Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

La novela perdida

Posted: October 30, 2016 by jennroig in Chronicles, Commentary, Reviews, Spanish

Ayer tropezé de nuevo con la literatura cubana. Llegué a las 6:25pm a una presentación que debía haber empezado a las 6:30pm, y por supuesto arrancó a las 7:00pm. El Libro es Memorias del Equilibrio y el autor José Fernández Pequeño.

memorias-del-equlibrio-carita-266x400Fui a la lectura porque me llegó vía una invitación de Facebook, donde se describía el libro como de relatos existenciales. Y yo quiero, siempre he querido pero ahora más, encontrar el libro existencial cubano. La promesa no se cumplió.

Pero lo que hizo  la experiencia extemporánea es que no sucedió en La Habana, en alguna sala de la UNEAC o el Pabellón Cuba o La UH. Pasó en New York, en una sala de NYU y entre quienes supongo serían también cubanos emigrantes. Salvo una amiga neoyorkina que me acompañó porque le supliqué que fuera conmigo para que me sirviera como ancla a la normalidad. Mi normalidad.

Memorias del Equilibrio resultó no ser lo que estaba buscando, pero fue de todos modos un descubrimiento interesante, por lo distinto. Un tono que para mí es costumbrista, como el mismo autor dijo, “del habla no del lenguaje”, presentado por un narrador que en primera persona o a la sombra de esta creaba juegos espaciales. Costumbrismo entregado en una estructura de nuevo milenio, aunque ya ese tono lo iban teniendo en Cuba desde mucho antes de 1999.

He tratado de entender durante el día qué es lo que me irrita en libros como Memorias del Equilibrio. Va más allá de que en sí mismos sumen a la imagen de lo cubano como lo burdo, lo tosco, donde yo no quiero encajar. Como si lo cubano no fuera también Eliseo Diego y Dulce María. Porque por más que me rebele contra la imagen ultra publicitada de los bicitaxis, los cerdos en la azotea, la vieja chismosa del CDR, inevitablemente eso también es Cuba.

Va más allá del sexismo que se cuela en el uso de la mujer como personajes y su forma de hablar. No logro imaginar a ninguna de las mujeres cubanas que conozco diciéndole a un amante que “le gusta por lo puerco que es”. Pero quizás sí existe. Sólo que yo no la quiero conocer. No por purdor o puritanismo, porque leer sobre un glande turgente no es nada luego de haber leído a Zoé Valdés, o Jesús David Curbelo, o Henry Miller, ya el resto no sorprende.

Va más allá de la reafirmación del arquetipo sexista: “el habla popular cubana es masculina porque es dura, directa, sarcástica”. Como si las mujeres fueran incapaces de ser duras y crueles, directas y sarcásticas.

1827_photo_en_2

René Peña

Creo que lo que más me molestó, no del libro que no he leído, y no leeré, sino de la experiencia en sí es la promesa rota. El no encontrar el libro existencial cubano que me defina desde adentro, al margen, o más allá, o por encima, de los momentos políticos, un acento o un habla, el edificio icónico, el referente espacial. Todo lo que nos habla sólo a nosotros y nos separa de los demás, de quienquiera que no es cubano de Cuba. Porque tenemos códigos tan cerrados, tan de Isla, que no dejan entrar ni a cubanos de Miami, ni a cubanos de New Jersey, ni a Cubanos de Madrid. Qué le queda entonces esperar al cubano de Finlandia o de Australia…

Otro escritor me dijo hoy que Cuba carece de la gravedad, o la visión en la distancia, o el largo aliento para producir ese tipo de literatura, porque el trópico nos drena, por eso Cuba da buenos cuentistas y poetas.

Pero no me acaba de cerrar la hipótesis. Hace aguas cuando recuerdo la novela del colombiano que no recuerdo su nombre pero sí el título, Érase una vez el amor pero tuve que matarlo. Y colombiano no cachaco, sino costeño, tan atrapado por el calor como nosotros. O La Muerte de Artemio Cruz, o Aura, de Fuentes. No creo que Fuentes se estuviera congelando en México.

