30 December 2012

Film review: Water (2006), by Deepa Mehta, *****


Set against the epic backdrop of the River Ganges in 1938 during Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, this is the inspiring tale of an eight year old Hindu girl named Chuyia. Chuyia's life is suddenly changed when she is widowed and sent to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. She refuses to accept her fate and her feisty presence begins to affect the lives of other residents, including a beautiful young widow, Kalyani (Lisa Ray of Bollywood/Hollywood) who has fallen in love with Ghandian idealist, Narayan (Bollywood star John Abraham).

Extremist groups waged a campaign of death threats, arson and riots to stop the production of this controversial film, but director Deepa Mehta would not be silenced. Set against Gandhi's rise to power, Water tells the profoundly moving story of Chuyia, an Indian girl married and widowed at eight years old, who is sent away to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. Chuyia's feisty presence deeply affects the other residents, forcing each to confront their faith and society's prejudices.

29 December 2012

Film review: Winds of Sand, Women of Rock (2010), by Nathalie Borgers, *****


Amina is preparing to leave with the date caravan. Every year, she and many other Toubou women make this 1500 km journey from Agadez to Bilma, across Niger's Sahara, despite the danger, the heat (50°C) and the sandstorms.

For these nomadic women, the journey is the key to their economic independence: they sell their goats and bring back dates, and with the income from the sale of the dates, a family can live for a year. But Amina, a rebellious 26-year old, has had enough of this long trip. En route, she finds a friend in Mariama and, far from the men, the two young girls share their dreams of a modern, independent life. When they reach their destination, they try to put their plans into action. But Domagali is weary of joining them, and longs to go back to the Sahara, where the grass is free.

28 December 2012

Film review: Friends with benefits (2011) by Will Gluck, ****


Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is done with relationships. Jamie (Mila Kunis) decides to stop buying into the Hollywood clichés of true love. When the two become friends they decide to try something new and take advantage of their mutual attraction – but without any emotional attachment. Physical pleasure without the entanglements. Sounds easy enough for two logical adults, right? Not so much. They soon realize romantic comedy stereotypes might exist for a reason.


This is not as good as "No Strings Attached" but "Friends with Benefits" is nonetheless fun and worth the affordable price of this DVD on Amazon. The film has its well designed twists and turns and it is never completely predictable. One just wonders how many real "friends with benefits" are there in the world, but certainly this choice of partnership is becoming more acceptable and common in the early XXI century. There are even websites devoted to it. It sounds perfect does it not? Free fun without the burden of either commitment or involvement. Not so fast...

27 December 2012

Film review: While you were sleeping (1995) by John Turteltaub, ****

Lucy gets a gift from her new family

Lucy (Bullock) dreams of a man, and when she happens to be engaged to him through the most unusual chain of coincidences she realizes he is actually not for her. Someone else is. Despite the social pressure that builds up through the film, she eventually does what is necessary!


This is certainly among the best rom/com I have ever seen, and I am looking forward to letting a few months go by and then I will watch the DVD again. Bullock is great is her natural simplicity. But it is Pullman who is perhaps the real star with his understated but deep personality. Most supporting actors are great as well, which is a real plus.

I also find a message in this film, not sure whether it was intended by either its author or the director but here it is: be ready to change your life, because what you really wanted for a long time, and thought was impossible, might actually happen. When it does, it might not be what you expected, so again: be ready to change your target, fast.

It seems to be a recurring theme is Bullock's movies. I got a very similar message out of "The Proposal" (which I also review in this blog). I treasure it in my own life.

24 December 2012

Immondizia a Roma, 1753-2012

Targa murale del 1753, Roma
Si trova in Via dei Cappellari
ed ecco il 2012, in alto a sinistra la targa del 1753

Passeggiata a Roma, nei pressi di Campo dei Fiori. Mi colpisce una targa posta sul muro oltre due secoli fa, per far divieto di buttare immondizia per strada. Si promette di mantenere il segreto per i delatori. E si minacciano multe e punizioni corporali per gli sporcaccioni che venissero condannati. I padroni sono responsabili per i loro servitori ed i padri per i figli.

Ecco qui nella foto, oggi 24 dicembre 2012, quello che si vede proprio sotto la vecchia targa.

Forse sarebbe il caso di rimettere in pratica questo editto del Monsignore presidente delle strade. O forse chissà, non è mai stata abolita, bisognerebbe solo applicarla.

23 December 2012

Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome

Today I have visited a small secret of ancient Rome. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring off the beaten track ancient Rome.

