Yemenity2010's Blog

Space the Place to Be According to This Year’s Academy Awards?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur by yemenity2010 on 02/03/2014

The race is on again. Tonight a number of awards will be handed out to people involved in the film industry. I really shouldn’t have, but still I couldn’t resist the temptation of predicting the outcome in the most talked-about categories. Even though I haven’t seen more than a few of the movies that really matter in this context. And the Big Big Winner, I presume, will be one that I wish I had seen, but for some reason I haven’t gotten around to it yet. However, it will be available on DVD in Sweden next week, according to usually reliable sources. More clues: It has a Mexican director, takes place in outer space (or at least outside the earth’s atmosphere) and stars an accomplished actress who once upon a time got her big breakthrough driving a bus at high speed to avoid being blown up by a bomb someone thought it prudent to place underneath said vehicle.

 

Other nominated films which I have seen and I hope will get some worthy attention are ”Captain Phillips” and ”12 Years a Slave” (which I have reviewed here). More details can be found at my more explicitly drama-dedicated forum Cast Against Hype.

 

 

 

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Salmon Fishing Shot Swedish Style – Not As Good As the Book?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 15/04/2012

The novel has already achieved a sort of cult status, and now the film has arrived. It opened here in Sweden roughly two weeks ago, and it happens to be directed by a Swede. I’m talking about ”Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. I read it while working in Yemen and was struck by the interesting, some might say odd, structure and narrative techniques used by author Paul Torday. Plot developments are told mainly through diary entries, police interrogation transcripts, parliament committee hearings, e-mail exchanges and such sources. The time perspectives alter quickly between what could be seen as a designated ”now” and flashbacks. Or maybe the other way around. Flashforwards and -sideways like the ”Lost” TV concept? Well, not that complicated, but still intriguing.

Also, Torday likes to piece together a jigsaw puzzle which reveals unpleasant and unwelcome truths one by one in an entertaining fashion, but he doesn’t place all cards on the table until the Grand Finale. Big issues are dealt with and the author is subtly satirical, obviously not very optimistic about the edifying qualities of politics, while simultaneously incorporating these sociopolitical jibes in a story where ordinary human weaknesses are exposed equally unmercifully. Well, sometimes he finds their strengths too, and some of the people in the story are actually easy to like in spite of their weaknesses. Maybe they are… human?

I started thinking that maybe there was film hidden in there, although it wasn’t obvious from the way it was written. About a year ago I discovered that the film productions was already under way and I wrote a piece (in Swedish) based mostly on a report from the monthly magazine Yemen Today. According to their article the result was bound to become ”… a must-see for anyone susceptible to the charms found exclusively in Yemen”.

About the film itself (starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas) I can’t really say that much – yet. I haven’t seen it – yet. Critics like Roger Ebert seem to think that director Lasse Hallström has put too much emphasis on romance and lighthearted stuff while he ”doesn’t take advantage of the rich eccentricity in the story”.

Peter Debruge from Variety apparently agrees: ”Like one of those kitchen machines that can turn nearly any ingredient into ice cream, Lasse Hallstrom has sweetened the satire right out of Paul Torday’s side-splitting political sendup…”. Debruges conclusion: ”Hallstrom has built a respectable career bringing surface polish to feel-good stories, and he’s not about to get all philosophical now.” Harsher still is Joanne Laurier from World Socialist Web Site (a forum not exactly known for worshipping feelgood movies in general, as far as I can tell): With his latest movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, one wonders if the director is seriously paying attention to anything going on in the world…  The WSWS reviewer claims that the Swedish director mostly ”wants the viewer to leave his or her brain outside the theater. Among the many things the viewer should forget or ignore is that Britain was a colonial power in southern Yemen from 1839 and only left, in the face of massive popular opposition, in 1967”. Laurier’s punchline: ”Hallström’s trademark liberal wishful thinking has this time landed him in murky waters.”

Ouch. Of course I have to see the film sooner or later, anyway. Also, the criticism for not taking into account the Arab Spring in the movie might be unfair, since most of ”Salmon Fishing” was probably shot before the start of the protests in Yemen and other Arab countries. Some Swedish reviewers have even called this the funniest film Hallström has made in a long time, but I’ll be back with my own opinions when I’ve had the opportunity to watch the film for myself. I must say I had a hard time picturing Ewan McGregor as the protagonist Dr. Alfred Jones. On the other hand, it’s difficult to think of any established movie star radiating (or the opposite of that) the extreme grayness Jones seems to possess when you read the book…

Yes, there is a lot of fascinating scenery to found in Yemen. But water is scarce. So exactly how clever is the idea of introducing fishing for sport in that country? Probably only in the world of fiction, right?

