My post yesterday on Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s ‘Le Passé’ reminded me of this very good film I saw a couple of months ago (English title: ‘The Patience Stone’) and had intended to write something on. It’s set in an unnamed Muslim country in the throes of civil war that is rather obviously Afghanistan—and specifically Kabul, with the panoramic scenes of the city shot there (the interior and street scenes were shot in Morocco)—, is in the Persian language (called Dari in Afghanistan), and stars the sublime Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, who’s in almost every frame. The film, directed by the Afghan/naturalized French citizen Atiq Rahimi, is based on Rahimi’s best-seller novel of the same title (which won the Prix Goncourt in 2008), about a 30ish woman with two small children whose mujahid husband lies at home comatose (from a bullet in the neck), leaving the woman to fend for herself (and in a war torn society where the status of women, even in the best of times, is one of the worst in the world). For details, see the reviews here and here (and French reviews here). All I’ll say about the film—apart from giving it the thumbs way up—is that Golshifteh Farahani’s performance is a tour de force. She’s one great actress, rien à dire!
For the record, I should mention an Iranian film I saw last fall, ‘A Respectable Family’, by Massoud Bakhshi (who usually does documentaries), about a university professor who returns to Iran after two decades abroad and gets caught up in some sinister scheming of his sleazy, corrupt family (thus the ironic title). The pic is, as one may guess, a backhanded critique of a lot of what goes on in the Islamic Republic, of the moral code—or absence of—that guides the actions of a certain number of people there. The plot is complex and I will admit to getting lost halfway through, which I attributed to briefly nodding off a couple of times—due to fatigue, not the film itself, though its pacing did not exactly have me riveted to the screen (it’s not ‘Fast & Furious 6′, loin s’en faut)—, during which I no doubt missed crucial information. And sure enough, one of the reviews said that “[t]his is one of those movies where you can’t miss a single subtitle” (other reviews are here and here; French reviews here). So voilà. If I come across the film on DVD, I’ll watch it again (and this time wide awake).
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Nice commentary by Gary Gutting, philosophy professor at Notre Dame, on the NYT opinion page.
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This is Asghar Farhadi’s new smash hit film (English title: ‘The Past’), which premiered at Cannes last Friday and opened in France the same day. French reviews have been dithyrambic, as has the buzz. A long line at my neighborhood theater last Sunday afternoon. All to be expected in view of Farhadi’s chez d’œuvre, ‘A Separation‘, of two years ago—not to mention his earlier films: ‘About Elly’ (2009), ‘Fireworks Wednesday’ (2006), and ‘Beautiful City’ (2004), all excellent. This one is set in Paris and environs—in the 19th arr. and Sevran (where tourists do not venture)—and is entirely in French—a language Farhadi does not speak, as it happens—, except for a smattering of Persian here and there. Like ‘A Separation’ it’s a complex psychological (melo)drama involving two families. As for what happens in the film, see the reviews (stellar) in the Hollywood press here, here, here, and here; trailer w/English subtitles is here. I was thoroughly engrossed in the film and from the opening scene. The dialogue is intense and extremely well written, with great attention to little details and gestures. And the acting is amazing and from the entire cast, particularly the sublime Bérénice Bejo, and down to the children (as for the beautiful 16 year-old Lucie, played by Pauline Burlet, a star is born…). All this said, I rated the film a notch below ‘A Separation’ on leaving the theater, as I was just a little unsatisfied with the ending, a sentiment that was shared by the others with whom I saw it. But a sharp, cinephile colleague later gave me a convincing interpretation of the end that caused me to revise my view of it and upward. So is the film a chef d’œuvre? Maybe. I’ll have to think about it, maybe see it again. But whether it is or not, it will most certainly make my Top 10 list of best movies of the year.
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Photo credit: David Bachar
A.B. Yehoshua has a useful op-ed in Haaretz on defining Zionism (I already know what it is but many out there do not, including those who freely toss the word around). The lede:
Given the ways in which the word ‘Zionism’ is thrown around both in Israel and outside of it, and the vast permutations it’s gone through over the past decades, perhaps it’s time we try to define it realistically.
