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Maths student commenting from Manchester

Platform, Michel Houellebecq

It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it’s that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable.

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Despite often coming across as an emotional masochist, Houellebecq’s work has the most uplifting effect on me. Beyond the seemingly impenetrable bleakness of the brilliant Platform lies something profoundly comforting; it is a universal welcome that promises to treat you as an equal, for once. Through his frank tone, he backhandedly reassures us that our natural imperfections – those grotesque warts we perceive in ourselves that refuse to conform to our modern ideal - are just fine, and he does it more convincingly than any hypocritical, mid-priced women’s magazine could ever hope to.

This reassurance lies in his rejection of snooty, self-righteous criticism; sticking a middle finger up to the disdain that is constantly directed towards the ‘base’ pursuit of money and sex… things we have been trained to view as immoral and destructively ephemeral. But an adoption of such pious values opposing the cheap thrills of frivolity (both sexually and financially) would be an adoption of a naive ideal of humankind paramount, in my opinion, to faith in a universe of intelligent design, created by a supreme being living in the sky.

Michel, our protagonist, endures life, as many of Houellebecq’s characters do. He is thoughtful but not enthused, content to wilt under the oppression of our youngest religion, capitalism. The hiatus he takes in the aftermath of his father’s death is the first step in his disengagement with his mediocre life, eventually resulting in beautifully understated revelations about human sexuality, self-liberation and what it means to be satisfied with life and love – all in a manner void of pretension and contrived philosophy.

It is in Houellebecq’s cynical rejection of the neurotic, modern Western world (not that he wouldn’t reject and find infinite faults in any other social system) that you catch a glimpse of what it would be like to live a life entirely purely and naturally. Yet by being born and entering the world we live in, we paradoxically can never achieve such a state.

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (2013)

45a67aa2d12f363ead17101a2a1446b7e23c42(dir. Michel Gondry)

The mesmerising visuals of Michel Gondry’s stylistic animations kept me captivated throughout the film, significantly more so than the actual dialogue between the director and the renowned Noam Chomsky.
For a somewhat tangential discussion on the topic of linguistics – and by tangential I don’t mean dreamy musings, I mean aimless pointlessness – the conversational aspect of the film was immensely disappointing. Chomsky doesn’t know what Gondry is asking (neither do we, bless his French accent), so repeats his base points, tells anecdotes that are so superficially related to his philosophy it made me throw my hands up in surrender and he actually comes across as a bit of a snooty arsehole.

Despite the interesting and profound subject matter, it is all merely touched upon – more deep-sea delving would’ve satisfied my expectation of drowning in some seriously esoteric discussion. And ultimately, the content is communicated badly. Perhaps it’s poor editing on Gondry’s behalf, or perhaps it’s because there’s an ironic point nestled in there somewhere; Chomsky has delivered legendary work in the field of linguistics and in the study and nature of language and communication (none of which I’ve read – maybe I am missing something here).

Criticisms aside, it was quite a beautiful watch thanks to Gondry’s absorbing animation, and I am very much looking forward to his new flick Mood Indigo (based on the French novel Foam of the Daze - might give that a read while I’m at it). Looks just as imaginative.

Her (2013)

6a0168ea36d6b2970c01a511b6da18970c-800wiThis film is one of the rare recents which have truly blown me away. Spike Jonze fantastically demonstrates the modern technological circumstance whilst simultaneously poking fun at the blossoming adults of today: decked out in their outfits of pastel and neutral shades, strictly shopping organic and possessing that infuriating, self-conscious artistic expression. Amy Adams and Matt Letscher’s relationship is a particularly interesting embellishment of the main plot, supplying a substantial amount of both comedy and grief throughout.

As the film progressed I started to strongly dislike Joaquin Phoenix’s character: a wallowing, self-absorbed daydreamer, an overgrown toddler incapable of loving anything other than an operating system specifically designed to meet his every need.. in other words, serve him
Yet after some thought, I clocked that this is one of the most accurate and relatable depictions of human nature, surprisingly scarce in films, perhaps out of our own narcissism (note I refer to human rather than man – us gals are equally guilty of such egotism). Phoenix embodies our state of self-awareness and thought that characterises our evolution beyond any other creature. I think therefore I am and all that.. Although on the surface Her is a love story, the concept of existence is much more at the heart of the film.

To my glee, the nature of being is also brought into the mix with the passing mention of Alan Watts, no doubt (well, I refuse to believe otherwise) an intentional reference to the late spiritual philosopher who, in his time, always advocated existential exploration of the self.

