Wednesday, February 28, 2007

La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo en un lago.
La poesía, más valiente que nadie,
entra y cae
a plomo
en un lago infinito como Loch Ness
o turbio e infausto como el lago Balatón.
Contempladla desde el fondo:
un buzo
envuelto en las plumas
de la voluntad.
La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo muerto
en el ojo de Dios.

Roberto Bolaño
Pablo Neruda Prize-winner and prodigious poet Isabel Gómez has launched a new book of poems, entitled “Dasein.” The book, published by Cuatro Propio, deals with Gómez’s favorite topics of madness, love, and anguish. According to Gómez, “Dasein” represents a person who seeks to find and understand himself.

Much of the book deals with the life of French poet and playwright Antonin Artaud. Born in Marseille in 1896, Artaud spent much of his life battling disease and drug addiction, and spent some of his final years in an asylum for the insane. For Gómez, Artaud’s life provided an ample source of inspiration.
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Nativel Preciado (Madrid, 1948) won the Premio Primavera de Novela with her novel 'Olvida el Paraíso', Care Santos was the runner-up with 'La muerte de Venus'.

There were 350 work on contest for the XI edition of the prize, mainly from Spain (216), Argentina (36) and United States (14).

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cândido Portinari, Group of Women and Children, oil on canvas, 1936

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Malaga Spanish Film Festival

Miguel Hermoso's film "Lola, the Movie," about Spanish Gypsy flamenco star Lola Flores, will open the official section of the Malaga Spanish Film Festival, organizers announced Friday(Feb. 23) as they unveiled the festival lineup.

"Lola" will screen out of competition in the official section, which comprises 14 features. Francesca Joseph's "Four Last Songs" will close the section that includes five directorial debuts.

The festival, which runs March 9-17 in the Mediterranean resort town on Spain's southern coast, is the country's most important festival entirely dedicated to Spanish film and has attracted a following of industry heavyweights and enthusiasts.

Antonio Hernandez's much-anticipated "El menor de los Males"; Anton Reixa's first part of a two-picture co-production agreement with Lars Von Trier's Zentropa, "Hotel Tivoli"; and Rodrigo Cortes' game-show comedy "Concursante" will compete for the €60,000 ($79,000) Golden Biznaga award and the Special Jury prize. So will Azucena Rodriguez's "Atlas de geografia humana," Vicente Penarrocha's "Arritmia," Ricardo Macian's "Los ojos de Ariana" and Santiago Lorenzo's "Un buen dia lo tiene cualquiera."
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Monday, February 26, 2007

Paula Rego, "Mulher Cão" (Dog Woman), Pastel on canvas, 1994

"To be a dog woman is not necessarily to be downtrodden; that has very little to do with it. In these pictures every woman's a dog woman, not downtrodden, but powerful. To be bestial is good. It's physical. Eating, snarling, all activities to do with sensation are positive. To picture a woman as a dog is utterly believable."

Paula Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935. In 1954 she left Portugal to study at the Slade School of Art in London. Married to an Englishman she remained in England, where she lives since 1976.

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Book Review: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon

'One man's freedom fighter," it has been said, "is another's man's terrorist." In his debut novel, Lost City Radio, Daniel Alarcon reminds that one man's freedom fighter is probably another woman's husband, another boy's father, certainly another man's son.

Set in a fictional Latin American republic, Lost City Radio depicts the trauma inflicted upon a society when these freedom fighters - be they vigilantes or soldiers on the side of the government - simply disappear.

The book takes its title from a popular radio show in what Alarcon calls "the provincial capital." Each Sunday, the station broadcasts the names of the disappeared.

"The idea was simple. How many refugees had come to the city? How many of them had lost touch with their families? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?"

The voice connecting the lost with the found belongs to Norma, a brave, beautiful and damaged journalist whom Alarcon brings vividly to life. Her husband, Rey, has been missing for more than a decade.

Alarcon's portrait of the emotional toll this loss takes on Norma is heartrending. A decade later, she still sleeps alone, facing the door to her bedroom, as if Rey might still walk through the door.

