Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"The Class", A Discourse On Education

I just finished watching the french movie 'The Class" ("Entre Les Murs"), my mind and emotions whirling. Fragments of thoughts and ideas, philosophies and beliefs, reason and presuppositions ricochet off one another, uncovering and charting new territories of thought and understanding. The movie's remnants echoing through the caverns of my consciousness.

I feel jittery and unsettled. Something is askew, an anchor has been dislodged from it's moorings. I can't explain what or why, as my own understanding appears to have lost it's footing.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not a philosopher, nor am I an educator. I don't spend endless hours, nor minutes, contemplating or struggling with ideas or concepts. I am comfortable in superficiality of thought, or following the waywardness of streams of consciousness.

I am a daughter of an educator, a niece of one, cousin to some and a wife of one, but make no claims to being one myself. My father was a high school biology teacher and an administrator, whose love of education and educational philosophy and thought was prevalent throughout my life. Perhaps my childhood mind absorbed more than I thought of my father's discourses on this topic. Perhaps those thoughts or fragments of thoughts have wandered the chasms of my understanding, waiting upon the spark that would lift them out of obscurity into light. The spark, cloaked today in the guise of a french movie.

Let me also begin by revealing that in recent months I have listened to, and participated minimally in conversations centered around education; whether they be the crisis of education in the US, or on a molecular level, the educational dilemmas as seen by a friend, a teacher's aide, to a class of children with varied and diverse learning disabilities, or the concerns of parents such as myself, with the perceived peccadilloes of the educational system.

Having now put forth my disclaimers and small revelations, perhaps now we can return to the cause of this discourse in the first place, the movie "The Class", and all that it entails.

The movie, shot in the style of a documentary, is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Fran├žois Begaudeau, who plays the lead character, french language form tutor Mr. Marin, who teaches a class of 14 and 15 year olds from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds in inner city Paris. For a good part of the movie I thought perhaps I was watching a documentary, the acting too real to be fiction, and yet it was fiction. The actors were all non professionals, most taken from Mr. Begaudeau's actual class, who through the acting method of improvisation, give to us the viewers, a movie brimming with realism and compelling, funny, and thought provoking scenes. 

What is it about this movie that so drew me in that for the duration of it's two hours and ten minutes, I sat completely engrossed, my heart palpitating, my mind whirling?

Set completely on school grounds, with the majority of the scenes taking place in the classroom and faculty lounge, this movie confronts us with the challenges and complexities of modern day high school education, in multi-cultural and multi-lingual urban settings. It's truths echo throughout public education, the world over. 

Our world is changing. Populations have, or are transitioning from monocultural units into diverse demographic mixes. Nothing remains static, and change very often brings with it a paradigm shift, and what ensues is a battle of sorts, as lines realign, understandings change, and new paradigms are birthed. Public education faces its own paradigm shift. Fault lines erupt throughout every classroom as teachers are faced with not only teaching their subject matter, but taking on by necessity the mantle of diplomats, anthropologists and peacemakers, wading everyday through the cultural nuances that make up their students and classrooms. In urban settings where immigrant populations are dominant, and especially in the inner cities, these teachers when stepping onto school grounds, enter a foreign land, walking gingerly around land mines of teen angst amplified by cultural, social and religious barriers.  Traditional methods of teaching and relating need to adapt and broaden. Even the most understanding and culturally astute teachers run into roadblocks, as demonstrated throughout this movie, most especially climatically in the last scenes, when a normal classroom debate changes into a taut confrontation where geographic and cultural loyalties play a key part. the situation further unravels as tempers are lost and the demarcation between students and teacher, suddenly and without warning, becomes a moat of resentment and frustration, incivility and discord.  

What I love about this movie is the humanness of its characters. These aren't cardboard cutouts with one dimensional personalities, but are complex, multi-dimensional and multi-faceted individuals and collectives. The staff room becomes the center of a debate on philosophical differences on discipline. The classroom is a mixture of changing alliances, and edgy and often humorous discussions. The students challenge the material at hand and its relevance to their existence, as well as the cultural content of the material. There is no room for placidity in this classroom. The teacher is often left scrambling to answer a students challenge. Neither students nor teachers are portrayed as heroes or villains, none fit safe and "colored in the lines" categories. Labels fail to capture the fullness of their characters.

Without knowledge of their outside worlds, you are left to try and understand these characters through their discourses, debates, reactions and emotions. The only time the outside world makes its brief appearance, is during the interactions at parent-teacher conferences, and a student's expulsion hearing. That hearing, a pivotal part of the movie, is filled with awkwardness coupled with underlying frustration and resentment. When Souleymane, the student in question, is brought in accompanied by his mother to the disciplinary hearing, one can not help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, as the son acts as interpreter at his own hearing between his mother, whose understanding of french is very limited, and those who sit on the disciplinary committee. Empathy lies with both the teacher and the student at this moment as we recall the relationship that has brought them to this point. Moments where both met in mutual understanding, and moments ripe with tension and challenge.

