25 November 2020
23 November 2020
The film follows Martine Saunier seven wine-making families in the Burgundy region of France through the course of a full year, and delves into the cultural and creative process of making wine, as well as its deep ties to the land. What lies within the rhythm of a year, from vines to grapes to wine?
19 November 2020
A New Zealand winemaking team enters the period known as Vintage when wine is made 24/7 for months on end. Sleepless nights, endless labor, time away from home means they must ensure nature, science and magic come together to overcome each challenge Vintage presents. (from imdb)
A missed opportunity. The makers of this documentary had access to the whole process of harvesting at a large New Zealand vineyard but we learn very little in over one hour of watching this repetitive production. We hear a hundred times how hard the work is during harvest, and how awesome everyone in the multinational team of pickers is, but little else.
One curiosity: lots of pigs apparently threaten the harvest at night, and even deer. As for birds, they try and do their share of eating but mostly cause botrytis, which is some parts of the world is welcome as it allows to make sweet wines, but not here.
Read my reviews of films about wine here.
09 November 2020
01 November 2020
26 October 2020
18 October 2020
19 August 2020
27 July 2020
Gertrude Bell, a daughter of wealthy British parents, has no interest in the social life of the London elite. Balls, receptions and the British aristocracy bring her only boredom. She wants to study, learn and above all see the world.
Aspiring to have at least some kind of activity in her life, Gertrude decides to find freedom and move to be with her uncle, who occupies a high diplomatic position in Tehran. From Iran she moves on to Amman and Damascus, some of the main political centers in the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
So begins her lifelong adventure across the Arab world, a journey marked by danger, a passionate affair with a British officer, Henry Cadogan, and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence.
With an all-star cast, including Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Damien Lewis and James Franco, Queen of the Desert is the uplifting, inspiring and extraordinary true story of one woman who, against all odds, changed the course of history.
A gripping historical film on the life of an extraordinary woman who carved the life she wanted out of a hard world made for men.
We learn a lot about life in the latter part of the Turkish occupation of what is now Jordan and Iraq, areas where nomads roamed free without borders and ancient religions perpetuated irreconcilable conflicts.
Never seeking power she ended up making political decisions that are still relevant in the Middle East a century later. It would have been interesting if the movie had shown why she helped certain tribes rise to power through British help and not others. In the end, a successful but unhappy woman who spent most of her life alone.
21 May 2020
Filmed on the virtually deserted Setonaikai archipelago in south-east Japan, Naked Island was made in the words of its director "as a 'cinematic poem' to try and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature". Kaneto Shindo, director of Onibaba (MoC #13) and Kuroneko (MoC #14), made the film with his own production company, Kindaï Eiga Kyokai, who were facing financial ruin at the time. Using one-tenth of the average budget, Shindo took one last impassioned risk to make this film. With his small crew, they relocated to an inn on the island of Mihari where, for two months in early 1964, they would make what they considered to be their last film.
Naked Island tells the story of a small family unit and their subsistence as the only inhabitants of an arid, sun-baked island. Daily chores, captured as a series of cyclical events, result in a hypnotizing, moving, and beautiful film harkening back to the silent era. With hardly any dialogue, Shindo combines the stark 'Scope cinematography of Kiyoshi Kuroda with the memorable score of his constant collaborator Hikaru Hayashi, to make a unique cinematic document.
Shindo, who had worked with both Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa, shot to international fame with the astounding Children of Hiroshima (1952). Eight years later, the BAFTA-nominated Naked Island won the Grand Prix at Moscow International Film Festival (where Luchino Visconti was a jury member). It is now considered to be one of Shindo's major works, and its success saved his film company from bankruptcy. The experience of making Naked Island led Shindo to appreciate 'collective film production', and has been his preferred method of making films ever since. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to release Naked Island for the first time on home video in the UK.
A strange film in many ways: itis not a silent movie but all you hear is background noises and the desperate cry of a woman when she loses her son. Few other words are uttered in the film. The story of a couple and their two sons on an island off the coast of Japan in the immediate post-war years. They have to row their way to the mainland several times a day to fetch fresh water, take the kids to school, buy necessities.
It is a very repetitive film, with scenes of rowing and carrying buckets of water displayed over and over again, but in a way I think it has to be to depict such a lifestyle. Imagine how repetitive it must have been for real people who had to suffer through this. Having said that, it is perhaps a bit too repetitive!
Beautiful photography in black and white.
13 May 2020
The stand out film of the 2011 Berlin Film Festival and winner of the Golden Bear, A Separation is a suspenseful and intelligent drama detailing the fractures and tensions at the heart of Iranian society.
