1. 1Q84, books 1, 2 & 3, written by Haruki Murakami

    Tengo and Aomame. Aomame and Tengo. Two destinies, linked without their knowing, against all odds, the Little People, the Sakigake organisation, multiple moons, time lapses, etc. Life, basically. In just three books and fifteen hundred pages.
    As usual, Murakami brings his readers into his world without grandiloquence or fancy sentences. Yet, he manages to hook the reader, to enthral them until the end, with this characteristic mix of imaginary worlds not so foreign to ours and a simplicity that feels almost poetic at times.
    Still, in 1Q84, none of the mysteries are actually solved at the end. To be quite frank, there isn’t even the first sign of a start of a beginning of an explanation. Thus, we are a little disappointed. A little only. Because even though the end doesn’t reach the summit you had imagined, the way up is definitely worth it.

    __
    En français ?

  2. The Great Gatsby, the Luhrmann way

    Here comes a strange phenomenon… Whoever took the slightest interest in this film before its release knows that everything and anything has been said and written about it: brilliant, horrible, too slow, too fast, too fancy, too thin, emotionless, cheesy, refined, tacky, aesthetic and vulgar, just to list a few. A lot of fuss has also been made about its soundtrack, the party scenes, and the Moulin Rouge feeling of the film (obviously, the director’s the same). Thus, you expect a noisy and unrelenting film, either absolutely exhausting or that you will absolutely adore, in a sort of ecstatic trance. And yet… None of this really corresponds to the film I have seen.
    Without being slow, the rhythm is not over-speedy, and the two and a half hours go by really well. The parties are sumptuous, but you only get to stay there for a few minutes, seeing a very slight part of them. This brevity leaves you with an after-taste of something unfinished, a mix of frustration and fascination that makes you want to see and have more, ever more, which reflects pretty well the spirit and craziness of the times.
    At first, you might wonder what the point of 3D is, and - not because of 3D, simply because - it does take some time to really get into the film (what a blessing when DiCaprio finally appears!). But little by little, you let yourself be absorbed in it, carried into the roaring 20s with both amusement and concern for these pointless and vacant lives, just like another Nick Carraway. Here lies the real value of 3D: the viewer isn’t just watching the film, they feel like a direct, first witness, immersed in the reality depicted on screen, which only makes the darker underlying subjects and motives exposed more powerful.
    And once it is all over, you find yourself in a different state, very pensive, filled with a melancholy of sorts, pacified by such beauty (yes, it does feel good to see beautiful people in wonderful surroundings bathed in magnificent lighting) and yet troubled, tickled by the vacuity of a such an apparently blazing world. And, insidiously, quietly, words, images, impressions come back to you, long after having left the theatre, living another moment, reading another book, dreaming another dream… Just like with the original novel.
    And that is why, though it is not perfect, Lurhmann’s Gatsby is a perfect success. (Just like the original novel.)

    ——
    En français ?

  3. LET’S GO TO THE OSCARS (or not), second round

    7 Psychopaths, by Martin McDonagh. As the title says, this really is a psychopathic movie. Marty, a screenwriter at a loss for a scenario, tries to write a movie with psychopaths in it, with a little help from his best friend, himself some kind of psychopath, and a lot of other very very nice psychopaths. All in all, it’s a crazy, messy film that won’t get the Oscar for Best Scenario for sure, but quite fun anyway. And it gives us the opportunity to watch great talents (Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits), not that much on screen these days, have a real good time and to enjoy Colin Farrell’s ever-so-charming Irish accent.

    Silver Linings Playbook, by David O. Russell. Some brilliant romcom, in which two depressed and lost souls (I know, this is a weird start for a comedy, but it does work) meet, get better together and love each other. It’s beautiful. And optimistic. And not cheesy for a bit. All this thanks to a great, clever and not so common scenario (despite a classical frame), and to the actors, beginning with Bradley Cooper (Oscar time?), and all the supporting roles. The film is so great you can go a second time and laugh as much (and maybe even more) as the first. And that feels good.