Lost City Radio then cycles backward to tell the story of the country's war, the way it fractured the committed from the fearful, the urban from the rural, and the collaborative from the resistant.
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Book Review: Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

The best novels tell stories that matter with perfect credibility. Isabel Allende’s latest effort, “Ines of My Soul,” is compelling and ambitious in scope. But it was not believable enough for me.

It is very seldom that the story of the brutal era of colonial 15th century South America and its conquistadors is told without guilt. It is very seldom that the story of conquest is anything but a cautionary tale of blood and calamity. But in this novel, the narrator Ines Suarez describes the conquest of Chile as a success.

I was not convinced.

Personally, I find this sort of borderland-epic concept compelling enough to justify reading 300-page novels written by authors much less talented than Allende. It is the frontier story; the tale of the Old West. The story is supposed to create a world in which human nature can be explored outside of the rules constructed by civilization as we know it.
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Book Review: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón

Two new reviews of Daniel Alarcón's Lost City Radio.

Daniel Alarcon's compelling debut novel, "Lost City Radio," opens with a visitor to a radio station: Victor, an 11-year-old boy from the jungle sent as an envoy by his village to the city bearing a list of names to Norma, host of the weekly program "Lost City Radio." On the list of names is one Norma recognizes, one she is forbidden to pronounce.
Ten years have passed since the war ended. The tanks have stopped, the government-approved battle reports have given way to government-scrubbed news bulletins, members of the "Illegitimate Legion" (echoes of Peru's Shining Path insurgency) dispersed, jailed or killed. But disappearances continue. Most who were lost during the decade of war are not found. The old towns' names are replaced by a numbering system, the history books amended, the citizens made diligent informants.
In this "nation at the edge of the world, a make-believe country outside history," only Norma's voice speaks to those displaced or left behind. Listeners call with names of loved ones not heard from, and her voice becomes theirs. With a microphone at the only national radio station, Norma dreams of the day when she can call out a name of her own -- "Rey," or even his nom de guerre that now appears on a list in the boy Victor's hand -- calling to her husband, gone these 10 years since the war, and calling him home.
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With the publication two years ago of his short-story collection "War by Candlelight" (HarperCollins), Daniel Alarcón received critical acclaim that included comparisons to Mario Vargas Llosa, Flannery O'Connor and Ernest Hemingway.
Born in Peru and living in northern California, Alarcón unflinchingly portrays people battered by civil strife, natural disasters and governmental abuses. He now brings us his first novel, "Lost City Radio" (HarperCollins, hardcover $24.95), a potent, disturbing, but, in the end, hopeful portrait of a nation torn by years of war and betrayal.
Set in an unnamed South American country, Alarcón's novel centers on Norma, the host of a popular program, "Lost City Radio," in which she reads the names of missing persons and lends an understanding ear to callers who hope she can help them reunite with lost loved ones. Norma has become a celebrity, a voice everyone knows, the apolitical salve for a nation that has lost too much.
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New Editions in English of Roberto Bolaño's Books

Roberto Bolaño, who died at 50 in 2003, is the subject of a posthumous reclamation project by New Directions, which plans to publish nine of his 10 books in English.
Among the first is "Amulet," a slim novel of physical exiles and emotionally displaced persons.
A wanderer himself, the Chilean Bolaño eventually settled in Spain but always returned in his fiction to Latin America with tales of vagabond artists and impotent political refugees, members of the "failed generation" who came of age in the 1960s and lost Chile to Pinochet.
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Bittersweet night for Mexican film

The recent prizewinning success of Mexican filmmakers, particularly of directors Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón, has restored a measure of good feeling to Mexicans who had endured a year filled with drug-related killings and a disputed presidential election.