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the film boasts a range of superb performances from the ensemble cast who collectively received the Silver Bears for both Best Actor and Best Actress at the Berlinale.
The compelling narrative is driven by a taut and finely written script rooted in the particular of Iranian society but which transcends its setting to create a stunning morality play with universal resonance.
When his wife (Leila Hatami) leaves him, Nader (Peyman Moadi) hires a young woman (Sareh Bayat) to take care of his suffering father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). But he doesn't know his new maid is not only pregnant but also working without her unstable husband's (Shahab Hosseini) permission. Soon, Nader finds himself entangled in a web of lies manipulation and public confrontations. A Separation is the first-ever Iranian film to be awarded the Golden Bear.
A universal story of family power struggle and love, all made more stressful by the strictures of Iranian society and Islamic rules. Never predictable, the plot keeps the viewer glued to the screen. Also an interesting peek into middle-class Iran, a category of professionals and white-collar workers that does not share much with poorer, more traditional and religious strata of society. In the end, one gets to reflect on the vault of truth: is it always a sin to lie?
02 May 2020
In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Empress Dowager Cixi - the most important woman in Chinese history - brought a medieval empire into the modern age. Under her, the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state and it was she who abolished gruesome punishments like 'death by a thousand cuts' and put an end to foot-binding. Jung Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot and also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing's Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs - with one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences.
Packed with drama, fast-paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world's population, and as a unique stateswoman. (inside flap of the book)
Lots of information here, as usual for Chang. She digs deeper than anyone in Chinese sources and is very meticulous in her writing. One learns not only about Cixi but also about much of the troubled history that surrounded her long reign. Often the reader is led by the hand through the lives of the many characters depicted, and one has the impression of living in the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace. A real light on the life of late imperial China.
The major problem of the book is that the author is in love with her protagonist. This produces a hagiography rather than a biography. Cixi is praised for much, too much, and hardly ever criticized. When she is criticized, then immediately follows an excuse for her mistakes (of which there were many) or her shortsightedness.
Cixi did a lot of good, but also a lot of evil, and only the former is described in this book. Perhaps this is because Chang seems to be in love with female figures of Chinese history. Her Wild Swans remains my favorite and I am looking forward to reading her new book on the Soong sisters, hoping that it will be more impartial than this one.
Have a look at my list of books on China reviewed in this blog.
10 April 2020
Ten years after the landmark wine documentary Mondovino, filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter returns to the subject, documenting the drastic shifts that have affected the industry in the time since. Natural Resistance follows four Italian winegrowers.
First is Giovanna Tiezzi lives in a converted 11th-century monastery, and grow grains, fruit, and wine in a way that links to their ancient heritage. She laments that much of Tuscany's vineyards have been bought up by foreigners, but then is proud that her region is a leader in quality vine cultivation.
Corrado Dottori is a refugee from industrial Milan, who inherited his grandfather's farmstead and tends to it as an expression of agricultural social justice. he studied capitalism at the Bocconi, he says, so as to criticize it better.
Elena Pantaleoni works her father's vineyards and strives to create a utopian reality.
Finally, Stefano Belloti, the controversial radical farmer poet, disrupts the long-established rules of farming from his avant-garde property in Piedmont. (Synopsys partly from IBMD.com)
A lot of ideology in this hastily put together film, which is really only a compilation of Nossiter's chats with the above growers over some wine.
The title "resistance" recalls the fighters of World War II against fascism and nazism, and it is not by chance. Nossiter, inserts several clips of Mussolini speaking from a balcony and SS guards rounding up civilians in this movie, and contrasts them with the heroic organic farmers, his partisans of today.
The other word in the title is "natural". The film compares and contrasts it with "artificial". And artificial (made by man with material that exists in nature) is not the same as "synthetic" (made through synthesis, transforming elements that do not exist in nature). Of course, all wine is artificial, it does not exist in nature.
Several of the protagonists complain about the DOC rules being abstract, detached from the criteria for quality that was the original reason for being created. In this they are right, and it has long widely been accepted that many top-quality Italian wines do not have, seek or need DOC certification.
The film nostalgically recalls when, in Italy, but the numbers are similar in other European countries, 60% of the people lived and worked on farms. Now it is about 2-3% depending on how you count it. Of course, every country that modernizes and develops moves from the primary sector of the economy (agriculture) to the secondary (manufacturing) and on to the tertiary (services). This brings higher standards of living, I find it hard to argue one should go back to the happy past.