Laurent Cantet brings the reality of the classroom experience to us through the thought provoking vehicle of this film. This is a film that should stimulate much discussion amongst educators, as well as students. It is a film where even a non educator like myself, has been given much food for thought. In contemplating this film, I have had to reevaluate my own perceptions on education, and even this happily shallow thinker, has quite willingly delved into the layers of this debate.

I highly recommend this film to everyone with an interest in education, and to those of you who don't, I truly believe that you will walk away from it with a new interest and insight on the subject. This is a five star movie. Watch it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunrise. Sunset.

Our church had it's annual Family Camp this past weekend, beginning on the Friday evening and drawing to a close on Sunday afternoon. This weekend was a special time, spent with very special people, people who have become a part of our family.

As a new bride and a newcomer to our city, I was akin to a child on her first day of school, nervous and unsure of her welcome. I soon made new friends, friends who to this day, remain close to our family. I also found a new family in my husband's aunts, uncles and cousins and their families, and I found a new church home, a family of faith who have become an important and vital part of our life. With shared faith and prayer, we have woven together a tapestry of friendship, love, support, and encouragement.

Perhaps one of the aspects I loved most about this time, was watching the children, seeing their joy and their excitement. hearing their laughter and watching their smiles burst forth, like sunshine on a rainy day.

Last year at camp, a special couple were expecting their first child. This year their son made his first appearance at church camp, and as the only baby there, and an adorable baby at that, held a captive audience with young and old alike. Over the years I have watched our babies become toddlers, toddlers turn into elementary age children, and elementary age children become junior highs, who then transform into senior highs, and senior highs venturing out onto new pathways, some now classified as young adults, young marrieds, and young families. The years seemingly having flown by with little notice taken, until that day when your own baby walks up to receive his high school diploma, and the road you have placidly been traveling for the past eighteen years, takes on a totally different direction and dimension.

The song "Sunrise, Sunset" from the beloved musical Fiddler On The Roof profoundly captures this sentiment with the following lyrics:

 "Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don't remember growing older, when did they? Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise. Sunset. Swiftly fly the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears." 

Yes, when did they grow up so quickly? I see my eldest approaching young adulthood, and my youngest with only two years to go before she too will leave her childhood years behind, and venture into life's new territory, and I weep at time's progressive and relentless march forward, and yet rejoice at the gift of every new day.

I find myself now in my mid forties, an age that in my callow youth would have been perceived as already quite over the hill and headed towards antiquity, and yet now I cling to every drop of breath my forties yields as a fragile thread tenuously holding me to that land before time, before time's tides sweep me into the next half century of life.

Don't get me wrong, there are a number of things about aging that I enjoy, not the least of which is, that if I am still here to lament growing older, then I am still alive and breathing, and gifted with more time to accomplish the dreams and wishes of the heart. I enjoy the relative maturity that time has brought and that indelible sense of comfortableness in who I have become. I enjoy watching my children grow and search out their own identities and begin their own dreams, while I begin to dream again and wonder at what life now has in store for me. I have watched my parents, though not always having an easy time of it, live a rich "retired" life, surrounded by family and good friends and travel and new experiences, and I hope to have a little of that for my husband and myself. There is still much to be enjoyed and discovered about myself and others, and I do look forward to that, and am always aware that the sands of time are slowly sifting away.

With age I have inherited a new vocabulary, and have ventured into areas previously considered foreign territory. I've discovered the term "arctic blonde" of which I, whose heritage lies in the Indian subcontinent, now have apparently become, my dark locks now woven with moonlight's rays. A form of chemical warfare known as "highlights" has become a part of my aging vocabulary, and I find myself joining the waves of Indians who have suddenly and quite unexpectedly started to sprout gold and red tints in their once black hair. In a fit of rebelliousness, I thought to age naturally and gracefully, and to let my "arctic blondes" frame my face and shine to their hearts content, until vanity proved too much, and the lady in the mirror sent me scurrying to book an appointment with a colorist as fast as possible. I did try a return to my youthful black hair, but instead of rediscovering the youthful me, found in her place an Indian version of Elvira. Needless to say, another appointment with the colorist was booked!

But hair has not been the only marking of time, there is now the aches and pains and groans that accompany them that have become new companions, and where health was once not even given a cursory glimpse, now seems to be a constant point of contemplation. Then there is that wonderful gift of Peri Menopause that can apparently grace ones life for a few years to help you prepare for the main event, the theme of "Rocky" now playing in my head. The fresh bloom of youth has begun to lose its glow. Body parts that I could once blithely ignore, have now taken on new importance, who knew how useful knees and backs are to ones mobility? Memory has become elusive, and names, places and time play games of hide and go seek along my synapsis.

