Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Joe is the dark and gritty tale of friendship and redemption featuring memorable and moving performances from Nicolas Cage, as the titular character, and young breakout star Tye Sheridan; as well as a jaw-dropping, scene-stealing performance from Gary Poulter, a real homeless man taken off the streets of Austin, Texas and daringly cast as the third male lead in our tale. Joe (Cage) is a hard-working but short-tempered ex-con who’s fair to his workers (day laborers who he hires to poison trees for a lumber company looking to clear land for new saplings), his own worst enemy when it comes to dealing with local law enforcement, and has a soft spot for a kid in need, namely Gary (Sheridan), an abused kid who one day shows up looking for work for himself and his good for nothing father.

Gary might be poor and uneducated but he has a sweetness and dignity to him that quickly endears Joe and his workers to him. Not intimidated by hard work, Gary will do whatever is necessary in order to earn a few bucks to bring food home for his mom and sister, his father Wade (Poulter), a mean, depraved and rootless drunkard, is another story, as he gets fired after his first day of work, only to later beat up Gary and steal his money. Joe knows better than to get involved in this family drama, but when the kid shows up at his home bruised and battered, he steps in and offers Gary not platitudes but warm clothes and food, and most importantly his friendship. When Wade’s depravity leads to circumstances beyond Gary’s control, he turns to Joe in his hour of need and forces him to make a life-changing decision.

I loved this movie. Joe is a tale that shocks with its searing darkness and hopelessness, and awes with incredibly powerful performances from the entire cast; Joe delivers a truly unforgettable experience. The ending of this tragic tale is a foregone conclusion from the get go – a runaway train you know is on a collision course with destiny; the only questions is the when and how many casualties in the oncoming wreck. You are nonetheless riveted to the screen; fully immersed in Joe’s world of good and evil, redemption and immorality; a hero, flawed and complex, whose anger and goodness are equally hidden just below the surface.

Though in the same vein as Mud, highlighting a relationship between a troubled adult and lost adolescent, Joe offers us an antihero whose struggles aren’t a resolution to his own mistakes but instead a gallant and heroic attempt at righting the shitty hand a young kid has been dealt. Joe is willing to sacrifice so that Gary can put down the baggage which he’s been carrying through life. Through his kindness and compassion he is more of a father to Gary than the sinister shadow of a man that has marred his young life.

The acting is truly exceptional. Much like Mud showed the true range of McConaughey’s talent, Joe serves to confirm Nicolas Cage’s sometimes overlooked acting chops. Whether it’s the barely contained rage visible on his face or a simple look of compassion or resignation, each is delivered effortlessly so that you truly forget its Cage and only see Joe. Sheridan is equal to his older counterparts; conveying all the false bravado and vulnerabilities of a child desperate and afraid.

As for Poulter, which I mentioned above, he was amazing. Physically, he seemed born for this role; embodying the wiry frame, crazy scraggily white hair, missing teeth and flinty blue eyes you’d expect from someone like Wade. Heck, I’m sure they didn’t have to use a lot, if any, make-up for filming, but it was truly his acting or presence on screen that resonates. Maybe he wasn’t acting but instead just being himself which is why it rang so true. Either way his every scene conveyed a rawness and savagery that seemed scarily too real. It’s heartbreaking to think what might have become of his life if this opportunity had come sooner. Sadly, the homeless movie star and ex-Navy man returned to the streets after filming ended on his potentially star-making role; suffering from seizures he ended up in the hospital where he was diagnosed with lung cancer and a few weeks later was found dead at a homeless campsite where his death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Joe is an incredibly raw and unflinching tale of sacrifice and redemption; highlighting the selflessness of a hero who bravely helps chart a new hopeful course for someone else’s life.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dancing in Jaffa

Dancing in Jaffa is a documentary film from director Hilla Medalia in which four-time world dance champion Pierre Dulaine, who also appeared in Mad Hot Ballroom, goes back to his native Jaffa in hopes of helping to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide through dance by teaching both Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli children how to dance, together no less. Born to an Irish father and Palestinian mother, Dulaine left Jaffa in 1948 at the age of 4 when his family, like many other Palestinians, was forced out of Jaffa by Israel.

