Monday, September 24, 2012

Herland

 
Incidentally, all of my last few posts have been based on the readings from SF and Fantasy course on Coursera. Things are a little hectic in work and in life otherwise, that I am reading little outside of the course syllabus. The course is coming to a close, and as insightful as it has been, I am also eager to resume my regular reading.
A couple of weeks back, we were reading Charlotte Gilman's Herland and Burroughs' Princess of Mars. The two books could not be more different, and yet there were some common threads running between them. While Princess of Mars was a dominantly 'masculine' book - with heroes, fights and men saving damsels, Herland was feminine, even if not in the traditional sense of the world.
It is about the second book, Herland, that I felt more strongly. (The first was a little over the top - you would know what I mean if you see the movie John Carter which is based on Princess of Mars). In Herland, four men accidentally discover a land where only women live. These women run an efficient and apparently a highly developed nation. They reproduce on their own, and the basis of society is a strong maternal instinct for providing a better life and future for their children. 
Gilman was a woman way ahead of her times, who recognized that she was not an ideal mother and hence gave up the bringing up of her child to her husband and her best friend. She also recognized that she was not compatible with her husband and therefore actively encouraged a relationship between her husband and the above mentioned best friend. These acts might seem less revolutionary now, but in her times (1860-1935), it would have been very difficult to gain acceptance with such actions.
Her ideas in Herland depict that women achieve much if they can live outside the boundaries defined for them in a masochist world.  She also advocates that motherhood is not a right but a great responsibility and only the worthy should be allowed to bring up a child. It is a developed thinking, but in aiming for higher ideals, Gilman seems to have sacrificed the femininity of her characters. 
Stereotyping of Women in Herland In Herland, Gilman imagines a world in which women exist independent of the burden of 'femininity' placed on them by men. Mostly through the voice of Terry, sometimes through Van, she highlights how men stereotype women: jealous, incapable of invention, weak, long-haired, shy, maternal, etc. In a largely male dominated world, women fall in accordance with these expectations and get defined by this 'femininity'. What Gilman shows through her story is, that in the absence of these expectations (denoted by the Utopian Herland), women can explore their true potential. They can build highly civilized societies; rise above personal feelings and take knowledge and learning to unprecedented levels. However it is curious that the only suitably defined characters in her story are the three men. The women exist as abstraction, part of a collective whole. They all have short hair and able-bodies; they are all 'fair ladies'. They show little human emotion and have almost no drama ("The drama of the country was—to our taste—rather flat"). They are also asexual beings, repelled or uncomfortable with the idea of physical proximity. In other words, Gilman has stepped away from giving any emotional depth or individuality to these women. The only time some personality differences are mentioned are when the girls align themselves to the three men - even there the individuality is centered on the men. It seems that Gilman has replaced one idea of femininity with another, and is still looking at women to confirm to some norms/ stereotypes. The only difference is that these norms mostly stand in opposition to those defined by men, and therefore are a rebellion to the male dominance. This rebellion still falls short for not recognizing women as separate individuals with emotional depth.

I strongly dislike the idea of feminist movements where women run ahead to stand at the opposite end of how they have been 'defined' (by burning bras, or adopting unflattering attires, or choosing not to marry to proclaim 'freedom') It still keeps you defined by someone else, and you are still an abstraction. While I feel very strongly against the secondary status of women in many societies, particularly India - where even liberal men congratulate themselves on 'allowing' their wives to work, I desist these caricatures of feminists which discredit the different and individualistic nature of women. So, I did not like what Gilman wrote - I don't intend to be a superwoman, nor assert that one has to be brilliant to be recognized as an individual. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wells and Freud


I have very little exposure to psychology and even lesser understanding of the various theories/advancements in the field. However, even in this limited knowledge it is difficult to not come across Freud and his structural model. There is a certain fascination in the idea of the psyche having three distinct identities fighting for control.
While reading Wells' story The island of Dr. Moreau, as part of the SF and Fantasy course on Coursera, I sensed that Wells was elucidating Freud's theories. On some research I found that they did have an acquaintance, a mutual respect for each other's ideas and exchanged some of their thoughts/ideas through letters. For the course I wrote this essay. Luckily, one of my reviewers was a psychologist who pointed out that I had missed one essential point, which follows the essay:

Super-ego versus Id
 In The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells touches on many interesting themes in few words. One theme that we have repeatedly seen in our readings is the danger of man trying to play God or interfering with nature. In this story, Wells adds another dimension to the man versus nature conflict, which is whether a code of moral values is more powerful than natural instinct.
In his structural model, Freud identified Id as the uncoordinated instinct and Super-ego as the critical and moralizing aspect of the psyche. The third element, Ego, tries to find a balance between the two. Wells' story depicts the conflict of Super-ego and Id without the presence of a strong ego. On the island, the beast folk are shown as instinctual creatures(Id) who are controlled by the law or Dr. Moreau (Super-ego). 
In the initial part of the story, it is the super-ego which is stronger. Dr. Moreau, banishes all natural instincts (not to suck up drink, eat fish or flesh, etc.), and uses punishment to silence the Id. The beast folk are scared and curb most natural instincts. This creates an imbalance, which Prendick as an outsider is able to perceive as threat. It is interesting that in this phase Prendick is more scared of Dr. Moreau than the beasts. 
In the second part, the Id takes over when the beast (Puma) escapes and attacks the super-ego. In the Reversion, beast folks begin protesting against decency and monogamy and fall back into disorganization and chaos. In this environment too, Prendick feels threatened, though this time it is the bestiality which scares him. In both cases, the absence of Ego can be seen as a destabilising factor. It seems that Wells concurs with the views of his contemporary Freud that for a psyche to function well, Ego should be its strongest element.

This is what my reviewer pointed out: "The only point I think you've missed is rationalizing the absence of the Ego. The Ego is based on the reality principle and it's absence could signify a suspension of reality denoted by an isolated island." 
I cannot claim that I fully understand the critique as I dont understand the relationship between Ego and Reality principal very well, but I am working on it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The old monsters



As part of the SF and fantasy course I mentioned in my last post,  the last few weeks I have been reading Dracula, Frankenstein and some stories from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Poe. It is difficult to say if I am enjoying these reads. Dracula was interesting, but having read that story a few times, the last part seemed like a dull load. Frankenstein was unappetizing from the very beginning - the romanticism of the writing, the flowery language, the grandiose descriptions - they all seemed like monsters of their own.
I could not help thinking how uni-dimensional the characters in these books were - take Dracula for example. The black and white characters in it are clearly marked. Except for the mad-man, everyone is singularly good or evil. The story seemed like a preaching sometimes, extolling Victorian virtues.  Here is the little essay I wrote for the reading
The atmospheric work from Bram Stroker reads like a Biblical tale in a modern setting. With use of modern symbols and interesting art forms (journals, multiple narratives, mystery), Stroker attempts to deliver key themes of Christanity to a modern audience who might feel disconnected from the ancient stories.
The strongest Biblical symbol is Dracula, shown as a metaphor for Satan and described both as tempter and deceiver who uses people's weakness in order to deflect them from the path of good. This can be seen in how he entices Renfield by falsely promising him eternal life, convincing him to let him enter the hospital. He (with other vampires) fosters sinful desires: Jonathan Harker is tempted by the three women in Dracula's castle, while Lucy calls out to Arthur in a voluptuous voice to kiss her, before her fall.
Like in the Bible, Bram Stroker illustrates that Dracula's temptations can be resisted by being alert, by prayer and by relying on God's faithfulness. In the story, characters struggle to stay awake; many a tragedies occur while they are asleep or in trance. Dr Van Helsing strongly advocates keeping a crucifix on person when in proximity of Dracula. This crucifix, a symbol of God, saves the party from harm. Mina constantly resorts to prayer, never wavers in her faith, and is thus saved from the influence of Satan.
Stroker's technique is very similar to the technique of Biblical story-telling in modern theatre - perhaps an influence from his theatre background. He tries to internalize the story for his audience by keeping the script simple, breaking up the story into scenes or chapters, keeping fixed locations (the castle, Whitby, hospital), and tracking the emotional journey of the characters. This keeps the reader interested and imprints the Biblical teaching of virtue over desire very vividly in his mind.
Reading Frankenstein was even more difficult, but there was a singular anxiety that is reflected in that writing - the anxiety of being alone. Perhaps it stemmed from the isolated environment Mary Shelly was when she first wrote the story. My somewhat formed thoughts on this which I presented as an essay:
Alienation appears as a dominant theme in Mary Shelly's novel. The three narrators- Walton, Frankenstein and the monster, are all disconnected from the society around them and experience angst on account of this alienation. This alienation mirrors the feelings of the 19th century European society which was witnessing rapid industrialization.
Before Industrialization, people produced for self-subsistence and therefore had a direct relationship to their labour's fruit. However, in Industrial era, because the product would belong to capitalists, workers felt alienated from their work and therefore not in control of their lives. Frankenstein's labour, though frenzied, is still dissociated from its final outcome (He never thinks about the life he is creating). Upon completion, he runs away from it. Mary Shelly has captured the worker's estrangement with his work very succinctly through this analogy. Frankenstein, like Walton and like the modern man, spends a lot of time away from his family and natural surroundings to pursue secondary relationships with his work. They all work in alien environments (a cottage, aboard a ship, a factory). Their isolation causes them anxiety and dissatisfaction with life.
The monster's alienation is of a different nature, but still relates to the working man. He feels powerless to do what he would like to do: find friends and lead a peaceful life. He finds "human senses as insurmountable barriers" to achieving his natural state. He struggles against this powerlessness and seeks revenge. The working man similarly feels powerless to determine his fate, which is increasingly dependent on the decisions of the capitalist. He either submits to this power and feels unhappy, or adopts unlawful means (robbery, thieving, murder) to protest and regain his lost power.
With her theme, Mary Shelly seems to endorse the Romantic view that Science, Modernization and Industrialization have created antagonism in human nature.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A new look at the old