Many find this a triumphant time, a time to run marathons, to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, to take up soccer, and try other adventurous avenues. I unfortunately, still have that gene latent in my being or completely missing in action, and would much rather not do any of those afore mentioned activities, but take a more leisurely and less strenuous approach to living and aging.

Sunrises are beautiful, but equally so are sunsets. When I look at the wisdom and character that life gives to those who have seen many sunrises and sunsets, I see beauty and lessons learned and lived. I see so many stories and experiences to be heard, shared and noted down.

As I see the faces of my babies transposed over their current images, I wonder, as the lyrics sing "What words of wisdom can I give them. How can I help to ease their way?" What will the sunrises and sunsets of the years to come hold in store for them? What lessons will they learn, and what stories will be written in the tablets of their lives. 

The last day of camp dawned cool and overcast, as we set out for the nearby lake. We watched as two of our teenagers accompanied by one's grandfather, and our youth pastor, waded through the frigid shallow waters of the lake, and before the assembly of congregation members, were baptized. For them, a new sunrise had begun, and watching the grandfather baptize his granddaughter, I wondered how beautiful it must have been for him to be there, and to offer her the wisdom from a faith lived well, through many sunrises and sunsets.  I looked at the rest of the assembly around me, and noted their expressions of joy and wonder, as many of us recalled these two as newborns and toddlers, as young elementary children, junior highs, and now senior highs. We were all bound together in faith, prayer, memory, hopes and wishes. I don't know how time will work on this image and memory, but I hope that it will remain as clear as it was that day. I hope that for the younger ones, it left an indelible impression, and for us older ones, a beautiful picture of sunrises and sunsets and faith's precious gift.

For us "older" ones, take a moment to spend time with the little ones in your life, and the not so little ones. To listen to them and to hear them. To enjoy their joy and youthful exuberance. Wonder at the enjoyment they find in simple things, and in life itself. And to those young people who might read this, make time and get to know the "elders" in your life. Hear their stories and learn from their wisdom and experiences, there is wealth and richness there. Listen to the musical score of their life, the heights and depths, the soaring parts, and those that gently meander. Sift through the layers and dynamics and find relevance, truth, humor, love, faith, tears, anger, joy and LIFE. Sunrise, Sunset, and a wealth of Life in between.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Friends And An Art Show

I recently had a lovely outing with two friends of mine. We went to an art show, and not just any old art show, but one which featured two paintings by my friend Karen as well as two by my art teacher Johanna.  It was my friend Clara's birthday celebration, and we wanted to do something special for her.

I don't know about you, but art never really claimed hold of me until the past number of years. I can't tell you why it was this way, I'm not sure I understand it myself, but I do know that with the passing years and with the joining of my art class, I have grown to appreciate deeply the wonder that art brings to an individuals life. Having a friend like Karen also helps. Karen is one of those special gifts people get in their lives; a person of warmth, exuberance, humor, joy, fun and a well spring of creativity. She's one of those lights that God gives us. I'm not putting her on a pedestal, we wouldn't want her head to get too big, but that's just who she is. Karen, Johanna, my friend Sara, my sister-in-law Bina, Tom, Kevin and many others, have taught me to find art in the every day, and to savor the beauty in little moments. Bina, my sister-in-law, told me that while on holiday, she makes it a practice to chase sunrises and sunsets. I thought, what a beautiful thing, and what a reminder of the blessing of a new day, and the thankfulness for a day well spent. What a reminder of the presence of God, as He paints the skies of dawn and dusk, that neither photography nor paintings have ever quite captured in richness or detail. Karen does the same. She revels in the beauty she finds in a bloom or reflection, or in something that captures her eye. The other day, hitching a ride back with her from music practice, she pointed out the sunset to her daughter Katie, and talked about the different colors in harmony within it. It was a moment to stop, pause, and wonder.

I've learned to look for the beauty in a snowflake or an icicle, and to hear the music in the pounding of a rain storm, and to watch the glistening pools of water adorn the streets outside my window. I've learned to see art. And it was with these new eyes that I accompanied my friends to my first art show. It was not a grand affair, but a warm and welcoming one, featured by the Art Council, and held in their library. There was photography, three dimensional artwork as well as paintings and drawings, and mixed media. There were sections for Beginners, Intermediates, Advanced and Masters. And it was a wonderful demonstration of the breadth and talent of our Alberta artists. We had so much fun there, taking it all in, marveling at the techniques and different mediums, and going back and looking closer at all the details we missed the first or second time through. My friend Tami even bought a piece, a beautiful depiction of our big Alberta skies, bordered, contrasted and showcased by a canola field in full bloom.  I was so proud of Karen and her pieces that were hung there for all to see. She is a wonderful artist and I hope to see more of her work hung in art galleries and shows. I love the way Karen uses color, and how her pieces come to life. The Lady Walking her Dog and the vivid red canvas featuring a branch with its delicate bloom, are so different from each other and yet equally appealing. She has so much fun with her art, that it is contagious. And Johanna's pieces were an excellent display of mixed media art. They were fun, creative, thoughtful and beautiful. The variety that was showcased was engaging and captivating. There was a papier mache Einstein that I wanted to take home with me, and a wistful pencil drawing of a little girl blowing a daffodil. There was a humming bird in flight and a folk painting featuring laundry and an outhouse. There was a wonderful watercolor of horses, and paintings that captured the character of rusted old cars. There was an incredible oil of a salt shaker, and a touching colored pencil drawing of a father and child. Then there was the incredible wire horse sculptures, and mixed media paintings using wax, which added unusual and attractive detail to already beautiful work.

