Weekend movie viewing: Miele and Drei

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While I did indulge in my normal TV viewing during the weekend (Danish show Dicte, all of season two of BoJack Horseman and this week’s episodes of Hell on Wheels and Rectify – how is Rectify only six episodes this season?!), I also watched a few films.

I have always loved films, particularly non-English-language films – the more obscure or difficult the better. I like getting lost in them, examining them, comparing what the characters say to what the subtitles say (when I can). That said, I don’t watch films very often now because I have too many other things to do. TV can be consumed in bite-sized morsels and is usually in English so I do not have to pay attention to subtitles (and even if it is not in English, it is episodic, so it can be turned on and off). Films demand more – more attention, more care, more time (not in the long run but upfront they do). I want to indulge but long gone are the days of watching five films per day, as I did once during a period of unemployment – it was cinema visits constantly coupled with the long-ago “innovation” of unlimited DVDs on Netflix. Yes, DVDs! This was way before streaming.

This weekend I watched Miele, an Italian film about a woman who seems dispassionately compassionate. She helps the terminally ill to die, providing veterinary drugs to help the dying take their own lives on their own terms. Her “moral code” is shaken, though, when she meets an older man who wants to die but claims he is not sick. It is through her connection to him that she seems to renew her connection to being human and feeling emotional. She seemed, through her work, to become more clinical and further and further removed from her feelings. She had things set up to keep people at bay. A married family-man boyfriend, work that requires certain boundaries for legal reasons, etc. It was a subtle film, and without being an outright debate about the morality of assisted suicide, it handled the topic with sensitivity. It presented some arguments and thinking about the subject without beating anyone over the head with it. And ended in similarly ambiguous fashion.

Then I watched a German film, Drei. It is a Tom Tykwer film, so it was very unusual in his unique way. But in many ways difficult to watch. For one, many scenes were like a collage of many different, overlapping activities that meant to convey the passage of time and activity. Like cheesy montage scenes without being cheesy. Secondly, the female lead in the film, Austrian actress Sophie Rois, is… well, not a good actress. I am sure other people may disagree, but she got so many downright weird looks on her face, none of which seemed to fit to the situation or reaction she was having – and that is when she was not just overacting. Oddly, in scenes near the end when her character had moved temporarily to London, her strong accent when speaking English coupled with this over-the-top, loud, obnoxious way of being, made it seem as though she had been plucked from the street and asked to act. She was that bad. Not just amateur or new – just bad.

The story, though, was interesting. As the two main characters reach the 20-year point in their relationship and find themselves questioning, dissatisfied and bored, but are not really talking to each other about it, they each start having an affair. The side effect, though, is that the affair reignites their passion and feeling for one another as well. Until the woman, after many years of not succeeding, becomes pregnant. At this point both she and her husband learn that they are each, separately, having an affair with the same man.

While there are many other things going on in the plot, many of which motivate these characters’ actions, it interests me that the couple realizes in the end that they want to be together but also want to be together, not separately, with the man with whom they both had an affair. I enjoy how the outcome challenges head-on what would happen in most films. (While it seems unlikely that a married couple in a big city like Berlin would somehow separately meet the same guy in very different ways and have an affair with him, I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of asking the bigger questions about relationships, fidelity, “sharing” and what really constitutes a relationship or happiness.)

The film embodies many opposites from the very standard way in which most TV and films deal with infidelity. A case in point: I watched the Danish TV show, Dicte, in which one of Dicte’s best friends has been struggling to have a baby and has had years of infertility treatments and finally gets pregnant. I think most people can guess, if they have not been through this ordeal, that the struggles to have a baby can take a real toll on a relationship. Naturally, you discover in the story that Dicte’s friend, Ida-Marie, has been so focused on her pregnancy and everything leading up to it that her husband has already gone off to have an affair. Dicte discovers the evidence when she goes to Ida-Marie’s house to pick up some clothes after Ida-Marie gives birth (and the husband is absent, missing the entire birth. He claims he was away on business in Germany. When the child is kidnapped from the hospital, of course the police get involved and discover that he was in Copenhagen with his mistress the entire time). By this stage, because it is TV, the marriage is basically over, even though Ida-Marie gives it another chance. Essentially all these people’s marriages end over infidelity. But on TV and most films it feels lazy not to at least try to work through the issues to get to their root, even if the couples involved cannot solve them (they sure as hell will not react as the characters in Drei, who decided to all be together).