The film captures Dulaine’s efforts teaching merengue, salsa and other ballroom dances to children in various schools, including two Jewish-Israeli, two Palestinian-Israeli and one integrated school. While he starts teaching each school separately, his goal is to have an integrated dance competition wherein Jewish and Palestinian children dance together as partners. Just selling the idea to parents and teachers alike is no easy feat, especially when you take into account that the Muslim boys and girls aren’t even allowed to touch one another. Some kids completely refuse to dance, while yet others cover their hands with the sleeves of their sweatshirts to avoid the dreaded boy-girl cooties.

At first reluctant and at times indifferent to Dulaine’s lessons, the children’s interest is piqued when he shares an old video of him and his dance partner, Yvonne Marceau, as they glided across the dance floor as if floating on air; ultimately turning to her for help in reaching his students. In an effort to seemingly help us connect with the subjects, the director focuses her coverage on three different students: Noor, a sad and angry Palestinian girl without many friends who is grieving the loss of her father; Alaa, a sweet and adorable Palestinian boy who lives in a humble fisherman’s shack with his parents and sibling; and Lois, an outgoing Jewish girl, whose mother shocks poor Alaa during a visit when she fesses up to the fact that Lois was born thanks to the use of a sperm bank.

Dancing in Jaffa is moving, sweet and eye-opening. At times offering us a measure of hope as we witness Dulaine’s efforts to positively touch the hearts and minds of these young children, it also highlights many of the reasons for the age old strife between these two groups of people and with it the sad realization that it will probably take a near miracle to bring peace to the region. As you take in the unbridgeable differences in religious beliefs, the fact that Palestinians feel like they are treated like second class citizens, and the bitterness that still festers in the hearts of many Jews and Palestinians from past grievances and losses; it is no surprise that though many have never even personally met a Jewish or Palestinian person, whether stated aloud or not, they still consider each other enemies.

When things start to get a little tense with scenes of protests and hostility on the streets, the director switches back to the kids and the small but noticeable signs of hope and progress; Alaa and Lois visiting each other’s homes; Noor smiling and making friends with Lois as they munch on watermelon, and all the kids putting aside their differences and just dancing. The final competition with the children donning their best outfits along with beautiful smiles is uplifting, especially as you see all the parents join together to root them on, not as a Jewish-Israelis or Palestinian-Israelis, but merely as proud mothers and fathers.

I found Dancing in Jaffa at times depressing as it shined a glaring and unflattering light on both factions in this struggle, but overall I found its message guardedly optimistic. After all when the road is long and the obstacles are many, you have to start somewhere and in this case what better place to start than with the children. Corny but true, Whitney said it best “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” (Amen to that!). My honest hope is that the results of Dulaine's experiment acts as a pebble tossed in water and that the small ripples of newfound understanding and fragile friendships help to reach hearts and minds far and wide.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Daring to Dream

Inspiration can come in so many forms and for me today it bares Nico Calabria’s face. I was doing my usual lunchtime net surfing today and came across this incredibly moving video. I’ll let you take a look.

This video brought tears to my eyes, not out of pity or sympathy but out of pure admiration. If it’s possible to feel pride in someone you’ve never met or had ever heard about 2:11 minutes before hitting play, then that is what I felt. Proud of this young man that overcame so much and continues to defy the odds and not let himself be defined by his limitations.

I’m sharing this video because Nico’s dream is to play World Cup soccer and your support can help make that dream come true. As a member of the USA National Amputee Soccer Team, Nico is preparing for the 2014 games to be held in Culiacan, Mexico from November 30 through December 8, 2014. Members of the US team are scattered across the country. Practicing together requires significant travel expenses and he is looking for help in offsetting those costs. If you’re interested in helping, visit Nico’s website or gofundme page. No contribution is too small and every dollar brings him one step closer to making his dream come true.