02-cirenaica-moreira-he-lives-in-cincinnati-and-does-not-even-write-to-me-1999

Cirenaica Moreira

Mi teoría para explicarme por qué no tenemos la novela épica existencial es porque en Cuba no se tolera el dolor. Admitir el dolor. El dolor es de débiles, de flojos. Lo que hay detrás de la explicación del choteo que da Mañach es una alergia generacional al dolor. Por eso los cubanos podemos ser grandes cínicos, geniales manejando el doble sentido, jugando vivo, machacando en baja… Pero tan pronto alguien se pone serio y expone el dolor, todos nos anticipamos la risa, porque necesitamos desesperadamente que la tragedia se vuelva tragicomedia. En un libro de cuentos cubano un hombre decía a la mujer que amaba que “en Cuba no se podía decir te quiero”… Me gustaría saber si los cubanos podríamos tomar en serio un ciclo de psicoterapia freudiana.

Y para lograr escribir las grandes novelas al dolor hay que atraesarlo como a una tormenta, un ejercicio de apnea submarina. Hay que hundirse y respirarlo, de frente, sin escudarse en esquinas de humor negro o sardonismos.

Me pregunto si algo tiene que ver la oda nacional al choteo con tener un país con los más altos índices de suicidio, a niveles de los países nórdicos, a pesar de todo ese sol. En Cuba los hombres se ahorcan y las mujeres se dan candela, dice el refrán. Porque rumiamos el dolor sin enseñarlo a nadie, sin reconocer que está, y esperamos que se vaya por sí mismo, porque Dios nos libre de mostrar tamaña vulnerabilidad.

Y así nuestras grandes obras son sardónicas, juguetonas si bien oscuras, como Novás Calvo, Virgilio, Onelio Jorge Cardoso, Jesús Díaz, Reinaldo Arenas… Donde el dolor va por debajo, el dolor por el padre que abandona, por la madre que rechaza, por el amante que engaña, por la decepción hacia el ideal. El dolor se arrastra a hurtadillas, sobreentendido por quién lee pero jamás admitido por quien narra.

Claro que habrán excepciones. Pero Dulce María, Eliseo Diego, o Cirilo Villaverde tienen quizá mucho en sí de la madre España.

isabel-santosLa excepción más gigantesca es quizás en cine, Fernando Pérez. Pero incluso en él, el dolor está marcado por la muerte.

Como si la muerte fuese la única disculpa para sentir dolor, para traslucir el dolor.

Quizás es eso lo que más me irrita de momentos como el de ayer. Que por más que busco no encuentro el autor cubano que escriba para explicarme mi lugar en el mundo, y que destile la esencia de quiénes somos, desnudos de espacio y de madre patria. el autor que escriba La Montaña Mágica cubana.

Winter is coming… sure, for anyone living anywhere out Florida…

thrones-castAnyway, the other day someone asked me what I felt most passionate about -one of those scripted questions hiring managers tend to ask you- and I felt more annoyed than usual. I don’t have a straight answer for that, sometimes I feel passion for so many things, sometimes I’m as dry as a freaking desert. Still, I should have remember that particular thing I always feel passionate about, which is Game of Thrones… New I would really want to see the reaction of whoever gets that answer in the middle of a “serious” conversation: “-What do you feel most passionate about? -Me? Oh, that would be Game of Thrones, the HBO series by the way, not the book”…

That being said, let’s go through why I do believe this series is the greatest television show running these days.

1. It has a wide segment of global audience totally hooked: whatever the announced numbers, it’s bigger. After piracy and online screenings the actual audience is huge, massive, monumental. This is remarkable: the series is a fantasy-epic story, it has dragons, demons and ice zombies, and still it manages to attract people like me, who don’t enjoy stories about dragons, demons and specially any kind of zombies.  The books are maybe nerd territory, but the audience of the show is eclectic, cosmopolitan, global and it gathers representative of many generations.