    Gangster Squad, by Ruben Fleischer. A good old gangster movie, nicely shot, nicely played, with a perfect dosage of action, violence, love and humour. But, though enjoyable, it’s nothing to write home about and it is partly ruined by Sean Penn (yes, you’ve read properly, Sean Penn), who is overdoing it constantly and looks like a bad impersonator of somebody in between The Godfather’s Marlon Brando and an over the hill Stallone. Too bad.

    En français ?

  4. LET’S GO TO THE OSCARS, with Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow

    After The Master, Argo and Beasts of the Southern Wild, here comes my (humble) view on some of the other nominees.

    Ladies first, with Zero Dark Thirty. A war and CIA movie with a female hero and another one behind the camera is not so common, and a good thing as such. Unfortunately, it is not enough to make a difference. This digest of the hunt for Bin Laden, from 9-11 to his death in 2011, is nicely crafted. The actors(-tresses) are brilliant, the images and direction are nice without being pretty for the sake of it, the 2h35 go by quite quickly, the final assault is a prowess. But we end up quite dissatisfied. Because summing up 10 years in an hour and 45 minutes (the last hour concentrating only on the catching/killing Bin Laden operation) requires its share of short cuts. Because if we wanted a documentary on the CIA (slow, with little possibility for action, filled with people more interested in their personal careers than by the good of all - but we could have guessed that, couldn’t we?), we would have watched a news report. Because showing a torture scene isn’t enough to prove you’ve got balls! Because we want a point of view, an opinion, a vision, and we are just given a linear, neutral and much too neat series of events, interesting in their totality but a little pointless seen one by one. But most of all, most of all because a film on such a subject shouldn’t give you the impression that it is a fine way to pass the time or kill a rainy Sunday afternoon nor be forgotten almost as soon as it is finished.

    As for Tarantino, with his unchained slave, hits just the right spot. Django Unchained is made of all the things we love about his cinema : brilliant actors, dialogues for minutes on end, killer lines, a violence both incredibly upfront and stylized, almost too excessive to be true (well, with the exception of one very very horrible scene), the visual beauty, the references, the humour, the music… But I also found in there a little something more - a seriousness, a maturity, a real care for his subject (slavery, racism, the exploitation of man by man) - that opens the film towards bigger things, doesn’t limit it to being a simple piece of entertainment taking the pretext of some dark times in History to have a little fun. And that makes me think Django Unchained is one of Tarantino’s (and of the year’s) best movies. In addition to his talent, the man also has some brains! Well done.
    ——
    In the next episode (if I have time enough to watch them): Lincoln and Happiness Therapy. (7 psychopaths is also on my list, but I doubt this one made it to the Oscars’ shortlist).

    En français ?

  5. South of the Border, West of the Sun

    A book by Haruki Murakami (and the prettiest title of the year, in French, at least). Or the unassuming story of a man in his forties and his encounter with his long-lost childhood girlfriend.

    From a basic framework Murakami makes a true work of art. Weighting carefully each and every word, never using one too many, without making a big show of it, he carries us along and all of a sudden, though they are depicted in a fairly restrained manner and style, you find yourself sharing doubts, feelings, quivers, love, and quite simply life itself with Murakami’s characters. In short, a great book by a great author.

    (By the way, I recently learned that Murakami is John Irving’s Japanese translator. John Irving being my favourite American novelist… Could there be some meaning to this… Or not… Or maybe so… Anyway, this is a happy coincidence that might altogether not be one and it is my pleasure to share it.)

    In French?

  6. HOLD UP, by Erik Skjoldbjaerg

    Bored of those gangster movies always done in the same way, and in which the villains always have a good reason to be villain? In which the goody-goody morality ruins everything? In which the pretty innocent girl falls in love with the serial killer before turning to the great, beautiful, strong and intelligent cop? In which any robbery leads to a minimum of 50 deaths and no one seems to bother about this or even need to reload their guns? But still feel like seeing a good noir gangster action film? Then, this Norwegian Hold up is for you.

    The film is a reconstitution of a (real) bank robbery, in a small Norwegian town, as seen in the eyes of the police, the robbers and the employees of the bank alternately.