The way I see it you’re not just helping to make one dream come true, but maybe fostering hundreds or thousands of others because Nico’s dream fulfilled will serve as an inspiration to other children (boys and girls), men and women facing obstacles of their own who moved by his example will aspire to bold and seemingly unreachable dreams. After all, the first step towards attaining any dream is just daring to dream it. Click on the link and contribute what’s within your means; help make someone’s dream more than just a wish, but a reality.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Panic is the latest gripping YA novel from Lauren Oliver. Carp is a struggling town in upstate New York, where the paper factory's closing placed 40 percent of the town's adult population on unemployment leaving few opportunities for young and old alike, which might be why Panic was invented. Panic is a game for all graduating high school seniors that begins the day after graduation when wannabe participants enter the game by making a jump from a 40-foot high ridge at the local quarry. Two secret judges plan the game, name challenges, anonymously deliver instructions and award or deduct points for challenges that grow riskier and more life-threatening the longer participants stay in the game. Everyone at Carp High pays into the pot, no exceptions, with Panic's ultimate victor taking the cash prize.

Heather Nill surprised herself by entering Panic; she's never been fearless or daring, but she is desperate; desperate to get herself and her kid sister Lily out of Carp's Fresh Pines Mobile Park and away from her struggling drug addict mom Krista and stepfather Bo. Dodge Mason on the other hand isn't afraid; he's been biding his time waiting for this day and nothing and no one can stop him. "He was going to win Panic. He was going to do it for Dayna. He was going to do it for revenge." Relying on the strength and support of her best friends, Bishop and Natalie, also a Panic participant, Heather will put it all on the line for the chance at a brighter tomorrow. Despite being pitted against each other in ever riskier challenges straight out of their worst nightmares, Heather and Dodge will form an unlikely friendship that will help them discover truths about themselves, reveal unexpected secrets about the game, and maybe even find love.

I really loved this book; I found it an exciting, engrossing and page-turning thrill ride from start to finish. The tale has definite undertones of Hunger Games, but given its contemporary real-world setting I found it a little more gritty and compelling. No reaping, tracker jackers or muttations to be faced in this YA odyssey, but a no less moving look at the gutwrenching hardships found in our own very real world - fear, hunger, and homelessness. Featuring two likeable and real protagonists that offer an inspiring message of hope to those that feel trapped, lost or forgotten.

Narrated by Heather and Dodge, the chapters alternate between the two points of view and are also grouped by challenge dates, helping to build the tension as the calendar draws nearer to the end of summer and the games dangerous culmination. The challenges themselves feature Fear Factor-type dares but all faced without the benefit of safety nets or fake bullets, with real consequences where the difference between success or failure means death.

I loved the dynamic between all of the characters, not only Heather and Dodge, but the story's supporting cast (Bishop, Nat, Lily, Anne) as well. Despite it being a YA novel, I still connected and could commiserate with Heather's initial feelings of self-doubt and admired her newfound strength and determination when she was no longer just fighting for herself. I think we all find untapped well-springs of courage and endurance when we carry the weight of someone else's happiness on our shoulders; even more so when that person is someone we love. I was equally won over by Dodge and his unquestioning loyalty to those he loved.

Panic offers an enjoyable story with real characters facing a high stakes gamble in which they've gone all in with the hopes of earning a ticket out of their troubled past and into a winning future.

Happy Earth Day!

Nature, the Gentlest Mother
By Emily Dickinson

Nature, the gentlest mother,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest or the waywardest,
Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill
By traveller is heard,
Restraining rampant squirrel
Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation,
A summer afternoon,--
Her household, her assembly;
And when the sun goes down

Her voice among the aisles
Incites the timid prayer
Of the minutest cricket,
The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light her lamps;
Then, bending from the sky

With infinite affection
And infiniter care,
Her golden finger on her lip,
Wills silence everywhere.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Bear

Claire Cameron’s The Bear is narrated by five-year old Anna, who is camping on Bates Island in Algonquin Park with her mother, father and three-year old brother, Alex (whom she calls Stick), when she’s awoken in the dead of night by her mother’s screams and her father’s frantic appearance at their tent. Convinced that she’s somehow done something wrong and that her father is angry with her, Anna doesn’t realize that her father’s shouts and desperation stems from an ongoing bear attack. In his panicked bid to protect his two children, he stuffs the two in a large camping cooler, using a rock to leave it locked but cracked open to provide air. Anna conveys her fear saying “Daddy is hugging me but it’s not a snuggle. It is hard and squeezy and my breath shoots out of my body.” Trapped in the pitch black cooler with Stick, the terrified child convinces herself that what’s outside is a big black dog much like that of her neighbor Mrs. Buchanan’s dog, Snoopy.

