De aanslag

Ver, ver weg in de tweede wereldoorlog woonde een zekere Anton Steenwijk met zijn ouders en zijn broer aan de rand van Haarlem

De aanslag, Harry Mulisch, 1982

Toeval bestaat niet: een vriendin die vraagt – een paar uur nadat ik dit boek uit de minibieb heb gehaald – of ik eigenlijk wel eens klassiekers lees. Ik denk dat iedereen die lockdown en avondklok met de oorlog vergelijk mijn voorbeeld maar heel snel moet volgen (en zich in de tussentijd moet doodschamen).

Is er nog wel iets te vertellen over dit boek wat al niet een miljoen keer eerder is genoemd? Vier periodes in het leven van iemand die de oorlog meemaakte, er gigantische wonden oplip en door ging. Verder leefde.

Het zijn zulke andere tijden, omgevingen dat ze bijna allemaal als fictie aanvoelen. De boodschap van het verhaal, de altijd aanwezige dreiging van onheil juist verre van.

Dat het eerste boek dat ik weer eens vlot uitlees nu toch een klassieker van een mannelijke, witte auteur moet zijn; als dat geen mooie aanwijzing is om maar vooral een open blik te houden. Zoals ik zei: toeval bestaat niet.

Pieces of a Woman

128 min.

This is Vanessa Kirby’s film. Not only because Shia le B. doesn’t deserve any mention (the creep), but because – except for the actress playing her mother (Ellen Burstyn) – nothing and no-one comes close to her.

In Pieces of a Woman Kirby plays a woman that has a traumatic birth experience with lethal result. That isn’t who Martha is of course, but it’s the only role she’s allowed after. She doesn’t mourn correctly, doesn’t support her partner and family correctly, doesn’t scream for vengeance and fury correctly. Behind her eyes is both chaos and complete emptiness.

I guess this is one of those ‘actor-films’; it’s definitely a lower priority how the plot will play out than how Kirby will work her way through it.
Another gold star for how it never gets sentimental: mourning also exists out of rage and Pieces of a Woman shows plenty of that.

This might be my first film recommendation of the year.

Mismatched

6 x 35 min.

Can’t remember the last time I so enjoyed a YA romance, on telly or otherwise. I think that this would have had another To All The Boys-hype level if the majority of it wouldn’t have been in another language than English (I think it’s Hindi).

It has plenty of tropes, plenty of tempo and a tight grip on the plot. I don’t know the original material – YA novel When Dimple meets Rishi – so I can’t compare, but the series delivers everything you might need from a YA romance. Rishi is a romantic, Dimple wants to break free.. side characters that carry their clichés in an honest way, and a surroundings that makes you wish that there’d be a temporary ban on the UK and USA high school as decor.

It’s a slice of teenage life but with amped up volume and technicolour added. And for the romance part: you might not even straight-away know who she ends up with! There’s even replay value! So, I hope for two things: a sequel, and that more people will watch it so we can discuss.

Luster

The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani, Bond Street Books 2020

I don’t know if this is going to be a review about Luster or a confession.

Luster works hard, while simultaneously not doing shit to get the reader to feel something about its protagonist. Do we pity her, get angry at her, are grossed out by her? Can we blame her decisions or outlook on life when you see what she’s been dealt and the society she lives in?

It’s the kind of book I can’t get any grip on, an endless frustration that I can’t steer in any direction. I want a conclusion, no matter how unhappy. I want a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a coming train. What I don’t want to be is infected by the manic, the passivity, the ugliness of it all.

This isn’t about bad relational decisions or how rudderless my generation is, it’s how Raven Leilani puts her hand on your neck and keeps forcing you to watch and think and experience.
Is that not something I enjoy? Am I a cookie-cutter reader?

Or is it simply that the confrontation is too big, the despair too overwhelming, and the possible life line too brittle?

I’m angry at this novel. I’m frustrated by the impact I allowed it to have on me and how I feel I have to defend myself. A happy ever after wouldn’t even have satisfied me at the end, I want to put this growth to bed so I can calm down again.

A confession it is, then.

Kärleck och anarki

8 x 30 min

Unlike the protagonist of my previous review, Sofie and Max have clear reasons to be maladjusted, rude weirdos. Most of the time. They also get much less flack from me for this because they’re funny and pretty attractive. Just being honest here.

Sofie is a married mother who’s brought in as a consultant at a publisher. Max is the IT-guy. They give each other weird assignments. The assignments escalate. So do feelings. So do their lives.
And it all plays out in Stockholm, so the escalations are all with subtitles.

This is romance, slice-of-life, coming-of-age without any Life Lesson beating you over the head of soundtrack telling you what to think. It’s quick (eight episodes), funny, sad and fresh.

Anarchy might be a big word, but it’s something different; in a good way.

Today Will Be Different

Today will be different.

Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple, Little, Brown & Company 2016

Maria Semple did it before: the frazzle, the alien character in a grand, wealthy world. This time it’s not a side-character, but the main. And that gets a bit exhausting after a while.

Because what’s happening, really? Our protagonist tries to be better, for at least one day. It doesn’t work the way she wants to, but only part of that is because of reasons outside of her control.

Unlike with Bernadette (I’m just going to continue comparing here) – there is no direction here, no pay-off, not even a crooked compass. It’s Ducks with better punctuation, but with even less consideration for the person we have to feel something more than annoyance for. There are crumbs of motivation behind her behaviour, but never enough to create even a biscotti from. Instead, you just don’t care about any of the people involved.

Maybe this is Semple’s thing. Maybe I’m not finely-enough-tuned to a traumatised person’s inner-workings, maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time.

And just like the author of Today Will Be Different I’ll let the reader decide.

NYE films

What’s ‘NYE’ about any of these films? Probably nothing, except that I watched all three of them on December 31 and January first. Maybe the start of a tradition.

Anyway, what they do have in common is a black male lead. With two out of three films the male lead is turned into something else, but baby steps. Right, Hollywood?

I would have liked it better if Soul would have been done with a female lead, but what do I know about soul music. For a film about one, it was definitely lacking one: just a lot of minutes going through the Kiddie-story-with-A-Life-Lesson storybook. And will Pixar ever move away from that hideous way of drawing people?

Spies in Disguise, then. This time the main character is turned into a pigeon to learn that there’s no ‘I’ in team. There’s also long action scenes, fat jokes, and pigeons-are-stupid/eat-everything repetitions that might make you slightly nauseous. Besides that, some genuine humour can be found, but that’s mostly on Will Smith’s charm.

Maybe I’ve outgrown Disney Pixar/Disney Fox-animations. When you can’t find any relief from picking things apart, it might be time.

For something completely different, I finished this holiday with Get Out. You might still remember the reviews and discourse which partly seemed to be led by “OMG, racism is the real horror??”.

I went in with plenty of knowledge (I’m a scaredy cat), but was still enjoyable uncomfortable, definitely in the first half. I always enjoy the humans-are-the-worst-monsters trope, and it delivers.
The second part is more traditional horror, but doesn’t go overboard enough to lose balance. This way, you’re stuck to your seat the entire time and only want to look away out of discomfort or disgust, not boredom.

All in all, the satisfying cinematic experience I felt I deserved after two days of disappointment.