jueves, 20 de diciembre de 2007

Mare Nostrum

Respiro (2003 DVD)
Directed by Emanuele Crialese
Italy, 2002
In Italian with English subtitles

Although my wife and I are visiting my parents in California as I type this, the obsessive compulsive in me couldn't resist bringing you this quick movie review about an Italian woman and mother of three suffering from some sort of bipolar disorder on her otherwise idyllic Mediterranean island. While Crialese lays the death/freedom ocean imagery on a little thick at times, the film's an otherwise watchable meditation on the fine line between sickness and health set in the unusual--for me--context of a small Italian fishing village. A decent enough flick to be sure, but I couldn't help thinking that Io non ho paura would have been a better choice to watch with my folks instead (alas, I will have to look for that one for them at some point). (http://www.sonyclassics.com/)

viernes, 14 de diciembre de 2007

40 Go-Go Dancers Can't Be Wrong

While goofing off online recently, I stumbled upon a classic '60s French pop song that I haven't been able to get out of my head (video on top). A week or two later, a good friend of mine turned me on to another clip from the same era that was even better (video at the bottom). Coincidentally or not, both of these songs were penned by Serge Gainsbourg. Hope you enjoy these two chansons pour un vendredi soir!

FRANCE GALL-"Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son"


miércoles, 12 de diciembre de 2007

Romanian Film Festival

12:08 East of Bucharest (2007 DVD)
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Romania, 2006
In Romanian with English and Spanish subtitles

I probably know less about Romanian cinema than I could fit on a Post-It note, but I really enjoyed this mordant black comedy from first-time feature film director Corneliu Porumboiu. As the movie unfolds, a provincial televison show commemorates the 16th anniversary of Nicolae Ceausescu's fall from power by asking two locals, an alcoholic teacher and a septuagenarian Santa, what they did on the fateful day in question: was there or was there not a revolution in the town similar to the one that forced Ceausescu to flee Bucharest in a helicopter? While the answers poke fun at the holes in the characters' memories as well as at the concept of journalistic integrity itself, some of them also question whether there was really any revolution at all. From there, it is just a short hop, skip and a jump to asking if life has actually improved since the dictator was executed, a question that Porumboiu touches on but slyly evades answering. Bleak? Kind of. But a lyrical sequence of snow falling near the end of the movie is worthy of Kieslowski. (http://www.tartanvideousa.com/)

viernes, 7 de diciembre de 2007

Ritmos negros del Perú

I never even knew there was such a thing as Afro-Peruvian music until a few years ago when I was introduced to it in a Latin American studies class. But what I heard was great, something like raw '60s soul but with different rhythms and percussion instruments unique to Peru. A couple of US compilation CD releases later, I now know a smattering of the more-famous artists; however, the music's not the easiest thing to come by in the States. Luckily, one of the more celebrated movers and shakers in the field, Nicomedes Santa Cruz (1925-1992), now has a handful of videos on YouTube. Although Santa Cruz was probably more of a poet and a musicologist than a musician per se, below you will find one of his many fine songs ("Zamba Malató") and one of his poems set to music ("Ritmos negros del Perú"). Both are worth checking out, and "Ritmos negros" was actually one of the works in my reading packet in that great class from the summer of 2005!

"Zamba Malató"

"Ritmos negros del Perú"

"Ritmos negros del Perú"
por Nicomedes Santa Cruz

Ritmos negros del Perú
ritmos de la esclavitú
contra amarguras y penas
al compás de las cadenas
ritmos negros del Perú

De África llegó mi abuela
vesti'a con caracoles
la trajeron lo' españoles
en un barco carabela
la marcaron con candela
la carimba fue su crú
y en América del Sú
al golpe de sus dolores
dieron los negros tambores
ritmos de la esclavitú

Por una mone'a sola
la revendieron en Lima
y en la hacienda 'e La Molina
sirvió a la gente española
con otros negros de Angola
ganaron por su faena
zancudos para sus venas
para dormir duro suelo
y na'ita de consuelo
contra amarguras y penas