As time passes, Anna hears the big black dog begin batting and scraping at the cooler. Through the cracks she sees “the nose lifts up and a big tongue jumps out. I see a black lip and a tooth that is very white and long. The fur is a little bit wet and there is pink juice on it.” Hungry, scared and desperate to get out of their cramped confines, Anna and Stick finally dare to come out when they get no response to their cries for mommy and daddy, and also no sounds of the big black dog (aka bear). Finally free, Anna looks at the destruction in the camp but sees no sign of her parents. She spots a bitten apple on the ground, and takes a bite herself, enjoying the sweet juice in her mouth. Along with other scattered items she innocently shares the fact that she sees “a piece of meat on the ground…that has Daddy’s shoe” and thinks to herself that her dad won’t like the big dog playing with his sneakers. Lost in her thoughts, she hears a whispering soft voice call to her and at first fears it’s a ghost, but quickly realizes it’s her mother.

Anna fearfully approaches her bloodied mother who is partially covered by leaves, and tearfully listens as her mom begs her to get Alex and herself in the canoe and off the island. Resting her soft cheek against her mother’s she is reassured by her mother’s promise that “we will be waiting. Daddy and I will be there” and so using a tin of cookies as a lure, Anna gets Stick into the canoe and away from the shore; paddling with her small hands until they reach the deserted woods across the lake. Lost and alone, Anna and Stick must deal with the elements, the countless dangers found in nature, hunger, and even a blistering sunburn and bug bites. In her too young role of babysitter she awaits her parents, sure that it’s only a matter of time for after all “I am a good girl and our family is four.” Battling pain, frustration and fear, Anna is pushed beyond endurance but battles on for her mother, father, and Stick.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Bear, a chilling, suspenseful and poignant tale, though I did have a minor issue with the story’s delivery that kept me from completely loving it. While the story is a gripping and moving survival tale that to some extent successfully captures the voice of a child in a perilous situation - the fear, uncertainty, and at times their whiny self-centeredness, especially where it pertained to Anna’s relationship with Stick; I also felt that the use of Anna’s five-year old voice as narrator marginally diminished the tale due to the author’s unsuccessful attempt at delivering a consistent voice for her protagonist throughout the entire tale. At times written older, at others younger than her supposed five-year old age, you’d get rambling baby talk that digressed from the main narrative and made the events confusing to follow, while at other times Anna would make these deep almost philosophical comments totally incongruous to a typical five-year old.

Even with the mentioned inconsistencies, Anna was still an endearing protagonist – sweet and precocious – that became an albeit reluctant but inspiring heroine for whom you couldn’t help but root; doing the best within her limited means and capabilities to protect her brother. My heart broke for her in those instances when she pondered why her parents weren’t coming as promised and if it was in some way her fault. In her innocent ruminations, she also shared revealing tidbits of information on her parent’s relationship (her father’s rages and the couple’s temporary separation prior to the camping trip) which reveal she was already carrying a heavy burden on her young shoulders even prior to this dramatic turn of events; at one point heartbreakingly saying “I can’t remember what I did to get him so mad, but I never really do.”

The sibling relationship between Anna and Stick is beautifully captured in the book. Through her memories, we see how in the safety of home and family, Anna experienced the normal frustrations of having a baby brother; feeling like they love him best and he gets away with everything. Yet with the honest astuteness of a young child facing an uncertain future (“we are only two, just Stick and me”) Anna discovers a newfound love and appreciation for her brother and a determined commitment to honor her mother’s dying wish that she protect him (“I am the only person on the whole entire earth that can understand him. It is up to me to save him because no one else can.”)

