including inviting her Italian lawyer friend to stay on the estate for as long as he wishes. Something, painfully jealous Philip would not allow.

When Philip starts suffering from the symptoms his dead cousin once did, while Rachel continue to brew bitter testing teas for him, it all points to one conclusion – Rachel is plotting Philip’s death in much the same way she did Ambrose’s. Only this time all the necessary legal papers are well in order.

On an early spring morning, as bright as bluebells growing in the nearby woods, Philip arranges for his wholesome friend to visit them and sends Rachel riding towards paths known to be treacherous at that time of year.

As soon as Rachel leaves the house, Philip and the young lady rush to search her room. But they could not find evidence of any wrong-doing.

All they found is the letter from Philip’s lawyer itemizing jewels Rachel returned to his safe-keeping.

And the letter she wrote to her Italian lawyer friend, who turned out to be gay, seeking his advice on whether to bring Philip to Italy with her.

Then there is a commotion in the yard outside and summons to hurry. Rachel has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff thrown off her horse on a path made slippery by the early spring.

Woman who seems to have heartlessly plotted to kill two men only to advance herself – dies while riding along the path suggested by the one of them.

Was it a chance?

Who is to blame?

Was she really poisoning Philip and Ambrose before him?

Or where they both so mesmerised by her unusual beauty, strength and independence, so rare in a woman of her time, that they eventually become ill from their futile attempts to rain her in? To conform to the world they know it as real.

In the last scene of the movie, Philip is seen sitting in his carriage on a bright summer day driving in a company of his wife – yes, his wholesome childhood friend and their two cherubic looking children.

His internal dialogue reveals he is still wondering whether or not Rachel was a poisoner?

And he still suffers from migraines.

Last credits drifted away, music stopped and the small theatre descended in complete darkness before I drag myself into the ‘real’ world – cold and wet winter night in Wellington.

“Gaps in human heart”

Each year at the end of summer a dawn arrives when tiny gold and yellow lights hang in the morning breeze.

You do not notice them at first over your cup of coffee and morning papers.

But then something always happens; a lonely bird cries high above in the misty skies, kids call each other’s names on their way to school, neighbour’s dog barks, and you stop reading news about cyclones and rise in house prices and Isis and clowns running for presidents, and look about you.

Suddenly it is there.

Your hands are cold around now empty cup of coffee. Breeze rattled your papers and is blowing them across the balcony. You tighten your gown around you and go inside.

Put the “Best of Bach” on.

Boil the kettle for cup of tea.

Autumn.

On one such morning I received small parcel of books from my usual online retailer.

Inside, separated by nothing more than a tissue paper; two very different looking books: Anne Enright’s “The Green Road’’ and Jane Juska’s “A Round-Heeled Woman”.

A solitary tree growing from the stony earth against vast skies adorns the cover of Ann’s book. Ann writes Ireland in the best tradition of Edna O’Brien and other fine Irish writers.  Her stories are delicate, authoritative, scary, fractured. “The Green Road” promises to be all that and more. The blurb tells me that it is “a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them”. Indeed.

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On the cover of Jane’s book tiny red hearts posing as rose-petals are arranged into a bigger heart shape. Subtitle reads: “My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance’.

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I only heard of Jane Juska’s ‘A Round-Heeled Woman’ couple of months ago when a friend of mine suggested I should read it. I did not ask why she thinks that or what the book is about. Title failed to make any impression on me. I never heard expression ‘a round-heeled woman’ and did not know what it means. But I ordered it anyway.

Later, on my way to the beach to court whatever still remains of summer, I took the volume with me.

On page five I read: ‘My heels are very round. I’m an easy lay. An easy sixty-seven-years-old lay. “Twas not always so. As these pages will show.’

And I smiled. That small, foolish smile of those who think they are in the know.

Jane will soon see to that.

At the end of the first chapter the text of the add Jane is about to place in ‘The New York Review of Books’ emerges:

‘Before I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.’

It was the moment of no return.

For Jane as she lived it.

And for me as I read it – utterly captivated.

