Saturday, June 30, 2012

Euro 2012 Final

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight

6 months, 16 books and 29 films later, it comes down to a single match to decide the winner of the Euro 2012 Book & Film spotlight. Before we get to the final between France’s L’Apollonide and Portugal’s The Strange Case of Angelica, a quick recap of how these two got to the final.

Each of the 16 nations could have had a maximum of one book in the competition and up to 2 films. That led to 16 book and 29 films competing over 3 round-robin games in the group stages.

Euro 2012 Books

Poland: House of Day, House of Night, Olga Tokarczuk
Russia: A Hero of our Time, Mikhail Lermontov
Czech Republic: The Joke, Milan Kundera
Greece: Z, Vassilis Vassilikos

Holland: A Posthumous Confession, Marcellus Emants
Germany: The Appointment, Herta Müller
Portugal: Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes
Denmark: The History of Danish Dreams, Peter Høeg

Spain: Quarantine, Juan Goytisolo
Italy: The Porthole, Adriano Spatola
Ireland: Kepler, John Banville
Croatia: The Ministry of Pain, Dubravka Ugresic

Ukraine: The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko
England: GB84, David Peace
France: The Giants, J.M.G Le Clezio
Sweden: The Dwarf, Par Lagerkvist

Euro 2012 Films

Poland: The Mill and the Cross (2011, Lech Majewski), In Darkness (2011, Agnieszka Holland)
Russia: Silent Souls (2010, Aleksei Fedorchenko), How I Ended This Summer (2010, Aleksey Popogrebskiy)
Czech Reoublic: Surviving Life (2010, Jan Svankmajer), Protektor (2009, Marek Najbrt)
Greece: Alps (2011, Giorgos Lanthimos)

Holland: C'est déjà l'été (2010, Martijn Maria Smits), Winter in Wartime (2008, Martin Koolhoven)
Germany: Storm (2009, Hans-Christian Schmid)
Portugal: Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raoul Ruiz), The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)
Denmark: Applause (2009, Martin Zandvliet), Terribly Happy (2008, Henrik Ruben Genz)

Spain: The Last Circus (2010, Álex de la Iglesia), Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (2009, Isabel Coixet)
Italy: The Salt of Life (2011, Gianni Di Gregorio), Terraferma (2011, Emanuele Crialese)
Croatia: Buick Riviera (2008, Goran Rusinovic), The Blacks (2009, Goran Devic, Zvonimir Juric)
Ireland: The Guard (2011, John Michael McDonagh), Kisses (2008, Lance Daly)

England: Shame (2011, Steve McQueen), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, Tomas Alfredson)
Sweden: Play (2011, Ruben Östlund), Everlasting Moments (2008, Jan Troell)
France: House of Tolerance (2011, Bertrand Bonello), Rapt (2009, Lucas Belvaux)
Ukraine: My Joy (2010, Sergei Loznitsa)

At the conclusion of the group stage, Russia, Poland, Portugal, Holland, Croatia, Italy, Ukraine and France advanced to the quarter-finals.

In the quarters, Russia, Portugal, France & Ukraine progressed to the semi-finals which saw the elimination of Russia and co-hosts Ukraine.

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight Final

L’Apollonide (France) vs The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal)

France jumped into an early lead with a vibrant piece of acting but Portugal duly replied with a deft comedic acting touch. A strong story helped Portugal take a 2-1 lead just before half-time. In the second half, both nations traded goals in the direction and cinematography categories. Portugal held a 4-3 lead as the clock ticked away and their victory seemed certain but France managed a slick series of moves and angular passing to score a late goal in the production category to end the game 4-4 in regulation. That meant that Portugal faced a subjective penalty shoot-out for the 2nd straight game. And just like in the semi-final, Portugal easily prevailed in penalties to deservedly claim the title of Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight winner.

The film penalty shoot-out is an emotional affair so a winning film is one that resonates the most emotionally. In this regard, the French film L’Apollonide (House of Pleasures) was at a disadvantage because its setting and style portrays a cold closed-off world. When clients enter the brothel in Bertrand Bonello’s film, the outside world dissolves along with most of the client’s worries. There are some scenes in the film which show that the brothel is not immune from financial dealings of the outside world. However, for the most part the sheltered world of the brothel evokes a chilly response. On the other hand, The Strange Case of Angelica is warm, tender and a genuine pleasure. Manoel de Oliveira’s film opens the world up with its metaphysical story sprinkled with some dry humor and manages to hit all the right notes.

This spotlight belonged to Portugal from the first game until the final. Aside from The Strange Case of Angelica, the primary Portugese film Mysteries of Lisbon and António Lobo Antunes’ book Knowledge of Hell were also excellent selections. If all the Euro 2012 books and films were evaluated individually to come up with a top 4, then Portugal would be firmly present in both book and film categories.

Top 4 Books

Z, Vassilis Vassilikos, Greece
GB84, David Peace, England
The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko, Ukraine
Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes, Portugal

Top 4 films

The Strange Case of Angelica, Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal
My Joy, Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson, England
Mysteries of Lisbon, Raoul Ruiz, Portugal

Spain is the current favourite in European and International soccer but they were no match for the Portuguese Cinema and Literature selected for this spotlight.

Closing comments

This was both an enjoyable and exhausting spotlight. It required more time than I had planned because of the 16 books. 29 films was an easy number to tackle given that the 2010 World Cup Film Spotlight had 32 films. But it was the presence of the 16 books that took up majority of the time. Still, it was a worthwhile experience as I was able to discover new authors and also catch up with worthy works from established masters. Also, this is probably the last of such book and film spotlights that I will attempt as the next European Championship will have 24 nations. Reading 24 books over a course of 6 months may prove too much to handle. On the other hand, a pure film only spotlight might be much easier to get through.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Euro 2012: Semi-Final Results

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight: Semi-Final Results

Just like the Quarter-Finals, the Semi-finals of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight featured two closely fought matches with another subjective penalty shoot-out deciding a game.

