Archive for March, 2018

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #38: The Breadwinner

Via: Daily Prompt – Captivating, Grasp, & Noise

mv5bmwm2mzq4ytatmtbkzs00oda1lwfmntetmjewnzk3zgjizdc3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjm4ntm5ndy-_v1_Title     The Breadwinner

Starring     Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, and Noorin Gulamgaus

Director     Nora Twomey

Writer(s)    Anita Doron (screenplay), Deborah Ellis (screen story), and Deborah Ellis (book)

Genre     Animation | Drama | Family

Release Date     November 17, 2017

Filming Location     Ireland | Canada | Luxembourg

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic elements including some violent images

IMDB Rating     7.6

Synopsis: It’s 2001 and the Taliban is at the height of its power in Afghanistan. Eleven-year-old Parvana’s (Saara Chaudry) father Nurullah Alisai (Ali Badshah), a former schoolmaster and now an amputee, makes ends meet for their small family by selling their possessions in the market and offering to read and write for the generally illiterate populace. Since Parvana is still considered a child at her age, she is able to assist Nurullah at the market while her mother, elder sister, and baby brother must stay at home and out of public sight. During these excursions, Nurullah tries to teach Parvana their people’s tradition of storytelling to help preserve the true history of their land. One day, Nurullah gets into an argument with a young hotheaded Taliban recruit Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) when the boy visits their kiosk and claims that Parvana is “drawing too much attention to herself”. Idrees was once Nurullah’s student when schools still operated in Afghanistan and Nurullah takes offense at Idrees’s, indeed, lascivious attention towards Parvana. Though Idrees’s supervisor Razaq (Kawa Ada) – rather a mild-mannered and sympathetic man by Taliban standards – settles the situation at the market, later that day, Idrees brings a gang of militia to the Alisais’ home and has Nurullah arrested. With the sole provider now removed, the family is on the verge of going hungry. However, Parvana takes matters into her own hands when she cuts her hair short and dons her deceased elder brother’s clothes to disguise herself as a boy and continue Nurullah’s work to become the breadwinner. Though not always successful, her spirit weathers each hurdle and, enjoying the newfound freedom and privileges the change of appearance gains her, she decides she will rescue Nurullah from prison – along the way making a few friends and encountering old enemies.

Experience: This story was right up my alley. Not only does it have a girl realizing victory over the verdict of an extremist regime, it places a central emphasis on storytelling.

I have already mentioned how I loved the way the father Nurullah explains the importance of storytelling that reaches beyond entertainment and self-gratification in my last week’s post. The movie in itself captures the story Deborah Ellis wrote with wonderful artistic expressions. I truly enjoyed how the animators created the visuals of the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, the dilapidation of the hovel in which the Alisai family lived, the barren landscape that poignantly reflected the dystopian nature of regime, and the charm of the industry of handmade and gloriously colorful candies that is bound to hold so much attraction to children even amidst such a hard life. In contrast, the portrayal of the imaginings of the story that Parvana tells her brother each night is full of mystery and sharp edges just as it should be. Action is insightfully weaved in with hardship. The movie does not aim at humor at any given point and is a drama through and through but it is inspiring to see how these people learned to adapt and find their own forms of joy in family and in childhood.

And while Parvana is the central character significant for her choice and effort to disguise herself as a boy to provide for her family as well as save for the bribe that might help rescue her father, she is not alone in this adventure. She quickly finds an ally, her old schoolmate Shauzia. Yet, while the two girls have chosen the same lot in life, their personalities differ night and day. Both are brave girls with indomitable spirits and a dare-to-dream attitude but while Parvana dreams for her family, Shauzia dreams for herself. It is such a minor detail that she carries a beachscape postcard in hopes of one day escaping her abusive father and see the ocean – she longs and saves to claim her independence. But she doesn’t understand Parvana’s desperation to save her father and reunite her family. Instead, she sees it as a possibility of losing her friend. Yet, she helps her friend despite her self-interest. I thought while Parvana’s character was selfless and rash, Shauzia’s was out of the ordinary and showed greater depths of heroics.

Thematically, the entire movie greatly captures the element of secrecy. Other than the obvious secrets that Parvana and Shauzia keep, I liked how the story plays on the idea that not everything is always as it seems. For one, the Taliban supervisor Razaq first helps maintain peace when Idrees picks a fight with Nurullah in the market and then again builds a bond with Parvana-the-boy and advises her on how to get her father out of prison. Idrees is self-serving and vindictive through-and-through and has that natural evil that some people demonstrate even in childhood. But even he, when being transported for war, shows fear towards his future. While the story had a generous plot, it truly is a character-driven narrative that manages to bring many sides of patriarchal extremism.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this movie, whether you have read the book or not. This insightful narrative resonates all the sad truths of what happens under extremist regimes without being wasteful with any diversions from its central objective.

 

And now for a little public announcement: I will not be writing for a while now; I’m taking time for some personal growth. But I do need a lot of prayers from anyone who is willing to put in a good word for me upstairs. Thank you in advance, all you good people! Love!