At the age of 66, Jane – a respectable, retired English teacher from California, divorced for 30 years, and ‘except for a few skirmishes with men that ended sadly’ celibate – because ‘celibacy was better than humiliation’ –  decided, on her way home from watching ‘Autumn Tale’ to do just that – to write an add. The following day she did.

The book I was reading in the shade of a tree on a sunny beach in Wellington while babies, kids, teenagers, and their entourages passed, skipped and giggled by – is the report of what happened after the add was placed.

And what happened could be summoned in two words – life happened; messy, sticky, witty, heart-breaking, funny, moving … real.

Jane is neither prude nor superficial. Her descriptions of sexual encounters while explicit are told with taste.

Her add receives many responses, and the joy she feels while reading them is palpable. She did not have a date in three decades while raising her only child alone and working as a full-time teacher. Her son has since grown up and Jane has retired from full-time teaching, spent a year in psychoanalytical therapy, and has lost more than 100 pounds in the process.

Reading the letters she received Jane sorts them into three piles; ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and then sets to meet some of the men on ‘yes’ list in person.

Interesting arrays of characters emerges – men whose fantasises far outweigh their resources both; emotional and physical, those who enjoy interesting and stimulating intellectual conversations as long as no meeting in a flash is required, those emotionally unavailable, those suffering from old-age’s worse malady – absence of curiosity and the resulting incapacity for surprise.

And yet through all of it – Jane soldiers on with honesty, good humour and impeccable wit even when heartbroken, or despite of it. I learn that, falling in love at 67 and being rejected hurts just as much as it does at say – 17 or 37 or any other “number” that comes to mind.

Because despite marketing herself as an “easy lay” Jane is actually looking for love. Preferably with a sexy man who is also smart and available. Oh dear me! (this is me taking to myself on an almost empty beach).

Tucked inside the report on encounters with men, is the story of life Jane has lived as a young woman –  both unprepared and unaware of the pain ahead. Pain of childhood abuse, unhappy marriage, and loneliness that ensued and which was inevitably of the kind that only inhabits lives of those whose capacity for love far exceeds realities of their lives. They often turn to art. Writing in particular.

Slowly I pack the book into my beach bag and make my way towards the city.

On my way home and before the pale dusk settled over the rooftops, I remembered Ann’s book and realize how wrong I was to think it very different from Jane’s.

In their own way they both seek to fill the “gaps in human heart”.

 

 

 

 

Night train to Lisbon

I watched this movie as a last resistance to silence that descended around midnight after the honey-coloured day of an early autumn went to sleep. Sun is always ripest at this time of year, just before to shrivel into the rigidity of winter. Like a women crossing the bridge between the youth and old age. The light within her is the most reflective just before to go out.

There is a beautiful bridge in the city of Bern in one of the first scenes of the movie.  A young woman in a red coat is standing on its railing ready to throw herself into the dark waters below, under the persistent autumn’s rain. Until a middle age professor of ancient languages, wearing old-fashion glasses and in a habit of playing chess with himself before to leave for school every morning, drops his briefcase and pulls her down. The teacher is Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons).

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She helps him to gather papers that have spilled from his briefcase and they walk to his school. He takes her to his class and let her sit in the corner while he teaches as he usually does. But she does not wait for the class to finish so they can talk. She quietly leaves the classroom leaving her red coat behind.

Concerned, Raimund grabs the coat and runs after her, but in vain. He checks her pockets for identification. All he finds is a small book, a memoir of sorts, by Amadeu do Prado. It is stamped with the address of the bookstore, so he goes there. The bookseller remembers the girl’s purchasing this obscure book and, as he leafs through it, a train ticket to Lisbon falls out. The train is, in fact, leaving in 15 minutes. Confused and doubtful, Raimund rushes to the station, but the woman is nowhere in sight. At the last moment he decides to use the ticket himself, and during the journey he reads the book.

Amadeu

It was a decision that will change his life forever as it sometimes happens when inexplicable events found us, and without a warning or a prelude, alter our reality in a way we could have never imagined.