game-of-thrones-season-42. It’s TV, though it is breaking every pattern of what TV should do to succeed. Traditionally, audiences sit in front of their TVs to feel comfortable, to get some sense of certainty, the range of comfortable emotions that allows to feel sad or scared, knowing that at the end love will prevail and the bad guy will be punished and the right values will find a way to triumph, the safe thrill. Life is uncertain enough, some would argue. So far, cinema was the usual provider of surprising emotions, the enabler of unexpected endings which kind of resembled the not so perfect, in fact messed up and even meaningless, life. And not all movies, not Hollywood for sure, but that kind of arty cinema, that kind of cinema d’autore. However, Games of Thrones killed Sean Bean/Lord Ned Stark of Winterfell in the first season, who was cut out to be the perfect TV character. He was the caring husband, but not so perfect he didn’t slipped and brought a bastard home; a great father, but a father with doubts about what was best for his children; an awesome warrior, but also an executioner; a guy that was willing to stand up for honesty, friendship and justice. He was the perfect main character of the first season. But such character lost his head, literally. After that no one was safe. With Lord Stark’s head was rolling everything that we understand a TV show not only should, but must deliver to us.

Before GOT, maybe Sopranos was able to shake audiences and push the limits. But not even those guys dare to kill Tony Soprano in the first season.

BOOM-1024x564I’m not even going to refer to the production standards, the great budget, the visual quality of the series that even surpasses the excellent quality of other HBO series. dany

3. It takes smart and open minded people to get the plot, the content, and the between the lines ideas of GOT. By the way, I’m not implying that just smart people are watching the series or that a bunch of clever folks aren’t interested at all. But those who are actually able to look beyond the sexual and the gore content, who can understand a bigger picture, they can see the impressive collection of human personalities and traits, emotions, ambitions. They can get how a human being can be powerful and weak, how someone can be despicable at some point and then redeem him or herself, how pain and suffering can make you a better person or turn a person into a monster. These people are the ones who understand that there are no rules in the game because it is as random as life itself, which by no means it is to say that mistakes won’t be paid, that the slightest neglect or deviance will take a toll.

Game of Thrones bring references to history and current affairs. It offers an window to different kind of families, groups, associations, alliances, political systems. It speaks of leadership styles, management styles, warfare styles.

There’s no way a conversation between two fans of GOT won’t be interesting. So, the series is actually a great conversation starter.

gameofthrones14. Emotions. I’m a skeptic most of the times. I tend to come across with certain cynicism, especially when it comes to personal issues. That means I try my best to run away from emotional situations. Well, GOT have given me the kind of extreme emotions that I don’t get in life -The Red Wedding comes to mind- and I still up for more, eager for this fourth season to start.

But there are other, very dark emotions that the script manage to make us feel. Let’s say, forgiving Jamie Lannister after we saw him throwing Bran Stark off the window and knowing he’s really in love with his sister. Or rooting for a painful death that may come to Joffrey, who’s basically a spoiled teenager.

Daenerys_S35. One word: Daenerys. As a woman, it is very hard not to admire the character’s progression and storyline of Daenerys Targaryen. She has evolved from object of desire to subject of decisions. There is no other character which such a low start that has gone so far. She was a sister-slave under the rule of an abusive, creepy and incestuous brother. And she was all of that while others were calling her princess. In reality, she was taking more abuse probably than her the female slaves who were serving her, because those girls weren’t supposed to expect anymore from life. She was sold to a foreign savage that raped her, she had to obey him without even understanding his commands. But she learned his language, she mastered her first tool that is her own body. She knew love and survived it. She lost a world and was able to rise again with even greater ambitions. She’s sly and she’s strong, she’s generous but she gets traitors must get no mercy. She’s patient but doesn’t shake when the time comes to burn a city down. And she’s the one who said: dracarys

6. The need to set things straight. That’s sort of a reason to keep watching every new season. That very human need to make it even. There’s no way to stop watching and miss the moment when Joffrey finally will get what’s coming. Or those Bolton and Frey. The need to find out whether Daenerys will actually manage to reach Westeros or whether Arya will reunite with some member of her family ever again.

So, April 6… those who need to catch up, check the honest trailer here.

Closed Circuit: just ok

Posted: December 19, 2013 by jennroig in English, Reviews
Tags: , ,
Closed Circuit, John Crowley

Closed Circuit, John Crowley

Closed Circuit (2013) is the most recent film by Irish director John Crowley which just caught my eye.

Note: Be aware of spoilers. I will try to hold back on the plot and ending but I may give up something along the way.