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WRITING CHRONICLE #36: cave walls and tapestries

Via: Daily Prompt – Fabric & Fact

I know I’m a couple of days late in submitting this post. My brain drew a complete blank this week when it came around to writing about… my writing experiences and learnings. This is probably due to not having written much over the last couple of weeks besides what you will find on this blog. There were few fresh experiences for me to draw from. As I waited for inspiration to hit me, I caught up on my Watchlist and, sure enough, my standard researching go-to pulled through.

stories

Image: Self

I saw The Breadwinner last night and, during Act I of the movie, the father kept insisting the protagonist retell the stories he had taught her. She was wary of the task and lacked confidence in her ability to remember the details or add spirit to her recitations that her father so naturally exhibited. I understood her anxiety; it is an anxiety we, all authors, become consumed by every once in a while. Will our stories be relevant, will they create an impact? Will we connect?

As the father continued to reiterate to the daughter that telling stories was their tradition and why it was important that she continue the tradition, I began to re-appreciate how selfless an act storytelling can be. Amidst the terror and oppression of the Taliban regime, it was the one tradition that they could uphold because it did not cost anything more than a conversation between two persons – however secret. It was the one way that the truth of a time before the Taliban reign could stay alive for future generations to look back on. As long as there were people telling the stories of their pasts, the Taliban couldn’t obliterate their identity. Storytelling was a risk they would just have to take.

But storytelling isn’t just the tradition of the people of Afghanistan; it is the one tradition that all of mankind has had in common since languages were invented. In Genius, Colin Firth’s enactment of the legendary book editor Max Perkins describes to the self-absorbed Tom Wolfe (Jude Law) in the movie how ancient a form of communication storytelling is. That when the cavemen sat around the campfire at night with nothing to do but worry about all the dangers lurking in the dark, they told each other stories. Stories kept the dread of the dark at bay while campfires became more than sanctuaries, they became a symbol of communion.

Today, we discover scratch marks on cave walls and marvel at the presence of mind and resourcefulness of our ancestors to have preserved the evidence of their existence at a time when they didn’t have the comfort of the knowledge that archeologists would one day unearth their fossils and fittings even without the tips they thought to leave behind. But archeological findings only tell us what we may surmise ourselves; while cave arts communicate the rendition of the stories the Neanderthal themselves wanted to share with us. How much more personal the communication then becomes, how much more generous the act?

In junior high, we didn’t study English, we had Language Art classes. Because that is the form storytelling eventually took. It became more than a means of preserving history. It became methods of imparting ethics and morals, life lessons and standards. It made learning pleasurable and it glued those learnings to our memories. Go online and you will discover a hundred reasons why storytelling is important in everything from early childhood development to cultural constructs to the field of marketing. From reiterating facts of our past to inventing fictions based on our present or somewhere in between, storytelling can take on many forms and shapes from using words and symbols to threads and paints.

But, returning back to the lesson the father was trying to impart to our protagonist in The Breadwinner, the one thing we, authors, must remember is that storytelling is meant for more than our self-gratification in the ability to tell a story well, to impress; the true reason for telling stories lies in the “why”. Realize why you must tell a story and the hesitation will resolve itself.

Why do you tell your stories?

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #37: Genius starring Colin Firth

MV5BMjMwNzM3NzY0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMwMjQ1ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Title     Genius

Starring     Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman

Director     Michael Grandage

Writer(s)    John Logan (screenplay) and A. Scott Berg (book ‘Max Perkins: Editor of Genius’)

Genre     Biography | Drama

Release Date     June 10, 2016

Filming Location     Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California, USA

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive content

IMDB Rating     6.5

Synopsis: When yet-to-be-published author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) decides to keep his appointment with Scribner’s editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth), he assumes he is walking in for yet another rejection. Little does he know of Perkins’s penchant for discovering new writers, many of whom he has already raised from obscurity to award-winning success. Perkins informs Wolfe that his novel, which is eventually titled “Look Homeward, Angel”, has been selected for publication but under one condition – that the manuscript is trimmed down from its staggering 1,100 pages to something cost-effective and purchasable. Although initially reluctant to see the red-inked knife be taken to his poetic prose, Wolfe agrees to the bargain and Perkins, as per his MO, actively mentors Wolfe towards editing the story into its final form. Wolfe’s reward is a true friend in Perkins and critical acclaim for his debut novel. However, even as the bond between editor and author continues to grow stronger, one where it advances into the home of each, it does not traverse without contention, as Perkins continues to challenge Wolfe to forgo his grandiose and write with greater economy. Moreover, Perkins is warned time and again by his wife Louise (Laura Linney), other literary charges such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Earnest Hemmingway (Dominic West), and even chief nemesis Wolfe’s mistress Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) about Wolfe’s proclivity to use and dispose of those who help advance his career. Perkins, though, dismisses the assertions as an inability to endure Wolfe’s artistic temperament – until Wolfe himself begins to prove the assessment correct when the belligerent author starts resenting Perkins for his level contribution to his success.