Sharing this experience with friends made the evening even that much more lovely. Art I think, is meant to be shared. If you have a chance to go visit a gallery or an art show, take along some friends and enjoy the experience.

Jeenu :)

A Painting Breathes

I don't know if many of you remember the 1995 movie "A Walk in the Clouds" or not, and if you do, if you would even consider it a good movie. My husband and I both enjoy and love this movie, and every time I revisit it, I come away with the same sense of beauty that I experienced the first time I came for a visit, many years ago now.

It has what my husband calls a fable like quality, a fairy tale if you will. It is a movie that exudes old world charm that is refreshing to find these days. Every frame is a painting coming to life. And for a few precious moments you find yourself, along with the characters, walking within it's frame. Beauty, Family and Life are the words that come to the forefront of my mind when I reflect on it.

The dignity of this lovely mexican family brings to mind eras long past. Their sense of family and tradition is a reminder of how much things have changed. There is a sense of belonging, like a tree's  roots, that is planted deeply within their world and customs, rooted to the land they cultivate and nurture. Their world is threatened by the arrival of change in the form of a young man named Paul Sutton (Keanu Reeves), a young man, a "gringo", who is introduced to them by their daughter Victoria as her husband. The act of marrying a "gringo", and of doing so without their consent or knowledge, is viewed as an act of disrespect by Victoria's father, Alnerto Aragon, played by Giancarlo Giannini. This, coupled with a deeply rooted fear of change, brings out a churning anger and disdain towards the unsuspecting Paul, an orphan in life, who envies Victoria her family, including the rage-fully protective nature of her father's love. 

There are complexities to this story surrounded by and within gentleness and passion. It is a story filled with characters and humor. The incomparable Anthony Quinn (Zorba The Greek, La Strada) plays Victoria's grandfather, the irrepressible Don Pedro. When Anthony Quinn is in a frame, you can not take your eyes away from him, his whole being exudes life. There is a nobility to each character in this film, a nobleness born of depth and personality. A film does not have to have the same metal as a "Sophie's Choice" to be filled with depth, it can be found in the romance, in the cultural mixes, and in the history of it's characters. One of the characters of this movie is it's imagery. There are so many beautiful images in this movie, but one in particular stands out to me, the image of the waving of the butterfly and angel wings, within a backdrop of evening, lanterns and grape vines. It is a visually stunning scene, and one can only imagine how much more it must have been in the mind of the one who envisioned and created it. It will call out to the artist within all of us.

This is one of my personal favorites, and if you need a little uplifting then open this one up, and like a box of chocolates, bite into it, and relish the burst of flavor that explodes in your mouth and being.

Happy viewing!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Color Me Joyful!

For a few years now I have been attending a wonderful art class in my neighborhood. Held in the basement of my art teacher Johanna's home, it is an exciting time of creativity, joy and expression. There are only four students, each working on their own pieces, in different mediums and styles, and at different levels of accomplishment and talent. There is nothing quite like watching the creation of a piece of art, from an idea or an image, to the first colors that caress the blank white canvas. As the layers are added and defined, it begins to take on a life of it's own, guiding you and showing you where  the strokes should go, whether to put in more light or shadow, what dashes of color will suddenly bring to life what was once upon a time flat or uninteresting. Then there is the final reveal, when the piece has reached it's culmination, and there is nothing more to do, but put aside your brushes and paints, and with a little bit of sadness mixed in with the joy, acknowledge that it is finished.

I am not an accomplished artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I love this safe place where I let go of the inhibitions and insecurities, the stresses and challenges of everyday life and revel in the new and undiscovered. I still need to call on my teacher for help and advise, still not quite confident in my own abilities, but that's okay, for each of us it is a process, some learn quicker than others, but all of us are on the journey.  When I first began I was quite literally scared of color. An Indian scared of color, now there's an oxymoron! I was afraid of failing, of choosing the wrong color for the walls of my house, literally paralyzed with the very thought. I began art out of fear and curiosity, would I discover a creative bone in this body of mine, however small or insignificant that it may turn out to be, could I bring it to life? What I discovered was far more than the breadth of my imagination at the time could ever have conceived of, a treasure trove of color and beauty, of wonder and adventure, and of joy and fulfillment.