Some call it a chance. Others divine intervention. I settle for mystery since I believe that not all things need to be explained. Or given a name or cause or origin. The most important ones just need to be felt.

Reading the book, Raimund found that Amadeu do Prado lived in Lisbon and that the thoughts, fears and dilemmas he expressed in the book fascinate him. Once he reaches Lisbon, Raimund is determined to find Amadeu not only in hope that this will lead him to the woman in a red coat, but also to speak with the writer.

He finds Amadeu’s home, where his sister, Adriana, welcomes Raimund. She also gives the impression her brother still lives there. Raimund learns that Amadeu was a doctor, and that only 100 copies of his book were printed. When Raimund asks what happened to their father, Adriana’s reaction is hostile. As Raimund is leaving, the elderly maid tells him that he can find Amadeu in the town’s cemetery. Raimund finds the tomb: Amadeu died in 1974.

In the street, a bicyclist runs into Raimund and smashes his glasses. While obtaining new glasses from a local optician, Mariana, Raimund narrates his experiences. When he returns to collect the glasses, Mariana tells Raimund her uncle knew Amadeu de Prado well and is willing to talk to Raimund.

Raimund and Mariana both go to the nursing home where her uncle João Eça resides, and Raimund learns João and Amadeu were both in the resistance against the Salazar dictatorship. João, who dislikes the atmosphere of nursing home and remains fond or smoking cigarettes, tells the story in a serious of flashbacks. His hands, once subtle enough to play piano, are disfigured by the torture he endured under Mendez, one of the most notorious agents of Salazar regime.

Over dinner Raimund tells Mariana about his life and the wife that left him five years ago because she found him boring. Mariana tells Raimund that he is not boring.

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Later, Raimund visits the priest who taught and later buried Amadeu de Prado. The priest explains that Amadeu, a smart young boy from an aristocratic background, befriended Jorge O’Kelly, another bright boy in the school though of lowly means. The boys bonded through their love for knowledge, particularly the philosophical and political knowledge not permitted under Salazar. Amadeu gave a graduation speech that reflected his contempt for the regime, much to the chagrin of his father, a well-respected judge.

Raimund returns to Adriana and asks for her side of the story, and then he revisits João to obtain more information.

Raimund learns that Amadeu died of an aneurysm, which he knew he had, but had not told Adriana about. As a doctor, Amadeu never refused a patient, and when Mendez, a powerful member of the Salazar regime, called ‘the Butcher of Lisbon’, was brought to Amadeu’s clinic, he saved the man’s life. Amadeu’s friends were shocked by this, especially Jorge, who at that time was already in the resistance. Later, Amadeu confronted Jorge and declared that he too would join the resistance. João, young man at the time, voiced his concern that Amadeu is joining resistance out of guilt for saving Mendez’s life. However, as an old man talking to Raimund, he simply observes that Amadeu was ‘too soft for resistance’.

Resistances and revolutions cannot be executed by those who resist killing their own if necessary; it is for that reason that ‘every revolution devours its children’ (Jacques Mallet du Pan).

Jorge introduced Amadeu to João and to Estefânia, a beautiful woman who helped the resistance by memorizing people’s names and contact information, and with whom Jorge was deeply in love.

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But the moment Amadeu’s and Estefânia’s eyes met, they were powerfully drawn to each other. When Estefânia’s asked Amadeu whether he could kill his own father if he becomes danger to resistance, Amadeu cannot answer. He also cannot let himself love Estefânia because of his life-long friendship with Jorge. But Jorge did find out and was crushed by discovery. His first thought was to kill Estefânia and he takes João’s gun for that purpose.

The night Amadeu and Estefânia decide to escape together, Jorge confronted them with the gun pointed at Estefânia. But Amadeu persuded him to drop the gun and they drove to safety to Spain.

When Raimund find Jorge, he is an old man who still works in the same pharmacy Amadeu set up for him after they graduated from University. He still lives alone and enjoys his drink. He also lives lights on at night in his old pharmacy, just like he did all those years ago when they were young and plotting resistance.