Semi-Final #1: Silent Souls (Russia) vs L’Apollonide (France)

Semi-Final #2: The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal) vs My Joy (Ukraine)

Russia and France split the story and acting categories while managed to match each other in direction and cinematography. In the end, the slick visuals of L’Apollonide provided to be the difference in sending France to the final.

Portugal and Ukraine split the acting and production categories but matched each other in the three remaining categories. Ultimately, penalties were used to pick a winner. Unlike the Euro soccer tournament, Portugal easily won the film penalty shoot-out. The Strange Case of Angelica hit all the right emotional notes and was a pure delight from start to finish. In the last round, the dark atmosphere of My Joy overcame the charming The Salt of Life. However, that atmosphere failed to work this time because even though The Strange Case of Angelica is light hearted, it features a tinge of grayness due to its metaphysical element.

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight, Final draw

The final will feature the French film L’Apollonide taking on the Portugese work The Strange Case of Angelica.

Soccer Semi-Finals

Spain overcame Portugal 4-2 on penalties after 120 minutes failed to produce a goal. In the other semi-final, Italy put on a class act and easily brushed aside Germany 2-1 to book a July 1 final meeting with Spain.

It was refreshing to see both Portugal and Italy take the game to their opponents instead of sitting back and soaking all the pressure. While Spain managed to survive the Portugese, Germany had no answer for Italy. In fact, Italy could have scored 4-5 goals in total and kept attacking despite holding a 2-0 lead.

A quick word about Portugal’s penalties. As Bruno Alves walked to take the third penalty for Portugal, Nani ran up to Alves, sent him back and instead took the kick himself. Nani confidently roofed the penalty but Alves had to make the walk to the penalty spot again a few minutes later. The fact that he had to make that stressful walk twice might have unhinged Alves who hit the crossbar with his kick.

Soccer vs Film

The Euro 2012 soccer final will be between Spain and Italy so there will be no overlap with the film spotlight final which will feature France and Portugal. Spain failed to make it out of the group stages of the book & film spotlight while the Italian film narrowly lost out in the quarter-finals.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Euro 2012: Quarter-Finals results & Semi-Final draw

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight: Quarter-Final Results

The Quarter-finals of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight features four absolutely mouth-watering match-ups with very little to choose between the different films. So it is not a surprize to find very close results and even one subjective penalty shoot-out to pick a winner.

Quarter-Final #1: Silent Souls (Russia) vs C'est déjà l'été (Holland)

Certainly not a very uplifting affair as death hovers the Russian film while the Dutch entry depicts a cycle of misery that envelopes three generations of a family. Still, both are excellent films that smartly use the camera to give audience a fly on the wall perspective towards many intimate and personal moments. It is hard to watch both films without feeling a gush of emotions which is why it is appropriate that the winner of this match is decided by a subjective penalty shoot-out.

The Russian film takes it confidently on penalties.

QF #2: The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal) vs The Mill and the Cross (Poland)

Two incredibly made films square off in a contest worthy to be a Euro Film final. Lech Majewski’s Polish film is a technical pleasure that dives into a painting and brings it to life. While Manoel de Oliveira shows a tender touch to craft a metaphysical love story which is light as a feather. The Strange Case of Angelica wins a narrow contest.

QF #3: Buick Riviera (Croatia) vs L’Apollonide (France)

One of the two match-ups where a personal favourite loses out when all the goals are tallied up. Buick Riviera is a film worthy of a final entry but L’Apollonide does a magnificent job of creating an intoxicating atmosphere in a French brothel. The characters and overall story of L’Apollonide may not be new but a brilliant treatment makes it a sensual pleasure. The panther stays long in the memory.

QF#4: My Joy (Ukraine) vs The Salt of Life(Italy)

The Italian film The Salt of Life is another personal favourite but it came up just short against My Joy. The Salt of Life It is a perfect summer film that makes one want to pass away the time at an Italian cafe with a glass of wine. On the other hand, My Joy is the complete opposite and reminds one of winter when darkness and cold weather numb the senses. As My Joy progresses, any shreds of hope and light are slowly extinguished and the film ends with one of the best fade-to-black sequences in recent memory. However, in this contest, darkness wins and My Joy progresses to the semi-final.

Semi-Final Draw

As per the draw, the winner of the Quarter-Final #1 meets the winner of QF#3 while the winners of QF#2 and #4 face-off. This results in the following:

Semi-Final #1: Silent Souls (Russia) vs L’Apollonide (France)

SF #2: The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal) vs My Joy (Ukraine)

As a result of this draw, the two best films of the spotlight are drawn against each other in the second semi-final. This unfortunately means only one of The Strange Case of Angelica or My Joy will make it to the final. From another perspective, both semi-finals are perfectly balanced as Silent Souls and L’Apollonide have an equal chance of making the final. The only sure thing is that the winner of the Euro 2012 film spotlight will be one of The Strange Case of Angelica or My Joy.

Soccer Quarter-Finals

Czech Republic 0 - 1 Portugal
Germany 4 - 2 Greece
Spain 2 - 0 France
England 0 - 0 Italy, Italy win on penalties

For a change, all the four quarter-finals in the soccer tournament went as per plan. All the 4 attacking teams deserved to win their games even though the score-line may not reflect the overall dominance of Portugal, Germany, Spain and Italy.

The four quarters are in complete contrast to Copa America 2011 where all the four favourite teams lost in the quarter-finals.

