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Sunday 19 December 2010

Catfish, documentary film by Ariel Shulman, Yaniv Shulman and Henry Joost, recommended 4* out of 5

The documentary film Catfish follows the professional photographer of dance Yaniv Shulman from New York City, as he strikes up a Facebook friendship with an 8-year-old girl and other members of her family from a small town in Michigan. The eight-year-old sends him paintings she has made from his photos. Yaniv's brother Ariel, a documentary film maker, and their friend Henry Joost decide to make a film documenting the development of that Facebook friendship. Things get exciting when a very attractive and talented 20 year old sister of the little painter appears on the scene. Little do they know at that moment what twists and turns the relationship will take.
For the viewer there is some tension, some excitement and several surprises. A very pleasant surprise is the friendship between Yaniv, Ariel and Henry. They are articulate, perceptive and of high emotional intelligence. They also are not easily fooled. But when they begin to suspect that the Facebook family, as they call it, may not exactly be what it appears to be they try to find out more. What they find is interesting, surprising and moving.
Catfish is a fascinating documentary about human relationships and the human creativity and fantasy that can help us cope with difficult life situations. It is a skilfully made, sensitively researched documentary film, in turns funny, exciting and moving.

Catfish Poster

Sunday 12 December 2010

Kin by E.V Crowe at the Royal Court Theatre; recommended: 4 * out of 5

Would you send your 10 year old daughter off to boarding school? After seeing E.V. Crowe's play Kin currently showing at the Royal Court Theatre you would not.

In an English boarding School 10 year old Mimi (Maya Gerber) and Janey (Madison Lygo) are seemingly best friends. Both are highly intelligent and precocious. Mimi is keen to have a role in the school play Arthur Miller's The Crucible about the Salem witch trials. Soon it is clear that the relationship between Janey and Mimi is complex and fraught. Their teacher, Mrs B, who thinks more rightly than wrongly as it turns out, that running a house of 10 year old girls is akin to being caught up in the plot of Golding's Lord of the Flies: “They are small dogs in packs or pairs, doing what small dogs do.” She suspects that Janey subjects Mimi to bullying or inappropriate sexual advances. Both offences according to the result in the offending child being thrown out of the school.

Kin tells us the story from the perspective of the children involved. The writing is outstanding as it captures tone and language in the dialogue among the children. They are quick, highly articulate and liberally use the foulest swearwords. The speed of the dialogue among the children takes some getting used to. Another strength of the play is the way it shows the relationship between the children at the boarding school and their parents through a series of telephone conversations, of which we only need to see one side to get a full picture.
The ensemble acting is of a high standard. The young protagonists played by Maya Gerber and Madison Lygo give outstanding performances in difficult roles.

The author, E V Crowe was a member of the Royal Court Young Writers Programme and has been on attachment at the Royal Court, Summer 2007 and National Theatre Studio, Summer 2010. There is not much more information available about the author, but I assume EV Crowe is a young woman.

Kin is a moving play that is well worth seeing. A rare opportunity to see the world from a child's point of view, skilfully captured with great authenticity. Most adults would feel that this is definitely not a play for children. Having said that, I saw one father bring his 10-12 year old daughter to this play.

The Royal Court deservedly receives much credit for giving very young and budding playwrights much encouragement and a strong helping hand. In Kin the audience benefits richly from this policy. I doubt whether an older playwright could have captured the voices of the children in the play with such force and authenticity.

Madison Lygo (Janey), Maya Gerber (Mimi). Picture by Johan Persson

Saturday 4 December 2010

Austrian/Israeli writer Doron Rabinovici reading from his acclaimed 2010 novel “Andernorts” ("Elsewhere") at the Literaturhaus in Salzburg, Austria

I am in Salzburg, the town where I was born, grew up. For my parents an unusual place to settle. Both, survivors of death camps, they found themselves in 1947 in the displaced persons camp “New Palestine” established by the allied forces in Salzburg after World War II. Most of the 10,000 people in the camp left for Israel and the USA. My parents stayed in Salzburg.

I return to Salzburg to visit good friends from my high school days. Friends from Vienna also made the 200- mile-journey to Salzburg, so we would be able to spend some time together. It did me good.