Last night was a bittersweet climax. Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" won awards for cinematography, makeup and art direction but lost the best foreign film trophy to Germany's "The Lives of Others." González Iñárritu's "Babel," nominated for seven Oscars, managed to secure only one award, for best original score. Cuarón's "Children of Men" failed to capture the best adapted screenplay prize, losing to "The Departed." Adriana Barraza, who played a distraught Mexican nanny in "Babel," couldn't overcome Jennifer Hudson of "Dreamgirls" as best supporting actress. Still, for some, it was important simply that their national film talent had received so much recognition, especially at time when the movie business here is in the doldrums.
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Friday, February 23, 2007

Babel directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

As an Academy Award nominee for best picture, “Babel” was a startling choice. The movie, which was written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, is composed of three stories held together by a slender thread, and the mood is darkly calamitous; even the few joyous moments are suffused with dread. In the Arriaga-Iñárritu world, if something bad can happen it happens—hardly a typical American movie’s view of life. Earlier, the two men made, in Mexico, the bloody, turbulent “Amores Perros” (2000) and, in the United States, the dolorous “21 Grams” (2003), which starred Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro. Now, however, the collaborators have had a falling out (each claiming the greater credit for what appears in the movies). As they seem to be heading in separate directions, these fate-driven films can be seen as a kind of trilogy. All three send characters from separate stories smacking into one another in tragic accidents; all three jump backward and forward in a scrambling of time frames that can leave the viewer experiencing reactions before actions, dénouements before climaxes, disillusion before ecstasy, and many other upsetting reversals and discombobulations.
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Thursday, February 22, 2007

36th New Directors/New Film Series

Novelist/director Paul Auster's "The Inner Life of Martin Frost" will open the 36th New Directors/New Films series slated for March 21 - April 1 with screenings at MoMA's Titus 1 Theater and Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. Argentine director Alexis Dos Santos' "Glue" will be the second opener for the series, one of three on offer from the South American country in the series out of a total roster of 26 feature length films and six shorts. Also on tap this year is Sundance grand jury winner "Padre Nuestro" by Christopher Zalla. [...]

"El Custodio," directed by Rodrigo Moreno, Argentina, 2006

The remarkable character actor Julio Chavez ("A Red Bear," ND/NF 2003) disappears into the nearly silent role of a middle-aged bodyguard for an important politician, and the cleverly paced, slow-burning tale is a mesmerizing portrait of a man whose all-consuming job is that of an invisible human shield. The measured movements of Chavez's alienated Ruben are destined to reach a breaking point, when this shadow can no longer deny his own repressed feelings. Director Rodrigo Moreno develops his masterfully wrought psychological thriller in the celebrated minimalist style that has put recent Argentine cinema on the international map. Chavez received the Best Actor award at this year's Havana International Film Festival for this performance. [...]

"Glue," directed by Alexis Dos Santos, Argentina/UK, 2006

Two boys, Lucas and Nacho, and their sidekick, Andrea, are growing up in a small remote town in Patagonia where they are experiencing the growing pains of adolescence. Lucas contends with his parents' imminent divorce. Nacho obsesses over music and sex, while Andrea is preoccupied with her too-slowly developing body. Once the three connect they become inseparable. This award-winning feature by first-time filmmaker Alexis Dos Santos reflects an intensity possible only by a talented risk-taking cast and a story rooted in the director's intimate knowledge of his subject. Scenes were shot in an improvisational style, capturing the wild beauty of Patagonia's hot, dry and windswept summer landscape. A Picture This! release.[...]

"Meanwhile," directed by Diego Lerman, Argentina, 2006

Violeta can't decide if she wants to move to Ibiza with her boyfriend Mono or just break up with him. Dalmiro's ceramics business isn't going so well, but things might be looking up. Sergio and Susana are trying to start a family. These and other characters form the rich tapestry in Meanwhile, the second feature by Diego Lerman. He focuses here on those in-between moments in people's lives--those times after a decision's possibilities have been accepted but before it's been put into effect. His characters move in and out of each other's orbits, sometimes affecting final decisions or inadvertently foreshadowing unexpected consequences, together creating a portrait of a generation used to waiting and enduring. [...]
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Book Review: The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro

Spanish author Julia Navarro's debut novel The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud (John Murray £10.99, pp416) is a religious suspense thriller with an epic quest, an age-old secret conspiracy and a secretive group of people who will, naturally, stop at nothing. But Navarro moves away from the Grail and Mary Magdalene to focus on the Turin Shroud, that relic believed by many to bear the likeness of Jesus. In Navarro's novel, the shroud has fabled powers that the aforementioned stop-at-nothing types want.

