A Film For September: Theorem

The postman skips across the lawn of a beautiful house in Milan waving his arms around and heralds the arrival of a visitor. The opening sepia tones become saturated with colour as the visitor, (Terence Stamp) moves in with the family and one by one becomes the object of their desires. In sexually liberating them he soothes their doubts and anxieties while exposing the angst, dissatisfaction and frustration that they feel within themselves and their lives and reveals the sexual tension and disquiet in the household.

Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1968, Theorem uses a combination of fake newsreel interviews, realist drama showing familial tensions and something more fantastical and mythic to show the transformation of the family. It’s spiritual and sensual, physical and metaphysical, serious and jokey as each member of the family (which includes their maid) experiences some sort of revelation or epiphany.

But then as suddenly as he arrived it’s time for him to leave – can the family make sense of their lives without him or will they fall apart? Each of the characters’ reactions is explored individually and each is surprising and spectacular in its own way.

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The Bell Jar

It’s 1953 and 19 year old Esther Greenwood has arrived in New York for a months work on a fashion magazine. One of 12 girls who have won a placement through a writing competition, it’s a month of all expenses paid and ‘piles and piles of free bonuses’, there are successful people to meet, finger bowls to learn how to use and plenty of advice about their complexions. They all live together in a women only hotel with cocktails and parties and Buddy Willard and Doreen lounging about in a peach silk dressing-gown.

‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’

Of course it’s all just a matter of filling in time before getting married, what a ‘dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s’, thinks Esther who yearns to write and travel.

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The Lady and the Little Fox Fur

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Paris in 1965 and an elderly lady lives in an attic under the metro counting out coffee beans. She rides the crowded metro carriages to feel the warmth of other bodies and watches hot pancake batter drip from the hands of street sellers. But then, one hot day, when she’s rootling around in a bin for an orange she finds instead a smelly old fox fur and everything changes, ‘a winter fur in summer.’

‘She was breathing the oxygen meant for people who had spent their day working.’

It’s a book about loneliness and trying to find a connection to the rhythms of everyday life and how, in finding something to love (and she finds the humour in it too!) that turns to an acceptance of her situation with her fox fur, her few possessions and her imagination. Not lonely anymore but just alone.  violette leduc

She gives a running commentary as she walks around Paris in her battered hat and shiny green coat, her childhood and past experiences folded into her existence. It’s funny and knowing: ‘After six, the wind in Paris grows stronger and disarranges all our principles.’ but it isn’t sweet or sentimental. In the introduction Deborah Levy says it’s a way of staring at life and making from it a kind of tough poetry.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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Published in 1961 this short novel by Muriel Spark tells the story of a maverick teacher and her favoured group of pupils at Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland.

On the surface Jean Brodie is fun and charismatic. It’s 1930 and under an elm tree in the garden, the ten-year olds are taught that goodness, truth and beauty rather than safety come first!  They learn of her travels to Italy and Egypt and of her first love, Hugh,  who fell on Flanders’ Field.  She thinks of herself as a romantic heroine, in love with love, she is “in her prime”  and promises her girls that if they will only listen to her she will “make of them the creme de la creme.”

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