The Bear is an emotional and quick read that proves gumption and bravery can be found in even the smallest of heroes; a tale of loss, love and hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Let me start by saying I loved this book! I first came across We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler in January when drafting my 2014 reading list post. At that time I had scoured Amazon and Barnes & Noble and countless other sites for a comprehensive list of books that would appeal to my reading tastes and as soon as I read the book’s synopsis I was hooked. In writing my review for this book I was torn on whether to share a pivotal plot point or twist in the book that I was aware of before picking up the book but which isn’t mentioned in the inside book jacket, though it is revealed relatively early in the story’s progression (about ¼ of the way through). I searched some online reviews to see how others approached the issue and it seems an even split with some sharing and some keeping mum. The truth is that the so-called twist is the key reason why I read this amazing book and knowing it did not in any way diminish the experience. This key fact informs and shapes everything about the novel and I couldn’t openly share my thoughts and feelings on Fowler’s gripping, touching and thought-provoking novel without discussing it. As such, please accept this spoiler alert to stop reading now if you want to go into it blind (don’t visit Amazon either because they lay it all out there at the top of the book’s order page).
Fowler’s original and unforgettable tale focuses on the Cooke family; mom, dad, son Lowell, and twin sisters Fern and Rosemary, our narrator. A great talker as a child, Rosemary shares how mom and dad had varying strategies in reducing her inexhaustible flow of words; mom’s suggestion was to advise when you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, whereas dad’s was to simply say “skip the beginning, start in the middle” which is where Rosemary begins her family’s tale. Rosemary has good reason for this strategy for she doesn’t want one key fact about her family to color your (our) early opinion of them.

The middle starts in the winter of 1996 when Rosemary is a 22-year old college student at UC Davis, by now her professor father has got a handle on his drinking and mom has recouped from her depression; as to Lowell and Fern, well, it’s been 10 and 17 years respectively since she’s seen either of her beloved siblings. We are slowly made privy to the Cooke’s dysfunctional family dynamic through increasingly revealing flashbacks, as we slowly look back at the fault line which divides their life into a before and after; namely the year 1979 when at the age of 5, Rosemary is sent off to her grandparents for the summer and returns to find Fern has disappeared from their home and family.

The early memories are sweet such as that of the three year old sisters sitting on either side of their mom as she reads them a book; “Fern loves being read to. She’s sleepy and quiet, pressing in as close to our mother as possible…I, on the other hand, am flinging myself about, unable to get comfortable, kicking across mom’s lap at Fern’s feet, trying to make her do something that will get her in trouble” or the two rambunctious girls twirling about the kitchen, anxious to get outside and play in the snow with their big brother. Typical childhood memories you’d think, but here’s the kicker, you see Fern is a chimpanzee, which is the why behind starting our tale in the middle for as Rosemary eloquently states “I wanted you to see how it really was. I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren’t thinking of her as my sister…Until Fern’s expulsion … she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister.”

Therein lies the truth of our tale; as part of a study on animal behavior, her parents had raised Rosemary and Fern from infancy to age 5 as twin sisters. Fern was taught sign language and dressed in human clothes and believed she was human, typical of home-raised chimps, but what no one had anticipated was that the mirroring went both ways and Rosemary developed some of her sister’s habits, having to be reminded by her mother to stay upright (“no loping through the snow on my hands and feet”) which is of course the root of her “monkey-girl” kindergarten moniker. With that essential truth revealed, Rosemary then recounts the catastrophic consequences of Fern’s absence on her family; her father’s drinking, her mother’s depression which is only made worse when Lowell runs away from home and becomes an animal right’s activist with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and ends up wanted by the FBI.

But what of Fern you ask? Well after a trip to the beginning, we return to the middle, and as Lowell takes an unexpected step out of the shadows, Rosemary will have to rely on her big brother’s shared truth as well as taking an honest and brave look in the mirror in order to dig through her own buried memories to find the answers she's looking for.

I’ll reiterate once again how much I loved this beautiful book. Its poignant tale might deal with a chimpanzee but in truth it speaks to our own humanity. As part of Rosemary’s research, Fowler included accounts of real cross-fostered chimps including that of Washoe, who was the first nonhuman ever to learn American sign-language. Roger Fouts worked with her as a grad student and devoted his life to her protection, he wisely stated “she taught him that in the phrase human being, the word being is much more important than the word human.” Through Rosemary and Fern and the Cooke family, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves movingly conveys the incredible bond that can exist between humans and animals; a bond which transcends species or barriers of communication, for love and compassion have a language all their own.

Not only is Fowler’s tale riveting from start to finish with a heartwarming look at the relationship between animals and humans but in its unique perspective it also delves into the complex and at times controversial subject of animal testing. As an animal lover I’ll admit that some parts of the book were heartbreaking to read. I take heart in the fact that parts of the book are based at a time in our history when tests inflicted on animal subjects in the name of science were accepted as the norm by both the scientific community and society as a whole, though I'm under no misconception that we don't still have a long ways to go as regards to current day practices.