Since scientific testing has conclusively proved that the real shroud is no older than the Middle Ages, Navarro's book starts without the 'could be true' factor. However, she writes well (and is beautifully translated by Borges's recent translator, Andrew Hurley) and her characterisations are strong. Tosh of a superior quality. Read More

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Melbourne Latin American Film Festival

Judging from the titles available for preview, this year's Melbourne Latin American Film Festival is strong on hero-worshipping documentaries and movies that show deprivation through the wide eyes of cute children.

Is this the cream of the continent's filmmaking output? Probably not, but it's clear that the festival's programmers had more than the love of "pure cinema" on their minds.

Notably, the gap between art and propaganda is less bridged than disregarded in Hector Cruz Sandoval's KordaVision - a jolly profile of the Cuban photographer Alberto "Korda" Diaz, best-known for an iconic image of Che Guevara still cherished by countless idealistic students worldwide. It's interesting to learn that Korda began as a fashion photographer, but changed tack after he was advised by no less a guru than Richard Avedon that his revolutionary images were closer to the real cutting edge.

Sergio Iglesias' Bialet Masse, un siglo despues (Bialet Masse, A Century Later) makes a more compelling case for the nobility of its nation-building hero, by turns doctor, lawyer, engineer and compiler of a landmark report on the condition of workers in early 20th-century Argentina. Using Masse's magnum opus as a guide, Iglesias undertakes his own present-day tour through the same areas, stopping off to quiz indigenous villagers and factory workers who have taken over the means of production in the wake of the country's economic collapse.
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Bordertown directed by Gregory Nava

Nava says his inspiration for "Bordertown" draws from the work of Guatemalan writer Miguel Angel Asturias, the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the social dramas of Charles Dickens. It is also a return to the tradition of Nava's breakthrough movie, "El Norte," which was nominated in 1984 for an Academy Award for best original screenplay. In that film, most memorable for the scene of illegal immigrants crawling through a rat-infested sewer, he created a fictional story from scores of interviews. In "Bordertown" he took the same approach, trying to weave together the stories told by family members of the murdered young women into his "thriller-drama."

But while "Bordertown" will open in German theaters later this month, and other European theaters soon thereafter, it still does not have a US release date -- despite what Nava describes as widespread interest in the Latino community. It seems a long wait for a film whose mission, says Nava, is to take a "social injustice and compel people to do something about it." Especially so, since in Juarez the deaths continue and the murders remain solved.

Nava describes, in almost crusading terms, an "eight-year journey" to get the film made. "Hollywood is just not interested in movies about social drama and social situations," he says. "They are more interested in making movies about super heroes -- escapist entertainment. And so we had to do this independently and it's going to be distributed independently."
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Interview with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Winner of the Golden Globe for best dramatic picture, "Babel" is nominated for seven Academy Awards including best picture, screenplay and director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Gonzalez Inarritu, 43, is the first Mexican-born filmmaker to be nominated for a best director Oscar. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe and Directors Guild of America Award.

Shot in Africa, America and Japan in five different languages, the gritty drama revolves around the repercussions from the shooting of an American woman (Cate Blanchett) while vacationing with her husband (Brad Pitt) in Morocco.

The film marks the third collaboration between director and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga -- the two have since had a falling out -- which began seven years ago with the Oscar-nominated Mexican drama "Amores Perros."

They followed that up three years later with their first English-language production, "21 Grams," for which Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro received Oscar nominations

Gonzalez Inarritu began his professional career as a disc jockey at the top-rated Mexican station in 1984. By the end of the decade, he was composing music for features and short films.

