Category Archives: film

The happiest girl in the world

On Thursday we went to the wonderful Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) to see a new Romanian film, “The Happiest Girl in the World”. There’s a review of the film from the Guardian here. There was also an (English) article on a Romanian TV station blog about the burgeoning Romanian film industry, the blog itself doesn’t appear to exist any more but the article still appears to be cached, here.

I’m not sure that HD is that convinced about the Romanian film renaissance (I’ve dragged him along to several films now!) – but I for one am really appreciating it. Apart from anything else it means I have an hour or two when I can listen to the language as it’s spoken properly (as opposed to reading it myself, when it sounds like Romanian with an English accent in my head). I was pleased that I was able to follow a lot of the film with minimal reliance on the subtitles, and when the subtitles appeared before the dialogue I could guess what was going to be said reasonably well.

The film itself was fun, I enjoyed it, though I’m not sure I’d quite describe it as a comedy. It reminded me a lot of Mike Leigh/Ken Loach type films, where although you could probably say they were comedies it’s more the kind of comedy where you smile because you know it’s so true to life rather than because it’s funny haha. Certainly when they were filming the advert (over and over again) it reminded me of lots of adverts I’ve seen on Romanian TV over the years, where they get the winner to read out a script, flash their prize and promote the product. And the basic premise – 16 year old Delia’s parents wanting to sell her prize so they could get the money and no longer have to struggle – certainly struck me as very true to life.

So, if you get the chance I’d say it was worth seeing. Other Romanian films I’ve seen include “12:08 East of Bucharest” (quite why it’s called that in English when the Romanian title actually translates as “Was it or wasn’t it?” I don’t know) – this did make me laugh; “4 Months 3 Weeks 2 days” (about a girl seeking an illegal abortion during the Ceausescu years – harrowing but scarily true to life); and “The Death of Mr Lazarescu” – again touted as a black comedy, but I’d say the operative word was definitely black. All well worth seeing, in my view. A couple of others I’ve not seen yet but which come highly recommended are “California Dreamin'” (I have this on DVD, just not ever got round to it, must rectify that soon) and “Tales from the Golden Age” (produced by “4,3,2”‘s director Cristian Mungiu) which got rave reviews on Radio 4.

I think I’ve written before about how I find watching films quite stressful. Maybe it’s because these are Romanian so I’m curious and know the culture and a lot of the background stuff already I can cope with them more than many. Whatever, I think they’re worth a view if you get the chance.

In other news, we’re off to Solas for the day tomorrow (Surfing and Tractor Girl amongst others are already there for the whole weekend so am looking forward to catching up with them). There’s no way we’re going to make it to Greenbelt this year sadly, far too near to my thesis deadline, but this will be nice to get a little taste of it a bit closer to home anyway.

Proud pedantry

On the arts review programme on Radio 4 this evening (which was on while we were eating) they reviewed the new film by Cristian Mungiu, Memories of a Golden Age. He’s the director of “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 days”, which was a remarkable film about a Romanian girl trying to get an illegal abortion during the Ceausescu era in Romania. This new film (a comedy) is set around the same time, and got rave reviews on the show, and I really want to see it (we learned it is on at the Glasgow Film Theatre this week, but we didn’t have enough time to get to the cinema in time as it is up in town. Looks like the DVD will be going onto my wish list). But at the very start, the presenter introduced it as a film “set in 1980s Soviet Romania” and I nearly got indigestion huffing and puffing at that (HD had to tell me to shush!). Since when was Romania part of the Soviet Union? (and even though it was part of the eastern bloc, Ceausescu never did get on with the Soviet Union and was much closer to Chinese and North Korean communism – his bulldozing of Bucharest and grand boulevards etc is based on that architectural wonder Pyongyang).

I thought I’d stop needing to blow a gasket every time someone said Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia et al were part of the Soviet Union now I’ve stopped marking my department’s level 1 essays (despite my best efforts it just all went in one ear and out of the other). Bah.


Last night HD and I went to the cinema for the first time in absolutely ages, to see the latest Pixar film, Up. We splashed out and went for the 3D showing. We both loved it – definitely a great one for all the family. Grumpy old man, goofy kid, goofy animals, baddy, adventure – brilliant stuff.

