FILM REVIEW: OCTAV

OCTAV is a film as big as a soul, as big as a life. In a sphere that has long preferred to showcase the post-communist, impoverished Romania, Serge Ioan Celibidachi’s film is like an open window, breathing cool air into a loaded atmosphere.

The film follows the story of Octav Petrescu, played by Marcel Iureș, an elderly man that returns to his childhood mansion in Romania with the intention of selling of it. Arriving there after an decades-long absence, Octav is confronted and transformed by the memories and spectres of his childhood, as his soul is thawed and made young once more.

It is a beautifully spoken tale, bearing the aura of a confidence or rare intimacy between its creators and the viewers.

Marcel Iureș is a remarkable countenance. Throughout an empty domain, his is a voice that resounds, as you would expect from an actor who played Richard III. Initially walled-up and enigmatic, although heavily intense as the elderly Octav, Iureș enters a child’s personality in an old man’s body without being absurd or repulsive.

Alessia Tofan, as the little Ana, played remarkably expressively and spontaneously, defying an age where children usually play in a bland manner. Lia Bugnar is memorable as the mother, resisting the urge to overly dramatize a stormy character and remaining understated but at the same time, haunting.

There are many characters in the film and I found some others a bit wooden and lacking in expression. This may be a result of restricted character development.

Attention to detail pervades the cinematography, as the viewer usurps the artist’s eyes through panes of glass and wild summer plains. It is a slight twist of the Italian style that has served as a successful art house alternative to Hollywood in the past few decades: director of photography,  Blasco Giurato who is famous for his collaboration with the director Giuseppe Tornatore, calls this film his ‘testament on 35mm’. The Romanian-British co-production, like these others films, is accompanied by an enchanting melody composed by Vladimir Cosma.

The cinematographer is not the only commonalities with Tornatore’s films: OCTAV, like Malena and Cinema Paradiso, leaves in its wake a reverberating impression. This is in part due to the heavy presence of biographical elements: the name is no coincidence; director Serge Ioan Celibidache is the son of Sergiu Celibidache, the renowned conductor. As such, Iures bears a physical resemblance to the elder Celibidache and plays a character that has spent a life in exile. A scene in which Octav’s father (played with much finesse by Ioan Andrei Ionescu) likens a life to a piece of music quite touchingly seems to be a personal testimony to an extent.

The idea of traveling to an ‘inner time’ brings to mind a film adaptation of Mircea Eliade’s short story, ‘Youth without Youth’. It is troubling, very troubling. Considering the film as I watched it, I was overcome with a notion that has struck me fleetingly looking at old family photos: the past is present within us, present somewhere, and therefore is never really past. This film makes that idea seem almost palpable, and the viewer finds him or herself rather surprisingly hoping for that extra stretch: please let it be real, let it be real again…

In my admitted gushing, I don’t intend to imply that the film is perfect. Some structural perfecting would have made it a true masterpiece, and the artificial manner of speech adopted by some minor characters did occasionally jar the viewing experience. What is remarkable is the lack of vulgarity in an age so sexually oriented.

After seeing it in the cinema, I thought about this film before I went to sleep. I am intrigued, and enchanted, by the idea that people and places may exist indeed forever, by the fact that someone was there to witness and remember them. It awakened something in me. There is no plot, it is definitely a film for connoisseurs.

Finally someone has decided to show that Romania is beautiful. It was time.

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In the Hajongard Cemetery

The angels with stone wings –

they too loved once,

and it seemed to them a wonder,

and now their names have washed away from their tombstones.

In condemnation of eternal rest,

they have a moment of respite:

when the setting sun warms the vestigial stone,

and the remaining letters of their names

are decked in gold by day’s last light.

No woman could ever be

as beautiful

as the marble nymphs,

nearly alive,

enticing silhouettes of the shadowy valley.

31.10.2017

Dear God,

Let me reach across skies to touch the bells

again and again, eternally,

in the rare luxury of slow unknown,

in life slipped on its side, horizontal

and womblike,

undisturbed in prayer

and its profound opaque waters –

waters I have always dreamed,

inestimably big.

Musica Universalis

If I were to put a shell

up to my ear,

tentative and timid,

I would hear

your voice

would hear your hair

would hear the undulation of your upper lip,

smooth pink like the conch’s interior,

and every bit of you would spiral high

in high pitches and sighing breezes,

something to be praised across empires

for your pearly lustre.

