How to waste the light outside

November 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

I staggered back into the apartment at 5.30 this morning, after a weekend of films, sun, and sea.

Myself and a few friends from my film course at UBA decided to head to Mar del Plata for the last two days of the film festival there, which is probably the most important in Latin America. Mar del Plata is a seaside resort in the south of Buenos Aires province, about a 5 hour drive from the capital. The town itself is not particularly attractive – apart from one pleasant seaside square, it’s a mix of cement apartment blocks and (oddly enough) very English-looking, mock-Tudor style houses. The population is, I’m told, largely retired, making ‘Mardel’ a sort of Argentine Bournemouth, though admittedly with better weather.

We arrived early on Saturday morning, after a 6 hour train ride in carriages which can’t have been altered in 30 years, and whose doors were open onto the tracks the entire way. Despite having to concentrate on not falling out of the train on the way to the toilet, I still got the peculiarly epic feeling that trains, and especially old ones, give to travel.

I ‘limited’ myself to six films over the weekend, three on each day.  The first one, A Woman, was a bit of an inauspicious start. Directed by Giada Colagrande, wife of Willem Dafoe, it stars him as a writer who, unable to get over the death of his wife, invites a girl from New York back to live with him in Italy.

The film was nicely shot and quite unsettling (in a good way), but the script was so awful and unnatural (on purpose?) that I couldn’t really appreciate much of it. In fact, I nearly left before the end, and I don’t get that urge very often. Is it entirely uncharitable and cynical to suppose that without the presence and influence of Dafoe, this film probably wouldn’t have made it off the page?

I’m not going to go through each of the films one by one, but there are two that I want to mention. The first is a collection of shorts made just after the Egyptian Revolution this year, called 18 days. Perhaps inevitably, given how quickly it was made, it’s of uneven quality, and could be accused of presenting a one-sided view of events (but then who, really, was rooting for Mubarak?)

There are some gems, though, such as ‘Window’, and ‘Curfew’, which are among the quieter, more considered, more personal tales. The last short, ‘Ashraf Seberto’, about a barber who turns his shop into a makeshift surgery, is particularly good at instilling revolutionary fervour, at least if you’re as susceptible to that sort of thing as me.

The second film that stood out for me, which I saw on Sunday, was Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. It was weirdly comforting to be immersed in a British environment for an hour and half, but this is a film which offers little comfort – the main character kicks his dog to death within the first minute.

That said, it’s a brilliant exploration of how two people from seemingly different worlds, yet both equally screwed up, stumble towards a kind of friendship and mutual support. It’s telling that despite how full of nasty behaviour the film is, its message isn’t a depressing one in the end.

Olivia Colman puts in a particularly moving performance.

Two more things before I get back to the books (exam on Thursday): There’s a new series of Rev, which Olivia Colman is also in, and I have never been more thankful for dodgy watch-tv-online websites.

And finally, I wanted to share this, which has nothing much to do with anything, but is wonderful:



November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

…is, confusingly, the adjective often applied to the people and country of Uruguay. It’s because it lies to the east of the Uruguay river (whose name, wonderfully, means ‘river of painted birds’ in Guaraní).

I made a four-day escape to the Oriental Republic last Saturday, hopping on a ferry across the Río de la Plata. People often make jokes about Uruguay being just another province of Argentina, and about how small it is. Well, it is admittedly quite similar to its larger neighbour, and small in Latin American terms (though still bigger than England and Wales combined).

I went, though, because compared to Buenos Aires, at least, there’s also a lot that’s different. The main thing that attracted me was the tranquility. It seems to be becoming a bit of a recurring theme here that BsAs is a bit too big, noisy and loud for me. So to arrive on Saturday afternoon in Colonia del Sacramento was a very welcome change. Colonia was founded in the 17th century by the Portuguese, and changed hands between them and the Spanish several times over the centuries. Much of the town dates from around the 18th century, and hence looks like this:

I spent a great afternoon wandering around the town, spoilt only by the fact that there was some sort of tree, plant or grass whose pollen turned me into a sniffing, sneezing wreck. But I can forgive Colonia that.

I spent three nights in a hostel in the countryside, in between Colonia and Montevideo (the Uruguayan capital). Waking up to the sound of birds, dogs and horses instead of traffic or shouting was a joy. So was being able to see the stars, and so was the long bike-ride I made one day over seemingly endless rolling hills to arrive at Santa Regina beach, which was deserted and completely magical. Uruguay is, it seems, still a very rural country – I forget how by how many times bigger the cattle population is than the human. Here, at least, the gaucho, the cowboy of the pampas, survives in a form which is not entirely tourist-oriented.

The hostel itself was great too, run by a couple who after years of living in various European countries came back home. Miguel, one of my hosts, was full of grand stories about his grandfather (bomb-maker in the Spanish civil war and French resistance), his adventures in Africa and the consequences of the Uruguayan dictatorship. Oh, and they had a sauna, which was a bit surreal, but very, very relaxing.

Montevideo, while not exactly a village, is far from on the scale of Buenos Aires. All in all, I think it has about 2 million inhabitants (there are only 3 million people in Uruguay!). So it’s a bit more manageable, and best of all, has miles of open seafront and white beaches. There’s also a quirky restaurant area called the Mercado del Puerto, which was apparently destined to be a train station in Rio de Janeiro. The boat carrying it broke down, though, and was forced to offload its cargo in Montevideo. It’s a believable hypothesis, when you look at the place

(here is meant to follow a photograph, but the uploader broke. Watch this space.)

All in all, then, a welcome break in what seems like a lovely country. There are, I’m told, plenty more fantastic beaches to be explored on the Atlantic coast, and probably much more mate to drink – the Uruguayans are even more fanatical about the stuff than their cousins across the water.

For now, though, back to porteño life, which I can hardly complain about.

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