In the 1990s, he was put in charge of production of a TV company and by 27 was one of its youngest directors. He segued into forming his company for producing advertising, short films and TV. Gonzales Inarritu made his first short feature, "Detras del Dinero" in 1995.
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Nada by Carmen Laforet

This remarkable novel has a long history in Europe, Spain most particularly, but a very limited one here in the United States. A British translation from the Spanish was done almost half a century ago, and a little-known academic publisher issued one a decade and a half ago, but copies of both are limited and fairly hard to come by. So this new translation by the redoubtable Edith Grossman is especially welcome, as it makes available to readers here a coming-of-age novel that is far more mature and stylistically accomplished than the most famous American example of the genre, J.D. Salinger's vastly overrated The Catcher in the Rye.

Carmen Laforet was in her early 20s when she wrote Nada and 23 when it was published in her native Spain and became the first recipient of that country's celebrated Nadal Prize. Its frank, unsparing depiction of Barcelona in the aftermath of Spain's destructive 1936-39 Civil War caused a sensation, and its spare literary style -- impeccably rendered by Grossman -- had considerable influence on subsequent Spanish and European literature. "It has never been out of print," the Guardian reported when Laforet died three years ago, "and, even today, sells several thousand copies a year."
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Dancing to “Almendra” by Mayra Montero

The late 50s in Cuba were so rich with glamour and conflict it’s a wonder more stories haven’t been set there. Such a time, such a place, and all these elements in a long, slow collision: the sordid glory of casino culture, the last crest of old-school Hollywood splendor, the vicious florescence of the Italian and Jewish mafias, the worldly style of the Cubans themselves and the gathering rumble of the Revolution, all playing out in a gorgeous city. Is there more in the way of material than this? A great narrative, an elegant and charismatic cast, a setting as alluring as any in the world; but we have little to show for it, in English anyway, aside from a slight Graham Greene novel and a few scenes in “The Godfather, Part II.” And here is Mayra Montero, a Cuban woman now living in Puerto Rico, and “Dancing to ‘Almendra,’ ” her ninth novel, lovingly translated by Edith Grossman: a flawless little book with a deceptively light touch, that covers exactly those years.

Montero’s novel is narrated by a man named Joaquín Porrata, a 22-year-old reporter living in Havana during the last days of Batista, who shows up for work one morning and finds he’s been assigned the story of a hippopotamus that has escaped from the zoo and been shot to death. As it happens, that same night the mafia capo Umberto Anastasia was murdered in a hotel barber’s shop in New York City, and from a rather strange little zookeeper named Juan Bulgado (or Johnny Angel, or Johnny Lamb: in Havana even a zookeeper can dream), Porrata discovers that the two killings are related. Rebuffed by his boss, who wants to keep him on the entertainment beat, he takes his notes to a rival paper, which sends him first through the Cuban underworld, then to New York and then to the upstate town of Apalachin, where a mob summit has been interrupted by the police, though not quickly enough to spare Anastasia a death sentence from his peers. Along the way Porrata encounters a woman named Yolanda, a small-town refugee who ran away with the circus, where she lost her arm serving as the model in a magician’s sword-through-a-box trick. She’s rumored to have a lover of her own, Santo Trafficante — himself a Mafia boss and a very scary man. Nevertheless Porrata pursues her as he pursues the story, and winds up getting them both, though not without being roughed up a few times along the way. In fact, between the animals in the zoo and the mobsters running the casinos, the book gets very bloody.
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Friday, February 16, 2007

Del Toro Effect??

One of the holy grails at this year's Berlinale was buyers' search, in the wake of "Pan's Labyrinth," for the next Guillermo del Toro.

It gave an unexpected leg-up to Spanish pic sales.

Spain's hottest sales ticket, Jose Antonio Bayonas' ghost tale "The Orphanage," sold Stateside to Picturehouse by Wild Bunch, was co-produced by Del Toro, who waxes lyrical in a brochure about its merits.

By market end, "Santos," a super-hero spoof from Chile's Nicolas Lopez, also was sparking considerable major territory interest.

Del Toro hasn't anything to do with "Santos," but, budgeted at $6.4 million, it's one of the most ambitious movies to come out of Latin America this year. And its mix of auteur vision and U.S. pop culture sensibility recalls Del Toro's style.
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Family Law directed by Daniel Burman

Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler plays lawyer Ariel Perelman in "Family Law," Argentine writer-director Daniel Burman's third film about the relationships between fathers and sons. This is Hendler's third starring role in the Burman trilogy, featuring "Waiting for the Messiah" (2000) and "Lost Embrace" (2004).