A few days ago, in one of the Ted talks, I came to know about an initiative which provides Online education through a collaboration of elite institutes: Coursera. I was quite impressed with the idea, and decided to look through some of the courses offered. These courses are offered for free (at least for now, but there is a possibility of them becoming paid in the future, albeit affordable). Having come from an Engineering institute and being interested in Humanities, I decided to hunt for a few courses based on Literature/Art. I found one which looked interesting: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, a course offered by Prof Eric Rabkin at University of Michigan. The course aims to explore both these genres as insights and art forms. Unfortunately I was already 10 days late into the course (and hence missed one assignment), the reading seems to be a lot given my current pace with books, and the overall workload looked daunting. Nevertheless, I registered last week, and went through with the reading of Grimm's Fairy tales (I needn't have as I could not submit that assignment anyway) and then Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking Glass.

My first readings of these books were in childhood, and those must have been abridged versions adapted for classroom reading. I have had a sort of refresher into these stories with Tim Burton's Alice and the latest HBO series Once upon a time which revisits the fairy-tales with seemingly dark shades. Both screen adaptations are made for a mature audience and I thought they took much liberty with their base material. However, when I revisited the readings, I discovered that the books themselves contained so many dark themes, and encompassed ideas far beyond the reach of children. For instance, Alice's story is rich with themes of death, cultural misinterpretations, teenage angst - concepts alien to me on my first readings. The Grimm's fairytales had more witches than fairies in them and constantly re-emphasized rebellion, cunning and the Universal truths that if you are beautiful, your lies are not necessarily evil and that beauty is a marker of moral superiority.
Of course it is not a new discovery or a complete surprise - leitmotifs from these stories keep cropping in many readings and therefore you learn to acknowledge them as more than just children stories, but re-reading them with this sensitization is a new experience - something I am enjoying so far.
Here is the little note I wrote on Alice (there were word limits of course, which helps me be in check and chose words more carefully, unlike this blog!)

While creating a fantastical world which serves to amuse, Alice's story centers around the theme of growing-up and the angst associated with it. In the beginning of the story, Alice follows after a rabbit, seen as a sign of fertility, and goes into a long tunnel. Both these symbols indicate puberty and developing sexuality, as does her fascination with gardens (an allusion to Eden). At this stage, interacting with world always seems most difficult, as the individual constantly double-guesses herself, which can be seen in Alice's reference to being two different people . Alice's constant need to re-adjust her size is an effort to fit into this new world, not very different from young people constantly trying to adopt new styles, ideologies to feel in place with their peers.
Lewis Caroll attributes this growing-up anxiety to the many rules which children are suddenly exposed to and are expected to follow. While as children they spend most of their time in a homogenous environment, in the outer world they meet people of different status. They are expected to show concerns over the feelings of those weaker, and defer to the stronger. Alice is constantly worried that she would slip up on these rules and say something hurtful; her encounter with the mouse in the beginning shows her constant struggle to remember this. But as time goes forward, she gets more comfortable in these rules and is more careful of what she says to the mock turtle.
The simpler anxiety of forgetting rules is replaced with more complicated ones like political ideas, power games and unfairness, which cause more angst. The young deal with it either through rejection (Alice waking up from a dream) or alternatively with playing by the rules to become more powerful themselves (playing the chess game to become queen). In each case, they lose their blissful ignorance.