At first sight, it’s another movie using the good old conflict of a powerful government agency going ballistic trying to cover up a huge mistake, while two characters  try to fight back armed just with willpower and a sense of justice and perhaps compassion. So far, nothing new under the sun. The powerful organization is the British Mi5. He (Eric Bana) is the protagonist, a lawyer. She (Rebecca Hall) is also a lawyer, and will act as his weak link (typical), but also his inspiration (even more typical) because of a previous romantic affair they both had.

No surprise regarding the characters’ traits. He’s nothing like a stand-up guy, he’s divorced with a son because he slept around, on top of that, it’s suggested that eventually he may have suffered some sort of breakdown or episode of instability. She seems a better person and professional, but at a crucial moment her integrity breaks and she lies, due to ambition, pride or stubborness. No fairy tale heroes, but we have seen that before and we have become used to even admire and indentified with flawed people, because real people tend to be just that. Nothing new so far.

Finally, the resolution isn’t shocking. It’s the logical consequence of the story that has been told. And as for the character’s arc, the way he’s supposed to change, nothing revolutionary there either. So, why could I possibly bother to write about Closed Circuit.

Because it accomplishes its mission. It’s thrilling and entertained. It also reminds you about a few ideas and viewpoints worthy to consider regarding our relationship with powers, and government by extension, but that’s not even the key reason.

I think the strength of the film, and Crowley’s skill for that matter, it’s the atmosphere that manage to create. It’s this well crafted sense of danger that starts growing from the moment the journalist (Julia Stiles) suggest him that the previous barrister may have not die so naturally after all. It’s there when Hall visits the suspected terrorist in prison, and when she realizes that the security guy watching her may not be a source of protection after all. It’s there when she interviews the defendant’s son, and when he meets the journalist in the park. The way the information is handle through the film keeps you clinged, maybe till the moment when Bana tells Devlin (Ciarán Hinds) that can wait for them at a given location in the city, where you know he won’t show up, and the suspense fades because you anticipate the overall outcome, you may just not be sure whether they will survive or not.

There is chemistry among the couple, which also helps. There’s no need for you to watch a revealing bed scene to believe their bond is strong and they are very attracted to each other, which is deeply appreciated in these times. I wouldn’t buy Bana and Hall in real life, but they manage to work it out in the movie.

So it is a fine movie. I would say it’s the kind of film that makes you feel satisfied when the end credits are rolling, even though you will be able to find its plot holes and tricks afterwards.

In my 30’s and Single

Posted: December 11, 2013 by jennroig in Commentary, English, Reviews
Tags: , , ,
Frida Kahlo: Henry Ford Hospital

Frida Kahlo: Henry Ford Hospital

I’m 31, very soon 32, and single.

Moreover, I have no rush in buying a house, or a car, or permanently tie myself to someone, or even worse, having a child. According to what I learned, this doesn’t match to what being a woman was supposed to be. It actually looks like exactly the opposite. Am I some kind of distorted or traumatized creature?

I don’t know. Maybe. What I do know it’s that I’m not alone in this. Year after year, as I turn older, I find more articles, blog posts or audiovisual where people are talking about the same issue. They are hitting the third decade of their lives and finding themselves without any serious prospect for marriage, or the life-lasting-job, or the dream family house in the suburbs, or the two or three kids that were suppose to complete a healthy family.

The most recent example is this short documentary by an Argetinian filmmaker published on NYT website that I have just finished watching. I strongly recommend it. It is a real woman sharing outloud the thread of her thoughts, the way she sees herself, the way she’s breaking a pattern and how she’s finding a way to be happy in her own terms.

There’s even a name for people like this Argentinian woman and myself. We are suppose to be the so-called Peter Pan generation. A generation that entered the 20th and kept behaving like teens, which older segment is now hitting the 30’s and still resists to settle down and grow some roots. She gives some key arguments: happiness is a choice, a great satisfaction comes from understanding and accepting yourself, no need to compete or follow anyone’s standards, the great-eternal-passionate love that she wanted in her 20’s isn’t a goal anymore.

Then, from time to time, I ask myself what exactly is to be an adult? What are those great differences between a grown up and myself?

Times change. It can’t be that the same concept of adulthood applies to both my mom and I. Values change, 50 years ago it was common to think that babies were God’s blessings so Providence will provide for them, today anyone with a basic commonsense knows that it takes a lot of economic, intellectual and emotional resources to raise a kind, responsible, socially fit human being. Societies and ideas change. Previous generations of women didn’t have the same opportunities as women from my generation to build a path and rule over their lives.