Colombia 0 - 2 Peru
Argentina 1 - 1 Uruguay, Uruguay win on penalties
Brazil 0 - 0 Paraguay, Paraguay win on penalties
Chile 1 - 2 Venezuela

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Euro 2012: Group Standings & Quarter-Final draw

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight

The final standings from all three group games of the book & film spotlight. As per the rules, a decision can be made at the end of the group phase to choose a nation's secondary film over the primary film for the rest of the competition.

Group A

Russia easily won the group but things were very tight after that. Since Poland, Greece and Czech Republic had the same points, it came down to goal difference & head-to-head results. Poland & Greece had the same goal difference but Poland advance due to their 3-2 win over Greece in the first game.

Film moving on to the quarter-finals:

Silent Souls will represent Russia as it is better overall than How I Ended This Summer. While The Mill and the Cross will be the Polish film in the next round.

Group B

Both Mysteries of Lisbon and The Strange Case of Angelica are excellent films but I am going to opt for The Strange Case of Angelica to move into the next round. For Holland, C'est déjà l'été advances.

Group C

Buick Riviera & The Salt of Life will represent Croatia and Italy in the next round.

Group D

Ukraine only had one film in the competition so My Joy will be present in the quarter-finals while L’Apollonide will represent France.

Quarter-Finals of Book & Film Spotlight

So as per the Euro 2012 soccer draw:

First place in Group A vs Second place in Group B
First place in Group B vs Second place in Group A
First place in Group C vs Second place in Group D
First place in Group D vs Second place in Group C

That will result in the following film match-ups:

Silent Souls (Russia) vs C'est déjà l'été (Holland)
The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal) vs The Mill and the Cross (Poland)
Buick Riviera (Croatia) vs House of Pleasures (France)
My Joy (Ukraine) vs The Salt of Life (Italy)

The film spotlight features both co-hosts from Euro 2012, unlike the soccer tournament.

Euro 2012 Soccer tournament results

For comparison, here are the final group standings & quarter-final draw for the soccer tournament.

Euro 2012 Group Standings


Czech Republic vs Portugal
Germany vs Greece
Spain vs France
England vs Italy

Soccer vs Book/Film

Portugal, France and Italy are the only three nations to make the quarter-finals of both soccer tournament & book/film spotlight. Interestingly, France & Italy take 2nd place in both instances.

The two eliminated soccer teams from Group A, Russia and Poland, take the top 2 spots in the book and film spotlight.

In Group B, Germany won all three games of the soccer tournament while finished bottom of the book & film spotlight and failed to register a single win.

Croatia were unfortunate to miss out on the soccer quarter-finals but they easily took first place in the book & film spotlight. Interestingly, Ireland finished bottom in both cases with 0 points and just one goal and conceded almost the same amount of goals: 8 in soccer & 7 in book/film.

In Group D, England surprized in both soccer & book/film but in different ways. Their top group finish in the soccer competition was a surprize considering they could not string even few passes together while it was an upset to see them miss out on the next round in the book/film spotlight despite having 3 strong candidates. Sweden finished bottom in both cases but atleast in soccer they managed a win aided by an incredible goal from Zlatan in their 2-0 win over France.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Euro 2012: Game 3 results

The game 3 results of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight. As per the rules, the only two possible scores could be either 1-0 or 1-1. The eight match-ups are listed in order of the group games.

Poland (In Darkness) vs Czech Republic (Protektor)

Both the Polish and Czech films depict stories of Jewish ordeal under Nazi occupation although the two films approach the subject in different manners. By focussing on a group of people, In Darkness looks at the struggle of a community as a whole. Whereas, Protektor uses a couple’s relationship and their career ups/downs to show the effect of the Nazi occupation. The two films are technically sharp and feature some memorable acting, so that made it difficult to pick an outright winner. However, the Czech film narrowly takes a 1-0 win.

Greece (Alps) vs Russia (How I Ended This Summer)

Another tough match-up given the varying scope of the two films. Alps makes a broader statement about society and human behavior while How I Ended This Summer has a microscopic on two characters isolated from the world. In the end, the Russian film wins out.

Holland (Winter in Wartime) vs Portugal (The Strange Case of Angelica)

The light and charming The Strange Case of Angelica registers another straight forward win for Portugal in the group phase.

Denmark (Terribly Happy) vs Germany (Storm)

Two engaging films went toe-to-toe in a very tight contest. The Germans took an early lead and maintained that lead until the final minutes when Denmark managed to spring a noirish surprize.

Ireland (Kisses) vs Italy (Terraferma)

The Irish film proudly held Italy for about an hour but Terraferma managed to score a late goal to earn all three points.

Croatia (The Blacks) vs Spain (Map of the Sounds of Tokyo)

On paper, this was supposed to be a close contest. But the early promise of the Spanish film quickly disappeared while the Croatia film grew in strength and finished strongly.

Ukraine (My Joy) vs England (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

Easily the toughest game 3 match-up as two excellent films faced off. Also, both films are tied together by a common bond as well. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy examines the political games between East vs West and tackles corruption and loyalty. My Joy is firmly set in the East and also highlights corruption. The acting & editing in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy easily wins out but My Joy races clear on a visual front. So an extremely enjoyable 1-1.

France (Rapt) vs Sweden (Everlasting Moments)

The Swedish entry followed a predictable approach while the French film managed to stand apart because of its clever variation on a kidnapping story.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Euro 2012: Books & Game 2 results

Entry #17 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight briefly recaps the 16 books used for the second group games. The results are listed at the bottom of the entries which are arranged as per the soccer match-ups.

Group A

Poland: House of Day, House of Night, Olga Tokarczuk

As per the translator’s note at the start of book:

"The book is set in south-west Poland, in the region known as Silesia. This was part of the German Reich until 1945, when at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences the Allies agreed to move the borders of Poland westwards. Many Polish citizens were transported from the land lost to the east (annexed by the USSR) and resettled in formerly German territory to the west, where they were given the homes and property of evacuated Germans.

