The King’s Speech



Like a lot of people at the moment, I have seen The King’s Speech. It is a great movie starring outstanding actors, namely Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter.

I had never heard about George VI’s stammer until a few weeks before the film as released but now the Internet is full of stories that relate it as well as archives about his friendship with his speec h herapist Lionel Logue..

Although we get a lot of foreign films in France, most of them are dubbed rather than subtitled. When the film was first shown here, it was only in French and the linguist in me had no desire whatsoever to hear the king of England speak French! However my frustration must have rippled to such an extent that this week now the original version (with subtitles) can be seen once a day.

Colin Firth is perfect for the role as both a monarch in the making and a man who suffers greatly due to his speech impediment. Whenever he speaks we see him struggle and suffer with him.

The scenes where the king confronts his unorthodox and uncompromising therapist, are very entertaining. I can also very well imagine that some would be perfect for use in a language class.

Last, but not least, Helena Bonham Carter is a convincing and supportive wife as well as a credible queen-to-be. Like her husband, she is fully aware of how important it was for him to appear as a strong regal figure when both the country and Europe were in such turmoil.

If you are interested in knowing more about the story behind the story, here are a few links:
The film official website
The real speech
The WSJ interviews Mark Logue, Lionel Logue’s granson

Sad but Beautiful and Thought-Provoking


Encouraged by enthusiastic reviews, yesterday we saw the Korean movie Poetry by Lee Chang-Dong. The story is tragic but the movie is really worth seeing.

Mija, a sixty-five year old woman, raises her grandson alone and barely makes ends meet. One day she is told by the father of one of her grandson’s classmates that both boys, along with four others, have been involved in a terrible misdemeanor.

All the parents, or rather fathers – the mothers are conspicuously absent from the plot – want a cover-up and this involves a lot of money.

The grandmother is devastated: she is under shock because of what has happened and she cannot financially contribute to the cover-up. It is also clear that she totally disapproves of her grandson’s wrongdoing but is nevertheless unable to confront him overtly about it. The fact that she has just been diagnosed with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease obviously makes her extremely anxious about the future.

The title refers to the poerty lessons the grandmother takes up at the beginning of the movie and which give rhythm to the story. These lessons and the reading sessions she attends are her only solace.

In the end, Mija finds a way to redeem her grandson by sacrificing herself in more ways than one.

This movie is terrifying in that it portrays a global post-modern society where youngsters are constantly glued to different screens whenever they are not at school and where securing their future is more important than teaching them values. Even if the plot is set in Korea, it is easy to imagine the same story in any other developed country.

It is a movie I strongly recommend because of the issues it raises and since it is a subtle tour de force.

Israeli Films – Post for Yom Ha’atzmaut


French people like films and it might come as a surprise to some of you to learn that a lot of French movie-buffs enjoy Israeli films. Thus the Cannes festival always features a minimum of one Israeli movie and this year Waltz with Bashir was part of a three-film high school program whose aim is to encourage students to see films they wouldn’t otherwise see and help them understand movie making techniques and film analysis. At present Ajami is on in quite a number of French movie theaters.

My favorite Israeli movie is Broken Wings (Knafayim Shvurot) while I also enjoyed Walk on Water (Lalekhet Al HaMayim), Live and Become and a number of others. I have just ordered Shiva and hope to watch it some time this week.

The Israeli films I have reviewed:
Lemon Tree
The Band’s Visit
Waltz with Bashir

Much of this post is indebted to Amy Kronish’s blog: Israelfilm

A Book and a Film


I have almost finished The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, the author of She’s Come Undone. It is a good novel with a fine storyline. The narrator is an English teacher at Columbine, Littleton whose wife barely escapes the massacre. Although she survived her existence becomes miserable and from then on their lives is a series of ordeals. The man character is not as cleverly crafted as Dolores in She’s Come Undone but the book is still a pageturner.

The movie I saw – The White Ribbon – is totally different and not a light one. If you decide to go and watch it, you need to be aware that you will probably be haunted by the implicit and explicit violence it contains.

The story is set in a Protestant village in Northern Germany in 1913. A community which is ruled by the baron, the pastor and the doctor, in that order. Strange things happen and we witness how different people in this close-knit community react.

Because of the slow pace, the sobriety of the language and the choice of black and white, the film powerfully conveys the atmosphere of the stifled and stifling community.

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on 10/20/09, published on 10/21/09, Michael Haneke explicitly and unequivocally declared his intentions in making this movie:

He intended to make a movie about the roots of evil. He explained that he believed that the environment of extreme, punitive and sexually repressive protestantism in Germany, had laid the groundwork for Fascism and Nazism. He added that he saw the same patterns developing in fundamentalist Muslim societies today, and that it is those societies that today were spawning terrorists and suicide bombers. Finally, he expressed the sentiment that The White Ribbon is a movie against all extremisms.

The Beta Israel

History, Sports, Hope and a Movie


The photo on my last post featured a group of Beta Israel (Jews from Ethiopia) women at the Kotel.

The Beta Israel are the Jews of Ethiopia. They are also known as Falasha (Amharic for “Exiles” or “Strangers”) by non-Jewish Ethiopians, but they reject this term which they consider derogatory.