Jorge (1)It is Jorge who tells Raimund that Estefânia is still alive and living in Spain as a history teacher. Raimund goes to visit her and she tells him that Amadeu did manage to smuggle her over the border in the boot of his Mercedes and with the assistance of Menzel who felt in debt to Amadeu for saving his life.

They travelled together all night and Amadeu was ‘hungry for me, for life, for everything’. His love for her was so intense, so all encompassing that nothing was left, not a thought or a breath. By the time the morning came, she asked him to drop her off at her friends. Few weeks later Amadeu died. She never stopped feeling that she killed him. Raimund explained that Amadeu had aneurysm and knew about it. It had nothing to do with her. He left her his book.

There are indeed times when the love we feel is so powerful and passionate, so all consuming, to leave us no choice but to let it go.

Back in Lisbon, Raimund is ready to leave his hotel and return to his old life in Bern. Just before to pick up his bill, the woman whose life he saved appeared at the reception. She was waiting for him. She wanted to thank him and explain that she felt suicidal because she had just learned from the book she found in the book shop that her grandfather was the ‘Butcher of Lisbon’. The grandfather whom she loved, and cried bitterly at his funeral unable to understand why so many others did not.

One of the hardest tasks we face is to accept that those capable of great evil can be also capable of great love.

While João’s granddaughter, Mariana drives him to the train station, Raimund calls his school to tell them that he is returning to his old job. But at the train station Mariana suggests to Raimund that, rather than returning to his old life, he could simply stay. And she smiles at him.

trainThe movie moved me deeply not so much because of the philosophical questions, ideas and dilemmas it opens, but more so because of the gentle way it approaches them; how fragile our perceptions of self and life we construct is.

‘Human beings can’t bear silence. It would mean that they would bear themselves.’ (Pascal Mercier, ‘Night Train to Lisbon’).

 

The Theory of Everything

James Marsh’s polished direction really shines throughout this movie as do his two leading actors; Eddie Redmayne as famed theoretical physicist – Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as his first wife – Jane Wile Hawking.

Redmayne’s outstanding portrait of Stephen won him Academy Award for Best Actor. The movie received number of accolades and awards in film festivals.

Based on adaptation of Jane’s book; ‘Travelling to Infinity; My life with Stephen’, movie is partly biography and partly romantic drama.

While Stephen co-operated with the production and described the movie as ‘broadly true’, number of biographical details has clearly been ‘broadly’ interpreted.

The movie opens in beautifully quintessential English scenery of Cambridge University’s grounds where young Stephen is a healthy and active postgraduate student who falls deeply in love with a fellow student Jane Wilde.

Stephen is already consumed by cosmology and known as somewhat ‘weird’ but lovable character who loves beer, rides bicycles dangerously and enjoys occasional mischief-making. He is passionate about discovering ‘one simple, beautiful equation that will explain everything’.

Jane is an art student with special interest in French and medieval Spanish poetry. She is active in Church of England, prompting Stephen to comment; ‘suppose someone has to’.

The scene in which they kiss for the first time beneath fireworks at a May ball in 1963 is breathtakingly beautiful. The symbolism of it keeps incurable romantics, such as yours truly; continuing to believe in the magic power of the true love’s first kiss … when time stops and skies sing, and the whole world glows like fireflies in the summer night.

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In real life however, Jane was a student at London not Cambridge when they first met which was after, rather than before, Stephen’s diagnosis.

When, at tender age of 21 Stephen receives devastating diagnosis that he suffers from a motor neuron disease delivered to him in a matter-of-fact manner in an eerily empty hospital hall by a doctor who is ‘ever so sorry’, Stephen initially withdraws into himself with the knowledge that he has two years left to live.

Despite her initial efforts being deliberately ignored by Stephen in an effort to let her go and get on with her own life, Jane is not dismayed and eventually reaches out to Stephen. The scene in which she made him leave his room to play croquet only to realize for the first time full extent of his illness is painfully tender. It also marks the beginning of decades long fight against all odds because; ‘I love him and he loves me’ is the only explanation Jane offers. It is indeed the only explanation needed.