Readers are advised that some of the recipes in this book should carry the health warning, ‘Don’t try this at home!’ "

In this regard, House of Day, House of Night provides a look at a region of Poland whose history is not as well known. The book is nicely broken into smaller sections with titles such as “The Comet”, “The Fire”, “Franz Frost”, “The forest that comes crashing down”, etc which keeps the overall story engaging. Some of these sections contain some fascinating observations about humans in general thereby giving the book a nice universal feel to it as well.

Russia: A Hero of our Time, Mikhail Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov’s remarkable book contains a story-within-story and multiple narrators and viewpoints. The 5 stories, packaged in 3 different parts, are not presented in order thereby requiring readers to put things together themselves. Of course, a reader does not have to put things together and can simply enjoy getting drawn into the richly depicted Caucasus complete with memorable characters.

Czech Republic: The Joke, Milan Kundera

"Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long Live Trotsky!"

These hastily written words on a postcard throw Ludvik’s life in an unexpected direction. In this regard, Kundera’s book is even more relevant today because nowadays a single tweet can easily land someone in trouble and alter their fate. As it turns out, Ludvik’s joke totals 98 characters and would easily fit in a tweet.

Greece: Z, Vassilis Vassilikos

A brilliant novel that pieces together how a political murder was planned and executed. The book also shows that even if a crime is clear-cut, getting justice for it can be elusive because the men who are in charge of giving out orders often hide in shadows. Yet, these men are never short of people who are willing to carry out their doing. The people at the lowest rung of the hierarchy carry out murders because of money but as one goes up the ladder, a crime is not about money but power and ideologies.

Group B

Holland: A Posthumous Confession, Marcellus Emants

My wife is dead and buried.
I am alone at home, along with the two maids.
So I am free again. Yet what good is it to me, this freedom?
I am within reach of what I have wanted for the last twenty years (I am thirty-five), but I have not the courage to grasp it, and would anyhow no longer enjoy it very much.

And so begins Marcellus Emants’ A Posthumous Confession. If these opening words don’t get one’s attention, then the following words three paragraphs later certainly do:

Whenever I look in the mirror-still a habit of mine-I am astounded that such a pale, delicate, insignificant little man with dull gaze and weak, slack mouth (a nasty piece of work, some people would say) should have been capable of murdering his wife, a wife whom, after all, in his own way, he had loved.

In order to make the reader understand his motives, the narrator Willem Termeer steps back in time to describe the internal and external forces that altered his personality. At first, the weight of his confession hangs over every page but that weight lessens in the face of Termeer’s brutally honest and unfiltered words which sketch a vivid picture of his transformation and of those around him.

Germany: The Appointment, Herta Müller

"I’ve been summoned". Thursday, at ten sharp.
Lately I’m being summoned more and more often: ten sharp on Tuesday, ten sharp on Saturday, on Wednesday, Monday. As if years were a week, I’m amazed that winter comes so close on the heels of late summer.

The reason why the narrator, a factory seamstress, is summoned for questioning are gradually revealed but there is no end date to the summons. Like a Kafka novel, the questioning that goes with the summons repeat in an infinite loop, much like the narrator’s tram ride through Bucharest. Each day time collapses in the tram, jumping into the past and cutting to the present, thereby making the tram ride last a week or even years. Will the narrator be finally free of the questioning? We may never know but the story gives a glimpse into Romanian life under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu with a pinch of dark humor similar to the style depicted in recent Romanian cinema.

Portugal: Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes

When thinking of Portuguese literature, Jose Saramago’s name looms large. However, going by Knowledge of Hell, then António Lobo Antunes certainly deserves to be as well known. Antunes’ training as a psychiatrist and his time spent in Angola clearly serve as fodder for some of the themes explored in the book, which oscillates between Lisbon and Angola. The book is set in a Lisbon mental institution and is told from the viewpoint of a psychiatrist, who is in a prime spot to observe the insanity and slow degradation of the human condition. The book is packed with memorable quotes and the prose paints a descriptive and sometimes disturbing picture.

I discovered that loneliness, he said aloud to himself in the empty car, en route to the mountains, is a child’s gun in a plastic bag in the hand of a frightened 68, chapter 4

The birds, transformed by darkness into monstrous insects, crept noisily in the blackness repelling and attracting one another, scraping the slate of the fields with the red-chalk drone of their 159, chapter 7

Denmark: The History of Danish Dreams, Peter Høeg

The History of Danish Dreams covers about four centuries of two family’s fortunes in less than 400 pages. The book starts off in the year 1520 and ends in 1989 which means some chapters move at a furious pace while others take their time in properly sketching out key characters.

Group C

Spain: Quarantine, Juan Goytisolo

Ab abstract novel that explores the holding place in between death and eternity while blending reality with dreams and nightmares. As per the back cover, the book: "..spans those forty days, during which, according to Islamic tradition, the soul wanders between death and eternity still embodies in a dreamlike form."

The book was written in 1991 and also manages to work the Persian Gulf war in the mix along with Dante and Ibn Arabi.

Italy: The Porthole, Adriano Spatola

Classifying Adriano Spatola’s book is not an easy task. It integrates war, religion, politics, poetry, horror and even porn (in the manner of X-rated comics) with comfortable ease. That is why the words "neo-avant-garde" and "experimental writing" are perfect when describing Spatola’s writing. Spatola’s work tears down the walls of a conventional framework and pushes words to their limit.