In the middle of all the uncertainty, of all the unanswered questions that are the mark of these days, it is impossible to say what’s the archetypical description of a grown up woman today. Definitions are being shaped. And as far as I can see, this is a time for eclectic thinking.

Go to read: Middlesex

Posted: December 10, 2013 by jennroig in English, Reviews
Middlesex, by J. Eugenides

Middlesex, by J. Eugenides

I love to read, but for the past years I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I would like to. I mean fictional literature, because 90% of my work is basically about reading stuff.

So, about missing out on great novels or short stories, I could find excuses, little time, had to study, then I was tired after office… but to be honest, I have been having a hard time to find the kind of literature that hooks me without mercy.

But I just finished a book that had be hook for less than a week. Those few days was all I needed to eat every page, a bit more than 500 of them. The book is Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. It is not a new bestseller, it was published around 2000 and its peak of popularity faded a while ago.

I don’t even know how to sell it without spoiling it, and I don’t want to spoil it for new reades because you need to know very little to be able to feel the thrill.

Let’s say that it brings something new. As far as I know, it is the fist time that a writer created a protagonist -a hermaphrodite- that is also a first person narrator. It takes a lot of guts to write from the perspective of such a complex creature, with so many layers and shades. And Eugenides, who’s also the author of the Virgin Suicides, manages to write a perfectly haunting tale.

I can tell you that Cal’s voice will lead the journey. Cal works in Berlin, for the American embassy there. He spends his years moving from a place to another so not to get attached to any. Cal will tell the story of how he was born Calliope, and how one day the truth of his masculinity was revealed.

But in order to do so, to track the gene responsible for his nature, he goes back to Greece, to the mountains where his grandparents used to live before they came as immigrants to the USA. And then the story of the romance between his father and mother, and his own forbiddn first love.

It is a personal, intimate testimony, as much as it is a historic review of the war between Turkey and Greece during the 1st World War, of Cleveland in the 20th Century with the riots, and the whole USA during the deep sexual transformations. Middlesex has it all, great twists told by a captivating, vulnerable voice.

Spoiler Alert!!!!

I’m there, I don’t move even though the film has ended. The last scene fades, but I can’t take my eyes away from the screen. The Evil has been punished, the Good has succeeded. Everything seems more of the same for Hollywood standards.

Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh, 2013

But I can’t avoid to think there’s something wrong, something is missing. I have been tricked. The credits start rolling, I checked the names of the artistic team, then the technicians, but I can’t manage to remember at this point any of them, except for Soderbergh’s. This is supposed to be Steven Soderbergh‘s last film. I’ve just watched Side Effects.

I watched Side Effects while I was in New York. I shared the experience with a friend who happens to teach cinematographic appreciation for a living, and who might be the person that I’ve seen conducting the best cinematographic analyses ever. I saw her immutable face, and out of respect, and due to the need to be very careful because I don’t want her to doubt my judgement, I said: “I still don’t know whether I liked it or not”. And then she dropped me a bomb by saying: “Me neither”.

Sigh! We walked our way back home -she was hosting me- while discussing the film.

First of all, Side Effects is not one more film by Steven Soderbergh, it’s the film that it is supposed to end his career as filmmaker. In case someone has no idea who Soderbergh is, let me say he’s the name you mention when it comes to films that intend to criticize some social misbehavior, or problem, or unjustice. Soderbergh is the kind of intellectual you would say shows a social consciousness. He has directed films such as Haywire, both pieces about Che Guevara, Traffic, and Erin Brockovich, even if he has the skill to direct Magic Mike, Ocean Eleven’s aga and The Limey.

There’s atmosphere, there’s suspense, there are some good and not so good performances -none of us ended up buying Catherine Zeta-Jones as the psychiatrist- and there are some very good moments like that of Rooney Mara killing Channing Tatum.

What was missing then? There are two films blend together in the script. And the second one is definitely worse than the promise the first part does.