In years to follow Jane supports Stephen who embarks on his most ambitious scientific work – study of time that culminated in ‘The brief history of time’ bestseller.
They become parents to three young children which places further demands on Jane who is already coping with her husband’s sever disabilities as well as growing international fame, especially for his work on black holes and gravitational singularities.

As Stephen’s condition worsens, he is forced to replace walking sticks with a wheelchair, his speech starts to slur and he loses the ability to feed himself. Ultimately, this brilliant but complex genius is left unable to walk, talk or even breathe unaided.

It required all of Jane’s quiet but steely resolve to continue, especially when Stephen insisted that they are ‘just a normal family’ and do not need home-based help.

Eventually however he agrees that ‘Jane needs help’ and that help comes from Jonathan, an organist and a widower who has no children or other commitments and offers his help willingly. Jonathan becomes part of Hawking’s family during 1970s and eventually Jane develops emotional but, initially, platonic relationship with him. Jane eventually marries Jonathan after her marriage to Stephen ends in 1990.

In 1985 Stephen contracts pneumonia during a visit to Geneva (in a movie that occurs in Bordeaux) and he is given a tracheotomy that destroys his remaining powers of speech. After the operation, Stephen requires around the clock care and team of nurses is hired. One of them is Elaine with whom Stephen develops deep attachment. On their wedding anniversary in 1990, Stephen told Jane that their marriage is over and he moves in with Elaine whom he marries five years later.

In one of the movie’s last scene’s Stephan and Jane are seen talking candidly in the magnificent yet peaceful surroundings of royal gardens moments after their reception by the Queen, while Stephen points towards their three children playing nearby and tells Jane; ‘Look what we have made.’

While, if compared to the real-life events, at least as publicly reported, it could be said that movie-makers have made considerable effort to portray Stephen and Jane’s relationship as overly romantic and carefully avoided some of the less-than-pleasant occurrences, such as reportedly difficult circumstances of Stephen marriage to Eliane and their divorce in 2006, the movie nevertheless succeeded in telling the story of enduring power of love and hope.

Story of a man who simply refused to give up hope because, in his own words; ‘However bad life may seem, where there is life, there is hope’.

That may not be ‘the theory of everything’, but it is theory of life and life is everything.

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Map of the human heart

There are some nights at the beginning of summer when air is still fresh and crisp, like new footsteps in the first snow. Imprinted, but only for a moment. Until sun melts the snow. Or other footsteps cover them.

It was those images forming in my mind, while sitting quietly under the canopy of an early summer’s night sky that brought me to the last scene in ‘Map of the human heart’; Avik’s body splattered on an ice-sheet floating in the sea, watched from above by the young Avik and Albertine floating across the sky in a hot-air balloon, happy, in love, alive and free. The symbolism is as unmistakable as it is powerful. Map

Map of the human heart’ is New Zealand’s director Vincent Ward visually stunning motion picture produced in 1992.

It has been said that the movie is of race and romance. To me the movie is of signs. Symbols that, when deciphered, open before us a mystical map of human heart … of any race.

No map is the same, and some only tell us that we are lost. But they are always maps, as they are always hearts. Even the lost ones.

In the movie’s opening scene wild and beautiful Arctic landscape opens before us. An old Inuit Eskimo man tells a story about his life to a young, white mapmaker. In exchange for his whisky. And so we learn the story about Avik and Albertine.

In 1930s British cartographer Walter Russell visits the Arctic-Canadian settlement Nunataaq, where Avik lives his care-free childhood as the only grandson to his grandmother who wishes him to become a great hunter, an Eskimo’s man highest achievement. Avik is also half-white. Boy’s curiosity and intelligence prompts Walter to select him for his guide and when Avik insists on exclaiming ‘Holy Boy’ instead of ‘Holy Cow’ it became his trademark.