Ireland: Kepler, John Banville

Kepler is the second book in Banville’s Renaissance scientists trilogy with Doctor Copernicus and The Newton Letter being the first and third books. Kepler looks at the tough ordeal that Johannes Kepler had to go through to get funding for his research and ultimately to get his books published. The initial chapters are in chronological order and depict the struggles and pressures that Kepler faced while the later chapters present letters written by Kepler. The letters are presented in descending order and have no replies associated with them. As a result, they manage to highlight Kepler’s desperation and his gradual disappearance of hope.

Croatia: The Ministry of Pain, Dubravka Ugresic

Like the Croatian film entry Buick Riviera, The Ministry of Pain shows that pain suffered in one’s native country could result in revenge in another country. The main character in the novel, Tanja, is not looking to open old wounds but she does not realize her free flowing university lectures result in a strong reaction in one particular student who decides to extract revenge.

Group D

Ukraine: The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko

Taras Prokhasko’s The UnSimple is an fascinating novel that mixes history, folklore, fantasy and philosophy while telling the story of a young woman Anna in the town of Ialivets. The destiny of Anna and other town’s residents are looked over by the unsimple who are mysterious characters that are the heart of the book.

the unsimple are earthly gods. people, who with the help of inborn or
acquired knowledge, are able to do good or harm to others. that point is
important—inborn or acquired. they know something. at the same time this
can also be learned. acquired. in this way it’s possible to become unsimple
by learning something.
part 2, page 73

Note: The Unsimple is the only electronic book used for this spotlight and is available for free online: part I and part 2.

England: GB84, David Peace

David Peace’s The Damned United and the Red Riding Quartet are better known works because of their film adaptations but GB84 deserves to be widely read as it riveting and highly relevant. The book mixes fact with fiction in looking at the coal mine strike that almost brought Britain to a halt. The story looks at a few principal characters and outlines some of secret deals that went on in between politicians and union leaders and how money changed hands.

France: The Giants, J.M.G Le Clezio

The Giants is a work that contains seeds of Alphaville, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 but instead of a straight-forward narrative, the story deconstructs words and asks its readers to put them together again. For example, a walk across a room becomes an infinite journey that soaks up every little detail of the room while questioning the origin of the words used to describe all the room’s objects.

Sweden: The Dwarf, Par Lagerkvist

A shocking depiction of the evil that lies inside a human soul. The book is set in an unnamed Italian city and that setting combined with the political manipulation brings Niccolò Machiavelli to mind.

Favourite Books

All the books proved to be worthy selections that demanded a lot more time than expected to properly digest the material. In fact, some books required a second reading just to fully comprehend the written text. As a result, there was little time left before the June 8 cut-off date to properly write a separate post for each book. The brief notes don’t do justice to the stellar works that I was fortunate to have read.

I liked several aspects of every book and found each selection to be rewarding in different ways. So it is hard for me to pick a few favourites but these would be my top 4 roughly in order of preference:

1. Z, Vassilis Vassilikos, Greece
2. GB84, David Peace, England
3. The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko, Ukraine
4. Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes, Portugal

Game 2: Soccer vs book results

As per the rules, the two possible scores for the book match-ups could be either 1-0 or 1-1. That is why I didn’t expect to see any overlapping scores between the soccer and book results so Croatia’s tie with Italy is a surprize. While The Porthole is far more creative than The Ministry of Pain, the Croatian entry leaves a lasting impact with its carefully etched characters and their personal stories. Hence, a 1-1 tie.

Three nations, Spain, Portugal & England, registered a win in both soccer and book games. Two of those nations, Portugal & England, were involved in the four soccer vs book match-ups that were decided by a single goal. Germany vs Holland & Czech Republic vs Greece were the other two match-ups that were won by a single goal.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Euro 2012: Game 1 results

Results of the first games of the group phase for the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight. As per the rules:

The first match will see the two films compete against each other in five categories which will count as goals scored by a nation.

Five Categories: Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography & Production values

a) If one film is superior to another film in a category, then the superior film will get one goal while the other film will get 0.
b) If both films match each other in a category, they will score one goal each.
c) If both films fail in a category, they will get 0 goals each.

Group A: Poland, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic

Poland (The Mill and the Cross) vs Greece (Alps)

The stellar technical aspects of The Mill and the Cross allow it to register a narrow win over Alps which features some memorable acting and a decent story.

Russia (Silent Souls) vs Czech Republic (Surviving Life)

The warm and tender Silent Souls easily wins over the humorous Surviving Life.

Group B: Holland, Denmark, Germany, Portugal

Holland (C'est déjà l'été) vs Denmark (Applause)

Both the Danish and Dutch entries echo films by master directors. Applause, powered by an incredible performance by Paprika Steen, takes a page out of John Cassavetes’s Opening Night while the Dutch entry C'est déjà l'été is clearly inspired by the Dardenne brothers. Overall, C'est déjà l'été is a much richer work that looks at a family’s downfall.

Germany (Storm) vs Portugal (Mysteries of Lisbon)

This was not really a contest. Mysteries of Lisbon easily wins although Storm has a relevant story that highlights why it is so difficult to convict war criminals.

Group C: Spain, Italy, Ireland, Croatia

Spain (The Last Circus) vs Italy (The Salt of Life)

The Last Circus has a strong political heart but unfortunately, the film goes off the rails and prefers to hammer its point home. On the other hand, The Salt of Life has an easy going style and is a joy from start to finish.

Ireland (The Guard) vs Croatia (Buick Riviera)

Even though The Guard features an excellent performance by Brendan Gleeson, it is still a run of the mill mismatched buddy-cop drama. While Buick Riviera is an engaging and well made film.

