Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Letters to Father Jacob

Postia pappi Jaakobille, or, Letters to Father Jacob, is a movie by Finnish director, Klaus Härö. 
It has two main characters, a female ex-con, and an elderly and blind priest. A postman plays a smaller role, and there is a man at the beginning who asks where Leila, the pardoned prisoner, is going to go. That's the cast. The setting is a remote rectory with a leaky roof, and bundles of letters stored everywhere. The nearby church has been unused for some long time, it appears. 

Leila reluctantly accepts the offer of a live-in job not as the priest's housekeeper but as the reader of the letters he receives every day from people far and wide asking for prayer and help. She is also expected to write the replies he dictates. Leila is not much impressed with the job; she's obviously long since given up on God, and believes what she did that caused her to be put in prison is probably unforgivable. The priest has more faith than this, though he too has a struggle at one point in the story. 

The film takes its slow way forward, allowing for plenty of subtlety and reflection, and relies heavily on the skills of the two leading actors, Kaarina Hazard and Heikki Nousiainen. Though Nousiainen was only sixty-four when the movie was his face appears much older, full of lines and crags. He has been an actor since the late sixties, but because we don't know him, we can come to him fresh in this movie, without the baggage of having seen him in dozens of other roles, and can believe in the sanctity that surrounds his character. 

Finland is a country in which Protestantism is the registered faith of around 75% of the population, though few of those actually go to church most of the year. Christmas and Easter are the main times when people attend. So it would be easy to expect that the film would take a somewhat negative approach to Christian belief; in fact it presents a Christian faith as a perfectly reasonable thing, and doesn't undermine it at any point.

I've been using Clippings Converter for two or three years. It began as a way of uploading clippings from my Kindle into a format like Word or Evernote (I prefer the latter) and being able to access them more readily while using my PC. They've now shortened their name from Clippings Converter to, and are heading for another step up in their online journey, with added features that will enhance their site considerably. The main addition is the Google Chrome extension, which you can use to speed up the shift from the Kindle itself to your PC or Mac. There is a small charge per month for this extension (previously Clippings Converter was free), and no doubt there will be many people who take advantage of it. At $2.49NZ it's a good deal. With this extension you no longer have to plug in your Kindle to your PC; the extension will read clippings from your phone or iPad or other Windows devices. It'll be interesting to see how that works. 

If you're already a follower of this site, you can encourage others to use it through Twitter, FB or Google+. Just click on any of the links below. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

No sales tax

As an Auckland resident (which I'm not) I'm told that if I make any purchases from I won't have to pay sales tax. Although that apparently excludes any shipments to Florida that I may make. I'm not sure if Florida has recently transplanted itself to Auckland, New Zealand, but I guess it's kind of possible. They have similar climates at certain times of the year, and lately Auckland has been getting more and more tropical weather of the typhoon/tornado kind. Aucklanders, who continually tell those who live in the rest of the country how badly off they are, have been losing their roofs, windows, trampolines and more in a series of hectic winds. We've never lost our trampoline, though it did shift place a little once. Nor have we ever had the roof blown away. Thankfully. However, glass from the glasshouse is prone to fly off and smash in a high wind, and that has happened to us. We can't be protected from all things down here in the South. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Promise

Over the last few days we've watched the four episodes of Peter Kosminsky's TV film: The Promise. Like much of Kosminsky's TV work, it's quite provocative, and your sympathies change as the story unfolds.

Two stories interweave: one is set in Palestine just after the Second World War. A young sergeant is caught up in the historic events of the time, when the British were keeping the peace - as far as possible - between the new Jewish settlers who'd returned to their homeland after the horrors of the concentration camps, and the Palestinians who had lived in the area for centuries and were suddenly finding themselves kicked out of their country by a people who apparently forgot, very quickly, what it was like to be treated badly because of who you were.

The second story is set in the present day: the Sergeant is now an old man dying in a hospital. His unsympathetic daughter and his granddaughter (who's barely known the supposedly grumpy old man) set about clearing out his house. The daughter, Erin, finds the old man's diary, with photos and newspaper clippings. Against her mother's orders, she keeps the diary, and takes it with her to Israel where she's going with a friend whose Israeli background means she has to go into the Army for two years. Erin is a typical know-all teenager who begins to find out a great deal more about the Israel-Palestine conflict than she would ever have learned in her native country, and also matures quickly as a result of trying to repair something that had gone wrong back when her grandfather was a young man.