This evening, I go to see Doron Rabinovici read from his novel “Andernorts” ( translatable as “Elsewhere” but also denoting that this “elsewhere” is a particular place). I have discovered Rabinovici as a recommendation from my brother, a physician living in Zurich. There, I have heard Rabinovici deliver a talk at the ETH (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). The talk was on “guilt and language”. His thesis in a nutshell: good literature is a better means for exploring the complexities of events giving rise to disputes, misdemeanours and crimes than a trial in a court of law ever can. Rabinovici is a historian of note, an astute political commentator, resolutely on the intelligent left of the political spectrum. He is committed, but nuanced in analysis and judgement. Above all, Rabinovici is a writer, a talented writer of novels to boot.

Rabinovici, born in Tel Aviv of Viennese parents in the early 1960s, came to Vienna as a child in the mid 60s. He is Israeli and Austrian; he writes in German - German literature in a clear elegant prose, that is a pleasure to read. About complicated relationships and feelings, sensitive issues, stories with action, stories that move right along. “Andernorts” has been short-listed for the 2010 German Bookprize, the equivalent for German literature of the Mann-Booker Prize in the UK for Commonwealth writers.

The reading takes place in the Literaturhaus Salzburg (which was opened long after I left Salzburg after my high-school final exams). The Literaturhaus is on the Strubergasse, the street I grew up in. To get there, I walk across the railway bridge traversing the Salzach River. In my time here, the bridge was right in front of our house - and exclusively for trains. As a child, I often imagined it becoming a pedestrians bridge, saving me meters and minutes on errands. I must have been suffering from premature Taylorism. Now, in 2010, my wish has come true. A safe and comfortable pedestrian walkway has been established between two sets of rails. It will take me to the Literaturhaus. The reading by Doron Rabinovici is co-organised by the Centre for Jewish Culture at Salzburg university. This has been founded and funded recently. To me, having grown up in Salzburg in the 1960s, it's name sounds like “FIFA Ethics Commission” – the epitome of a contradiction in terms. As I reach the other side of the bridge there is a new train station for local trains. Poignantly, the next train on the modern electronic indicators is for Braunau am Inn, Adolf Hitler's birthplace. Its first syllable “Braun” was the inspiration behind the brown colour of the swastika flag and the brown shirts of the “brown-shirts”. I don't take the train. I walk five minutes further to the Literaturhaus.

“Andernorts” is a hilarious and moving account of love-hate relationships between different people living their different multiple identities in their personal, individual very human ways. Its protagonist, Ethan Rozen, is an Israeli social scientist working at a university research centre in Vienna. His fatherly mentor Dov Zedek, who had to flee Vienna in the 1930s, has just died. Rozen returns to Vienna from the funeral in Israel. He has applied for a professorship in Vienna recently and is seen as the “logical” candidate. Rozen has been asked to write an obituary for Dov Zedek for an Austrian newspaper, but has refused that assignment. On the air plane he finds that Rudi Klausinger, an Austrian, non-Jewish expert on Jewish culture has been tasked with writing the obituary instead. Klausinger's piece and the talkative passengers with whom Ethan Rozen is forced to communicate, more or less reluctantly, set in train a series of events that will affect the personal and professional lives of Ethan Rozen and other protagonists in the novel.

The human tendency to tirelessly search for cause and effect, even for supernatural influence plays a role here. Attempts are made to divide nature from nurture, to mix religion with genetics, to look for pragmatic solutions to the most tricky interpersonal problems. All this gives the novel drive impetus, absurdity and humour – the ingredients of heightened realism and insight. The differences between Vienna and Tel Aviv are skilfully presented. Which problems will be openly discussed which kept secret? How do people seek to resolve conflicts in the academic, personal and political sphere? Viennese obliquity, Tel Aviv directness – both have to be navigated by the protagonists. So does the weight of their histories. All this is serious and very funny too.

Rabinovici is a skilful reader and teller of anecdotes. When answering questions from the audience, he is modest. He listens, has an eye and ear for detail. He approaches his readers as he approaches the characters in his novel, primarily as people who are complex, who are human, in their weaknesses and strength.
A sample English translation of the turbulent first pages of his book “Andernorts” (“Elsewhere”) is provided in the second link below. Information about the author in English from his publishing house Suhrkamp and a synopsis of his book are in the first link.

I hope all of “Andernorts” will be available in English soon. When I first heard Rabinovici, I was reading this year's Mann-Booker prize winning novel “The Finkler Question”, by Howard Jacobson. To my question, Doron Rabinovici says that he was unaware of The Finkler Question. The two books deal with similar issues, are serious, moving, funny. The ideas expressed, the protagonists, the influence of place, the impact of secrets in family and friendship – the similarities and the differences between these two books are worth exploring.

Foto: Doron Rabinovici