Una descrizione in italiano e istruzioni per la visita sono presenti su questo sito. Consiglio anche un sito completo su Roma antica sotterranea.


In 1934 the Augustinian Fathers accidentally discovered a Mithreum, a place of cult consecrated to the God Mithra, under the Church of Santa Prisca. The Mithreum was built using the walls of a house dating back to the first century A.D. and of a building of the second century with two naves on which the church was built later.

There is a niche in the rear wall bearing an inscription in the vault that proves the Mithreum was already in use in the year 202 A.D.. The statue of the cult representing Mithra killing a bull and a Saturn lying down built with fragments of amphorae covered with stucco are placed in the niche. The Mithreum was destroyed violently around 400 A.D., probably by the Christians before the Church of Santa Prisca was built. (From Romacapitale)

The Mithraeum later became a Christian church

My visit

Very appropriately I visited on 23rd December, which is when the Romans celebrated the cult of the sun god venerated in Mithraism. We were a small group of six and were led into the chamber by our tour guide and a custodian.

Statue of Coates symbolizing the dawn of the sun
It is possible to take photographs in the Mithaeum but without a flash.

19 December 2012

Film review: An Autumn Tale (1998), by Eric Rohmer, ****


Eric Rohmer's light-hearted romantic comedy, set amongst the vineyards of the Rhône Valley, concludes his film cycle THE TALES OF THE FOUR SEASONS. Best friends Magali, a widow, and Isabelle, a happily married bookshop owner, have known each other since childhood. Although Magali enjoys her life as a wine grower, she admits that she would relish some male companion- ship; a confession that prompts Isabelle to secretly find her friend a man. After placing a lonely hearts ad, Isabelle chooses a suitor, but finds that things don't quite go according to plan...


I won't repeat what others have said about the cast and the style of the director. It is a good movie overall, entertaining and amusing. I bought this movie as part of a series about wine. I was a little disappointed to find out it has only a bit to do with wine: French vineyards provide the background of the story and that's about it. Yes Megali does talk about her wine and her relationship with the land, but she could have played the same role in the film if she were growing olive trees.

Nonetheless I found it a great movie because it highlights the dynamics of match-making and dating in the pre-internet era. That was the time when there were no online dating sites and instead people wrote ads in papers. There was no email (though at one point in the film one can see a Minitel monitor) and if you were interested in someone you had to call. (Or write to a PO address.) I very much enjoyed living through what millions must have experienced while trying to find a partner in those times. The story is far from predictable however, and I won't tell it here...

15 December 2012

Film review: You will be my son (2010), by Gilles Legrand, ****


Paul Marseul (Niels Arestrup), owner of a prestigious vineyard in Saint Emilion has a son, Martin (Loran Deutsch), who works with him on the family estate named Clos de l'Abbé. Paul is a demanding and passionate winemaker but is a domineering father. He is not happy that his son may one day succeed him. He dreams of a son who is more talented, more charismatic . . . and more in line with his own aspirations. Things deteriorate as Paul's trusted manager (Patrick Chesnais) is dying of cancer. Philip (Nicolas Bridet), his brilliant son, who is also in the busines, returns from California to see his dying father. Paul sees Philip as his ideal son and turns away from his own flesh and blood.

04 December 2012

Film review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) by Ang Lee, ****


From Sony Pictures' web site: Named "Best Picture of the Year" by over 100 critics nationwide! Two master warriors (Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh) are faced with their greatest challenge when the treasured Green Destiny sword is stolen. A young aristocrat (Zhang Ziyi) prepares for an arranged marriage, but soon reveals her superior fighting talents and her deeply romantic past. As each warrior battles for justice, they come face to face with their worst enemy - and the inescapable, enduring power of love. Set against 19th-century China's breathtaking landscape, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the action-packed, box office smash from acclaimed director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm) featuring stunning martial arts choreography by Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix).


A mesmerizing film. I am not a fan of wuxia films, and I believe this film could have done with much less rooftop flying and bullet deflecting. It is an excellent story in itself and it also shows a lot about a dramatic historical period in China (late XIX century). In fact, in my view one missed opportunity of this film is that it could have told us a lot more about the historical context. Also, I think the plot is overly complicated, after a while I gave up trying to follow all its nouances. Yet, it is hard to fault the director for his imprint. It does make a coherent whole and it is impressive. It is also a movie about the endless dilemmas of love and loyalty.

The sound track is beautiful as well and comes out well in the BD. Too bad there are no extras, at this price one would have expected some.

You can see a list of movies on China I have reviewed on this blog.