There seemed to be something wrong with the air conditioning though. It kept blowing bits of dust into our eyes, so they kept watering throughout the film 😉

There’s a preview here. Lots of laugh out loud moments, but you’d better take your tissues, just in case there’s an air conditioning problem in your cinema as well.

It’s a Wonderful Life

For the last 3 years the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) has done a thing at Christmas of having multiple showings of the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the 2 weeks leading up to Christmas, finishing on Christmas Eve.  Last year I went to get tickets but had left it till the last minute (now, what on earth was going on this time last year?!) and it was all sold out.  This year I was a bit more organised, so HD and I went up to town today for the 1 o’clock showing.

I’d never seen the film before, and can’t believe that I’d left it this long before seeing it.  It was fantastic!  They don’t make them like that any more, that’s for sure.  I cried like a baby, especially at the end but also in the middle (even HD confessed to not being entirely unmoved), but wasn’t embarrassed as I could hear sniffing all over the cinema so I know I wasn’t the only one!  It was a really lovely way to get into the Christmas mood.

Since being home I’ve marked a few essays, and am now probably about half way through.  I’m so bored with them – only one or two As so far (usually I give quite a few), no Epic Fails and, disappointingly, only one comedy typo so far (which is a really common one – talking about Stalin liquidising the kulaks rather than liquidating them, someone does it every year).  I have also noticed an interesting phenomenon – this is totally unscientifically-based, but over the 4 years that I’ve been doing this, it seems that essays written in Arial font are loads more likely to not be very good.  I wonder why that is?

I think I’ve got time to mark a few more before we head out to midnight mass (at 11.30, go figure).  So I shall sign off wishing you a very happy Christmas, and whether this is a difficult or joyful time for you that you know the peace of Christ this Christmas.

Mamma Mia

I’ll write about WOMAD soon, but will wait until I’ve got round to sorting out my pictures. Suffice to say it was fabulous, we enjoyed it very much 🙂

This evening I went to see the film Mamma Mia with some people from work. I have to say, it was the most hilarious evening, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A non-intellectual evening was just what I needed.

I’m trying to figure out what was more traumatic – Pierce Brosnan singing S.O.S. (the entire cinema collapsed laughing), or the fact that Mr Darcy has morphed into David Cameron.

I couldn’t help myself singing along, and I must admit I was jigging along in my seat. I so want the DVD for Christmas!


Yesterday evening HD and I went to see the new Indiana Jones film. It was very silly, but I enjoyed it. Cultural stereotypes, obvious baddies and goodies, one character you didn’t know whose side he was on, a bit of love interest, mad artefacts, and a scene with critters that makes you go “eeeewwwwww!!” Yup, that’d be an Indiana Jones film then.

In other news, I’m heading back to Glasgow later and then almost immediately leaving again to speak at a student conference. So I’ll be back blogging towards the end of the week (unless something massively blogworthy happens on the train, in which case I’ll check in again later this evening. But it doesn’t usually – last time the most blogworthy thing was that my seat was right by the toilet so I spent the entire journey wanting to puke. So not blogworthy at all).


We went to see Happy-Go-Lucky last night, the latest Mike Leigh film. We both really enjoyed it, though were not impressed with the cinema not accepting a Scottish £20! Like many Mike Leigh films it was largely based around the characters, with them at the fore more so than any plot. I liked it because I used to live with primary school teachers (Poppy, the main character is a primary school teacher, as is Zoe her flatmate) and the scenes of them preparing lessons and actually teaching did ring very true to me (and also reminded me of life in the early-mid90s – rented flats, pub on Friday night, thinking that Camden market was the height of cool, all that sort of thing). It also showed London in a good light, just as it is – not fluffy like “Notting Hill” or menacing like all those gangster movies that have appeared over the years, but just as I remembered.