The Beta Israel arrived in Israel in 1984-5 and 1991 after two rescue operations (Operation Moses and Operation Solomon). The Israeli government had mounted these rescue operations for migration when civil war and famine threatened populations within Ethiopia.

There are about 127,000 Beta Israel in Israel today. Thus Haile Satayin, Israel’s oldest representative at the Beijing Olympics, was airlifted during the humanitarian mission of 1991.

Operation Moshe is the subject of a very poignant Israeli-French film entitled Va, Vis et Deviens (Go, Live, and Become), directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihaileanu.

Shlomo, a Christian Ethiopian boy, is entrusted by his mother to an Ethiopian Jewish woman whose own child has died. This woman is about to be airlifted from a Sudanese refugee camp to Israel during Operation Moses. His birth mother hoping for a better life for her son tells him “go, live, and become” as he leaves her to board the plane.

The film tells of his growing up in Israel – as a child, teenager and young adult -and how he deals with the secrets he carries, not being Jewish and having left his birth mother.

It is a very moving movie featuring three great Jewish boys of Ethiopian descent and also Yael Abecassis as his Israeli adoptive mother.

Nowadays there are still approximately 18,000 Beta Israel in Ethiopia, they have sold all their belongings and moved to Gondar to be near the Israeli consulate in the hope of being accepted in Israel.

Another Israeli Film

After Lemon Tree a fortnight ago, Waltz with Bashir is on at our local movie theater.

Twenty-four years after Ari was a soldier in the IDF, he is contacted by a friend who wants to tell him about a recurring dream he has connected with the 1982 Lebanon War. Later that night, Ari himself has a vision about the Sabra and Shatila massacre – a vision he cannot understand. At that point he realizes that he remembers virtually nothing about that event and, following a friend’s advice, sets off on a quest to rebuild his memories.

Thus Ari meets up with former friends and fellow soldiers, but also with a psychologist and the reporter Ron Ben-Yishai so as to understand what happened there and why he can’t remember it.

This film’s format is original in that it is a documentary movie – with real interviews of the people concerned – made by the means of animation. It combines classical music, rock music, realistic graphics and surrealistic scenes together with illustrations similar to graphic novels. From an artistic point of view the film is a tour de force.

What’s more, to quote a famous website, I’d be tempted to say that only in Israel can people try and address their feeling of guilt relatively shortly after the event and in such an honest way.

Lemon Tree

The Israeli movie industry has produced so many excellent films in the past few years that I try to go and see them as soon as they are on at our local movie theater.

Yesterday evening we went to see Lemon Tree, a film directed by Eran Riklis. The synopsis can be found on the site of the Israeli Film Fund.

More than the story, after all the plot is rather simple and straightforward, it is the portraits of the two women – the Israeli and the Palestinian- which are remarkable. They both seem to live respectively in an environment where their behavior is dictated by other people. But it is also obvious that, in the end, Mira and Salma are the ones who embody dignity and principles in front of blind bureaucracy and sheer absurdity. A must-see.

Juno & New “Friends”

images.jpegEverybody has heard about Juno, Jason Reitman’s latest movie, a well-deserved fame. It is a great movie with a fantastic soundtrack. However, this post is not really about the film, but rather about the reason why I selected it among the fifteen movies or so our movie theater has to offer this week.

Before the Internet age, I would rely on film critiques and friends for advice about films. Thus I regularly read a famous weekly French magazine (Télérama) that deals with TV and radio programs as well as movies. Its reviews are uncompromising and usually apropos. Regarding friends, with time you come to respect and value their judgement. You trust their recommendations because you know them and are able to assess if you are going to enjoy a book or a film they have appreciated.

The Internet has added another category of critics: fellow bloggers, or should I say “blogging Internet acquaintances/friends”. Thus two people, whom I have never met in person but whose judgement I trust, have written enthusiastic posts about Juno. If they liked the film, I reasoned, I would also have a good time watching it. I was not disappointed.

Now it is difficult to use a relevant term to designate these two women. This is true of the two people mentioned but also of a number of others. They are not real friends, in the usual sense of the word, and yet they are more than mere acquaintances. Because you read their blogs regularly, you feel you are familiar with them, much more so than with most of the people you come across every day. It may seem a bit weird, nonetheless it is part of what makes the Internet so enjoyable and sometimes a little magic. Despite all the technology involved, human relationships can still thrive.

The Band’s Visit

10m.jpgBikur Ha-Tizmoret


This film was released in France three weeks ago and I think it has already been released in the UK and the US. I was lucky to see it in October at a preview during a film festival.

The plot is simpe: A brass band comprised of members of the Egyptian police force head to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center, only to find themselves lost in a foreign town in the middle of nowhere. To quell grumblings already afoot among members, conductor Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai) hesitantly accepts a suggestion from cafe manager Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) to stay the night.

The film avoids mulling over the Middle-East conflict while showing that contacts, even if akward, are possible between the band members and the towndwellers.

I enjoy Israeli films and have seen as many of them as the programming of my local cinema theatre allows. Thus in the past few years I have seen Avanim, Late Marriage, Or, Walk on Water, The Bubble, and a few others. Yet my favourite remains Broken Wings.