En la plantación de caña
nació el triste socavón
en el trapiche de ron
el negro bailó la saña
el machete y la guadaña
curtió sus manos morenas
y los indios con sus quenas
y el negro con tamborete
cantaron su triste sue'te
al compás de las cadenas

Murieron los negros viejos
pero entre la caña seca
se escucha su zamacueca
y el panalivio muy lejos
y se escuchan los festejos
que cantó en su juventú
de Cañete a Tombuctú
de Chancay a Mozambique
llevan sus claros repique'
ritmos negros del Perú.

miércoles, 5 de diciembre de 2007


Madeinusa (2006 DVD)
Directed by Claudia Llosa
Peru, 2006
In Spanish with English subtitles

Knockout debut film from Lima to Barcelona transplant Claudia Llosa. While nominally a retrato of what happens when worldly limeño Salvador walks into the life of a sheltered Andean teenager who's desperate to escape her village life, the plot's unexpected twists and turns toy with conventions while eventually leading somewhere else entirely. Magaly Solier, a first-time actress who had never even been to a movie theater in her life before being discovered by Llosa, is completely captivating as the title character; others among the largely non-professional cast are similarly convincing as the villagers inhabiting their own cultural twilight zone in the three days between Good Friday and Easter when it's believed that there is no sin.

While the film's Andean setting, extraordinarily lush visuals and folkloric music give it an otherworldly quality most city slickers should enjoy, others have attacked the film's representation of indigenous life as something of an ethnographic hatchet job. In fact, one newspaper's readers even voted Madeinusa the best and worst Peruvian film of 2006. I find this criticism misguided on many levels. Far from presenting one-dimensional characters on any side of the city-country divide, for example, Madeinusa instead offers "real people" in a carnivalesque dream world of its own creation: a dark fable that looks like Amélie but feels like something out of Juan Carlos Onetti. Best Spanish-language largometraje I've seen in quite some time. (http://www.filmmovement.com/)

*For more on Madeinusa, see the US (top) and international (bottom) trailers below.*

viernes, 30 de noviembre de 2007

Blogging in Occitan

"El nom del Payre e del Filh e del Sant Esperit
Comensa la cansos que maestre Guilhelms fit,
Us clercs qui in Navarra fo, a Tudela, noirit;
Pois vint a Montalba, si cum l'estoria dit."
--Guilhelms de Tudela, la Canso, w/a rough approximation in English below

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Begins the song that master William made
He grew up in Tudela in Navarra, [where he] became a cleric
Then he came to Montauban, as the story will tell."

A couple of years ago, I pretty much horrified my ever-practical wife--then just recently at peace with my interest in studying Catalan--when I showed her my nice new paperback in modern French...and medieval Occitan. The work in question, the 13th century La Chanson de la Croisade albigeoise composed by Guilhelms de Tudela and an anonymous successor (excerpted above), is one of the main primary contemporary sources on the Albigensian Crusade and a great read for anyone interested in medieval history and/or the chanson de geste genre; however, sheepishly trying to explain these merits to a dona who saw medieval Occitan as just another potential detour from my Spanish studies wasn't my greatest success ever!

Fast forward to the here and now, and Occitan remains a real--if only sporadic--interest of mine as I shuffle through this shadow world of romance languages and medieval studies geekdom. Too many languages, too little time! Although I haven't been able to study any form of provençal in a classroom yet, there are at least a lot of resources devoted to it in cyberspace these days. One Occitan blog I'm fond of is Lo blòg deu Joan from Tolosa (Toulouse); it has a ton of links to other Oc-themed resources, and people with some Catalan background should be able to decipher a lot of the Occitan as well. Anem Oc!

miércoles, 28 de noviembre de 2007

Trench Warfare in Black and White

Wooden Crosses (2007 DVD)
Directed by Raymond Bernard
France, 1932
In French with English subtitles