Sadly, while some protections are in place today that improve the standard of care due some animals, the fact remains that testing isn’t challenged and it seems that as long as these animals have adequate food, water and shelter, they are still left to suffer and die in research facilities throughout the U.S. and not always in the hopes of finding a cure for cancer, sometimes it’s just to improve cosmetics. The choice shouldn’t be between advancing science and torturing animals; there’s got to be a better way and a better choice. In a civilized society, a balance must be struck between scientific progress and maintaining one of the key things that sets us apart from animals, a conscience; for the life of every being – human or otherwise – has value and that must be our guiding force.

Fowler’s writing and character development were exceptional; as each character came to life on the page. None were perfect, all (both human and animal) had foibles but that is just one of the many things that make us so alike. I felt for Rosemary’s sense of isolation and confused sense of self, but I must say it was Fern whom even in absence captured my heart. The tale's apt portrayal of sibling love and rivalry perfectly captured that fragile family dynamic and its myriad of contradictory feelings.

What else can I say? Given the length of this review, I’m guessing I’ve already said too much. I’ll end by simply making a heartfelt request that you read this book. As it says on the book jacket, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves will break your heart and then steal it away.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Très Magnifique!

I wanted to share that I recently saw both of my selections from the Focus on French Cinema film festival. As you might recall, I had selected Belle et Sébastien and the documentary Sur le chemin de l'école (On the Way to School); let me tell you that words cannot fully express how much I loved both movies, but in particular On the Way to School, which won the festival's Le Prix du Public - Audience Award.

Belle et Sébastien was first up. The film was set in the French Alps and focused on the moving friendship between a young boy, Sebastien, and a wild dog, Belle, known locally as "the beast." The story was sweet and geared towards the whole family, the acting was spot on, but what stole my breath away was the incredible cinematography. The sweeping shots could have been straight out of National Geographic.

Watching On the Way to School is a life changing experience. The documentary follows four children from different parts of the world and shares the incredible lengths each must go to each day as they face long, arduous and sometimes life-threatening journeys to attend school. Some of the children faced treks (on foot) of two or more hours each day all in hopes of gaining an education that would better their lives and that of their families. Jackson and his sister Salome braved stampeding elephants, while Samuel (disabled and in a wheelchair) had to rely on the love and dedication of his two younger brothers pushing his beat up and rusted wheelchair through dirt roads and swamplands in order to make it to school. The movie is gripping and suspenseful as we witness their daily ordeals as well as inspiring and full of heart. The sheer determination and tenacity of each child in light of all obstacles was moving; with the poignant ending when each child spoke hopefully of their future, such as Jackson's vision of being a pilot and Samuel's stated wish of becoming a doctor so he could help other children like himself, ultimately bringing me to tears.

This is a film that needs to be shown in every school so that our children can fully appreciate the good fortune with which they've been blessed. In truth, no one can watch this film and not be changed by the experience. You cannot see it and gripe about traffic or work or feel anything other than an overwhelming sense of gratitude for every blessing God has seen fit to share with us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Patience Stone

The Patience Stone (in Farsi with English subtitles) was Afghanistan’s official entry for Academy Award consideration for last year's Oscars, though it did not receive an Oscar nomination. While the exact location of our tale is never directly identified in the film, it readily becomes apparent that it's a war-torn Muslim country (quite possibly Afghanistan) where we witness the ravages of war on the city’s landscape; in its crumbling building facades and constant sound of explosions both near and far. The film focuses on an unnamed young woman tasked with the sole care of her much older husband left in a comatose state as a result of a recent violent altercation.

Abandoned and left to her own devices by her husband’s family, she resolutely cares for the uncaring man to whom she’s been married for the past 10 years, when at the tender age of 17 she was married by proxy to his sword since he was absent fighting his latest jihad. As she caringly cleanses his body and sees to his needs, she is at times angry and despondent and unlike the past 10 years where her own cares and worries have been silenced, she now gives voice to her roiling emotions for as she states, he is the wounded but she is the one left suffering. Her diligent care is at times interrupted by mortar attacks, and as the windows rattle and bombs hit their targets, she scrambles to get herself and her two young daughters into the makeshift bomb shelter next to their home. Even in these instances his care is her utmost concern, as she sneaks out of the shelter mid-attack to check on his condition and put pillows around him and drops in his always open vacant eyes.