After listening

to the sea rushing through you,

I would hold you up to the light,

turning you this way and that,

admiring your fibrous flame

as you would shimmer,

listening back to me

with your silky cat’s eye,

hoping for wind and sea

inside of me.

DOUBLE Book Review: Sonnets from the Spirits and Petals of Vision by Christopher Villiers

Christopher Villiers strikes one’s interest. In Sonnets from the Spirits, a young theologian undertakes an ambitious project: I am reminded of a contemporary philosopher who noted that nothing coming after the New Testament has achieved its beauty. A tiny gameshow host appears on my retina asking, ‘will this guy live up to the challenge?’.

The answer is yes, tentative only out of piety. The medievalist Orthodox in me rears her head, thinking inevitably of the iconography dispute.

Formally speaking , poems such as ‘My Eve’ wear a mantle of angelic harmony. I feel these poems to be mimetic, functioning in an almost didactic way as an impetus: reconsider the Bible, the book tells me. There is a mixture of high and low sentiment, presumably catering to the contrast between man and God, which most of the time plays out pleasingly. Sometimes I would have liked a departure from that almost naive style clearly usurped from the Old Testament, but the poems have substance and are representative. Particularly powerful is the verse from ‘Abraham and Isaac’: ‘God will give us a lamb,” I speak kind lies/Or desperate hope, faith beyond reason’.

First person narrative makes the experience tense and heavy with the aura of stone millennia on one’s shoulders. ‘Samson’ is such a powerful poem, and has the quality of being more than reflective.

Cavafy’s historical poems come to mind, particularly Cavafy’s ‘Caesarion’ in comparison to ‘Saul’, although Villiers lacks the artistic preoccupation and prefers a sober tone. I am certain that things get complicated when it comes to such a delicate subject as Christianity, but I do wonder if Villiers will develop in this direction. His frankness when describing lust is a positive element in his writing, and he glows in the moments of expression that transcend ‘re-telling’. Evidently, the best poems by far are those in which you see the poet immersed absolutely in the communicated episode. Some are more remarkable than others in this sense, and the one that strikes me in particular is ‘Bathsheba’:’I see her bathing, her hills and valleys /Are ripe for conquest, Bathsheba thrills me.’

I cannot have the pretension of a contemporary work adding something to the most-read book in history. Villiers, I think, is conservative too in this sense, but he aims for something mimetic rather than impressionistic. His writing is like a prism: a bit of angular mirror reflecting light in many colors, quite lovely.

 

Petals of Vision is a collection that brings you close to the man inside. In a manner quite different from his previous collection, the poet weighs petty and momentous topics with the same sweet, meditative voice. Take a  ‘A Park Revisited’, which, like many other poems in Petals of Vision, possesses a piercing simplicity:

Where are you now? Do you remember me?

Can you still remember our summer here

And hereabouts?

Have years been kind to you?

There is both sadness and wonder well encased within this poet’s microcosm. No fanfares are present (though indeed sometimes I would have liked a bit more aplomb and even a sort of aggressiveness). Villiers possesses, however, a certain old-world elegance in word order and choice, sprinkled among a quotidian world of amorous deceptions and…the occasional presence of animals. Unusual, perhaps: it seems to signal an introvert who is in quiet communion with owls and dogs, and sometimes less so with people.

The book is a work not lacking in labour. As it progresses the reader finds him/herself sinking into aquatic introspection, as one does before the stars and the sea. Villiers’ poems are not elusive, but sincere and sensitive. The complex imagery indicates understated passion, a voluptuous and candid confession.’Morning was an unripe plum’: the poet bewitches us.

Some poems are remarkably intense, heavy with feeling in a strangely surprising way, like ‘Episode’:

I sit on the rim of my sanity,

Gazing down into the stony basin

As if expecting some new calamity;

A vineyard shrivelled into a raisin.

Value lies in the unexpected: the baby in ‘NewBorn’ is likened to a beetroot. Phrases like  ‘Can some time tell out the spring?’ are eyebrow-raising and effective. Also singular is the formal consistency of his poems: rhyme is so natural that you don’t notice its presence unless you look for it.

Christopher Villiers will flourish. I look forward to it.

The Night of Adam and Eve

What does the sea say tonight?
It billows over our mourning bed in moonlight,
accompanied by an enflamed midnight’s beam
in which all things different seem…
I see you still,
Lovely and ravished like a newborn pearl,
illuminated by the moon’s silver curl,
which hangs over the bed like a shell
as the sea’s waves below our feet begin to swell,
and all things different seem…

“Salty-eyed and steaming”: Interview with Caroline Petty on her new album, “Mineral Woman”

In high school, Caroline broke convention and she did it with flair. This was immediately before “alternative” became the norm, and in those days she rocked neon colors and jelly flats as a theatre kid. Today, Caroline has just completed her degree in Written Arts and Music at Bard.