I couldn’t figure out why the scene with the tramp was included, it didn’t make any sense to me and had nothing really to do with the rest of the film at all, and the guy she ended up dating seemed a bit ordinary to me, for a girl as quirky as Poppy, but apart from that I did enjoy the film, and would definitely recommend it. The actress who played Zoe (the flatmate) looked really familiar (HD said he thought so too afterwards) but I didn’t recognise the actress’ name. I don’t know if I’ve seen her in something else, or if she reminds me of someone I know in real life. At one point I was wondering if I’d ever been her health visitor, but I’m sure that’s not it! Actually her character also reminded me a little bit of Auntie Doris in character, but she wasn’t who I was thinking of. How annoying, I wonder who it is she looks like?


Yesterday saw us heading out to Edinburgh to meet up with some other people from Ship of Fools. It was fun to see people again (nobody new for me to meet, though there were a couple of people that HD hadn’t met before) and catch up. During the lunch there was football on a large screen, showing the first semi-final from this year’s Scottish Cup between Queen of the South (first division) and Aberdeen (from the SPL – Scotland’s equivalent of the Premiership down south). Having bumped into Derf and scz at Queen St station heading for Hampden (he’s an Aberdeen fan) we had half an interest in the match – at one point there were 5 goals in about as many minutes, and the end result was QoS winning 4-3. It’s not often I like having football on while eating, especially with other people, but it was quite exciting.

After lunch we all (apart from Wet Kipper, who’d already been) went along to the Ansel Adams exhibition. He was the leading American landscape photographer, and some of the photos really were stunning. Well worth the visit – though if you’re around Edinburgh and want to go, you’d better hurry up as it closes next weekend. We had thought instead about going to Edinburgh Castle, as this weekend Historic Scotland (the UpNorth equivalent of English National Heritage, for those of you down south) was having a free weekend, and the castle is usually extortionate (though well worth the money). We eventually decided that as it was free it would be heaving, and both of us had been before, and this may be the only chance to see the Ansel Adams photos in this country. I think we made the right choice. As we walked along Princes Street towards the place where the exhibition was, looking up at the castle you could see loads and loads of people on the battlements.

Once we got home we watched a DVD that we’d got as a wedding gift, Rivers and Tides which is about the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. We both really like his work (he was one of the sculptors whose work we saw at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Easter Saturday), and both enjoyed the DVD a lot. Like many artists discussing their work he did occasionally sound a bit Pseud’s Corner, but never in an inaccessible way, and I found I loved his reflections on the processes of working with nature (he works with natural objects – leaves, rocks, ice, trees, bracken, all sorts – many of which are quite vulnerable to the elements and so are sometimes quite ephemeral, though others have a hugeness and solidity about them which is very impressive and awe-inspiring, for me at least). I particularly loved when they showed him at work on a beach and the sculpture he was working on (a cone-shaped cairn) kept collapsing – he talked about how this particular sculpture had collapsed four times, but each time he started again he felt he understood the rocks a bit better, so he was able to build up the sculpture higher each time before it collapsed again. I really loved the thought that the longer you spend getting to know the medium – whatever it is you’re working with – the more you understand it, the more intuitive you become with it. It reminded me of my own work – the interviews and the literature and everything is just the beginning, the more I immerse myself in it the more understanding I gain and the more creative and intuitive I can be. HD has written a similar reflection on his blog, about the same bit of the film, in relation to his line of work (programming) – I think that art at its best can do that, speak the same message in all sorts of different contexts.

And now I’m starting to sound all Pseud’s Corner myself 😀 Anyway – worth a look if you come across it. It’s also beautifully filmed and (I thought) very sensitive and not intrusive – a great way to spend an hour and a half.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

(Disclaimer: discussion about abortion, some may find it upsetting)

This is the name of a Romanian film that we went to see a couple of weeks ago at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I’d been trying to see it all last summer while I was in Romania (narrowly missing the opportunity to attend a showing with the director and main actors, thanks to turning up at the box office only an hour after it opened to find that tickets had been sold out 20 minutes earlier), and was really glad to have the opportunity to see it at last. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and lots of other awards since, and there is all sorts of huffing and puffing going on in the Romanian press that it wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year.