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Intelligent Designs in an Age of Terror?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur, Tema: Politik by yemenity2010 on 14/02/2012

The international film festival in Gothenburg took place again recently. I had the privilege to see the British political thriller ”Page Eight”, which was… OK, maybe not great, but definitely good. And as a bonus, the director David Hare took some questions from the audience afterwards. The theme is terrorism, or more exactly, how to respond to it from the perspective of the British intelligence agency MI5. They’ve had a hard time since 9/11 according to Mr Hare, partly because they refused to produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction when the Prime minister needed a case to go to war in Iraq along with the US.

MI5 is, by the way, the branch of British Intelligence that operates within British shores, as opposed to MI6 (where James Bond would have been employed, had he existed in real life). The latter branch was more willing to provide the ‘intel’ that Tony Blair was asking for, than MI5.

– Both have had difficult years, says David Hare who thought the time was ripe for a film on the topic, just like John le Carré wrote novels about the Cold War.

The people in ”Page Eight”, especially the leading character, MI5 investigator Johnny is portrayed in a rather sympathetic way, as played by the veteran Bill Nighy (”Love Actually”, ”The Constant Gardener”) whom Hare has worked with on several occasions.

– I didn’t write the part for him, but when I’d written 30 pages it was obvious it was him. And he wanted to play this part; he’s very mysterious and very attractive to women. Two things that all actors dream of playing…

Hare also got the Australian actress Judy Davis to play a part, but it didn’t come easy.

– I struggled to get her. In Australia she’s regarded as such a great actress that she hardly acts at all! But her agent said to her: if you don’t do this, what will you ever do?

All in all, the cast was made up of mostly experienced and skilled actors (like Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes) who together formed ”a nauseatingly happy family” in Hare’s words. And he admits he needed it, since the film was made principally for British TV with a five-week shooting schedule and a very modest budget. Not like when Hare was involved in making films like ”The Hours ” and ”The Reader”.

– You won’t believe how long we went on filming those…

Now everyone had to be on top of their game, with no time to ‘hang around’.

– I would hate to do it with actors less good than this lot. But these are all actors that can do anything, says Hare who considers the chance to visit film festivals is a nice bonus considering the circumstances while making ”Page Eight”.

But he also notes the fact that many of the best writers in America now works in television, such as Aaron Sorkin.

– After ”Social Network” he’s the most admired screenwriter in America and what is he doing? An HBO series. And why? Because that’s where the intelligent people are and also where the writer is the person who drives the medium. The writer’s the most important person in the room. Well, that is never true in Hollywood – on the contrary…

One question from the audience considered the less flattering portrayal of politicians. Hare agrees, even if the thinks his own creation, the Prime minister played by Ralph Fiennes is more ”formidable, intelligent, resolute and strong” than real politicians usually are. But Hare’s experience with world leaders he ”occasionally has bumped into” are different from other people.

– One thing that western world leaders think is that our civilization is under attack from muslim fundamentalists, who are coming to destroy us. This is what they believe and they believe that everything they do is justified by this threat, Hare explains, while adding briefly that Barack Obama is cleverer than the rest and doesn’t necessarily sees the world the same way.

But the themes in the film are not only what kind of information is passed on to politicians, but also in what way it is obtained. Such as torture, which has been illegal within Britain for more than 400 years.

– There may be a threat, but obviously the film is about the means by which we fight that threat. And obviously a lot of people in MI5 have been very squeamish and disapproving of some of the methods that have been too easily adopted by politicians.

Also, a number of films from the Arab world was shown in Gothenburg. Sad to say, I only saw two of them, of which the Egyptian ”Cairo 678”, about sexual harrassments in society, really impressed me. Three women confronts abuses in different ways, while their destinies begin to converge. The Palestinian drama ”Habibi” had an interesting theme; love in times of conflict and against the odds, but it still felt a bit unfinished and less involving than it should have. Partly because of the male protagonist who was a lot less vivid and intriguing than the female one; i.e. the love of his life.

(More film festival reviews in Swedish are available at russin.nu)

Speaking of films: Not as good as the book – or will it be? ”Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Paul Torday was a treat, and soon the film is about to open, as it happens directed by a Swede.

Somewhat related topics: Al Jazeera English has covered a lot of what’s happening in the Middle East lately and here’s a page with an overview of the coverage.

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently released a report titled ”Beyond the Arab Awakening”. Haven’t read much of it yet, but the researchers point out that ”Results suggest that poverty and income inequality in the Arab world are likely higher than official numbers have long suggested.”

The Yemeni water crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, it seems. Could it even lead to wars? Here’s an update from a news channel and the blog The Wadi. I wrote on this topic about 1,5 years ago here.

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