Group D: France, England, Ukraine, Sweden

France (L’Apollonide) vs England (Shame)

The only match-up to feature a 0-0 in a category because I felt neither film has an original story. L’Apollonide contains many characters & scenarios one expects from a film set in a brothel while Shame also follows a predictable arc in depicting its main character’s addiction and race to hit rock-bottom. However, L’Apollonide's nicely created mood makes for an engaging viewing in certain segments.

Ukraine (My Joy) vs Sweden (Play)

Play might have fared a bit better had it been drawn against another film. As it stands, Play provided little threat to My Joy.

Soccer vs Film

Here is a comparison of the soccer vs film results from the first round of match-ups.

Only Russia, Croatia and Ukraine won both the soccer and film matches while Russia registered 4 goals on both counts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Euro 2012: Russian Films

Entry #16 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two Russian films.

Silent Souls (2010, Aleksei Fedorchenko)

Two men undertake a journey so that one of them can perform the final rituals to cremate his wife. The two share a deep friendship as illustrated by their interaction especially the comfortable silence they share. They understand each other and are perfectly content to sit quietly when needed and not fill the silence with empty words. There are many tender scenes spread throughout Silent Souls which reaches a high emotional moment during the cremation and spreading of ashes. The river/sea play a key part in the film’s theme as illustrated by some of the cinematography and dialogues. In one sequence when the two friends are talking, the shot of traffic in the background appears like a river, constant and ever flowing. The film also contains the following lines:

”because a live woman’s body is also a river that carries grief away...
It’s only a shame you can’t drown in it.”

Like another Russian film Euphoria, Silent Souls is elevated to a grander scale by its microscopic focus on two characters. The film depicts unique moments in their lives but those sentiments can also be extrapolated to apply on a larger scale.

How I Ended This Summer (2010, Aleksey Popogrebskiy)

An experienced meteorologist Sergey (Sergey Puskepalis) is working with a younger man, Pavel (Grigoriy Dobrygin), in a lonely outpost in the Arctic taking measurements. Sergey can’t wait to return home to his wife and his child while Pavel has no such family attachments but still can’t wait to return to civilization. When Sergey goes on an extended fishing trip, Pavel receives a radio message regarding an accident in Sergey’s family. Pavel knows the news will cause Sergey to worry so he decides to delay the news until a ship will come to take Sergey home. However, covering up the lie proves too difficult for Pavel and the guilt combined with the isolation drives him crazy. As a result, the film heads off into a different direction with paranoia and fear overtaking events.

How I Ended This Summer focusses on two men just like Silent Souls. The difference is that Sergey and Pavel are not friends but brought together because of their job. If Sergey and Pavel men shared a friendship, then that would have ensured a more open communication between the two and not the direction the film takes. There is no rational explanation to describe why Pavel acts the way he does but his inexperience and fear cause him to make things more difficult than needed.

Euro 2012: Czech Republic Films

Entry #15 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two Czech films.

Surviving Life (2010, Jan Svankmajer)

Evžen (Václav Helšus) has met the perfect woman. However, there is one tiny problem, she is only present in his dreams and disappears once he wakes up. Since Evžen’s real life isn’t very exciting, he longs to go to sleep as much as possible in order to meet his dream woman. Surviving Life is packed with the stop-animation technique associated with Jan Svankmajer’s films, such as Lunacy. The animation seamlessly blends reality and fantasy thereby creating a medium where worthy ideas about dreams are presented in a lighthearted manner.

Protektor (2009, Marek Najbrt)

Director Marek Najbrt and co-writers Benjamin Tucek and Robert Geisler smartly depict how a couple’s relationship is altered by the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Before the Nazi invasion, Hana (Jana Plodková) is an upcoming actress who is the talk of the town while her husband Emil (Marek Daniel) quietly watches from the sidelines. A colleague warns Hana that the Nazi invasion would change things because of her Jewish identity and that she should leave the country. Hana dismisses the warnings but his words prove true as Jews are banned from the arts and Hana is forced to stay home. In the meantime, Emil’s radio show becomes popular and his voice makes him a vital mouthpiece for the Nazis. The Nazis even turn a blind eye towards Hana because of their need for Emil. However, Hana is not happy to be locked in her home and starts to rebel in her own ways. Emil is also not happy with his situation and is forced to make a choice to either aid the Nazis or assert his Czech identity.

Protektor includes a pulsating score that propels the momentum especially in the multiples scenes of the two actors riding their bikes. Overall, a slick production that also pays a loving tribute towards classic cinema.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Euro 2012: Ukrainian film, My Joy

Entry #14 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the single Ukrainian film entry. There was no secondary film selected for Ukraine so the primary film will be used for both the first and third group games.

My Joy (2010, Sergei Loznitsa)

A routine truck delivery job for Georgy (Viktor Nemets) ends up being a nightmarish journey across a dangerous landscape filled with corrupt cops, prostitutes, thieves and ghosts. After encountering a blocked road, Georgy decides to take an alternate route to continue his journey and also to drop a young prostitute safely back to her village. However, the young girl is not thrilled with Georgy’s gesture or the free money he gives her because she feels capable to earn a living on her own. Her anger throws Georgy off and he wanders in the town market for a bit. The packed market features an assorted set of intriguing characters and the camera even follows a few people closely but returns to Georgy. As night falls, Georgy loses his way and encounters a few thieves who hope to strike it rich with Georgy’s cargo. They knock Georgy out cold but are disappointed to learn that the truck has no riches on offer. The story picks up months or even years later when a much transformed emotionless Georgy has nothing in common with his pleasant past self. The new Georgy does not say much and has no time for nonsense. So when he encounters corrupt cops at a checkpoint, he does not hesitate to extract cold revenge. And then like a mythical figure, he disappears into the dark to take his place in the cut-throat countryside.

