Movie review: Mustang

October 10, 2018

The opening scenes of Mustang show five young sisters splashing around at the beach with friends, eating apples from an orchard, playing and giggling. Like many of the scenes when the girls are together, they are sun drenched and joyous.

Their days of freedom ended by town gossip. Accused of being immodest with boys, they are removed from school and confined to the house by their grandmother and uncle until marriages can be arranged for them. At first, they rebel, sneaking out to meet boyfriends or attend football matches. But these are only brief escapes from a crushing misogynistic society, and one by one, the girls are seperated, either married off or meeting more tragic ends. Seeing the fate of her sisters and her own marriage drawing nearer, the youngest, Lale, no more than ten years old, hatches a desperate plan.

Like Wajdija, another movie dealing with a conservative culture’s repression of girls, Mustang confronts the viewer with the brutality and hypocrisy of misogyny by remaining focused on the viewpoint of an innocent but spirited protagonist.

Played by Gunes Sensoy in a natural and luminous performance, Lale’s youth gives her just enough understanding to recognise her plight while still being naive enough to form a seemingly impossible scheme to escape to Istanbul. There is much she does not comprehend, but as she is a witness, the viewer is able to form their own conclusions. The main characters’ natural spirit also ensures that, despite the gravity of the subject of child marriage, the film maintains a sense of hope or light. Recommended.


Movie review: Mirai (Mirai no Mirai)

August 21, 2018


I saw Mirai (Japanese title Mirai no Mirai)  in Tokyo with my daughter.  It was her first trip to the cinema, and I chose this movie as its creator, Mamoru Hosoda, was responsible for Wolf Children (Okami no Kodomo Ami to Yuki), one of her favourite movies and the cause of her regularly howling at strangers.

The film depicts a three year old boy, Kun-Chan, struggling to come to terms with the arrival of his baby sister.  With his parents dealing with a newborn and unable to give him the same level of attention, Kun-Chan lashes out at every member of his family.  He finds solace in visits to and from other times, most notably from the future, teenage version of his sister, Mirai (which, fittingly, means future in Japanese). Read the rest of this entry »

Short story review: The Children – Junichiro Tanizaki

July 20, 2018

Junichiro Tanizaki is a giant of Japanese literature, but this is the first of his short stories that I’ve read. It tells of a ten-year-old Japanese boy who falls under the spell of one of his classmate and his older sister, members of a noble family who create humiliating role play games in which their thralls are tied up and physically abused.

It is shocking for its depiction not only of prepubescent and pubescent children engaged in highly sexualised play, but also for having them participate in what is essentially sadomasochism. With its class and gender themes, one doesn’t feel that this done gratuitously or for shock value, but with the intention of exploring power dynamics. The structure is also masterful, each episode coinciding with a cultural festival in which the children’s behaviour escalates, while also subtly establishing the framework for the conclusion. The story left me unsettled and intrigued, pondering its meaning and haunted by its imagery.

Global Discontents – Noam Chomsky with David Barsamian

May 29, 2018

File:Noam Chomsky .jpg

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación at

Noam Chomsky’s views are so far outside the mainstream that, upon first exposure, you experience a reflexive resistance, an impulse to dismiss his politics as bordering on conspiracy theory.  But once overcoming the shock of the new, the breadth of his knowledge and integrity of perspective become increasingly persuasive.

This collection of interviews and correspondence with David Barsamian, dated between 2013 and 2017, provide a platform for the lauded linguist, philosopher and political commentator to share his expertise on a dizzying range of international hot points, though it must be said that at no time does Barsamian challenge Chomsky’s often controversial statements. Read the rest of this entry »

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

April 11, 2018

Home Fire : Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize - Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie’s’ Home Fire  tackles such divisive issues as terrorism and racism, governments’ treatment of those it consigns to otherness and the daily, terrible compromises migrants must make to live in safety in hostile societies.  Yet it avoids the trappings of being merely a news-of-the-week novel by grounding itself in the timeless and universal themes of family and romantic love.

The novel is divided into five sections, each focusing on the perspective of a different character, all of whom are fully realised and distinct.  It opens with Isma, a young, British, Muslim woman, enduring interrogation and luggage searches at the airport.  She’s travelling to the United States to finally resume her studies, having spent the better part of her twenties caring for her twin siblings, Parvais and Aneeka, since they were orphaned.  At first, it seems that Isma is being unfairly targeted for the crime of flying while Muslim, but she has secrets – her father was a mujaheddin who died en route to Guantanamo bay, and now Parvais, the boy she raised, has followed in his footsteps and joined the Islamic State in Syria.  In America, she meets Eamonn, handsome and charming, but very much the son of Karamat Lone, a Muslim-background MP whose meteoric rise has been precipitated by his vilification of those members of his own community who won’t conform. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie review: Wadjda

March 19, 2018

Wadjda wants a bicycle so that she can race her best friend, Abdullah. The trouble is, she doesn’t have the money and, as a ten year old girl growing up in Saudi Arabia, her mother won’t buy it for fear of censure and the danger to her daughter’s virtue. But Wadjda is not one to let anything stand on her way, and sets about earning the funds, first by selling handmade bracelets at school and then, when her contraband enterprise is discovered, by winning a Quran recitation competition. Meanwhile, her mother worries, both about her rebellious daughter, and her husband taking a second wife due to her inability to give him a son.

Wadjda is the first film shot by a female Saudi director and the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. The perspective of an innocent, spirited ten-year old girl is perfectly chosen to explore the oppressive reality of everyday life for women in Saudi Arabia while also maintaining a sense of lightness and humour. Restricting the plot to the mundane spheres of home and school, without showing any explicit violence, also allows for greater examination of the structural violence.

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The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

March 3, 2018

The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway’s treatise on masculinity, the chief preoccupation of his literary works. He has distilled in his protagonist, Santiago, his idealised man: simple, humble, solitary, tough, with a deep affinity for the natural world and a hunter’s attitude towards its inhabitants. It was written in the later stage of Hemingway’s career, when he lived in Cuba, and it’s no doubt telling that his titular old man is an outcast, pitied by his fellow-fisherman for his age and bad luck, having outlived the hungers of the flesh of the flesh, with his sole human consolation a boy who holds him in reverence.

The plot is deceptively straightforward. An old fisherman sails his skiff far out into the Gulf Stream and hooks a marlin of almost mythical size, beginning an epic struggle. Like many simple stories, it can be read to stand for the largest of themes: life, the world, good and evil. Certainly, the text is heavy with religious allusions.

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