But it is not just art which makes this time so special, it's that special camaraderie that is shared during these moments. The walls echo back not silence, but laughter and banter, suggestions and stories. Stories of life. Some happy, some sad, but all important. It is a time where words, music and art intertwine to create a tapestry rich with detail and texture. Life's palette, with all it's vividness and expression. Fear is no longer the word I associate with art, in fact, it is perhaps the last word I would choose. My imagination has woken from the long sleep it has been in since childhoods last glimmer, and now feels the joyful aches and pains of muscles long out of use, leaping and twirling in the splashes and sprinkles of color that have become this novice artists palette.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Country Forgotten

I spent the latter part of this evening at a fundraiser for the victims of the flood in Pakistan. I was there to support this cause and to offer encouragement and support to a lovely Pakistani gentleman who I and others in our church have come to know over the course of a few years. Every Saturday, he and others from other countries come and play ping pong in our church basement. They are a wonderful group of people, and it is so much fun watching them play ping pong and talking with them.

I may have misheard the figure, but even if in reality the figure was half of what was stated, we are still talking about a huge amount of people whose lives have been displaced, and for many destroyed completely. The figure quoted, and again, I may have misheard, was 20 million. Let's say the actual figure is 10 million or 5 million, five hundred thousand or one thousand, that's still too many lives affected. One life is too many. The question was raised there, and I must admit to thinking it myself, why we weren't hearing or seeing the same amount of support and media attention that followed the natural disasters that hit Haiti after the devastating earthquake, Indonesia after the Tsunami, and New Orleans after Katrina? Why has there been such little coverage of this event? Where are the celebrities and their special fundraisers? What is the cause of people viewing this as less important than the other natural disasters, and believe me, this is not a competition about which disaster is worse, they are all equally terrible and devastating, but it does make one wonder. Is it because we are "disastered out"? I sincerely hope not. It is hard to stay focused on a place of crisis, when it is not in your own back yard. It is natural to have short term focus, but not right. I am as guilty of this as the next person. I pause for a few days, watch continuously, donate money, cry at the face of tragedy, and then proceed onwards with my own everyday life, and soon that tragedy takes on a distant focus that becomes progressively dimmer as days go by. Right? No. Natural? Yes. When I was in India I would sometimes hear this phrase "What to do?", said with a resigned accent. Well, what to do? I don't have the answers to that. I wish I did. Maybe we can start by taking a moment each day to remember in prayer or thought, the victims of these tragedies. Maybe then, they will be closer in mind and heart. Some of us might be able to go on aid work to the affected areas, but that's probably not realistic for the majority of us. Perhaps we can find what is needed in terms of supplies and make it a goal to send some supplies in instead of funds. Maybe some of us can donate funds. Others, time. Maybe we can link up with one family we can help in some way. Perhaps we can look to our own back yards as well, to see the needs in our communities, cities and nations. I wish the answer was simple, but maybe it is. Maybe we should just remember to remember, and perhaps that in itself will promote some form of action.

I read a recent UN statement about the crisis on CNN online. I encourage you to read it and remember, and help in whatever way you can.

Thanks for reading and hearing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Chick And Her Flicks!

Well it's time to address that all important phenomena called "The Chick Flick"! I love my chick flicks, there is absolutely no doubt about that. When life gets a little too mundane or overwhelming, a chick flick can give you that moment of respite; a time of quiet, laughter, love, romance and RELATIONSHIP! Yes, relationships! For us women, relationships are at the core of who we are. They define us in some way, and I say, why not celebrate that! And a chick flick does that in spades.

I watched a wonderfully entertaining video recently on marriage and the difference between the male and female brain. The female brain, this marriage expert explained, is like a complex "ball of wires" that interconnects, pulses constantly, moving about, jumping around, going here , there and everywhere - our own version of the information super highway! Men enjoy their "boxes", focusing on one thing at a time, but we women like everything to relate, and can make a connection out of anything. God made the male and female species different, to balance each other out, to compliment each other. What a wonderful thing!

So, having said that, let's get back to the topic of chick flicks. That wonderful pit stop we take in the race that often is our life, when we need that all important moment to be purely woman, to sit and understand what comes naturally to us. That moment to laugh, to twinkle and sigh with pure bliss.

Now men, have a different reaction to these films. When I tell my husband that I feel like watching a Jane Austin film, he usually sighs and heads for the hills! Our hills being our basement, where he can watch news and sports, with the volume up, and not one Mr. Darcy in sight!  Which brings me to my first list of suggestions for satisfying Chick Flicks - Jane Austin. I love Jane Austin, and I know that there are a number of you of the female persuasion who probably do not, but for those who do, well here are some of my recommendations:

  • The new BBC version of "Persuasion" and "Sense & Sensibility". I love these adaptations of Ms. Austin's novels. They are fresh and delightful, and the characterizations are wonderful. The scenery is splendid, as is the cinematography. There is a vividness captured here which I love, and I believe they have brought these two books to life. Although I enjoyed the new version of "Mansfield Park" as well, I wouldn't put it in quite the same category.