Hailed as an early antiwar milestone in French cinema, Les croix de bois is a visually striking WWI drama that follows a regiment of lovable losers along their path to the inevitably grim ending foreshadowed in the opening scene: a montage of marching soldiers dissolving into wooden crosses. Whether this was as heavyhanded in the 1930s as it is today is beyond me; however, I have to say that I was still impressed by the directness of the message and the poetry of many of the compositions. Part of a two-movie package from Eclipse/Criterion bookended with a 4-hour plus version of Les Misérables. (http://www.criterion.com/)

viernes, 23 de noviembre de 2007

Con sabor bonaerense

I've only started appreciating "traditional" tango over the last couple of years, and I'm not a fan of the lounge scene at all; however, this song and its equally evocative video really do it for me, fusion or not. Go figure! Gotan Project, "Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)."

miércoles, 21 de noviembre de 2007

The Sands of Time

The House of Sand (2005 DVD)
Directed by Andrucha Waddington
Brazil, 2005
In Portuguese with English subtitles

Brazilian import The House of Sand, a/k/a Casa de Areia in Portuguese, is an interesting meditation on time, dislocation and family that shouldn't be confused with that horribly overwrought U.S. film from a few years back called House of Sand and Fog. Although a couple of moments near the end didn't totally work for me, leads Fernanda Montenegro, Fernanda Torres and Seu Jorge were quite believable as three interconnected characters trying to find emotional shelter and sustenance on the sandy dunes of Maranhão state in the early 1900s. If the movie's epic ambitions overreach here and there, the same can't be said for the visuals; Ricardo della Rosa's sweeping sand and sea shots pack some of the same cinematographic punch as Lawrence of Arabia and Lucía y el sexo in terms of introducing a living landscape as an interactive canvas for the story. A nice riff on the strangers in a strange land theme. (www.SonyClassics.com)

lunes, 19 de noviembre de 2007

Mal adentro

I went to Coolidge Corner last Saturday night with a friend to catch the new Coen Brothers movie, No Country for Old Men. It was the best film from them I've seen in a long time, but the reason I'm posting here is that Javier Bardem was simply amazing as psycho-with-principles Anton Chigurh (above w/his Grim Reaper-in-a-bowl cut '80s look). What a performance! After thinking about how great the guy was, I remembered that he was actually only a shade less mesmerizing in the few other roles I've seen him in. I particularly enjoyed his work as unemployed womanizer Santa in 2002's Los Lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun) and as real life quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro in 2004's Mar adentro (The Sea Inside), two films from España that sport the Caravana de Recuerdos seal of approval. Later.

viernes, 16 de noviembre de 2007

Catalan Corner

Benvinguts catalans i/o catalanofils! After taking some time off from Catalan to study Italian last year, it looks like I'll be continuing els meus estudis en català next semester with an intermediate course at the university where I work. In the meantime, I hope to share a number of Catalan-related items such as this stirring homemade YouTube video put together by Ferran Cabrer (below). This production pairs an historic version of "Catalunya, comtat gran/Els Segadors," the "national hymn" of Catalunya here defiantly sung by Rafael Subirachs i Vila when Franco was still alive, with some recent video shot at the 12th-century Monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses in the comarca of Ripollès (near the French border and the Pyrenees on the map above). Hopefully the next time I visit Barcelona I can spare some time to make a road trip to this beautiful medieval monastery.

miércoles, 14 de noviembre de 2007

Hecho en México

(2007 DVD)
Directed by Mark Becker
USA, 2005
In Spanish with English subtitles

Superb documentary on Mexican musician Carmelo Muñiz Sánchez and his attempts to eke out a meager living playing for tips in the bars and restaurants of San Francisco's Mission District. Described as "a reverse immigration tale" by director Mark Becker, the film follows the then 57-year old Carmelo from the Bay Area back to Salvatierra, Guanajuato when he decides to return home after a three-year absence to reconnect with his dying mother. The attendant complications, both economic and emotional but often one and the same, are dealt with throughout with an understated touch; however, the manner in which many of the scenes are composed--in particular, one of Carmelo alone at the Zócalo in Mexico City and of another where he learns that visitors' visas to the U.S. are only available to those Mexicans who happen to be very wealthy--is haunting in intensity. Interspersed with wonderful music as uplifting as it melancholy. (http://www.kino.com/)

*For more on Romántico, play the trailer below*

sábado, 10 de noviembre de 2007

Carlos Gardel y la caravana de recuerdos

The video's a little cheesy, but oh what a voice: ladies and gentlemen, Carlos Gardel.

