Saturday, March 24, 2007

Roy and I went to see 'L'Amigo de la Familia' (The Family Friend), directed by Paul Sorrentino, at the Renoir yesterday. We'd seen a previous film by this director, 'The Consequences of Love', which was an impressively told story of an ex mafia character stuck in a hotel waiting for a weekly consignment of money. He falls in love with a bar-maid. I liked the air of mystery with which the director surrounds his characters and the unexpected plot developments.

'A Family Friend' is ironically titled, a striking film with surreal tableaux-like images and an intriguing story line, although the title of the former film would suit it just as well. Mostly it was a character study of a grotesque, seventy year old miser,Geremia, who lives with his bedridden mother and preys on the local community as a loanshark whilst pretending to be helping them out of the goodness of his heart. His hobbies include shoplifting and beach combing with a metal detector although he also fishes with a Gino, a man in his forties who dresses in cowboy clothes and dreams of living in Tennessee. One of Geremia's more disgusting traits is his lust for young women - he watches female volleyball players from the window of his flat and then hires a prostitute to act out the game in his bedroom, using balls suspended from the ceiling. He is too mean to pay for an attractive woman, though.

All is well until he decides to take advantage of a local beauty queen whose parents are in his debt to pay for her wedding. She turns out to be more than a match for him. Shot mainly in a small seaside town in Southern Italy it also a night-time scene in Rome - one of the film's most striking shots with three middle-aged men in gladiator cotumes passing the coliseum. A major theme of the film is how dreams and obsessions rule peoples lives, whether it is a passion for bingo, or line-dancing or money. The acting, especially of the lead, was very convincing, a malevolent dwarf-like figure trotting round the neighbourhood with an overcoat draped around his shoulders and a plastic bag swinging like a huge flaccid phallus from an arm in plaster. In the tradition of humanist Italian directors such as De Sica (Bicyle Thieves) and Bertolucci ( The Last Emperor) Sorrentino has compassion for even the most repulsive of his creations.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I'm so annoyed to have lost the little cable that connects my camera to my computer. I took a great shot of City Hall on Wednesday, the first time I've had reason to visit, on a sunny day when so many were strolling and joggingor just hanging about along the river by Tower Bridge.

I should have known it was a waste of time anyway. I'd gone to see a Chinese documentary film that I'd received notice of by email. I must have got the dates mixed up, because the people at the front desk didn't know anything about it, and neither did the assistant downstairs. I asked could I check with the Internet but despite its hi-tech appearance the building is bereft of a computer for public use.

It must be dizzying to work in a circular building where the architects were set on emphasising its roundness - it was hard enough for me to to have to negotiate spiral ramps or come out from the lift to see a yellow wall veering to left and right in a continual curve and not know how long I'd walk before knew I'd chosen the wrong direction. There's something comforting, as I now realise, about a corner you can see ahead, no matter how distant.

Another maddening place where you can never be sure the people on the front desk know what's going on behind them is the School of Oriental and African Studies. After my Chinese class in Soho yesterday I went with Canadian Barbara to confirm there's to be a Beijing Opera show there next Tuesday. It did seem unlikely but someone had sent her an email.

Barbara was surprised when I said I'd go with her but I had made a mistake about the day to meet another sinophile chum, for lunch in Chinatown - at least I'd forgotten to confirm, so now it's to be next week instead. This happens to me a lot lately.

It was another sunny afternoon, with a crowd of international students milling about between the two buildings at the corner of Russell Square and we could hear chatter in a dozen or more languages as we walked up the steps, of first the Brunei Gallery and then the main building. No joy to be had in either - Beijing Opera was not on the schedule. 'Next Tuesday?' asked the counter assistant, hinting that it was an awfully distant date for her to know anything about, and, 'Is it an outside organisation?' as if SOAS has a resident Chinese opera troupe that had escaped her notice.

This morning Barbara tracedthe source of the email and confirmed there is indeed a Beijing Opera performance at SOAS next Tuesday. What's more, it's free. My favourite price,and definitely Barbara's.

I've checked all the other bits of download cable that are about, but I won't go straight out and buy another before I've waited a couple of days. Like most things in my possession for more than about half an hour it has been mislaid and will turn up.