This week, its a read of Dracula, and despite the fact that I had done a second reading just 5 years back, I am still finding myself hooked to the book as if it was some new thriller.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Open City - Teju Cole


That I embarked on this book was hardly serendipitous - ever since it came out, critics have been hailing it as a Sebaldian work, and it has found its way on all magazines, blogs which even remotely address Sebald and his fans.
I picked it up, hoping it was not an attempt to follow Sebald's footsteps - there could be nothing exciting about sounding like someone else. In the initial pages itself, Teju Cole is quick to show us that though his narrator goes on long walks, it is in his own city (New York); his meditations on this walk do not transcend the border of time and are often impersonal observations of surrounding life. Contrast that to Sebald's journeys through space and time - he rarely lived in the present, almost always wrote about some unknown village or coastal town far away, and his every reflection seemed to emerge from  or be part of his personal melancholia.
Standing outside of this shadow then, Open City is a great work. The narrator, Julius is a half Nigerian-half German man who is in his final year of Psychiatry fellowship. For a psychiatry student, he is a very detached observer, one who almost never tries to enter a person's head or understand her motives. He instead has experiences which he narrates (mostly without adding his own judgement). The title Open City could as much apply to the city of New York which sees so many amalgamations in it, as it could to the narrator's mind, which allows experiences to drop in one over another, without ever forming decisive opinions.

Some of these observations take place in Brussels: a large part of his Brussels experiences are with a young guy called Farooq who takes care of an internet cafe. During his interactions with Farooq, you can often see Julius swinging between sometimes feeling sympathetic towards him, and at other times feeling annoyed with Farooq's unjust, rhetoric anger. He is impressed with Farroq's reading, knowledge, and soon becomes bored of the excessive bookishness.
At several points the idea of racial identity enters these observations. Julius seems especially averse to belong to a 'group', and seems to hold his African past at bay. He avoids people who begin a kinship with him only because he is African, and yet when he sees a couple of Africans young guys in a deserted park, his reaction is one of relief. This response seems to be borne out of the same kinship which he shrugs off.
In the entire narrative, one place where Julius comes face to face with his own bestiality has been handled with most poise -  something so momentous handled with so little drama. (The ensuing parts give out some details of the plot - so if you have not read the book, you may want to skip this) Here a woman tells Julius how he had raped her long ago, when they were both in Nigeria. How the incident was so insignificant for him that he did not even remember it, and yet how much it had changed her life. She describes the evening with some details, describes how she still finds him the same careless, insensitive man.
Julius offers no thoughts on this encounter - he does not even admit to being ashamed or feeling belittled. You turn the page and he has already moved on to talking about something else. It almost feels like it was another story which he had been told, where he was only an impassioned observer like everything else that went before. He displays more emotion for forgetting his ATM pin. It looks Cole is trying to push the envelope on the level of alienation modern cities instill.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Emergence of Memory: conversations with WG Sebald

Sebald's voice is unmistakable in all his works. All his narrators, the reliable and unreliable ones, speak in his voice. The characters narrated by those narrators speak in his voice. To me, these works are as intimate as you could get with him. And yet, somehow these conversations have been able to achieve a slightly higher degree of intimacy, and I think most of its due to the understanding between the two people conversing.

the emergence of memory is an anthology which was published after Sebald's death. It is a collection of five conversations and four articles/essays which have previously appeared in various publications. They make a good collection, particularly the conversations, tied together by Lynne Schwartz's introduction which touches upon each of Sebald's works available in English, a little bit on his life, and his fascination for death and destruction. Some of the recurrent motifs in Sebald's works are explored here, and the editor has explained that some of these interviews/essays have been chosen to emphasize those motifs, but also to bring forth facets of all of Sebald's works. She also excuses herself for selecting Michael Hoffmann's essay on Sebald as 'one dissenting voice' as a 'skeptical corrective to what otherwise might be a gush of nearly unqualified enthusiasm.'