The two stories gradually cohere. There are perhaps too many coincidences in the plotting, and the filmmakers slide over some questions about motivations that probably should have been asked, but for all that the film carries you along as you increasingly struggle - like Erin - to make sense of a country where a people who were hated almost universally for centuries (the Jews) and then were slaughtered in their millions, show almost no care or concern for a people who by accident live in the country the Jews claim as their homeland.

Kosminsky doesn't offer us easy answers: we begin by thinking that the Israelis are a pretty reasonable bunch of people, but gradually discover - as both the grandfather and the granddaughter do - that they have almost no sympathy for the Palestinians, and show little concern about killing them or destroying their property if the need, or mood, arises. Try as you might, by the end of the movie, it's likely your opinion of the Israeli people may be much less sympathetic than at first. Whether this is a more one-sided view on Kosminsky's part than is fair is left to our judgement.

Claire Foy plays the initially sulky teenager with ease - there are times when you want to wipe that sulky look off her face, even late in the film. Nevertheless, she makes the journey from sulkiness to a degree of wisdom effectively. Christian Cooke, as the Sergeant, has a face that often makes it look as though he's going to burst into tears, yet he convinces us that he's a man who can make wise decisions, is loyal, is strong in a crisis, and much more. He's particularly strong in his last scenes when everything he's tried to do for a Palestinian family goes wrong, and he's treated as a deserter and thrown into prison.

The rest of the enormous cast are superb, and with the film shot entirely in Israel (with places standing in for Hebron, Gaza, and the West Bank. Even the Ben Gurion airport stands in for Heathrow. The series in general received high praise when first shown, though there were a number of voices claiming that it was anti-semitic in tone, something which can be justified, if that's what you're looking for.

Since writing this review I've become more aware of the concerns that were raised over Kosminsky's series. This article goes into detail about these and provides some balance to the way in which Kosminsky nudges his viewers more and more into an anti-Israeli bias.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Other Son

The Other Son is an intense, emotional film set in Israel and Palestine (there's a great deal of coming and going across the border between the two areas, and many views of the wall), and it's quite a tear-jerker, though in best sense.

It has a slightly improbable story, perhaps (although the starting point of the story is as old as the hills): two babies are literally swapped at birth because of fears of a Scud attack.One baby is Jewish but is given back to the Palestinian mother, and the other baby, of course, is Palestinian, and given back to the Jewish mother.This only comes to light when the 'Jewish' boy is about to turn eighteen and a blood test reveals that he couldn't possibly be the son of his parents. The other parents are informed, and there's a great deal of struggling to come to grips with the issue, both on the part of the two young men, but even more so on the part of the fathers. The mothers manage to begin to work through the problem much quicker than their husbands, of course, but even for them it's a major upheaval.

There are four languages spoken in the film: Hebrew, Arabic, English and French - the Jewish father is French by birth, and it appears that the family has spent some time there, but the 'Arab' boy has also been studying there.

The director is Lorraine Lévy, who also co-wrote the screenplay. She makes a fine job of bringing out the emotional aspects of the story (there's little 'action' in it), and is supported by a wonderful cast, all of whom are unknown to me, though plainly very experienced. When you see foreign movies you realise again and again what a vast world of actors, directors, writers there is out there whom we barely know about. We're so inundated with Hollywood and British movies and TV that we remain quite insular. 

This is a great story, and well worth catching up with. There's an interesting interview with the director here.

Writing and reading

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

Anne Lamott

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Payu2blog gone?

Over the years I've done a lot of posts here for a site called It seems that they've run right down, however. I've had no assignments for a few months, and they're not answering any emails (not that they were ever very good at that). They've begun to use Twitter as an alternative to blog posts, but the Twitter approach doesn't seem to be working. I never got paid for the one assignment they offered that I've tweeted, and the latest assignment along these lines is so confusingly laid out, I've had read trouble trying to figure out what they're talking about.

It's a pity, because Payu2blog was a reasonable source of small income over several years; my PayPal account was kept topped up by it. Ah well, that seems to be the way of the Net. Some things have their day and then suddenly they're gone, when the crowd moves on...