Avik

When Avik contract’s tuberculosis, Walter convinces his grandmother who reasons that they have their own cures, to let him take Avik to a clinic in Montreal for cure as the boy has ‘white man’s disease that must be cured by white man’s medicine’. While Walter undoubtedly likes the boy, it is the need to assuage his own guilt that prompts him take Avik to Montreal.

In Montreal’s clinic Avik meets Albertine, a mixed-blood French-Canadian Indian girl and two become inseparable friends brought together by their love for adventure and rebellion. Avik is as fascinated with various types of trees that grow in the clinic’s park, as is Albertine with the raw heart Avik stole from the kitchen for her as a precious delicacy.

Albertine dreams of her father who promised her a horse and had left her his hand-made map that shows his and his horse footprints. Albertine sings a beautiful song and tells Avik that one day she will be singing it on the radio. In the magical world they made of clinic’s bed sheets, Avik and Albertine exchange their deepest secrets and she shows him a scar on her chest where they ‘cut her open’.

They fell in love and try to flee the clinic together, all of which spurs Catholic nun who is in charge of the clinic to send Albertine away telling her that if she stops behaving like a half-cast everything would become possible for her. Everything.

Albertine leaves Avik her chest x-ray plate he once found in the clinic’s archives for her. In the years to come Avik will carry the plate with him wherever he went.

Avik spends such a long time in a clinic that when he eventually returns to Nunataaq and his grandmother, he is a young man who had to re-learn his own language and ways of his people. But game does not come to him as it does to other Eskimos and he is shunned by his people as being cursed. He started to believe himself being bearer of a bad luck.

Second World War is in progress and Walter returns to Nunataaq only this time not to make maps but to recover German U-boat that was wrecked off the coast of Nunataaq. Walter’s and Avik’s meeting is emotional for both of them but Avik soon finds out the true meaning of Walter’s mission who now works as a strategic planner for RAF Bomber Command.

When he hears the song transmitted by the field radio, Avik recognizes Albertine’s voice and asks Walter to help him find her again. He also gives Walter long treasured x-ray plate. The only thing he has of Albertine.

But Walter must return right away and Avik is thorn between his desire to go with Walter and his duty to his aging grandmother. When his people pack to leave their settlement where they can no longer find enough game, he is not welcome to come with them. Avik has no place to go.

In one of the movie’s more poignant scenes Avik is left alone watching a canoe taking his grandmother and his people away from him. Before he can lose sight of them his grandmother’s eyes show the decision she has made as he threw herself of the canoe and into the icy waters. Avik is now alone in the world of his youth. He is also free to cross to white-man’s world where Albertine is and where he can enlist in the war effort in Europe.

He manages to board the ship that takes him to Canada and eventually becomes a bombardier, flying Lancaster bombers over Germany. He became known as a ‘Holy Boy’ and his crew of daring young men is looking forward to their last mission.

Albertine works as an aerial reconnaissance analyst for the RAF and arranges their meeting as she understood who the pilot of the ‘Holy Boy’ is.

She invites Avik to dance-hall where he learns that she is married to Walter.

Despite her marriage, Avik and Albertine are drawn together with the same intensity they felt many years ago. Their consummate love for each other is beautifully illustrated by love-making scenes that unfold on top of an English military blimp and inside the hollow ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall where you ‘listen music with your feet.’

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It is in those moments that Avik speaks to Albertine of his love for her and his desire for them to remain together forever once his last mission is over.

But Albertine tells him of her childhood dream to become a white-man’s wife and finally has all those things she always wanted, above all place in white-man’s world. World where she can ‘pass for white’ and erase all traces of her half-cast heritage and life of an outcast. Albertine can no longer run barefoot. Still, she urges Avik to live as he alone knows who she really is.

While Avik and his crew celebrate successful end of their last mission, Walter finds out about Avik and Albertine’s affair and arranges for Avik and his crew a suicide mission – a firebombing of Dresden. It is revenge by a man whose underlying sociopathic tendencies are hidden behind his dashing exterior. When Avik asks Walter why he must firebomb Dresden; a city of no strategic value, Walter admits that the real reason for the raid is to strike back at a girl in Dresden who once spurned his romantic advances.