Start us off by introducing what you do and what you’ve done. Have you always sung?

I’ve been singing ever since I was a kid. When I was about 4 my dad brought out a microphone and a tape recorder and just put it in front of me. I made up short songs and stories and he later put them to his own guitar playing and onto a tape I titled “Kitty Lovin'”.

Other than that, I mostly sang in choirs and school plays until I started school at Bard College where I studied jazz voice and written arts.

My favorite in your album is ‘ice’. Do you write your lyrics? How did Crystalline germinate and evolve?

I’m glad you like “ice”! That’s actually the tune that probably changed the most from start to finish. It began as a much more sparse song in regards to instrumentation and rhythm, but the guitar player, Christian, had a different and exciting vision for it and ultimately took on the role of arranging most of it.

I do write my lyrics! I also write poetry separately from my music, and there are times where my poetry influences the content of my lyrics, although I haven’t used a poem directly as lyrics before; those two writing processes are very different for me.

So Crystalline is a bit of a play on my name, Caroline. I can be a bit shy in my everyday life, but Crystalline connotes a sort of hardness, brilliance, and boldness that sometimes I wish I embodied. The name has also allowed me to form something of an aesthetic around my music in addition. An assemblage of iridescence, vibrant colors, glitter, and other ethereal outfits and accessories give the performance aspect of Crystalline another layer that distinguishes the character from my own self.

Cool! Why is the album called ‘Mineral Woman’?

The title of the album comes from a poem I wrote of the same name. It was meant to be an exercise in putting into words what/who Crystalline is.

Here comes the inevitable cliché: what inspires you? I remember you being really into Sufjan Stevens – is that still the case? Who else do you cite as an influence?

Hm that’s a tricky one! I mean, nature is a huge one (also cliche, honestly). But more specifically on that, there’s a lot of water in my lyrics, and “yellow” goes through various yellow and red birds and flowers. I also tend to write lyrics that address the feeling of being an outsider in one fashion or another. Yes! I still adore Sufjan. My absolute musical hero is Bjork. But I also love Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond, Fiona Apple, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Corinne Bailey Rae. Lots of everything, really!

Did any old music, tapes or CD’s, or music in the family influence you?

My dad is a musician, so I’ve grown up around his music as well as all the different music he and my sister would play around the house. My sister actually introduced me to Bjork at a very young age. I have a mixtape she made me when I was probably five-years-old that has all sorts of gems on it.

I know it’s hard to pick just one – what are your absolute favorite three songs, ever?

Ho boy that is a tough one. I would have to say “Possibly Maybe” by Bjork, “Sprout and the Bean” by Joanna Newsome, and maybe the standard “Lazy Afternoon” but Eartha Kitt’s version.

Is music something very technical, cerebral to you? Do you believe in quite strict rules regarding music and music theory? Are you a feeler or a mathematician in the creative process?

Oh gosh no, it’s hardly technical for me. Math was never my strong suit, so whenever a music teacher tried to teach music to me in a more mathematical and technical fashion I just got scared and sad and rarely absorbed any of it. I’m not necessarily proud of that aspect of myself, it can make communicating my ideas to other musicians pretty difficult! I come up with the piano accompaniment for all of my original music solely by ear. I can sometimes take what I’ve learned about chord progressions and implement them when I get stuck.

What is the relationship between the written word and music to you? Are they inextricable or not?

Music and the written word are very linked for me in certain aspects, but also incredibly separate in others. For instance, many of the themes and ideas in “yellow” came about from a short series of poems I had written, however there are no direct lines from the poem in the song. I tend to write lyrics in one sitting (with minor edits made later) or each section in a separate sitting, whereas for my poetry each piece will go through a much more intensive and elongated editing process.

Do you feel the same when you write as when you sing?

I don’t feel the same! I feel much more confident when I sing. I’m full of seemingly endless doubts when I write, and I’m constantly putting energy into warding those off. When I get an idea I love, then that feeling gets closer to the feeling of singing.

What do you like to do that contributes to your music indirectly?

One thing I’ve already mentioned a couple times is writing poetry and sometimes fiction. Other than that, rollerskating outside by myself gives me a freeing feeling that probably sneaks its way into my music somehow.

You can listen to Caroline’s album here.