With recourses scarce she must resort to giving him water with sugar in a makeshift IV of sorts. Desperate and afraid she at times tells him to go to hell and at others cries on his chest begging him not to leave her alone. A lifeline comes in the form of her aunt, a more modern and liberated woman who helps care for our heroine’s young daughters so she can brave marauders and bombs alike to continue to care for her ailing husband. Through it all, she speaks and he listens (for a change). It is during one of her daily respites at her aunt’s home that she learns of the fabled patience stone; a magical and legendary stone that if found you can place before you and tell it of your suffering. The stone it is said listens to everything you never dare say to others until one day the stone shatters into pieces and that day you’re delivered of all your pain. Hearing those words our heroine realizes that is what her husband has become, her own patience stone and so each day as she cares for his body, she shares her darkest secrets, the silent yearnings of her heart and body in hopes that she will find both peace and redemption.

This was an engaging and thought-provoking film; simple yet powerful, it is for all intents and purposes a one-woman show featuring a tour de force performance from Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. The Patience Stone’s tale speaks to the abhorrent treatment of women and their status as lower class citizens in many Muslim (and non-Muslim) nations. As our heroine shares the tortured memories of past mistreatments, as well as the general sense of isolation and pent up frustrations and denied joys, we empathize with her plight and as time passes revel in her newfound sense of self and true worth.

Farahani was amazing in this role. Her beauty alone would be enough to capture your attention but it is her understated but moving portrayal of a woman on the verge of self-discovery that demands praise. Our heroine’s transformation is slow and Farahani’s performance is measured throughout; as her confessions are at first abashed and resigned and later as she grows in her own strength they become more recriminating and brutally honest. Farahani is so believable in her performance that as you take in each scene, you feel a voyeur’s guilt, as if you’re listening to someone’s solemn confession.

I’ll give fair warning that if you’re looking for a fast-paced action film, The Patience Stone is NOT that film. It is at times plodding and at all times solemn, but it is equally eye-opening and moving. As American women we take for granted the rights conferred upon our fair sex by our society. We forget that there are women still today that are treated as less than merely on the basis of their sex.

The Patience Stone shines a light on the plight of many and the need for change. I draw a measure of hope though from the mere identity (both nationality and gender) of the film’s director, Atiq Rahim, who also happens to be the author of the novel on which the film is based, a French-Afghan man willing to hold both his fellow countrymen and his country’s patriarchal society accountable for their actions and attitudes and in so doing greases the wheels of change.

Friday, April 4, 2014

National Poetry Month

It’s time to be inspired by the written word; April is National Poetry Month. Robert Frost once said “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Poetry is the perfect outlet for human emotion. In a few lines a poet can perfectly capture all the beauty or pain he/she holds in their heart. It lets them paint a picture with words. A poem can through a simple collection of words touch us deeply by conveying emotions that resonate in our own heart. The poet offers through his/her words a tether which can bind and anchor us together in shared joy, love, wonder, grief and humanity.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’d like to share a favorite poem of mine. It speaks straight to the hopeless romantic in me and through its words of joyful gratitude fills me with hope.
At Last
by Elizabeth Akers Allen

At last, when all the summer shine
That warmed life's early hours is past,
Your loving fingers seek for mine
And hold them close—at last—at last!
Not oft the robin comes to build
Its nest upon the leafless bough
By autumn robbed, by winter chilled,—
But you, dear heart, you love me now.

Though there are shadows on my brow
And furrows on my cheek, in truth,—
The marks where Time's remorseless plough
Broke up the blooming sward of Youth,—
Though fled is every girlish grace
Might win or hold a lover's vow,
Despite my sad and faded face,
And darkened heart, you love me now!

I count no more my wasted tears;
They left no echo of their fall;
I mourn no more my lonesome years;
This blessed hour atones for all.
I fear not all that Time or Fate
May bring to burden heart or brow,—
Strong in the love that came so late,
Our souls shall keep it always now!
So go out there and read some Frost, Dickinson or Angelou or better yet connect with your own inner poet and put pen to paper with some inspiring words of your own.