A Film For May: The Woman Who Ran

Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, this 2020 film from South Korea follows Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) as she visits two old friends and then meets another by accident in a local arts centre. She’s been married for five years and now that her husband has gone away on a business trip she finds herself alone for the first time. It’s an incredibly simple premise that is played out in three separate sections.

In the first one Gam-hee meets an old friend who is now divorced and enjoying her single life, in the second her friend is a more urbane, dance producer who has a crush on an architect living in the flat above but is being pestered by a man she had a one night stand with. The third person she meets while out to watch a film and is now married to a man that Gam-hee once dated. In each situation the conversation is so natural we could be in the room with them, as their chat wanders from clothes to men to moral questions it’s full of the hesitations and evasions of normal speech.

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My Name is Lucy Barton

On a writing course Lucy Barton is told that ‘we all have only one story to tell‘. Now a successful writer she remembers a time in the mid 1980’s when she was first living in New York with her husband and two young daughters and a trip to hospital for a routine operation lasted for nine weeks.

One day she realises that her mother, who she hasn’t seen for years, is sitting by her hospital bed. She stays for five days and through their conversations we get Lucy’s story. Memories of poverty, humiliation and loneliness are told in a solid, unfussy style. She speaks directly to us, as her memories and her mothers anecdotes interrupt and overlap each other and she wonders about the vagaries of her memory as she thinks about her life.

‘We were oddities, our family, even in that tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois.’

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Gilead

The Reverend John Ames has lived in the small town of Gilead in Iowa nearly all his life. His father was a preacher and both grandfathers. Born in 1880 It’s now 1956 and he’s an elderly man knowing he doesn’t have long to live. So he begins to write a letter to his seven year old son ‘to tell you things I would have told you if you had grown up with me, things I believe it becomes me as a father to teach you.’

In a voice that is calm and authoritative the Reverend Ames tells his son about his life and beliefs about his friends and family and perhaps most beautiful of all, he describes their present life, the everyday happenings in their little family of three.

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The Silence Of The Girls

In the narrow Lanes of Lyrnessus Achilles is leading his men as they ransack the Trojan city in revenge for the kidnapping of Helen. Once all the men are killed the women are taken to the Greek soldiers’ camp as slaves. Briseis the queen is given as a prize to Achilles, the man who butchered her family and it’s her story that’s central to this retelling of The Iliad.

I found this shocking and upsetting but incredibly compelling, the domestic lives of the women and their children amidst the biblical brutality of bored and frustrated warriors.

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A Film For April: Sweet Bean

Based on the novel Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa this 2015 film directed by Naomi Kawase is a slow and gentle story about three people on the margins of society bought together by cooking.

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a middle aged man weighed down by his past. He runs a small bakery selling dorayaki to locals, getting up early to make the pancakes. An elderly lady, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), responds to his advertisement for help and after a while he grudgingly accepts her offer, while noticing her crippled hands. She is overjoyed at the prospect of working but horrified by the offensively large plastic bucket of wholesale bean paste he uses for the filling. Carefully she shows him how to make it himself, listening to the beans and watching, watching. Word soon gets around about the new dorayaki recipe and the shop becomes a destination. But when rumours spread that Tokue’s hands have been disfigured by leprosy, Sentaro has to let her go.

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Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

I’ve had a couple of Peirene novels sitting looking at me for quite some time and have been intrigued by the TLS claim that these are ‘two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting’. I also wanted to take part in Read Indies month, hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy and so it seemed sensible to give it a go.

As it turns out Portrait of the Mother by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated by Jamie Bulloch) was the perfect book to read in one go as it follows a young German women as she walks across Rome on a January afternoon in 1943, from her lodgings to a Bach concert at Rome’s Lutheran church, all told in one sentence.

It’s a walk that takes her just over an hour and through her internal monologue we get a fabulously detailed look at Rome, the paintings, sculptures, empty shops and people. But we also learn about her upbringing and her families lives, her new husband fighting in North Africa and how she feels as an outsider even though she’s amongst allies.

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The Salt Path

the salt path

Within a week in 2013 Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lose their home and livelihood and receive the news that Moth has a rare and terminal illness for which there’s no cure ‘Don’t tire yourself, or walk too far, and be careful on the stairs.’

Instead they pack their rucksacks and walk and wild camp The South West Coast Trail, England’s longest way marked long-distance footpath, 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset along the coast of Devon and Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

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A Film For July: Elephant

elephant 2

Written and directed by Gus Van Sant, Elephant chronicles the events of an ordinary day in a fictional high school in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon – a day when two of the students carry out a shooting based in part on the Columbine High School Massacre.

Using new and unprofessional actors who largely keep their own names, the characters are introduced by name and then followed through their day but in a fragmented style that goes over the same events but from multiple points of view. The camera catches up with the students as they walk along corridors, meet up in the cafeteria or the locker room or the library and we hear snatches of frivolous, inane conversations which are often quite funny. Of course we feel tense because we know what’s going to happen and an early scene of the gunmen walking towards the school, before the camera skips off to show another group, is an example of how we can try and piece the fragments together to build up some sort of time line; but what’s extraordinary is the blankness.

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A Film for February: The Arbor

ArborBleak, bleak, bleak but compelling. Directed by Clio Barnard in 2010 this is a film about the dramatist and author Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990), who wrote plays The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Dunbar came from Bradford’s tough Buttershaw housing estate and a street know as the Arbor. Her life ended in a brain haemorrhage bought on by alcoholism when she was 29, a scene straight from one of her own plays. The second half focuses on Dunbar’s eldest child Lorraine (Manjinder Virk) and her tragic story of parental neglect, racism, domestic violence and finding her refuge in drugs. Continue reading “A Film for February: The Arbor”