  • And how can you go wrong with A&E's version of "Pride & Prejudice", starring Colin Firth as the enigmatic Mr. Darcy?  There is none better, except for perhaps Gurinder Chadha's hilarious and entertaining indian adaptation of the same novel, "Bride & Prejudice"! Oh, how I laughed through this movie. How Ms. Chadha was able to come up with a masala of Jane Austin, Bollywood and Broadway, is truly astounding! The background of India; it's colors, drama, complexity, cultural richness, and fragrance is in itself a character in this film. The intercultural relationship, that is the focus of the film, brings a different element than that of class or wealth. And there is nothing quite as comedic as an Indian mother with three single daughters to marry off! "Bride & Prejudice" is a personal favorite of mine, and I often find myself watching it over again, just to get that flavor of Jane Austin meets Bollywood. Watch it. Tell me what you think!

  • Three more favorites: "While You Were Sleeping", "The Proposal" and of course, "Sweet Home Alabama". I love Sandra Bullock. Loved her in one of her first movie's "Speed" (the language is terrible in this movie, so parents beware), and in her most recent chick flick hit "The Proposal" (please note that there is some nudity and some sexual content in this movie). 
    • I found "While You Were Sleeping" a film filled with charmingly eccentric characters, who in spite of their eccentricities, love, accept and support one another. I laughed often, and loved the cheeky romantic nature of this movie. How beautiful to watch a lonely young lady find love and family to light up her life. Lovely! 
    • "The Proposal" features an older and yet still beautiful Sandra Bullock, and a handsome and sweet Ryan Reynolds. Again, this is a movie filled with quirky characters. I've discovered that I really like quirky! This movie is likable throughout and filled with funny moments and touching scenes. You do not want to miss Betty White communing with "Mother Nature" and dancing away. Rent it. Trust me, you'll love it! 
    • "Sweet Home Alabama", How can you not love a movie named after such a great song? Reece Witherspoon, Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey head up the cast, and do a wonderful job of meeting this romantic junkie's needs. Humor, romance, quirkiness, and New York meets Alabama - what more could you want? It's about coming home, reconciliation, and accepting and loving who you are and where you come from. It's seeing love and joy in what you considered embarrassing. It's appreciating what you once considered mundane, boring and limiting. It's about making peace with yourself and others. It's a lot more than just a simple, cute and funny movie. Watch it!
  • "August Rush" and "Never Been Kissed", are two very different movies, and yet I enjoyed them both equally. 
    • "August Rush" follows the life of a talented young boy, and the music scenes in this are wonderful. A young boy's search for his parents, a mother's search for her son , and a young rock star's search for his lost love come together in one pivotal moment, and music and love is what calls to them and draws them together. This movie shows us the music in everyday life, the music we often fail to hear in the hustle and bustle of routine and schedules. I am reminded of that story of a famous violinist who played in the subway system of Boston as an experiment, a day before he was supposed to perform before Boston's elite. As the strains of beautiful music flowed from the voice of his violin, only a small child paused to listen and marvel. Perhaps we all need to become like children and take time to pause and marvel.
    • "Never Been Kissed" (Please note that this movie does contain some sexual content), is probably one, that may not appeal to the majority, and yet, I enjoyed it. High school, I remember it fondly, but there were still lots of moments, where I wish I had the chance for a do over. Moments that I regret, or with the confidence of hind sight, maturity and age, would like to revisit and change. But would it be any different, or would I still, in spite of being older, meet those moments with the same eyes of insecurity and teen angst? It's kind of fun to watch someone have that opportunity, even if it is only through the form of a fictional movie! A young lady reporter, on her first assignment, goes back to high school undercover, a place, which was the source of many painful memories. My graduating class was small, 110 students in all, and we all got along fairly well. It was a unique and wonderful experience. I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend UNIS for my schooling years, and unlike most schools, many of us in the graduating class had been together since kindergarten. It was a place of internationalism and tolerance, of cultural and religious diversity, among both the faculty and student body. I loved it. It was a place where my father taught. Where my older brother before me, and my younger brother after me also called our home away from home. Every day we commuted 55 miles one way from Princeton to New York City to attend our school. We had the choice to attend a school in our neighborhood, but never felt inclined to do so. But like every other high school there were still "clicks", perhaps not as firmly entrenched as in other schools, or as exclusive or isolating, but they still existed. There were "the cool" kids, "the athletic" kids, "the nerds", "The eccentric ones", "the class clowns", "the theatre group", "the artistic" ones...etc. What was I like in high school? A little strange. In terms of fashion, I always walked on the strange side. I never wore pants, and now of course, I never wear skirts or dresses! I studied Bharath Natyam  for many years, and in our performances we used to wear paper flowers in our hair. I decided, that if it was good enough for a performance, why not wear them to school as well? I shake my head now at this. Remember the show "Chips" with Erik Estrada? Well, I got myself a pair of those platform shoes, where with the pull of a button out would pop some wheels, and lo and behold I now had platform roller skates! Yes, weird, definitely not fashionably cool! I was insecure in so many ways, and sometimes overcompensated with louder laughter or speech. I was a nice kid. I liked everyone. There really wasn't anything to dislike about them, it was a good place, with good people. I studied, but never really applied myself as I should. I think my teacher's favorite phrase to my parents was "Mary, has the potential but..." I never really felt very comfortable in my own skin. I wasn't a very funny person, not quick with the repartee, as my son is, or with any form of wit for that matter, but always wished that I could be. My brothers have it in spades. They still make me laugh with their comments and stories. So, that was me in high school. Well, maybe there was more to me than that, but for the sake of brevity we'll keep it to that. How about you? I think that's why I really enjoyed this movie. It's very "teeny", but still fun.
Okay, so for now, I'll leave you with these suggestions. You might like some, you might dislike others, but try one and see. Happy Viewing!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Cup of "Bliss"