Dresden

Avik alone survives the raid by para-shooting from the burning plane. He lands in the midst of horrific human sufferings and for the first time becomes fully aware of the war’s horrors. Despondent with war, he flees to Canada where he works in Arctic’s oil-fields and eventually becomes an alcoholic.

While trying to tell yet another war story to an oil worker in a local pub, who dismisses him as a member of ‘lazy race’, Avik notices a beautiful young woman at the pool table and starts talking to her. Her name is Rainee and she explains that she has come to find her father and his native settlement in Nunataaq. She offers him money to take her there. When she hums the same song he remembers Albertine singing all those years ago, he knows that she is his daughter.

Still he discourages her to look for Nunataaq as there is no longer anything there. Eventually he takes her to place where Nunataaq of his childhood once stood and she understood  that he is her father.

Rainee tells Avik about the love her mother always had for him and about great stories she told her about him. She also tells him that she is getting married and wishes for him to come. But Avik is once again agonizing between his heart’s desire to go and his fear of bringing a bad luck to all who come near him.

Movie then takes us back to present as the young mapmaker Avik is telling the story to, asks him why he never searched for Albertine after the war. Because he was not sure he could live again amongst the white-people. And Albertine could no longer run barefoot. She is better off without him.

In the movie’s last scenes, Avik is killed in an accident on the way to his daughter’s wedding; his body washes up on the beach at Nunataaq, a wedding gift still clutched in his hands.

Avik and Albertine

Flapping of night-bird’s wings cutting the indigo coloured sky shook me from my reverie.

I noticed how stiff and cold my limbs are and how silence stretches all around me like a sea of pewter.

When there is no longer a living soul that remembers us for who we really are; the name of the village we grew up in, what colour was our hair, shape of our dimples when we laughed, smudges our tears left on our grubby faces, smells our bodies filled tents made of sheets with, stories we told and fantasies we made ourselves believe … it is then that our annihilation is complete.

Passion

We all have it.

Even if it sleeps deeply buried inside us, we know it is there. It stirs us. It whispers to us in our darkest and our finest hours. As without it we would not know love, or grief, or hatred, or sorrow, or jealousy. Without it no art would be made, nor wars waged, nor gaols broken, or built.

Passion has imprisoned just as many as it has freed. Liberators are filled with just as much burning passion as are conquerors.

I could not think of anything sadder, more removed from the essence of humanity than not to care about anything or anyone deeply. Not to feel anything strongly.

There are those who seek self-preservation through avoidance of strong feelings. They strive for lives of light and purity and sacredness. I could never help feeling that such aspirations are fuelled by conviction of one’s superiority to the rest of us whose daily toil is amongst all the guts and all the gore of human existence. To attain purity and sacredness one must be either dead or, if still alive, removed from living. Set aside, perhaps as an observer, rather than a participant. In this way, an observer is freed from having to make any of the life’s choices. Instead, passing judgments (however packaged) on choices made by fallible participants becomes their sacrosanct duty.

Then there are those who speak of passion as belonging to youth only. They tell about great peace, and sometimes great wisdom, they attained with the onset of old age (that being any age they deem appropriate). They believe themselves liberated from the chains of passion, no longer enslaved by their desires of either flesh or soul. They tend to observe any affairs of heart with superior indifference. They have ‘seen it all before.’

I never subscribed to either camp. On the contrary, I maintain that it is nothing but an ordinary cowardice that really lies at the heart of it all. However masqueraded, it remains a  fear of surrounding to the richness of human heart … to that which Pablo Neruda described so beautifully – ‘As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.’

However big our fear might be, it is nothing compared to the emptiness we would know if we let it stop us from surrounding to our human heart, with all its fickleness and all its frivolities.

And all the risks that ensue from it … so it seems that when comes to passion – surrender is an act of unprecedented bravery.

Being of such disposition, it is a little wonder I found myself rather vindicated after listening to Isabel Allende speaking so candidly about living passionately no matter your age!