    The robbery in itself is nothing exceptional, just a bunch of die-hard guys desperate for money, whatever the means. But the way the film is done has nothing to do with the usual Hollywood flicks. It almost seems this is a documentary. There is no music, the point of view remains fairly neutral, neither for or against the baddies, we go from the robbers to the police to the employees without judging any of them, and, just by the sound and the concentration required, you can feel that shooting an assault rifle is not a game and killing a man is not an innocent act.

    Far from sheer entertainment movies, the sobriety and rigour of the film, far from being boring, make it much stronger and memorable than most. And seeing that Norwegian cops go out without their guns, you would think that we don’t all live in the same world…

    (Source : framboisesetcie)

  7. WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS, by J.M. COETZEE

    In a nameless country, at an unknown time (possibly a little while back, but not much), the anonymous magistrate of a frontier town at the very end of a mysterious Empire witnesses, powerless, the rise of a general (unjustified?) paranoia and the organization of a (useless?) war against invisible barbarians.

    As per usual, J.M.Coetzee writes concisely, but greatly. And in a dense manner. Everything is described in as little sentences as possible, without any lyricism, without making the language beautiful for the sake of it : the wait for hypothetical attacks from the barbarians, the folly of young officers, the recklessness of a State far removed from the realities of life on its borders, the weakness and idealism of a seasoned man. Every word, every letter, everything is full of meaning and has been carefully weighted before being laid on the paper, yet, there is no space here for over the top and pointless symbolicism.

    It so happens I read this novel in French. And I know that, for all the qualities of Sophie Mayoux’s brilliant translation, I’ll now read Coetzee only in English (as with the previous works by Coetzee I read). Simply because English is a more blunt, sharper language than French. (Many more short words, much less grammar.) Hence, reading is harder and less pleasant, thus reinforcing even more the strength of Coetzee’s writing, message and impact on his readers.

    Of course, Coetzee isn’t easy to read or bear for some, because discreetly, protected by the pretence that there are no names, no dates, no tangible element allowing us to link his stories for sure to actual events, without trying to show off with style (and yet…), he says a lot more than some history and psychology books about his country and the madness of men. It is this impressive mix of real sobriety and sharp intensity that makes Coetzee’s books so fascinating to me.

    In French?

  8. A week at the movies, 6 different films, with different results… episode 6 

    THE DICTATOR, by Larry Charles, starring Sacha Baron-Cohen. I know. Me. Going to the cinema to see this. I know. Well, everybody can give in, once in a while. And the unlimited card is also meant for such occasions! Anyways. Basically, all the things that could make us hope for a really great film in terms of malice and subversion are in the trailer. The rest? It is alright, not bad altogether, but the Bushes and Al-Assads of this world won’t lose sleep over it!

    In French?

  9. A week at the movies, 6 different films, with different results… episode 1 

    MEN IN BLACK 3, by Barry Sonnenfeld. Plain good old entertainment, as only Holywood can produce: good scenario, brilliant actors, fun, action, not too much reflection but not stupid either and really villainous villains who die at the end. One huge negative point, though: the action scenes, meant for 3D screenings, look absolutely fake in 2D (here, understand 1970s James Bond sets and effects). As a result, instead of being scared when Will Smith jumps off the Chrysler Building or fights at the top of some huge scaffolding device, we just think: “Blimey, it looks so cheap!”. Shame, isn’t it?

    Want to read this in French?

  10. Records borrowed from the library, new chapter. She & Him’s two albums, “Volume One” and “Volume Two”. (Plus, lucky you, the lyrics appear in the video I found, so you can enjoy your very own karaoke night!)

    So, as the name accurately states, She & Him is a band composed of a girl, Zooey Deschanel, and a boy, M. Ward. They write their own lyrics and music, play most instruments and sing. Both albums are full of lovely, simple songs, often perky, full of melancholy sometimes, that sound a bit like 60s Californian pop (at least the idea I have of it, but it may not be californian-like at all, for all I know!).

    Basically, their music is really nice and sweet, it gives you energy and makes you all merry and smily. You can totally imagine you’re singing along them in the sun, walking along the sea, with a pretty retro dress and a Brigitte Bardot-like hairband in your hair, though you’re actually soaking wet in your jeans, trainers and jumper under the parisian rain!