It’s based in 1987, in the last few years of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, and follows two friends, one of whom has arranged to have an abortion, which from 1966 until the revolution in 1989 was illegal in Romania due to Ceausescu’s desire to increase the population – the unwanted children who ended up in orphanages were another result of this sick extreme pronatalism, many of them handicapped due to the result of unsuccessful abortion attempts. Many thousands of women died from the complications of illegal abortion – usually haemorrhaging or infection – and many others (along with the people who performed them) were jailed. The film is just about the one day that the abortion takes place (in a hotel room).

So, as you can imagine, it wasn’t an evening of light entertainment. Far from it in fact. But I have to say I think it is a really important film – I found it really authentic in its oppressiveness (Romanians I have spoken with who lived during those times have also said this) and Anamaria Marinca who plays the friend gives an absolutely outstanding performance. It’s not one for the squeamish (there is a lingering shot of the aborted foetus towards the end), but most of the unpleasantness is off-screen – either you know what is happening and that’s enough, or you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s really tense.

What happened in Romania between 1966-1989 is why I can’t just be simply pro-life. What has happened since the end of 1989, when it was made legal (abortion rates are still high, and even though they’re coming down, the rates of non-use of modern reliable contraception are scarily low still, so abortion is in effect used by many as a form of contraception), is why I can’t be simply pro-choice. In an ideal world there would be no need for abortion as all women and men would be educated and empowered to make effective contraceptive choices and have access to effective contraceptive methods so that no child would be unwanted. But this isn’t an ideal world, many people don’t have the education or freedom to make those decisions or ability to access those services, and governments don’t always prioritise sexual health and family planning services so that even when people want better contraception it simply isn’t available to them. I’m sure I’ve said it on this blog before, that I tend towards the more liberal end of the conservative view – abortion is wrong in an ideal world, but in the non-ideal world we live in it should be safe, legal and rare (I think that phrase is from Hillary Clinton). When I saw an abortion on TV a few months ago, I couldn’t watch, everything in me was crying “no!”, but making it illegal isn’t the answer. I’ve got too much experience of Romania to ever be able to agree that making abortion illegal is anything other than inhumane. I think the problem with the pro-choice/pro-life duality is that only one party is accorded rights, either the mother or the child, and so the debate is never anything other than totally polarised. It’s messy, but I don’t think you can look at one set of rights without considering the other. I’m not sure that that will make the debate any less polarised though – it’s going to stay messy for a long time yet.

When I started this entry I just intended it as a film review, I think I got a bit carried away (hence the disclaimer at the beginning, added later!). I don’t know what the answers are. But I don’t think the polarised answers that dominate the debate at the moment offer a full solution either way. All I can do is try to think about where I (and the Church, and people of faith) fit in, and how we can best bridge the gap between the pro- and anti- brigades – not as an intellectual chin-scratching exercise that makes us feel worthy, but because there are real people and real lives – adult and child – behind the debates.

Incidentally, if you know the book (and film) “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Attwood – although fictional and set (I believe) in the future, it was inspired by the Romanian extreme pronatalist policies.


I was in Wales for the weekend – and was environmentally friendly and went by train instead of plane. Bah. It would be so much easier to be environmentally friendly if the so called greener forms of transport didn’t take so bloody long. From leaving his house yesterday to arriving at mine took the best part of 9 hours!

HD was very amused by the fact that as the cultural activity he was thinking of taking me to – the premiere of Philip Glass’s setting of Leonard Cohen’s “A Book of Longing” at the Barbican in London – was sold out, we ended up going to see “Ratatouille” instead. Newport Cinema is one of a dying breed – popcorn strewn all over the entrance hall which nobody bothers to sweep up kind of thing (for south-east Londoners of a certain vintage, think Catford Cinema) – and once I was in my seat I found my feet were literally sticking to the floor. Lovely.

As for “Ratatouille” – I went expecting to hate it (it was HD’s idea to go) but have to admit to laughing out loud a few times, it was very slapsticky and was quite fun. Not one of Pixar’s best, but not a disaster either.

Sorry for relative lack of blogging recently. Life isn’t that interesting at the moment (well it is for me, but not with things I particularly want or need to write about), and so I thought I’d spare you the “ate wheat-free home-made muesli for breakfast” type entries. Public service blogging.