The speakers are generally critical of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They argue it is a conspiracy to hand agriculture to big multinational corporations. Let alone that in several countries, Italy among them, EU subsidies (managed by regional administrations) are often left unused because small farmers do not bother to claim them.
They also argue that hygiene checks are targeted to create problems for small wine producers while they close an eye on the big ones. I do not know about the accuracy of this sweeping statement but they do not provide any evidence.
I also noticed a bias when a farmer shows Nossiter the difference between rich organic soil and standard vineyard next to it. The organic soil is a dark rich color and fluffy texture while the standard soil is hard and grey. But Belotti digs his organic sample near a plant and the other one on a pathway where constant traffic is expected to compact the soil. A careless test at best.
In sum, this film is more of an emotional call to arms than an analysis of the undoubted biological benefits of organic farming.
You can buy the DVD here
03 April 2020
A film sponsored by Château Lagarette, a biodynamic producer in Bordeaux.
A dozen or so biodynamic wine-growers express their vision of the present and make proposals for the future.
They ask eminently social and even political questions: What food? How Could humanity restore the ideal of living together?
Through their stories, practices, and the accumulation of knowledge from their experiences, the producers of the film and a group of farmers, biodynamic wine-growers, try to open a path. They want to show how the spirit of bio-dynamics could provide answers to these questions.
This film is an all-out passionate defense of biodynamic viticulture. I say defense because most of the interviewees talk as if they are under siege, as if the evil forces of modernity are out to extinguish the feeble flame of tradition. No alternative point of view is presented in the film. If you want to hear alternative voices, skeptical or critical of biodynamic wine, you have to look elsewhere.
Clearly, the growers interviewed are very passionate about their wine, but often they get carried away. Just a few pearls from their statements. A basic theme of the film is a high level of hostility toward "technology": there is "technological" wine, which is artificial and then there is biodynamic wine, which is natural. Oddly, little attention is paid to organic wines, although biodynamic certification requires a wine to be organic to begin with.
A couple of speakers identify "technological" wines as the result of American influence and specifically the work of Robert Parker, while, on the contrary, "Europe" is the custodian of genuine winemaking. Well, Parker has nothing against biodynamic wines and actually promotes it. And, of course, there are lots of American biodynamic producers and in fact the USA is the biggest biodynamic farming producer in the world.
One speaker argues that biodynamic vineyards are better equipped to resist the negative radioactive impact of Chernobyl, thus lumping together as if it was a dogmatic truth a whole host of questionable assumptions.
A major problem for me is when, as several speakers repeat in this film, the argument is put forward that what is important in biodynamic wine is NOT the result, but the relationship between man and nature, a new philosophy of daily life. Assuming the latter is somehow better served in biodynamic farming, for me the end result, ie good and healthy wine, IS WHAT MATTERS.
Technology, a word that is often repeated with a grimace by many interviewees, destroys the relationship man and nature, farmer and vineyard. Biodynamic preparations restore the correct energy flows! A corollary of this argument is the open hostility of one speaker to established wine associations such as the Masters of Wine. In his view, these associations have been created to serve technology against the natural traditions of wine.
One speaker is very honest when he says biodynamic farming is like a religion: you can not demonstrate it, you can only believe it. Another one compares it to acupuncture: not scientifically proven, but many believe it anyway. Not surprising that biodynamic farmers also accept homeopathic principles, as they use extremely diluted solutions in some of their preparations.
A quirky claim toward the end of the film is that biodynamic wine is especially appreciated by women! Maybe so, as a woman grower claims to have produced a "concert wine" in her biodynamic vineyard because both wine and music share a spirituality for people to appreciate.
If you already believe in biodynamic farming this film will make you feel really good. If you are trying to understand more, it will give you only half the picture.
For a wise and cool view of the subject, read Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most respected authorities.
You can watch the film reviewed here on Youtube.
You can buy the DVD (in French as well as English) here on Amazon. Hard to come by and very expensive, however!
19 March 2020
The accidental loss of a pair of shoes causes problems for a young Iranian boy in this award-winning family drama from director Majid Majidi. After Ali (Mir Farrokh Hashemian) fetches his little sister Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi)'s pink shoes from the cobblers, they are accidentally picked up by a garbageman.
With his family in financial troubles, Ali decides not to tell his parents about the loss. Instead, he agrees to share his shoes with Zahra.
The plan is that she will wear them to school in the morning and return them to Ali at midday, so he can attend afternoon classes. However, the arrangement soon brings further hardships and it's not long before Ali is forced to consider an alternative solution.
In 1998, it was the first Iranian film to be nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film by the Academy.