Experience: It goes without saying that I was drawn to this movie due to Colin Firth’s presence. When I learned that it was a biographical drama on the editor who introduced authors such as Fitzgerald and Hemmingway to their readers, I was further intrigued. To date, I don’t know of any other movie that focuses on the life of a book editor and, as a writer, I felt I owed it to myself to watch it. Like some extra credit homework one does as a precaution for any potential failed test.

I didn’t even know about Max Perkins until this movie. Why would I? If a book does well, authors get all the glory, even though, once upon a time, any form of literature would not see the light of day without some editor signing its ticket. An editor doesn’t even get their contributions acknowledged in print unless the author does the honorable. On the copyright page, it’s the author’s name and publishing house that receives the billing. After all, the manuscript hits the desk of so many different editors for copy checks, proofreading, developmental upgrades, etc. on its way to the press that it would be an odd listing to feature everyone on that little space. But what about the person who discovers a particular work and backs it up against all arguments? Meet Max Perkins. [I’m not sure how faithful an account it is of the original man – though most history buffs claim the movie is principally the real deal – the Max Perkins on screen actually claimed it’s ideal for the editor to go unacknowledged; his words were to the effect that the reader should get an impression that they are reading the book in its original form.]

I’m not naïve enough to believe that all editors are the self-sacrificial heart-and-soul-gamblers that Perkins was. He had insight and was willing to wager his professional reputation for the unknown young writers he believed in and it obviously paid off in these amazing books – though, from the movie, we can see the time and psychological effort it cost him was exceptional. Yet, he seemed to revel in the demands of his undertakings in these temperamental wrecks of egos that he counseled into writing best-sellers. And I loved how Firth brought that out with the quiet grace and effusive sincerity of his acting. [BTW, I discovered he has the most elegant wrist through this movie. Me, bona fide bad-boy chaser go gaga every time over his understated charm and courtesy. And now the wrist?]

Back to his harnessed talent, as always, Firth managed to make the role he plays feel multidimensional, radiating off the screen with his subtle expressions and dialogue delivery. Despite spending most of the movie in quiet reflection, it is a pleasure just to watch the wheels churning behind those lambent eyes or the fleeting smirk that plays hide-and-seek on his firm mouth from self-deprecation or as a result of some study he is yet unwilling to make public. He makes Max Perkins’s skin his own, becoming a man who does not aim to impress but to simply do right by the talented writers he is responsible for.

Playing opposite him, Jude Law does a bang-on job of portraying a self-serving romantic engrossed in astounding everyone he comes into direct or indirect contact with simply because he is determined to rise above the meager upbringing he was afforded. [Disclaimer: I generally don’t like Law] Wolfe was notorious for writing gargantuan tomes that Perkins had to help chisel away to a fraction of their original size because Wolfe believed his writing was beyond criticism and undeserving of revisions. Thanks to Law, Wolfe once again crackles and pops in every breakthrough of his life, trying to overpower Perkins’s more diminutive disposition but finding a formidable challenger nevertheless. Together, they faithfully portray the almost resolute -father-prodigal-son combination that the original partnership was noted for. It’s not easy bringing movies on writing come to life like so many other art forms are accessible through visual representation but, by golly, Firth and Law made it.

Which bring me to the women in the mix. I really enjoyed watching the juxtaposition between the two couples, Max-Louise and Tom-Aline. On the one side, you have a married couple with a gaggle of daughters that have fostered a kind of understanding that allows each member of the pack to flourish in their own way, like the many limbs of a well-rooted tree that is sure of individual and collective fruition. They are ready to welcome other people into their fold just as a tree would provide shelter to strangers just because it can. On the other side, you have a live-in couple mired in an extra-marital affair who, at one point, forsook all family and friends to be with one another and, now, do not appreciate distractions in their personal agendas. If one strays far from the other, the other claws and cankers until he/she returns. Louise’s personality perfectly harmonizes that of Max’s as Aline’s personality pairs Tom’s. It’s selfless devotion vs. selfish passion. And so the Perkins’s generosity is reflected in how Max works with his authors and the Aline-Tom egocentricity spills onto how Tom greets Max’s ministrations. The conflict within the subplot effectively bolsters that of the main plot, and the following dialogue from Max Perkins perfectly encompasses the artistic partnership between the editor and author that was the heart of this biopic:

Maxwell Evarts Perkins: God help anyone who loves you, Tom. Because for all your talk and all your millions of beautiful words, you haven’t the slightest idea of what it means to be alive. To look into another person’s eyes and ache for him. I hope someday you will. And then maybe all your words will be worth five of Scott’s.

Recommendation: I wouldn’t say it is the best movie Colin Firth has acted in but his acting is as immaculate as ever, with great contribution from the rest of the cast. And knowing that the character sketches and plot respectfully tries to remain true to the original people and events, this is a good biopic to watch for all editors and authors. And quite enjoyable too.

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