My Joy starts off by showing concrete poured over a dead body but then settles into a road journey with some subtle humor. However, the film gets darker as the story progresses until all hope and light are squeezed out of the frame. A truly remarkable fade to black.

Euro 2012: Swedish Films

Entry #13 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two Swedish films.

Play (2011, Ruben Östlund)

Play uses a verite style to depict a real life bullying tactic used in Sweden to steal cell phones from kids. This technique didn’t use any physical force but instead utilized a good cop-bad cop method which accused the victims of carrying a stolen cellphone. Ruben Östlund mostly uses long shots to show the crimes taking place thereby giving an appearance that the audience is witness to the events unfolding in front of their eyes. Initially, the film focuses on the crime itself without trying to imply anything about race or economic conditions. This is true even when the bullies are given a rough time from rival gang members. However, race comes into the equation in the final 15-20 minutes when a few family members of the victims use force to retrieve their child’s cellphone back. The family members are adults and watching them fight with a young teenager over a phone raises alarm bells in passersby who accuse the family members of being bullies. This turn into racial territory gives the entire film a different feel and moves the issue away from bullying, something which is not related to race. As a result, the film misses an opportunity to look deeper at social and economic issues and instead is content to scratch the surface of the crime.

Everlasting Moments (2008, Jan Troell)

Maria (Maria Heiskanen) wins a camera in a lottery but never uses it. So she decides to sell it in order to get some money. However, the shopkeeper Sebastian (Jesper Christensen) demonstrates the camera’s potential to Maria. Sebastian tells Maria that he will buy the device from Maria but only after she has used the camera and understands what she is selling. The camera opens up Maria’s world and arouses a new passion in her. Her photography allows her to offset problems in her life and manages to raise her spirits.

Everlasting Moments wonderfully shows that no matter how tough a person’s life is, they will have the ability to get through it as long as they can find that one passion which gives them reason and strength to carry on.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Euro 2012: Italian Films

Entry #12 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two Italian films.

The Salt of Life (2011, Gianni Di Gregorio)

Gianni is back!

In The Salt of Life, writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio reprises his Gianni character from the charming 2008 film Mid-August Lunch. When we first met Gianni, we saw him cooking delicious meals for his demanding mother and her friends. Almost 3 years on, Gianni is still doing those things but we also get to peek inside his head and discover his fantasies and desires. And his inner thoughts confirm that age is a state of mind. Even though his physical body is racking up the years, Gianni is a romantic at heart and still fantasies about the simple things in life, a glass of wine, a pleasant conversation with a charming woman, a good meal and getting a kiss from a blond or two.

Since he spends all his time cooking for women, it is not a surprize to discover that one of his dreams is to be served a home cooked meal by a woman.
The Salt of Life is an enjoyable film that makes one long to sit in an Italian cafe with a glass of wine and just admire the beauty that nature has to offer.

Terraferma (2011, Emanuele Crialese)

Emanuele Crialese uses the Sicilian island of Linosa to depict a relevant economic issue and also a coming of age story. As per the film, the island’s once thriving fishing practice is almost on the verge of extinction and that threatens to erase the livelihood of the island’s few remaining fishermen. That is not to say that the island is forgotten. Tourists still flock to the beaches thereby providing a major source of revenue while immigrants also swim to the shores from far off places in order to grab a foothold into Europe. The appearance of the illegal immigrants is a bother to the law officials and some businessmen who feel their presence will generate negative publicity and drive away the tourists. Caught in the crossroads is young Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) who is torn in between supporting his grandfather Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio) and his mother/uncle. Ernesto, a veteran fisherman, believes in following the “law of the sea” which requires that no one should be left to drown in the ocean and instead brought on board a boat. However, the police want the immigrants left in the water and not brought on the fishermen’s boats. Ernesto’s ways land him in trouble with the authorities while complicating matters for Filippo and his mother. Filippo’s mother and uncle want to earn revenue from tourism and they feel Ernesto’s stubborn holding onto the past will threaten future prospects.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Euro 2012: German Film, Storm

Entry #11 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the single German entry. Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness will not be available until later in the summer. Therefore, Hans-Christian Schmid’s Storm will be used for both the first and third group games.

Storm (2009, Hans-Christian Schmid)

Hans-Christian Schmid’s Storm perfectly illustrates why it is so difficult to convict war criminals in international courts. The film outlines how sometimes it can take years to capture some war criminals with the end result being that some of the evidence used in the trials is atleast a decade old. In the meantime, some key witnesses are pressured by opposing forces and therefore afraid to testify while other witnesses’ memories have forgotten certain crucial details. In other cases, witnesses use a relative's word of mouth descriptions as objective facts even though the witness may not have seen the event with their own eyes. The end result is that enough doubt creeps in the prosecutor's witness accounts thereby making it easier for a defense to win the case. The film also shows the background political deal making that goes hand in hand with international trials and how politicians and lawyers often perform favours in one trial in exchange for benefits in upcoming trials.

As an aside, it is more difficult for a soccer team to create a goal scoring chance while it is easier for an opponent to sit back, defend and thwart goal scoring opportunities. In a similar manner, Storm shows how a defense can easily derail years of evidence and creative effort of the prosecution.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Euro 2012: Portuguese Films

Entry #10 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two Portuguese films.

Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raoul Ruiz)

Mysteries of Lisbon

Mysteries of Lisbon is the last film directed by the fiercely creative and prolific auteur Raoul Ruiz. That seems appropriate given that the story contains multiple narratives, ghosts, memories, secrets and labyrinths; elements normally associated with Ruiz’s films. The film version seen for this Euro spotlight was the 4.5 hour version and not the 6 hour version. Alas, 4.5 hours was not enough to fully enjoy the material. Time dissolves in the face of such delicious material that is packed with numerous tantalizing shots. Different camera angles continuously enhance the visual appeal while the behavior of certain characters pose more questions even when some answers are uncovered.

