August 13, 2009

"Strangers" an IFC Movie Makes for a Strange Romance Against the Backdrop of a World Cup Soccer Final!

Having just watched the World Cup Qualifier soccer match between Mexico and US at Azteca, I couldn’t resist Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv’s “Strangers”, an IFC movie (watch trailer) that won the ‘Viewers Award” at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It is a movie set against the backdrop of the World Cup Soccer Final in Berlin, but halfway through, the action moves to France, the home of Rana the illegal Palestinian immigrant, also the female lead in the movie. However, immigration is not the main focus of the film. The film is about a bond that develops between two unlikely lovers, who under normal circumstances would have had the Western Wall of Jerusalem dividing them. Eyal, the male protagonist, and Rana meet in Germany, where both have come to watch the Soccer World Cup final. A chance encounter in a foreign country, between two lonely soccer lovers develops into a passionate relationship which unfortunately gets cut-short when Rana has to rush back to Paris where she lives.

The movie is an easy watch with Lubna Azabal doing a remarkable job as the feisty liberal who lives out the belief that ‘we always have choices’. Leron Levo as Eyal, the Israeli tourist, has a lanky laid back charm that grows on Lubna as much as it does on the viewer as the movie progresses. Moreover, the camaraderie that the two share on screen is all pervasive and reinforces the underlying message of the movie, of love being all powerful. But that does not make the movie a preachy-mushy romance because every now and again we see reality intervene when Eyal and Rana watch harsh footage of the ongoing Palestinian Israeli conflict on TV, to which both react in their unique ways.

"Strangers", though no ground breaker in terms of its theme or its setting, is certainly worth watching for the simple reason that it captures both heart and imagination. If you are a soccer lover, you will enjoy the movie even more because “Strangers” also showcases the universality of soccer to bring together the most disparate and the most unlikely.

August 11, 2009

Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"- Captures the Early Feminist Movement in America?

I remember reading Kate Chopin's short story "A Pair of Silk Stockings" in High School, but thanks to a British education system, Kate Chopin and other equally interesting American writers never made it to my active reading lists until I was in my twenties. "The Awakening", one of only two novels that Ms. Chopin wrote, is a delightful read which takes the reader to New Orleans in the early 1900s when women were grappling with basic identity issues in the South while the likes of Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony wre busy establishing the National Women Suffrage Association in NY.

The chief protagonist of the novel, Mrs. Edna Pontellier, an artist and a thinking woman of the early 1900s 'refuses to be caged by married and domestic life and claims for herself moral and erotic freedom" thus becoming a hallmark character of the feminist movement that had started gaining ground across the country. No surprise therefore that Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" was one of many 'feminist literature' books that was pulled off the shelves for being 'morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable'.

Interestingly it is Edna Pontellier's Creole connection, Madame Lebrun's predominantly female summer colony on Grand Isle, that sparks Edna's quest for self outside the patriarchal culture that surrounds her. The openness with which her Creole friends discuss their intimate relationships is something that both embarrasses and piques Edna Pontellier. This strong reaction of hers eventually results in Edna stepping out of her traditional role as wife and mother to explore her world, something that gives her a sense of personal fulfillment. Her initial trepidation and fears during the course of this journey could easily have made her abandon her exploratory quest but for her friend Mademoiselle Reisz, the pianist. Reisz's words, "The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies" inspire and encourage Edna to continue her maiden 'swim...blindly following whatever impulse moved her as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility...running away from prayers...a stifling atmosphere...and reach the open air."

The male characters are no less intriguing than Edna is in the novel, and they could become interesting research projects in themselves: Leonce - Edna Pontellier' husband, Robert Lebrum - Edna's love interest, and Alcee Arobin - Edna's first sexual encounter outside of marriage. Each one of these characters introduces a different flavor of male society as it existed at the time: Leonce, the domineering husband who is indifferent to the emotional and social needs of his family; Robert Lebrun- a 'ladies' man with limited finacial capability who falls madly in love with Edna but has no clue about what to do next; Alcee Arobin - a businessman who is a womanizer and gambler and ultimately manages to seduce Edna.

The title of the novel could just as well be the theme of the novel. It is Edna's 'awakening' as an artist, as a thinking woman living in New Orleans in the early 1900s who wishes to live life on her own terms. Ms. Chopin has, indeed, created a very powerful character in Edna, almost too powerful for both the times and the plot of the novel; Edna's character pushes the boundaries of both, demanding her space on the sheer power of what she brings to the table.

Definitely a novel I would recommend as a hallmark read of the early feminist literary movement in the USA.

August 05, 2009

Jack Finney's 'Time and Again' - Suggesting a Makeover for New Yorkers?

Jack Finney's Time and Again is a tribute to New York City of the yesteryear. The author has created a warm and endearing picture of Manhattan in the 1880s through the vivid and accurate lens of an illustrator, Si Morley, also the chief protagonist and time traveler of this novel.

Mr Finney's novel, though about time travel, cannot be categorized as science fiction; which does not take away from the novel in any way as it is simply an observation and not meant as a derogatory reference. Regardless of what literary category the novel may fall under, Time and Again is an engrossing read that provides suspense and romance within a historical context. The protagonist, a resident of Manhattan in the 1970s, takes on a government sponsored time-travel project and chooses to go back to Manhattan of the 1880s by the sheer strength of his will power. While straddling between the two worlds of past and present, both of which are set in and around Manhattan, Si, the protagonist, falls in love. This emotional involvement becomes the source of a major conflict for Si who now has to make a choice between the two worlds he has been romancing. The conflict is not only for Si to resolve because, by this time, the reader is as much a part of the two Manhattans as is Si, and like Si, the reader too has a difficult choice confronting him. For every New York lover this part of the novel will prove heart rending and will make for a lot of reflection and questioning: What if I had to make this choice? Have Manhattan and New Yorkers really changed that much? Has that change been for the better? Has the city lost it's heart in its effort to be the 'business capital of the world'? Have New Yorkers "shut themselves off from the streets around them, alien and separate from the city they lived in, suspicious of one took any particular pleasure in it."

Clearly there is a sense of nostalgia for a Manhattan of the past whose residents "moved through their lives in unquestioned certainty that there was a reason for being...their faces were animated, alive in that moment and place....pleasure they felt at being outdoors, in the winter, in a city they liked...conscious of time and money...all sorts of expressions just as today, but they were also interested in their surroundings...and above all they carried with them a sense of purpose...they weren't bored, for God's sake!"

Whether Si ultimately makes a choice, and whether that choice changes or interferes with the past that is already gone, is really not that significant. In fact, toward the end, the plot almost seems subservient to the soul searching journeys that the reader takes with Si, from the past to the present, in and around Central Park. These travels paint a vividly stark contrast of life then, and life now in Manhattan; it is a picture not easy to ignore or shake off given that there are some interesting illustrations given at various points in the novel of NYC in the 1880s.

"To correct mistakes of the past which have adversely affected the present for us - what an incredible opportunity" could perhaps have been Finney's driving theme for this novel. The question is whether New York today needs 'correction', and whether time travel into the past is the only way to do it? Could reading this novel do the trick, perhaps?

August 03, 2009

Ode to Rocks and Landforms

Eye to eye with eternity...

All the Time

when You were

and I wasn’t.

Folding of mountains

to makings of oceans;

happenings You partook in

and I inherited.

Birth of life forms,

extinction of species;

processes You hosted

and I became a part of.

Evolution in progress

until the arrival of man;

history You witnessed

and I be the proof of.

Sideling Hill in Maryland

a syncline in rock

some million years old;

a road cut that reveals

antiquity and tribulations

a saga often untold.