"Mi Buenos Aires querido" (letra de Alfredo Le Pera; música de Carlos Gardel)

Mi Buenos Aires querido,
cuando yo te vuelva a ver
no habrá más penas ni olvido.

El farolito de la calle en que nací
fue centinela de mis promesas de amor;
bajo su quieta lucita yo la vi
a mi pebeta, luminosa como un sol.
Hoy, que la suerte quiere que te vuelva a ver,
ciudad porteña de mi único querer,
y oigo la queja de un bandoneón,
dentro del pecho pide rienda el corazón.

Mi Buenos Aires,
tierra querida,
donde mi vida
Bajo tu amparo
no hay desengaños,
vuelan los años,
se olvida el dolor...
En caravana
los recuerdos pasan
con una estela
dulce de emoción.
Quiero que sepas
que al evocarte
se van las penas
del corazón.

La ventanita de mi calle de arrabal,
donde sonrié una muchachita en flor;
quiero de nuevo yo volver a contemplar
aquellos ojos que acarician al mirar.
En la cortada más maleva una canción
dice su ruego de coraje y de pasión.
Una promesa y un suspirar
borró una lágrima de pena aquel cantar.

Mi Buenos Aires querido,
cuando yo te vuelva a ver
no habrá más penas ni olvido.

viernes, 9 de noviembre de 2007

J'ai l'oeil américain

My French is way rusty these days, but I accidentally picked up a great piece of slang while watching Le Corbeau last weekend. In at least one of the hate letters, Le Corbeau writes: "J'ai l'oeil américain et je dirai tout." The Criterion subtitles translate this straightforwardly as "I see all and will tell all"; however, not having heard of an "American eye" before, I was curious about how common an expression this is.

Unfortunately for me, I still don't have an answer for that. But in its online dictionnaire d'argot et du français familier, languefrançaise.net does provide the following helpful definitions for the term: "espion habile, observateur, oeil vif, exercé; oeil scrutateur, oeil séducteur; voir clair (fig.); être observateur, bon observateur; découvrir qqun, qqchose du premier coup d'oeil (particulièrement une ou des femmes)." That, my friends, is the slang of the week.

miércoles, 7 de noviembre de 2007

A French Occupation Classic

Le Corbeau (2004 DVD)
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
France, 1943
In French with English subtitles

"Watching Le Corbeau at the Empire Theater, Clouzot's film is physically repugnant. But compare it to what's outside, and it begins to taste sweet--the black turns rosy and pale blue. Almost like a romance novel..." --Henri Jeanson, 1947

Finally got around to seeing this controversial 1943 anti-informer classic from alleged Vichy France "collaborator" Clouzot, and I'm pleased to report that it lived up to the hype and then some. Whatever you want to make of the debate surrounding the making of the movie, there's no denying that Clouzot was a master storyteller whose real life-inspired plot--an outbreak of "poison-pen letters" that wreaked havoc in the French provincial town of Tulle--comes to paranoiac life in this witty and provocative thriller. Pierre Fresnay is outstanding as Dr. Remy Germain, the suspected abortionist, adulterer and main target of the anonymous letter writer known as "Le Corbeau" (the Raven); however, a good deal of the viewer's fun is watching the rest of the characters blindly ignore their own issues of compromise and complicity. Shot in a stark black and white that almost seems to mock the hypocrisy of the townspeople's conventional morality. (www.criterion.com)


What do romance studies, medieval history, and movies have in common? Me!