The plot of "Family Law" seems to mirror elements of the 33-year-old filmmaker's life: Before studying film, he studied law; his father, mother and brother are all lawyers; and Burman became a father four years ago with the birth of his first son, Eloy, who plays Hendler's son in the film.
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Can a low-key comedy be too low-key? Daniel Burman's "Family Law," set in contemporary Argentina, stars Daniel Hendler as Ariel Perelman, a law professor in his 30s who, upon getting married and having his first child, is reassessing his relationship with his father.

That imposing figure -- a charismatic lawyer who plies his trade with all the moxie and style the self-effacing Ariel lacks -- is named Bernardo (played with understated gusto by Arturo Goetz). Seen at a distance by Ariel, who narrates "Family Law" as if his life were a public television documentary, Bernardo emerges as a man whose paternal desires for his son have been continually thwarted by the less ambitious Ariel.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Book Review: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon

At first glance, Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón has the look of a political fable. It tells the story of an anonymous Latin American nation, first ravaged by a pointless war and now governed by a faceless totalitarian regime. The book's tone is chillingly Orwellian.
But politicians – either of the left or the right – are neither the real heroes or the villains in this haunting debut novel. "Lost City Radio" is indeed a wrenching commentary on the devastation war can inflict. But the mystery at the heart of this story is not political – it's a riddle of the human heart.
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Summer Rain directed by Antonio Banderas at the Berlinale

Antonio Banderas returned to the southern Spain of his youth and found things much improved for "Summer Rain," his second film as a director.

"Summer Rain" is a coming-of-age tale set in Malaga in the late 1970s as Spain emerged from the decades-long dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

"The engine of what I have been for good or for bad in my life ... started there when I was 17, 18, 19," Banderas said Monday of his decision to return to Malaga for the Spanish-language movie, which was presented outside the main competition at the Berlin film festival.

The movie, based on a novel by his childhood friend Antonio Soler, follows the lives, loves and dreams of a group of teens growing up in the Mediterranean resort. Stars of the film include Maria Ruiz and Alberto Amarilla.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thankfully There is Moonlight!

Galleon Theatre Company stages Thankfully There Is Moonlight!, a world premiere theatre production of Alice de Sousa’s translation of Luis Sttau Monteiro’s Felizmente Há Luar. For those in London a great opportunity to see Sttau Monteiro's finest play.

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Almudena Grandes has just published a new book "El corazón helado" (Iced Heart)

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In the Pit directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo

Literally and existentially down and dirty, “In the Pit” is an absorbing documentary about work and the transformation of men into laborers. Directed and shot with sensitive attention to detail by Juan Carlos Rulfo, the film takes us into a world apart, populated by members of the construction crew building the second deck of the Periférico beltway in Mexico City. For the city’s inhabitants, each of whom apparently spend an estimated 1,485 hours a year commuting, and mostly on public transportation, the construction is at once a nuisance and a possible solution. For the most part, like construction sites everywhere, it is also hidden in plain sight.
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Friday, February 09, 2007

Interview with Alberto Manguel

Alberto Manguel was born in Buenos Aires, spent part of his childhood in Israel, wandered Europe in his youth and now resides in France. Yet he is, by his own assertion, a Canadian writer. It was after moving here in 1982 that Manguel first felt he lived “in a place where I could participate actively as a writer in the running of the state.”

Manguel’s significance, however, is hardly limited to his reflections on Canada. His essays, fiction and anthologies represent the worldliest of intellectual itineraries. The volumes on reading for which he’s famous—A History of Reading, Reading Pictures and, most recently, The Library at Night—are mosaics rich with anecdote, research, insight and an eloquently articulated passion for the fathomless role of books in our lives.

VUE WEEKLY: In The Library at Night you confess that as a youth you dreamed of being a librarian, but found this goal sabotaged by “sloth and an ill-restrained fondness for travel.” Had a writing career not yet occurred to you?