The two best conversations from this collection are 'Who is WG Sebald?' with Carole Angier which originally appeared in the Jewish Quarterly in 1997, and 'A poem of an invisible subject' with Michael Silverblatt of KCRW which was originally a voice broadcast in 2001 (it can be found here). In his conversation with Carole Angier, Sebald talks primarily about Emigrants, but also somewhat of his disappointments with growing up in Germany, about being shown a film about concentration camps, but hurriedly, without explanations. Carole Angier seems to say little during the conversation, but offers some of her perceptions as she recollects the interview (He can tell me this. I think, because his mother will never read the Jeweish Quarterly). She tries to understand the stories of the real people behind the Emigrants, and whether Sebald felt any discomfort in changing the stories of his models. Sebald evades answering this, and his discomfort becomes evident in this evasion. He has mentioned in a few places his unease with 'the questionable business of writing'.
Silverblatt's conversation has already been much discussed and praised for its perceptiveness. It is very perceptive ofcourse, and probes Sebald on his writing influences. The influence of 19th century German prose, or Thomas Bernhard. But this interview also brings out in the open the fact that Sebald kept circling the theme of holocaust without dealing with it directly in the prose. Sebald agreed:
I've always felt that it was necessary above all to write about the history of persecution, of vilification of minorities, the attempt, well nigh achieved, to eradicate a whole people. And I was, in pursuing these ideas, at the same time conscious that its practically impossible to do this; to write about concentration camps in my view is practically impossible. So you need to find ways of convincing the reader that this is something on your mind but that you do not necessarily roll out on every other page.
....there is no point in exaggerating that which is already horrific.
In the conversation with Joseph Cuomo, Sebald discusses lot more about writing, about the conflict between conjuring lies and giving liberty to imagination. It is a must-read to understand some of his conflicts. Sebald has been most expansive here. Some of the excerpts of this interview can be found here.
Amongst the essays, there is only Ruth Franklin's Rings of Smoke (Link) worth talking of. She has discussed each of Sebald's work, sieving through them, quoting the most essentials parts of them and connecting them together. And despite her enthusiasm for Sebald, she offers a counterpoint to his essays in On the natural history of destruction.
I do not even want to credit Michael Hoffmann's essay - it is an insult to counter-balance. There is unabashed criticism, but no critique and the reasons for his dissatisfaction in Sebald are altogether unclear.
Overall a good collection, though i think the essays could have been sacrificed for more interviews.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Girl with Curious Hair

There is no dearth of people who have read David Foster Wallace or DFW. His works have been looked and re-looked and re-re-looked into several times over for clues to understanding modern/post-modern lives. His iconic work Infinite Jest has appeared in at least 50 of the articles I have read since I subscribed to some literary magazines in my Google reader feed.
The reason I still did not pick up DFW after so much fuss over him was a certain hesitation I have towards American literature. From earlier writers to contemporary ones, I have hardly enjoyed an American author other than Steinbeck. The American books seem too dense, intentionally obscure and always spreading to 500 plus pages. It is almost as if the authors don't want people to read their words.
And Infinte Jest is certainly not inviting with its 1000 plus pages - it seemed to fall right into the category which I have come to identify with American literature. So I thought, let me ease into Wallace with a short story collection (a trick I tried with Joyce and it worked for me) - who knows may be I might end up liking him.
A few stories down in Girl with curious Hair, and my feelings have positively tilted in favor of DFW. And yet, there is some hesitation that remains. Some of the stories are brilliant. Take Here and There for example. A guy and girl narrate the story of their relationship (which is now over) simultaneously, going over the same summer and the same incidents. Eerily, it was almost as if it were two different stories - each of them seem wrapped up in their own worlds, disconnected from each other, living only with a perception of each other. The end summarizes it succinctly. The boy, an expert is theoretical electronics, falls to pieces while looking at a real circuit. A rather too obvious metaphor, perhaps. Yet, it uncannily describes that distance I feel with reality sometimes. Everything ends up as a concept inside the head, and while I conceptually know how to behave with a person, when to apologize, in reality things almost never go that way. Alienation, and the anxiety emanating from it could not be put more simply.

The other two engaging stories from the collection are - Little expressionless Animals and My Appearance. Both of them are doused in the world of television. Strictly speaking, the stories are perhaps a little out of date today, when television has already lost its ground to internet for devouring people's time and energy. But then, you only have to replace Jeopardy with Tumblr and Lettermen's show with Twitter, and the theme of the stories will become relavant to personal lives. There is a conversation in 'Little Expressionless Animals", where characters attempt to offer explanations about their lives to an imaginary TV audience. All of 'my Appearance' is about building and living a fake life, which is sensible and consistent. In both places, an artificiality, a simplification/justification arises because of the over-powering presence of media, because through it, you are now open to the world. (This also forces you to look into your own lives, analyze them more critically, do more, be more so that you could look better from that window, so in a way DFW is also celebrating media).
But then there are other stories which scare me - the title story for instance. Even though short, I found it tedious. It is about the punk life of a democrat and it appears to be written to shock. There is alienation of a kind in this story, a psycho-analysis and duplicity of life, but overall, it seems undeserving of being the title. Yet, DFW chose this as the title. It is this quirkiness that scares me from picking IJ - what if there is a lot of this quirkiness splashed over 1000 pages.
Nevertheless, his penchant for creating complex characters and have them come face to face with real ones is brilliant. And unlike the other Americans, his writing is clear, and written to be read.

