I’m always a little behind, but I’m voracious in pursuing pleasure reading and viewing beyond my academic and teaching interests, so here are a few of the things I’ve seen or read in the last six months or so that I highly recommend:
- Icíar Bollaín’s 2010 film Even the Rain, which I’m going to drop straight into my survey classes. A Spanish film crew arrives in Bolivia with its cast and crew to film a re-creation of Columbus’s arrival in the New World that’s sensitive to the plight of the American natives — only to find that the Bolivian extras they hire for $2 per day are protesting against the government and its sweetheart deal with the water company because they can’t afford to pay for water. The Academy Awards somehow couldn’t be bothered to nominate this for anything, but it won 16 other international film awards. Crazy good.
- To Be Heard (2010, US) a documentary about a poetry-writing program in a Harlem high school and three of the students who’ve benefited from it — and have gone on to excel in poetry slams.
- Soul Kitchen (2009, Germany, dir. Fatih Akin) by the same director as the magnificent Head-On. Lovely, slightly manic tale of a great little restaurant and its moment of glory, told at the same time as its owner is trying to find a way to get the money to visit his girlfriend in Asia.
- Michelle Huneven’s Blame (2009), a novel about a woman living with the weight of responsibility for a crime she committed while shit-faced drunk (and which she cannot remember). Huneven isn’t my favorite writer, but this novel really stuck in my craw.
- Buck AND Marwencol, both 2010 US documentaries about fascinating men who have rejected certain conventionalities of manliness. Lovely, sweet, touching films — although it’s incumbent on me as a feminist film critic to ask why I so rarely seem to see such documentaries about women.
- A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Great Britain), a magical little Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film that bears some resemblance to Here Comes Mr. Jordan and its 1978 remake, Heaven Can Wait — but concludes with a sequence that’s more profound and far more critical of geopolitical affairs than one could ever imagine.
- Tulpan (2008, Kazakhstan) — you’d never guess that you would find life in the desolate steppes of Kazakhstan so touching till you start to feel invested in Asa’s quest for his own livelihood. This film is not for 1) people who get impatient during long introductions, or 2) people who are squeamish around sheep giving birth.
- Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (2011), a gorgeous book of photographs taken mostly during the 1950s by a single woman and nanny, who scoured the streets of Chicago for amazing shots of real life.