ALBERTO MANGUEL: No. I think it’s a reaction many readers have. You read great books, finding them such well-crafted, magical objects, worlds into which you enter, that the idea of creating something similar seems impossible. I didn’t know that every writer thinks this way. Writing eventually came to me by chance, from ideas sparked by reading. Even in my fiction, the starting point has something to do with reading.
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Book Review: With Borges by Alberto Manguel

Like the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, Alberto Manguel's With Borges is almost perfect in its brevity (almost only because of the annoying typos and spelling mistakes). But, as with Borges, brevity in this case doesn't mean simplicity. In fewer than 100 narrow pages, many of them with Sara Facio's evocative photographs, Manguel manages to echo the complexity of his fellow Argentinean's labyrinthine tales, with their blending of fact and fiction, mysticism and mathematics. With Borges does not include fiction (although the conversations are based on memories of a time long past), but it does combine memoir, biography, and reflections on the works of Borges and of the writers he admired to create an intimate portrait of this enigmatic writer.
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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Book Review: Montano by Enrique Vila-Matas

The sick critic decides to cure himself by visiting his son, Montano, who has a different problem. After one precocious novel, about writers who give up writing, he finds himself totally blocked. The meeting is an oedipal calamity, and Rosario changes tack.

Rather than curing himself of literature, he decides it would be better for him to turn "into the complete memory of the history of literature... to embody it in my own modest person". So on to Pico, and the moles.

Then, 100 pages in, it stops. Rosario blithely informs us that he invented Montano in order to project on to him his own writer's block. He declares that the next step in his recuperation from literature sickness is to treat us to his autobiography, in the form of a dictionary of literary diarists. This is not talk to make the reader's heart soar. The folding-in of literature on to itself often leads to arid games. But Enrique Vila-Matas, the Spanish author skulking behind Rosario, is in no danger of that.

The names he co-opts into his curious memoir include Gide, Valéry, Borges and Kafka. Most pertinent, though, are mentions of W G Sebald and Claudio Magris, whose books have opened what Rosario calls "new ground in between essay, fiction and autobiography". It is this ground that Montano works, to impressive and delightful effect.

Vila-Matas is far less serious than Sebald or Magris, though he is thoughtful about how writers grow through parasitism on those who came before. But for all the erudition on display (and one of the great merits of Montano is the casual introductions it offers to dozens of European writers), we are never far from a novelistic flourish - a light touch carried through in Jonathan Dunne's fine translation. Will the moles prevail? Not with books like this around.
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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Correntes d`Escritas Literary Festival

The 8th edition of Correntes d`Escritas Literary Festival starts tomorrow in Póvoa do Varzim, Portugal. This year's festival will have the presence of 60 Portuguese, Spanish and Latin American authors. Until Saturday visitor will find among others, Luís Sepúlveda (Chile), Eucanãa Ferraz and Nélida Piñon (Brasil), Ignacio Martínez de Pisón e Enrique Vila-Matas (Spain), Santiago Roncagliolo (Peru), Hélder Macedo, Fernando Pinto do Amaral, Lídia Jorge, Jacinto Lucas Pires and Hélia Correia (Portugal).
More Information: Correntes d’Escritas Web Site (In Portuguese)

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A Spanish Short wins the Jury Prize at the Clermont-Ferrand Festival

The international festival of Clermont-Ferrand has awarded in its last edition the work of the Spanish director Gabe Ibáñez. Máquina, directed by Gabe Ibáñez, tells in 16 minutes the transformation of a girl who discovers, through pain, its new nature and finds the way to reach the lost harmony. Máquina is Gabe Ibáñez' first work.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Interview with Tomás Eloy Martínez

The novelist Tomás Eloy Martínez believes his career as one of Argentina's most prominent journalists imperilled him yet saved his life. Blacklisted by a paramilitary group in the 1970s for his job on a Buenos Aires newspaper, he ignored death threats, including a letter bomb at his home, until gunmen surrounded a fashionable restaurant where he was eating lunch. It chilled his blood, he recalls, "but I wanted people to have pictures of my killers". When he rang his paper to send a photographer, the receptionist said: "Why so modest? I'll send them all." Martínez is convinced that the bevy of cameras scared off the death squad.