Why I Changed My Mind: Jamie Oliver

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In the overwhelming tidal wave of television chefs who show up everywhere, there are very few who interest me. I like to look back to the old days of TV cookery to the seemingly awkward Julia Child or the stark raving drunk Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, filled the screen. Cooking on TV has always been a thing, often relegated to the domain of public television alongside quite tame “educational programming” (which was, fair enough, not always tame – most foreign films shown on American TV in the old days appeared on PBS – and those films are very rarely what anyone would call “tame”. After all, it was on PBS that I first saw the original version – not the inane Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake – of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away).

But things change, and everything is fair game as entertainment – even cooking. Enter the era of the celebrity chef, which arguably has made people a lot more interested in cooking stuff for themselves but has unfortunately launched some, let’s say, unqualified characters into stardom. Undeserved? Who knows? If someone wants to watch Rachael Ray, for example, who is a businessperson and entertainer – not a chef – and supremely annoying to boot – that’s up to them. These celebrity “food handlers” (since they are not chefs in many cases) entertain, bring in viewers and that’s the bottom line now that there are entire TV channels devoted to all manner of food, cooking, taking shortcuts in cooking and so on.

Most of these people – I can take them or leave them. Jamie Oliver is one that I could – or thought I could – easily leave. His accent alone bugs me (just for Esteban: “the shit just got reaw” – not even sure how to linguistically render in writing the dropped-off “L” at the end of words so characteristic of Oliver’s speaking), but then the messiness of his approach to food – always getting his hands deeply dug into all kinds of greasy, slimy foods – even to the point that he advocates wearing gloves to do it sometimes – makes me a bit queasy. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it is that annoys me. Even going to the grocery store and seeing his line of pastas and spices and whatnot – that is just too much. The overcommercialization does very little for me. Why would I buy a Jamie Oliver skillet when I can get a much cheaper and superior cast iron skillet and be happier with it? Personally when I buy kitchen goods, I don’t want any pseudo-celeb’s face on it. I will stick with the basics (even if there are times when tools that go beyond the basics and are extremely useful, even if singular in their use – like garlic presses or a “cupcake holer”. I am usually a firm believer in the “for every task, there is a proper tool” school of thought).

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

But I will be damned if I don’t get pulled in every time I accidentally end up on a Jamie Oliver program on TV. I don’t even own a TV at home, so these accidents rarely occur. But because I spend most weekday evenings in hotels, I’ve got a wide range of channels – and twice in the last year, I’ve landed on Jamie Oliver shows and found myself glued to the TV. After he finished each recipe, I prompted myself, “Change the channel, damn you!”

But I was paralyzed. And why? Truth is – he was making stuff that sounded really amazing. Believe me, I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly because I believe it is one of the most overused and misused words in the English language. When someone tells me it would be “amazing” if I could make a tight deadline or deliver a box of cookies for their party, I think “amazing” is definitely overstating the case. But when you can create something that really wows the taste buds without overexerting yourself or spending all day doing it – that IS amazing. I am positively gobsmacked every time I can manage to cook actual food that really amazes someone.

The first Jamie Oliver program I saw (Jamie’s Great Britain, which was a fascinating look at food in Great Britain, in case anyone imagined that food there completely sucks!) featured roasted chicken and potatoes – I have now made both several times to great success, albeit with my own little alterations.

Yesterday, I turned on the telly and it was a program (Jamie at Home) dedicated to pumpkin and squash – be still my heart. He really highlighted the versatility of these kinds of vegetables – making an absolutely fantastic butternut squash soup, a duck and pumpkin salad and some butternut squash spice walnut cupcakes. Naturally I am going to try this stuff out next time I have a guest to feed. I don’t get around to cooking for myself but for others, I will go all out.

Considered, reconsidered – the important thing here is maybe that I can find Jamie Oliver annoying until the end of time, but what he does turns on my culinary curiosities and experimental bent – so he is definitely doing something right. The fact that the recipes are easy to follow and he makes them look easy if you follow a few steps does not hurt – and the results have always exceeded expectations.