The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)

The Strange Case of Angelica

Isaac (Ricardo Trêpa) is called in to take pictures of the recently deceased Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala). While taking her pictures, Isaac is startled when Angelica opens her eyes. But when he moves his eyes away from the camera, she is still dead. No one else in the room seems to notice her awakening. So Isaac dismisses what he saw but when he looks through his camera lens again, her eyes open. He is thoroughly confused but finishes taking her pictures and leaves. However, he cannot get Angelica’s image out of his mind and starts developing the pictures he took. In the developed pictures, he sees her open eyes peering at him. By now, he is obsessed with her and when Angelica’s spirit visits him, he falls head over heels in love. No one else can understand Isaac’s behavior but that does not stop him because the universe gives him plenty of signs to track her spirit down.

The Strange Case of Angelica is a gentle light film crafted out of deep themes such as the universe, death, ghosts, particles and images. Of course, given his vast experience, it makes sense that only Manoel de Oliveira can handle such challenging themes in a beautiful manner.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Euro 2012: Greek film, Alps

Entry #9 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the single Greek film entry Alps. Syllas Tzoumerkas’ Homeland, the primary film entry for Greece, was not available. Therefore, Alps will be used for both the first and third group games.

Alps (2011, Giorgos Lanthimos)


The story in Alps revolves around a few characters who take on the persona of a deceased person in order to console grieving family members. For example, this unorthodox healing process could mean playing the role of a relative’s deceased daughter. This tactic produces some humor to begin with but once a viewer is comfortable with the material, then one can look beyond the humor and observe the human behavior on display. In this regard, the film shows that all humans share a certain bond when it comes to loss and eventually healing.

Alps features far more deadpan humor and less of the strangeness that might have put some people off Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. That is not to say that Alps is without its quirky dark humor but the material is presented in a much more accessible manner than Dogtooth. The material appears light on surface but once the film is over, the darker and heavier themes slowly sink in.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Euro 2012: English Films

Entry #8 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two films from England.

Shame (2011, Steve McQueen)

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) has a well playing job in New York City but his job bores him. As a result, he freely channels his energy into sex, an activity that occupies both his disposal income and time. Brandon is not afraid to satisfy himself when needed and on other occasions he pays to have a rip roaring good time. All the sex he has is cold and meaningless and only meant to quench his thirst. It is the real relationships that he struggles with, such as the one with his sister (Carey Mulligan) or Marianne (Nicole Beharie).

Brandon cannot perform with Marianne but as soon as she leaves, he is able to freely release himself into a prostitute. Brandon cannot get it up when love is involved but sex is easier with paid prostitutes as that eliminates any barrier of shame.

Brandon’s addiction to sex is slowly ruining his life but he does not realize that until his sister arrives and he has to look after her. As expected, he eventually hits rock bottom, is mentally defeated and loses his icy cool confidence.

Two sequences which bookend the film perfectly illustrate the change in Brandon’s personality and confidence.

At the start of the film, he is sitting in a train when he eyes a woman.

Shame eyes girlShame woman on train

She sees him and shows interest. A seduction takes place, the woman is aroused and shifts her legs slightly.

Brandon is cool, confident and completely in control.

The woman breaks out of her seductive trance and realizes what she is doing. She is ashamed of her actions, even though the action only took place mentally.

She hastens her departure and the camera shows us the reason for her guilt: she is married.

But that does not stop Brandon. He stands close to her. She can sense his presence and once again she undergoes a sexual roller coaster of emotions.

She runs away when the train stops. Brandon follows her but loses her in the crowd.

After Brandon hits rock bottom, he eyes the woman again.

She looks ravishing and inviting.

This time around she tempts him. She looks to her left indicating her stop is about to arrive and stands close to him. Brandon looks at her ring and then at her. He looks disgusted. He is trying to clean his life up and here she is tempting him towards the garden of Eden. Her red lipstick represents that juicy red apple meant to draw him down the path of sin.

What Brandon chooses is left up to the viewer’s imagination but no matter what choice he makes, he won’t be happy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, Tomas Alfredson)

The life of a spy is packed with information and misinformation. Some misinformation is required to muddy the waters in order to get a reaction from the opposing side, which will result in the next chess move. However, it often happens that misinformation can lead to a "blowback" and that leads to a larger mess. Untangling such a mess means each side has to thoroughly go through their hierarchy to weed out the traitors. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about such a cleansing operation where the British have to find out who the mole is on their side and in doing so they enlist the help of George Smiley (Gary Oldman). The film moves back and forth in time, further casting a shadow on proceedings. Two viewings of the film are essential to grab a handle on events as a first viewing will help determine the identity of the mole while a second viewing will help piece the full picture of events. Or one could read David Bordwell’s excellent review which is an essential reading guide for the film.

The kind of spies and the work they do in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are aptly described by The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, another film adaptation of John le Carré’s novel of the same name.

What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They're not! They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?

Our work, as I understand it.. is based on a single assumption that the West is never going to be the aggressor. Thus..we do disagreeable things..but we’re defensive. Our policies are peaceful..but our methods can’t afford to be less ruthless than those of the opposition.

You know, I’d say, uh..since the war, our methods - our techniques, that is - and those of the Communists, have become very much the same. Yes. I mean, occasionally...we have to do wicked things. Very wicked things indeed. But, uh, you can’t be less wicked..than your enemies simply because your government’s policy is benevolent.

England-Sweden, again

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is directed by the Swede Tomas Alfredson. As a result, the film is an appropriate choice for the Euro spotlight as England and Sweden are once again drawn in the same group in a major international soccer tournament. If history is any guide, the game between the two teams will end in a 1-1 draw.