A lot of suspense in this movie with two children as protagonists of a story that takes us into the life of poor Iranians scraping a living at the margins of society. I see it as a celebration of family love as much as a not-so-indirect denunciation of social inequality in Iran. The two young actors are really talented! Very illuminating to look at the world, or at least at Iran, with the eyes of children who can find happy moments in adversity and overcome the odds.
14 March 2020
Che decidiate di svolgere un pellegrinaggio a Canaan o che siate solo curiosi, la visita dei siti biblici della Giordania è un viaggio indimenticabile e ricco di storia ed emozioni.
Secondo ciò che è scritto nel Deuteronomio, Mosè affrontò un’arrampicata sul Monte Nebo per ricevere da Dio la mostra della Terra Promessa prima di morire da lì a pochi giorni.
Sulla cima più alta, intorno ai 710 metri, sono stati ritrovati negli anni ‘30 i resti di una chiesa e di un monastero bizantini costruiti in commemorazione alla morte di Mosè.
Betania oltre il fiume Giordano
Sulla riva destra di questo fiume trovate Betania, un luogo importante per le Sacre Scritture. La prima citazione di questa meta nella Bibbia si ha nel secondo libro dei Re dell’Antico Testamento in cui, sulle rive del Giordano, il profeta Elia ascese in paradiso con carro e cavalli infuocati dopo aver nominato Eliseo come suo successore.
Dopo secoli il luogo acquistò popolarità grazie alle predicazioni e ai battesimi effettuati nelle sorgenti nei pressi del fiume Giordano da Giovanni Battista che solitamente riposava in una caverna vicino alle sorgenti di “Saphsaphas”, dove era solito ricevere le visite di Gesù. Intorno alla grotta di Giovanni fu costruito nel V secolo un monastero che comprendeva quattro chiese.
Riscoperta verso gli anni ‘90 dell’Ottocento, Betania oltre il Giordano tornò in auge come luogo di pellegrinaggio cristiano nel ‘900, in particolare dopo il 1994 (anno del trattato di pace israelo-giordano).
Sulla meta vi sono cartelli esplicativi e visite guidate che descrivono le vicende che si sono susseguite sulle rive del Giordano durante i secoli.
Le leggende narrano che qui Gesù abbia esorcizzato un uomo pazzo trasferendo i suoi demoni ad un branco di maiali annegati, dopo una corsa folle giù dalle colline, nel mar di Galilea.
La città si trova su una collinetta da dove si possono ammirare il già nominato mar di Galilea, ma anche le Alture del Golan, il Monte Hermon e la Valle del Giordano.
Gadara si aggiudica la menzione di ciò che c’è da vedere in Giordania non solo per i suoi punti panoramici e la sua eredità religiosa, ma anche per le sue estese rovine: due teatri in basalto, bagni pubblici, un acquedotto, una basilica e il decumano massimo ancora in parte conservati, ogni angolo è la prova dell’antico splendore della città ormai scomparsa.
Una delle mete più conosciute per le numerose citazioni nella Bibbia, il Mar Morto nell’immaginario religioso è principalmente conosciuto per le vicende di Sodoma e Gomorra.
Nel libro della Genesi si dice che rivelò ad Abramo la sua intenzione di distruggere le due città perché «il loro peccato era molto grave». Due angeli ricevettero, quindi, l’incarico di distruggerle, ma arrivati a Sodoma, vennero accolti da Lot, nipote di Abramo, che chiese loro di risparmiare le città. Dopo aver rifiutato, la moglie di Lot iniziò a fuggire, ma si girò e fu trasformata in statua di sale, motivo per cui sulle coste del Mar Morto è comune vedere delle formazioni rocciose simili a delle figure che vengono spesso identificate proprio nella moglie di Lot.
Nelle sue vicinanze, in particolare nel villaggio di Safi sorge la grotta dove si presume che Lot e le sue due figlie abbiano vissuto dopo essere scappati da Sodoma.
Eppure, il Mar Morto è diventato importante nella seconda metà del ‘900 anche per i ritrovamenti archeologici: i manoscritti, i primi trovati nel 1946, sono datati tra il III secolo a.C. e il I secolo d.C.
Consigli Utili Prima di Partire per la Giordania
Partire per la Giordania per scoprire i luoghi biblici può essere davvero un'esperienza unica, un viaggio attraverso l'incredibile storia di questa terra, che oltre alle destinazioni appena descritte ha davvero tanto da offrire. Dalle rovine degli insediamenti romani a Jerash e Azraq ai primi insediamenti greci nella regione visitabili a Umm Qais, passando per i castelli crociati Karak e Shobak, la Giordania è decisamente una delle destinazioni che maggiormente attirano gli appassionati di storia, in particolare del mondo antico.