As posted on Project Dogeared

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Golden Age of mexican Cinema

The Singapore National Museum Cinematheque and Mexican embassy in the country is running a short program on Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. During this period, they are show-casing some moveis from Mexico made during the period 1936 to 1969, which is labeled as the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, when some of the finest movies came out of the country.

I have so far watched two movies during the program, and am hoping to catch another one tomorrow. So far it has been a refreshing experience. National museum has a cozy, but sufficiently spacious gallery theatre, which is a good place to watch movies (unlike the Singapore comercial theaters which are small, and often have poor screen quality). At the beginning of the movies, a cultural attache gives a brief introduction of the movie to be shown, which sets the context.

The first movie I watched Vámonos con Pancho Villa! (Let's go with Pancho Villa) is also a movie that is said to be the beginning of the golden age, even though it did not do so well at the time of its initial release. Pancho Villa is the nickname of one of the decorated generals of Mexican Revolution (which began in 1910). He was dominant in Northern Mexico, looted and commanded trains, and was largely supported by the US in his revolutionary efforts.
The movie is about a group of 6 friends from a village who decide to join Villa's revolutionary army. Through their lives, the director/writer Fernando de Fuentes depicts life in midst of a revolution. In this life, Fuentes shows us, there is a mad energy as people feel a sense of purpose, but there is also heartlessness, ruthlessness. While shooting at the enemy, sometime the boundary between enemy and your own men blurs, while at other times, people engage in mindless shooting at the Canteen, so that the pianist has to put up a sign "Don't shoot the Piano Player", and the waiters have to hide behind counters. Villa is shown to be a hard task-master, as one must be to lead a revolution of that size. It is ironical that sentiment can be side-tracked so immensely in a war which would have begun from concern for sentiment.
It is hard to believe that this movie was made as early as 1935. Technically, it does not go wrong anywhere - the mood is perfectly set with overwhelming scenes of trains loaded with revolutionaries, or forts being conquered, or men riding their horses in the grim landscape of mexican desert. If the movie was made in the 70's, nothing could be improved, and it would have to wait till the 90's to get better sound.

The second film I saw, La Perla, was made in 1947 by another celebrated Mexican film-maker Emilio Fernández. This simplistic film was based on a novella written by Steinbeck, who also co-wrote the screenplay for this visually appealing film. It is a story of a simple fisherman and his wife, who find a rare and big pearl. The pearl, which seems to them the means of freedom, invites a lot of attention from the villagers, and some unwanted hostility from rich men, who want to acquire the rare pearl and are willing to rob and murder for it. With a pearl, the simple life of the family is completely destroyed and they are forced to wander around in the neverlands of mexico without food and water, carrying a baby in their arms. The seed of hope becomes the harbinger of darkness, sometimes causing rift between the lovely couple. A very socialist fable, in my opinion, but beautifully brought to life, specially by the angelic Maria Elena Marques(plays the wife), who looks innocent and untarnished, almost like Mary.
This movie is visually very captivating. In the beginning of the film, wives wait at the shore, hoping for the tides to turn. The camera first focuses on two women looking towards the sea, and then pans out to encompass a much larger group. The sense of abatement is so strong in the first few shots that it carries throughout the movie, despite the ongoing action. Later, as the couple wander through deserts, the camera work again comes to the rescue of a film which might have bored the viewer by a seemingly endless and vindictive pursuit.
During one of the most important moments in the movie, there is a long underwater shot, which is near flawless. The entire shot shows Tino's struggle under water. Then, when he finally cracks open the oyster and finds the pearl, his brief performance shows a peek into what is to come. That was one of the finest moments of the movie. It is only during the later half of the movie, especially during the pursuit that the movie became tedious and lost a little of the momentum that it had begun with.
This is the first film festival I have attended in Singapore, and it is disappointing since I had hoped to enjoy many more. Unfortunately, the movie culture in this city/country is minimal. Movies often arrive here late, and even in opening weeks or shows, few people are seen in the halls. There is a film society, of which now I have become a member, but even they screen only 2 movies in a month.
But it is a good start for me, and it was encouraging to see the participation for La perla's screening today. Perhaps this will give some boost to the festivals.