Voilà the full text, with key passages highlighted by me
“Zionist” is a concept that’s basically simple, clear, easy to define and understand, and there should be no difficulty defending its definition. But over the past 20 to 30 years, this simple concept has turned into one of the most confused and complicated notions of identity, and its overuse has made it impossible to agree on what it means.
The right likes to use it as a type of whipped cream to improve the taste of dubious dishes, while the left treats it with fear, as if it were a mine liable to explode in its hands − which is why it always feels the need to neutralize it with Continue Reading »
Posted in Israel-Palestine | 1 Comment »
France 3 a eu un documentaire très intéressant hier soir sur le mouvement des Frères musulmans—en Egypte et à travers le monde—, écrit et réalisé par Michaël Prazan. Je le recommende vivement. On peut le regarder ici pendant une semaine.
Posted in en français, Maghreb, Middle East | Leave a Comment »
In September ’11 I had a post on hecklers, in which I expressed my loathing of them. I hate hecklers. Except in certain circumstances, when I like them. À propos, The Times of Israel has an op-ed by Joshua Leifer, a late teen American on a gap year in Israel, explaining why he interrupted—in effect, heckled—a speech by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s up-and-coming far right politician and cabinet member. As Leifer explains
I interrupted Naftali Bennett’s speech because I could not allow him to pass off his fully fleshed-out plan for apartheid as a seemingly benign blueprint for stability. I could not sit idly while MASA Israel hid his insidious intentions to disenfranchise millions [of Palestinians] behind the smiling apolitical façade of the end of the year event. I could not watch as the organizers of the event portrayed his colonialist, jingoistic, and racist ideology as a mainstream political position.
The event was not a public talk but an event organized by MASA Israel for young non-Israeli Jews in the country
MASA Israel, without providing an alternative voice or giving context to Bennett’s role in the continuing occupation, shamelessly promoted Bennett as the event’s central speaker. His time as Director of the Yesha Council was listed on the invitation, which was sent out to thousands of diaspora Jews on gap years and study abroad programs, without any mention that the Yesha Council is the organization of settlements in the West Bank. He was introduced as leader of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) political party without any allusion to its political orientation. MASA Israel had planned for Bennett to simply ascend to the stage as any other leader, without any mention of the nature of his political commitments.
Bennett represents a dangerous combination of the entrepreneurial, problem-solving ethos of neoliberalism with a totalitarian disregard for civil rights. Failing to bring this to the attention of the hundreds if not thousands of MASA participants who attended the event would have constituted a moral failure. And as someone deeply concerned with the ethical character of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, I felt obligated to speak out in any way I could – not just to voice my opinion, but to finally get the conversation going.
The heckling could be justified here, as this was not a public event for adults but one targeted at a young, presumably impressionable audience, with an extremist politician—likely unknown to most of those attending—receiving top billing and no one there to contradict him. So good job, Joshua!
BTW, I’ve given talks to gap students—American kids just graduated from high school, and who have been admitted to top universities—on several occasions at one of the places I teach. They’re the brightest, most impressive group of 18-19 year-olds one will meet. Joshua Leifer would definitely be among them (take a look at his blog). Students like these make teaching a pleasure.
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This is the title of a great post by freelance journalist Siddhartha Mitter on a fine blog I just discovered the other day, “Africa Is a Country.” Mitter’s post is a demolition of an absurd piece last week on The Washington Post website, “A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries,” by WaPo foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher, which uncritically reported on a paper by two Swedish economists, itself based on something called the World Values Survey. I took one look at the map and pronounced it bullshit—on FB and using that precise term—, asserting that any “study” that ranked France as less racially tolerant than Russia—however one wants to define “race,” a term devoid of scientific value—had serious methodological problems, and that France, despite well-known problems of discrimination, was one of the most tolerant societies in Europe. Then I saw Mitter’s post, which used precisely my language, though explained in detail—and with greater sophistication than I would be capable of—why Max Fisher’s piece was full of B.S. Read Fisher’s piece here and then Mitter’s takedown here.
BTW, I was somewhat dismayed at the number of FB friends who uncritically posted the WaPo piece, including some who should have known better. And it uncritically made the rounds in France as well. Even my 19 year-old daughter repeated it to me today. I told her not to believe everything she reads on the Internet.
Posted in France, miscellaneous | 2 Comments »