He fled to Paris, taking refuge in the residence of Mexico's then ambassador, the novelist Carlos Fuentes. It was 1975, the year after the death in office of Argentina's populist dictator Juan Perón, and shortly before his reigning widow, his third wife Isabel, was overthrown by the military junta in 1976, ushering in the terror and disappearances known as the "dirty war". During 10 years of exile, Martínez moved from France to Venezuela and, in 1982, to the United States, where he became director of Latin American studies at Rutgers university in New Jersey. He is writer-in-residence there.

His imagination, however, remains rooted in his homeland. While he denounced the junta in Venezuelan newspapers, his three early novels were banned in Argentina, and republished there only after the return to democracy in 1983. The Perón Novel (1985), which riled the Peronistas, was a political satire centred on the dictator's return in 1973 from 18 years of exile, while its prequel, Santa Evita (1995), artfully deconstructed the myth of Perón's second wife, Eva Duarte - Evita. A peasant-turned-B-movie actor, Eva bewitched the president and the crowds alike. She died of cancer in 1952, aged only 33. The novel, which traces a macabre struggle over her embalmed corpse, was a bestseller in Argentina for more than a year, and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Nada by Carmen Laforet

Few people have entered literature more dramatically than Carmen Laforet. She was 23 when the unpublished Nada (Nothing) won the 1944 Nadal Prize; it has remained in print in Spain ever since. It still surprises that this powerful, albeit implicit, indictment of Franco's dictatorship got past the censors. At the time, it was seen as a sensationalist novel about violent, mad, abnormal people. Today, when Nada is recognised as one of the few great novels to be written during the dictatorship, its portrayal of a crushed, starving middle-class family in a sordid Barcelona reveals how violent abnormality was the norm of life under fascism.
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Friday, February 02, 2007

Interview with Daniel Alarcón

I’m Peruvian, the general arc of the war as it unfolds in the novel is similar to that of the Peruvian conflict, and everyone will be able to recognize this. Still, the more I’ve traveled, the more places I’ve seen and people I’ve talked to, the more it has become clear to me that the forces shaping the future of a city like Lima are at work in developing countries all over the planet. When I was on tour last, for War by Candlelight, I always found myself saying, “If Peru was an invented country, and Lima an invented city, many people would still recognize it,” and I guess I sort of followed my own advice. I invented a country, a city, drew upon my experiences in Lima, upon my travels in West Africa, upon texts I read about Chechnya (the incomparable Anna Politkovskaya, RIP), or Beirut, or Mumbai. I was influenced and deeply inspired by the work of Joe Sacco as well, whose books on Palestine and Bosnia are truly masterful. The liberty to call on all kinds of sources was freeing: I came across a book called Memoirs of an Italian Terrorist, possibly apocryphal, but it rang so true when compared with the interviews I had done in Peru and Bolivia, that I felt confident referencing it in my attempt to create a composite of what that life might have been like.

Read Daniel Alarcón’s interview at The Elegant Variation

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Book Review: The Initials of the Earth by Jesús Díaz

Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing,” has long been a favorite saying of Fidel Castro’s, the memorable, simple-sounding formula he has cited when he has felt the need to silence a critic, justify an apparently indefensible repressive measure or simply remind Cubans that his all-seeing eye is ever upon them. Jesús Díaz’s ambitious novel “The Initials of the Earth” was published in Cuba in 1987, which makes it by definition a within-the-revolution product. But that distinction was, it seems, hard won — the prize at the end of an arduous journey from nothingness to the sanctifying light of full, Fidel-approved being. In an essay appended to this first English-language edition, Ambrosio Fornet, a friend of the writer’s, tells us that Díaz wrote a version of the book in the late ’70s that was “condemned ... to the limbo of a tacit censure.” When the censure was lifted (presumably also tacitly) in the early ’80s, Díaz had, we are told, “the composure and professional sobriety to sit down and rewrite the novel from scratch.” Read More

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