So, here is another five star of mine.

"Bliss": *****
This movie is an adaption of of a novel by Zulfu Livaneli. The story, set in rural Turkey, begins with a beautiful shot of a young girl lying by the water side in a sand filled landscape. As the camera slowly pans over her, the innocence  of the scene takes on a sinister nature as one notes that the young lady is not merely resting, but appears disheveled, and with pictorial innuendos, one is left with the horribly dismaying suspicion that an act of violence has taken place. 

The young woman, Meryem, is brought back to her village in dishonor. She has no recollection of the event, and is locked up, the suggestion even made by her cold step mother to commit suicide to save the family honor. She refuses. In that one act, one begins to understand the strength within this young woman. Her uncle, the head of the village, sentences her to death. His son, Cemal, upon his return from  the army, is given the duty of killing her. As honor killings are illegal, they set off to Istanbul, on the pretext of arranging her marriage there. Meryem, unaware of what awaits her, follows the dictates of her uncle.

This is a story of a journey. A journey of clashes, between tradition and modernity, family honor and conscience. It captures a current and ongoing debate in this and many other areas of the world. In Istanbul, Cemal and Meryem stay with his brother Yakov. The character, Yakov, captures the cosmopolitan  and modern nature of Istanbul, so different from Turkey's rural areas. He understands the obligation of responsibility of honor and duty that weigh on his brother's heart, yet challenges them. Cemal, bound by honor, attempts to carry out his duty, but in the last minute, although believing in his cousin's culpability, refuses to go against his conscience. He throws away his cell phone, knowing that in making this choice he has turned his back on his family, and in his disobedience, brought dishonor to his father. He is now, along with Meryem, for all intents and purposes, an outcast on the run. 

The remainder of the film captures the growing relationship between the two young people. In their struggle to survive and evade those hunting them, they learn about each other, seeing each other with new eyes. He struggles with his perception of her, clothed in her dishonor, and his new perception of who she is as a person, an individual of growing importance to him. She continues to look to him as her older cousin, her protector and provider, her shelter, yet through their experiences grows into herself, a strong and lovely young woman. 

They meet up with Irfan, an erudite, sophisticated and philosophical college professor who is running away from his own life, attempting to capture moments from his past, present and future. They form an unlikely and wary alliance. Meryem embraces this new experience, and Irfan quickly identifies in her an intelligence and quest for knowledge that aligns with his own. The relationship between Irfan and Cemal is an uneasy one. Irfan challenges Cemal's way of thinking, provoking Cemal to anger, but also to a new understanding. The battle raging in him is a struggle between the beliefs and customs of his background, which make up a great part of who he is, and these new perceptions on position, duty, roles and thinking.

The climax of the film is Cemal's acceptance of his feelings for Meryem, regardless of her past, occurring at the same time they are found by the men his father has sent, and Meryem's growing recollection of what happened to her on that fateful day.

This is an outstanding movie, and deserves many plaudits for its composition, it's thought provoking nature, and the depth and richness of the acting. I do hope that many of you will take time to watch it. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Mountain And A Lemon Tree

My friend Karen today mentioned two films that she recently saw, films I recommended. One of them was "North Face", a film about a German climbing team's 1936 attempt to conquer the north face of the Eiger on behalf of their country. The other is set in Israel and called "Lemon Tree", the story of a conflict that arises between the Secretary of Defense of Israel who moves into his new home, and his neighbor, a Palestinian widow, whose family's lemon grove is considered a security threat.