La Giordania è inoltre nota per gli incantevoli paesaggi naturalistici, la bellezza unica delle barriere coralline del Mar Rosso esplorabili ad Aqaba ed ancora una lunga tradizione culinaria che sapranno rendere indimenticabile il tuo viaggio in Giordania.
Di seguito vogliamo lasciarvi con qualche consiglio utile prima della partenza.
Come arrivare in Giordania
Se state cercando un volo per la Giordania vi consigliamo di effettuare la vostra ricerca sull'aeroporto internazionale Queen Alia (AMM) che si trova 35 km a sud di Amman.
Sono molti gli aeroporti che dall'Italia servono questa tratta e prenotando con anticipo è possibile trovare biglietti aerei a prezzi davvero bassi. L'aeroporto italiano dal quale è possibile trovare le migliori tariffe è quello di Milano Malpensa. Acquistando infatti i biglietti con qualche mese di anticipo rispetto alla partenza è possibile trovare offerte a partire da 80 euro a persona per andata e ritorno. Altro consiglio poi se partite dall'aeroporto di Milano è prenotare per tempo anche la tua sosta presso l'aerostazione milanese. Anche in questo caso, la prenotazione in anticipo sulla partenza ti permette di risparmiare e di poter trovare il miglior parcheggio Malpensa low cost in relazione alle vostre esigenze.
Quando andare in Giordania
In Giordania il clima e le temperature variano molto in relazione alla zona del paese che desiderate visitare, per le differenze di altitudine che contraddistingue il territorio. Ad esempio ad Amman, così come il resto della Giordania settentrionale è solitamente più freddo rispetto al resto del paese.
Se dobbiamo consigliare un periodo nel quale visitare la Giordania, sicuramente più piacevole sarà organizzare la vostra partenza alla scoperta dei luoghi sacri durante la primavera o l'autunno, quando i luoghi di maggior interesse non sono affollati da turisti ed le temperature sono ideali per le escursioni a piedi. L'estate infatti è solitamente contraddistinta da un clima torrido e temperature elevate soprattutto nella zona del Mar Morto. L'inverno invece può essere molto rigido ed in questo periodo molte attività turistiche sono sospese.
Si ricorda infine che in Giordania si segue il Ramadan durante il nono mese del calendario musulmano, durante il quale i fedeli, la maggior parte della popolazione, digiunano e si astengono dal bere durante tutte le ore diurne. Anche se i turisti non sono obbligati a seguire queste regole, mangiare in pubblico durante questo periodo è considerato da molti una mancanza di rispetto ed inoltre la disponibilità di servizi e gli orari di apertura di molte attrazioni turistiche, in particolare nei luoghi biblici, possono diventare decisamente irregolari.
Il nostro consiglio è quello di non perdere la possibilità di compiere un viaggio in Giordania per un’esperienza all’insegna di emozioni, storia e spiritualità.
Puoi comprare libri per preparare il viaggio in Giordania qui.
05 March 2020
Documentary intercut with tender narrative drama set in the Gobi desert in Mongolia. When a camel gives birth to a rare white camel colt, the difficult and protracted delivery leads to problems: the mother rejects her baby and refuses him her milk or bodily warmth. This turn of events spells disaster for the nomadic family to whom the camels belong, and they send their two sons off to the nearest town (some 30 miles away, on camels across the desert) to find a musician who can perform the ancient 'Hoos' ceremony that will reconcile the mother with her son. The film won the 2003 European Film Award for Best Documentary.
It is a documentary but narrated like a historical novel. The movie takes the viewer into the secret lives of Mongolian camel herders, where camels assume individual personalities and are almost part of the family. It is plain narration, not emotionally charged, but a good illustration of the life of this nation about which we do not know much.
01 March 2020
Scott Hicks' screen adaptation of David Guterson's best-selling novel. On San Pietro Island, shortly after the end of World War Two, local fisherman Kazuo (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of another fisherman. The hearings are attended by Ishmael (Ethan Hawke), a local reporter who was also the childhood sweetheart of Kazuo's wife, Hatsue. As the hearings progress, Ishmael gradually begins to realize the extent of anti-Japanese feelings which still remains, and suspects that it could affect the course of the trial.
A gripping historical novel about a lesser-known (unless you are a Japanese-American) aspect of domestic politics in the USA during and after World War II. A dark page in American democracy but a message of hope at the end. Also, it shows how immigrants in the American melting pot do not always, well, melt in the pot but keep cultural, if not political, affiliations to their country of origin.
You can buy the book here
Compra la versione italiana qui