    Can’t wait for a Volume 3 to get through winter!

    (Source : framboisesetcie)

  11. I had promised to talk about those records I borrow from the library. Here come some thoughts about my favourite one.

    “Till the sun turns black”. By Mister Ray LaMontagne. (His best album to me, though the other ones, in particular “Gossip in the Grain”, are definitely more than worth listening to.)

    Never thought before such a grizzly bear of a man could have such a soft and sweet voice. And what beautiful melodies, and arrangements, and lyrics…

    I don’t know what else to say. Nothing perhaps. The music speaks for itself. Just listen.

    (Source : framboisesetcie)

  12. “The Last of the Melting Snow” by The Leisure Society

    The video is not so great, but I just love this song, and the whole album that goes with it : “The Sleeper” (and I couldn’t find an audio link!). It’s simple, lovely, charming, relaxing without being boring, they use so many different instruments and things, and yet, it does not feel overcrowded, what stands out most is the melody and that is a nice change from many a thing we hear these days.

    I must really thank my local library for having put this record in the “new” box, otherwise I would never have heard of this band. And just a little message for all those out there publishing records : yes, the sleeve, the photos, the artwork which come with the music is important. It was just because I liked the drawings that I borrowed the record, without even knowing what kind of music I would hear. (So thank you also Matt Lloyd for your artwork, simple, stylish and efficient, just like the music it illustrates.)

    (Source : framboisesetcie)

  13. THE CIDER HOUSE RULES

    This novel by John Irving tells of the story and lives of Wilbur Larch - doctor, gynaecologist, abortionist and director of an orphanage - and Homer Wells - an orphan who doesn’t want to be adopted and will thus spend his first twenty years of life at the orphanage. He will learn the trade with Dr Larch before leaving for an orchard to pick apples, make cider and learn about life and other people. All this set in Maine between the 1920s and the 1960s.

    The English title of this book is to me less coherent with the contents of the book than the French title (L’oeuvre de Dieu, la part du Diable, ie something like : God’s work and the Devil’s share). Because this novel is about abortion, the right of women to decide what to do with their bodies, the choices doctors have to make, each and everybody’s conscience, the obligation or not to conform to what others - especially those who raised you - expect of you, more than about cider. Moreover, the French title makes sense more quickly when you read the novel. But I must admit I am being a bit difficult here. The English title is fully understandable as rules and agreements, especially at the orchard, play a great part in Homer Well’s and others’ lives. (But just try and find a way to have these two titles match!).

    Linguistic remarks aside, this book is a very good read. The author is ace at making you want to read what’s next and his text is full of subtle humour and light touches of sarcasm. But what fascinated me most (aside from a very intelligent stand on abortion) is that this novel, in which you go right into the characters’ minds, share their thoughts and in which it is their thinking and psychological evolution that spices up the novel and makes it brilliant more than the development of their lives as such, has been turned into a film. The story in interesting enough, of course, but how could they have reproduced the subtle course of the two main protagonists without it becoming a cheesy conscience case, without Wells embodying the oh-so-banal prodigal son who makes an incredible comeback after having been disowned at some point… But it was Irving himself who wrote the scenario (and won an Oscar for it!). I guess I’ll have to watch it… A good occasion maybe for a post on this most important subject: how come is the film never as good as the book it was adapted from?

    (Source : framboisesetcie)

  14. —— JULIAN VELARD, “Me & My Mirror On a Saturday Night

    “oh oh my love, I’m singing with the spiders tonight, underneath the bedroom light, me & my mirror on a saturday night, oh oh my love, I’m rolling out the thunder tonight, being alone never felt so right, me & my mirror on a saturday night !”

    Mr. Julian Velard makes brilliant high-energy pop, and writes great lyrics with that… Really really really catchy music. I only knew the full album version of this song (you can listen to it here) but I’m really impressed at how it works out so well with just him and his piano.

    Soooo makes me want to spend my saturday night alone singing along his saturday night song !

    (Source : framboisesetcie)