Albeit a portrait of isolation, Her oddly connects with the viewer. The only explanation for this I can give is Jonze’s capturing of the very crux of the human condition. Compulsory viewing for anyone who wants to take a good hard look at themselves, and consequently everyone around them.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

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This stylish study somehow reminds me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden with its sort of ‘saga’ atmosphere echoing throughout its beautifully disjointed story. The polished ring of the film’s structure cleverly confronts the very grey-area concept of justice, and Ryan Gosling performs outstandingly – none of the usual borderline pretension you oft feel is forced upon him by producers – with an impactful reservation that Drive failed to deliver. Bradders Coop also comes up trumps playing a man whose emotions fester agonisingly beneath the surface.

Clever camera-work (one of which is an exceptional police chase scene) induces our physical trailing after the characters, following them in paths neither we nor they can control – they are directions set by indescribable events, events we are unable to recount clearly, unable to dissect fairly, without removing our own bias. This moral blindness truly brings an irrefutable sense of magic to the film; we don’t truly understand these characters, yet we feel so strongly connected to them.
But despite the magic, for me it (sometimes painfully) reflects our real life relationships to a T. And I’m a sucker for films that capture bleak reality.

Benjamin Clementine

My dad went to see Benjamin Clementine play at the Deezer Sessions (in Waterloo somewhere I think?) after seeing him perform on Jools Holland. Here’s the recording of the evening. This guy is the epitome of striking; his remarkably fluid piano playing, as smooth as his epic voice, and the almost inhuman angles of his cheeks.

Make sure to check out his ‘Cornerstone’ as well.

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SONY DSCPhotos I took a while back, perhaps a little influenced by Gaspar Noé?

Atomised, Michel Houellebecq

When we think about the present, we veer wildly between the belief in chance and the evidence in favour of determinism. When we think about the past, however, it seems obvious that everything happened in the way that it was intended.

imageBeautiful, beautiful cover illustration.

I had wondered recently, about foreign books, and whether we lose a sense of authenticity in the writing and language when the work is translated. This thought was rendered pretty much null in reading Atomised (Les Particules elementaires), which maintains a distinctly cutting and genuinely daring French attitude in telling this rich story, one that has comfortably reassured me that I do in fact have something less than an iron heart during this mundane Christmas period of family feuds, tonsillitis and maths revision.

It’s a social commentary which regularly coaxes wry, ironic smiles from you - every time a minuscule, yet detrimental, flaw in society peeps around a corner, Houellebecq makes sure he grabs it by the ankles, rips off its underwear with his teeth and makes it dance uncomfortably across the page for us all to witness, unbearably yet captivatingly.

This novel is entrancing, gloriously sardonic and wrenching, which is so goddam typical of the French, to be able to stare right in the face of anything and rip it to pieces coolly, audaciously, and without a hint of being a pretentious wanker (well, mostly).

I’ll also be sure to return to this once I have a better grasp of philosophy – I had to keep re-looking up all the “-ism”s on Dictionary.com, and I think there’s a lot to gain from Houellebecq’s social, religious, philosophical and scientific cross-overs.

The writings of a decaying society, an opinion I actively (darkly) embrace, completely struck by that heavy melancholy of modern life, post-freedom years misery. But then again, the hippies were wrong, non?

Saturday, Ian McEwan

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Following a recent conversation with a friend who praised a passage in McEwan’s Enduring Love (which I haven’t read), I decided to return to the author of The Daydreamer (a story with which I was entranced for most of middle school) and embark on his bestseller Saturday, digging it out from our living room bookshelves in that “I’m-not-well-read-enough” frenzy I seem to get myself into every couple of months.

He truly is a gorgeous writer. Sometimes I look at a page in a book and I just like the way the words look, and with McEwan’s linguistic mastery, every aesthetic pleasure of his prose, from appearance to digestion, tastes insightful and originally composed.

Plus, the beauty and incisiveness of his story-telling sure takes the edge of being quite disdainful/awed/burningly envious of his characters in their vibrant lives of talent and privilege.

I like the way the novel spans just one day (clue: it’s not Tuesday). Infuses a lightness to the reading; you don’t feel as pressured to draw conclusions as you would with a differently structured book, and find softly constructed opinions floating down gently into your lap anyway.

A real nice condensation of world crisis into the contained life of a middle-class dude; the Saturday in question here is 15th February 2003, the gigantic global anti-Iraq war protest. Safety and security is brought into question, and protagonist Perowne’s pensive thoughts will most certainly get you thinking.


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Alberto Balsalm, Aphex Twin

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