Not only is Isabel as witty and as charming at 71 as she always was, but if you listen till the very end, your views on guacamole are likely to change for ever! I know mine have -:)!

 

 

Calvary

There are some benefits of being cooped up at home with hot water bottle and box of paper tissues! For a start I can finally catch up on all the emails, various reading materials helpful folk sends my way, movies, books, even blogging … honestly apart from spring there is nothing more one could wish for!

Following one such suggestion from a very good friend of mine, I set to watch the latest Irish collaboration between very Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and equally Irish writer-director John M. McDonagh.

Calvary

The movie has apparently been described as a ‘black-comedy’. After watching it I could not agree less with such description. Although there are certainly some humorous moments, the movie really is a drama and rather complex drama at that.

The opening scene is as poignant as it is indicative of what is to come.

Catholic priest; Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is ready to hear confession from the confessee we cannot see and whose opening line is; ‘I was seven years old when I tasted semen for the first time.’ The confessee was repeatedly raped as a child by a Catholic priest who is no longer living.

He, however, has not come to seek solace or to come to terms with his life-long pain.

He has come to tell Father James that he will murder him next Sunday, down on the beach, not because Father James is a bad priest, but precisely because he is a very good one. And killing a good priest instead of a bad one would be worse for the Catholic Church. It is a date.

It is that scene that sets the scene for the whole movie.

The rest of the movie follows the Father James’ week as he goes about his life.

If Catholic Church wanted a movie that, despite it all, offers hope – than McDonagh/Gleeson delivered it.

Father James was married and had a daughter before he became priest following his wife’s death. His daughter (Kelly Reilly) is as beautiful as she is fragile.

She visits her father whose parish is situated in a picturesque seaside village where long walks in beautiful scenery and sharply intellectual conversations are meant to help her recover from attempted suicide. Like her father’s hers is tender soul, and deeply troubled in its tenderness. After the death of her mother, she feels her father abandoned her as well to become priest.

Father James is embodiment of what Catholic Church (or perhaps any church for that matter) wants its clergy to be; man with unflinching integrity, wise, knowledgeable, compassionate, empathetic, warm-hearted, tolerant … in a word he is a good shepherd.

This is nowhere more obvious than in his dialogues with younger priest who servers alongside him and who, in Father’s James words – ‘would be better suited to be an accountant in an insurance firm’ due to lack of integrity, or when he comments on his superior’s purely academic response to his trouble – ‘his excellency had read that in a book.’

Clearly, Catholic Church, while acknowledging those amid it ranks toiling at both side of the spectrum, given a choice would rather hope for more of Father James’ type.

But Father James’ flock is deeply troubled. The waste and beautiful empty landscapes of the coastal settlement harbour characters that, when put together, no doubt represent modern Ireland in all its beauty and all its troubles, as well as flawed and suspect humanity.

There is a violently atheistic local doctor whose monologue on God’s cruelty makes Beckett sound tame, quirky writer, obscenely rich and lonely man who had made most of his money illegally and wants to donate some to Church, local good-time girl (every village must have one) married to a butcher, rough and ready pub-owner, a black man working as a mechanic … and all of them, except a beautiful woman whose faith remains unshaken even after losing her beloved husband in a senseless car wreck, have their own grievances with Catholic Church.

The question of course is – who is the confessee? Who is capable of killing a good priest in a cold blood in the broad day-light on the local beach?

Still Father James genuinely and sincerely cars and reaches to them all during what supposes to be the last week of his life as he would do any other week.

Because as he observed in his last conversation with his daughter – ‘we look too much at sins and not enough on virtues … of which forgiveness is the most important.’

At the appointed day Farther James walks to the beach to face his killer, the man whose voice he had of course recognized a week ago in the confessional.

The man shoots Father James and walks away.

The movie’ last scene shows Father’s James daughter visiting her father’s killer in prison. The movie ends before their conversation is heard.

Whether or not movie’s ambition to examine religious faith through the lens of the horror of the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has been achieved is something every viewer will decide for themselves.