The North Face: ***
Two young soldiers in the German army, avid Alpinists, leave the army to take on the north face of the Eiger. Their love of climbing and conquering, wrapped into their friendship and relationship, ultimately drew them to make their attempt on the Eiger, although the politics and nationalistic fervor of the time also contributed to their decision. Though based on historical events, some latitude was taken with the story.

Karen mentioned that the whole time she watched the movie, she was clutching her husband's arm, and that is precisely the feeling evoked in you as you watch it. The suspense of the moment, places the viewer right there beside the climbers, braving the elements alongside them, not knowing what the next moment will bring; though unlike them, we the viewers, are safely ensconced in the comfort and security of our homes. It is a film that brings home how small and insignificant we appear when compared to the implacability and grandeur of nature's elements. It captures that feeling within man to conquer the unconquerable. The desires of these two young men will resonate with those who share the same adventurous mind-frame and heart. And to those of us armchair adventurers, who would much rather sit at home and snuggle up in our couches, it allows us a brief moment right beside them on their journey. This is not a movie for the faint of heart, or for those wanting a happy ending. It is taut, gripping, suspenseful, dramatic and tragic. Well done.

Lemon Tree: *****
This beautifully acted film, is what I consider a true five star "Jem". Hiam Abbas, in her portrayal of a dignified Palestinian woman Salma, who seeks to prevent the destruction of her family's lemon grove, is a treasure to behold. Her dialogue is in her expressions, her movement, her physicality, and yes, in her words. But it is not just Hiam Abbass that makes this movie shine, there is a tremendous cast of actors that help bring it to life. This story is loosely based on an actual event that took place, however it was an olive grove in lieu of a lemon grove.

The story is about what happens to this solitary palestinian woman's life when the Israeli Defense Minister Israel Navon moves in next door. The lemon grove is quickly characterized as a threat to the Minister and his family. A place of vulnerability in his security. To him it represents a weak point in a strong defense, something that needs to be taken care of. To this solitary palestinian widow, it is the heart of her family. It is their history, heritage and life. Her daily joy, providence and purpose. It is all that she has known. Her husband is gone, her daughter married and living elsewhere, her son, living his own life in America. This is all that is left her, what she understands and knows. When the attempt is made to raze down the grove, she takes legal action and appeals to Israel's judicial system. She does not resort to violence, but instead takes her fight to the courts. The minister's wife, Mira, sympathizes with the woman, and the movie captures their silent communication in glances, tentative smiles and nods. Mira herself leads a solitary existence, with her husband constantly away fulfilling his duties, she finds herself alone for the most part. Their daughter studying in the US is her sole contact at times, with the exception of her security detail, and even that is rare. Perhaps she sees in her neighbors life a purpose and simpleness, that has escaped hers in the politics of her husbands position. Perhaps she relates to the solitariness of her neighbors walk, but ultimately she supports her neighbor in her fight to keep her lemon grove intact. The movie watches this case go to the Israeli High Court, where the decision comes in favor of the countries security. A wall is built that completely hides the grove from the sight of it's neighbors, but the grove itself is razed down as well. The wall represents so much in that area of conflict:  Safety, separation, division, and a breakdown of communication and understanding.  This is a movie about life. In this small issue is captured a wealth of larger issues. A review by Joel Leydon of the Israeli News Agency captures this brilliantly. I encourage you to read his review.

I hope you enjoy these two movies, and look forward to hearing your own comments with regard to them.

The Reels of Time

Hi! My friend Karen set this site up for me a long time ago, and it has taken me this long to make my way to it!  Somehow, and I'm not entirely sure how it happened, I found myself recommending movie "jems"(a play on gems and my name - Jeenu) to my friends and family. Movies I found to be entertaining, thought provoking, chick flicky, or child appropriate. Movies that I thought others really needed to see. Their response might be different than mine, but at least I knew there would be a response.

So here I am with a blog site, where I can write about what I love to do - watch movies! Ever since I was  a young child, I could get lost in a movie. For a brief period, I was transported out of my life to other places and lives, some that spoke to me in a personal way, some in an intellectual or emotional way, and others that just entertained me!

With this blog, I hope to bring to your attention a variety of different kinds of movies. Some may have subtitles (a phase I am going through right now), some may give you a glimpse into a real life event, some may make you want to dance and move your head from side to side (Bollywood films), and some might have all the ladies sighing with pleasure (commonly know as "chick flicks"), and others might be ones you can watch with your children without worrying about content. Then there are those that will inspire you and motivate you to want to get up and do something for the betterment of humanity, or perhaps really pursue that dream you gave up on. Movies offer so much more than just pure entertainment, though that is their main objective, they can also offer a little bit of hope, laughter, a touch of joy, and sometimes a good hearty cry.

Well, I hope you enjoy the movies that I recommend on this site, and also hope to hear what you thought of them yourself. In the meantime - Happy Viewing!

Jeenu :)