As many critics and civilians have pointed out so far, at the beginning the film leads us to believe that it’s making a huge critique to a system and a culture that in the USA encourage and support a massive consumption of  all kind of drugs that are supposed to help people to keep funtioning. Drugs that make you sleep, drugs that keep you awake, drugs to keep you focused, drugs to calm you so you won’t get angry, drugs for better sex, drugs to keep you safe from sadness… side1Ultimately, the plot was giving you arguments and data that would definitely condemn the big farmaceutical corporations, the psychiatric healthcare turned into a highly profitable business, and a civil society that looks and don’t react.

Thus, you feel sorry for this poor wife who seems to be doomed to chronic depression, in reckless pain that can only be relived by some drugs on trial. And then she kills her husband, to whom she dearly loved, under the influence of the drug so you find yourself in the dilemma of whom to blame. Is she a killer or a victim? Either way, drugs certainly suck and should be regulated!

Then the story gets more complex. Her psychiatrist –Jude Law– feels also the ethical dilemma. Is he the actual killer by proxy? To what extent is he responsible? To this point the film was promising, we believed Soderbergh has said goodbye to cinema setting the standards higher.  But from this point on, some threads don’t seem clear, you start suspecting this is not going where it’s supposed to go.

Long story short: the wife was never on drugs, she killed him for some dark financial reason, something related to speculating with the stocks market and the value of the company that produced the drug. And to do so, she counted with the support of her lesbian lover, Catherine  Zeta-Jones. Jude Law must fight to clean his name and reputation, and recover his family, against these bitches who came up with such evil scheme.

Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara

So, with this end, there’s no criticism can stand. The girl was never on drugs, so no one can blame them. And even the statistics and some other cases that were mentioned to support the belief that she was not a random or exceptional case but part of a forming trend are no longer valid. The farmaceutical industry is left unharmed. No claim made to rethink the way Americans consume drugs.

So, we had just watched a clever plot, with plenty of twists, and intelligent ways and timing to hide and show key information. But no meaning. No wonder I felt cheated. This isn’t Soderbergh, this can’t be Soderbergh’s last film.

Conclusion: we didn’t like it. At all.

Let’s make it clear: I love Tarantino. I have virtually seen all his films and I love them madly, absolutely all of them. So this post will be anything but impartial.

djangoI finally saw Django Unchained yesterday. I know, quite late. I was willing to wait for a nice pirate version to watch online but the opportunity came to watch it in the theater. To my relief, there were not many people there, who could bother me with the noice and the smell from pop corn or nachos.

Django satisfied, even overfulfilled, my expectations. The script fits to the classic structure of the hero’s journey, and it’s filled with those digressions that I love and so many people deeply hate, such as the sequence of the KKK, with a Don Johnson trying to lead a gang of useless rednecks with bandana problems. There was blood, sarcasm, spectacle, love, stupidity, flesh, gore and comedy, everything you expect to see when you go for a Tarantino’s.

However, there was something different this time. Tarantino played with fire. Racial discrimination is not exactly ancient history in the USA. Such comfortable use of the N-word was, at least, provocative. With his portrayal of Stephen -Samuel L. Jackson’s character- he is entering a sort of sacred land, where Spike Lee is allowed, but a white filmmaker maybe not so much. Stephen is representing the kind of brainwashed slave archetype that had lost his/her identity to acquire the master’s identity, and acting against his/her own people. A process that I learnt it’s called hegemony.

But no one can object it is historically accurate. If anything, Django Unchained succeeds in communicating a deep hatred against slavery, discrimination, torture, abuse… doing so by showing blatantly the merciless carnage.

Still, there was something my cousin mentioned at the end of the film that made me think. Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained are stories about outraged minorities. But Taratino killed the Jewish girl of Inglorious Bastards while forgiving Django and Hildy. One could argue that he was punishing her desire for vengeance. But after having rescued Hildi, Django could just go, which he didn’t, instead, he killed everybody. This could be understood as justice, but isn’t vengeance a form of justice? So, why?

I don’t know. The film works the way it is, structurally and dramatically. Could Taratino feel the need to provide a happy ending for Django and Hildi, because they were representatives of the Afro-American community? This society holds a huge, still unpaid, debt towards the Afro Americans. This is not the case for the Jewish community, which found here an actual promised land of tolerance, success, economic growth and intellectual recognition.

Whatever the intentions, only Tarantino could tell.