Archives for the month of: August, 2012

I first saw the French actress Sandrine Kiberlain in Mademoiselle Chambon (2009), and was much impressed by her understated and nuanced performance.

Thus, I looked forward to seeing Yves Caumon’s current release The Bird, in which Kiberlain plays the central role.

Kiberlain’s character is that of a single woman, who lives alone and appears detached from her co-workers and from society in general. A melancholic film, Kiberlain again delivers an understated and moving performance, a finely tuned balance between depersonalisation and almost palpable sadness. We gradually learn of the loss that has transported her to this so very alone and solitary place.

A bird befriends her, both a distraction and a projection of her loss.

But, beautiful as the movie is, there is at times a sense of melancholy and sadness overdone, and even contrived…the pathetic fallacy of rain, the reenactment of Virginia Woolf and stones in the river, the heavy symbolism of the bird, and ashes, and scattering. And the difficult to believe ending…

Perhaps plausibility is not the point here. Kiberlain is an amazing actress and adds so much depth to the role, and the cinematography is wonderful.

I remain glad that I experienced it.


Alison Klayman’s film follows the artist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for autumn shows at the Sao Paulo Biennale and Tate Modern. Throughout the documentary, however, it is Ai Weiwei the political activist rather that the artist that is the dominant force.

Ai Weiwei’s absolute commitment to challenging injustice in China is extraordinary and humbling, particularly as he perseveres today, despite his 81 day detention in 2011.

His upbringing first acquainted him with repression. His father, the poet and political activist Ai Qing, was subjected to imprisonment for his beliefs.

Ai Weiwei was first celebrated as an artist outside of his native country. However, as his worldwide fame grew, the political regime in China decided to embrace this success and commissioned him to create the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The artist’s relationship with Chinese authorities soon turned sour. The main catalyst for this was the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. Thousands died, yet there were no officials figures, nor any official statements on what caused the earthquake and the deaths, which included many children. Ai Weiwei, with the help of volunteers, redressed this silence by painstakingly gathering and listing the names of those who died. His fellow activist Tan Zuoren also tried to get more information on the earthquake but was arrested for doing so. Ai Weiwei was due to testify at his trial, but was detained and assaulted by the police, which thus prevented him from appearing in court. The artist took legal action against the police, which predictably fails. But this very point seem to emphasise the motives behind Ai Weiwei’s actions –  it is not just about the outcome, but of challenging injustice whenever and wherever possible. Action outplays inaction.

The film includes interviews with fellow artists, who acknowledge and admire Ai Weiwei’s refusal to compromise, to comply with towing the only line permitted by the Chinese authorities.

The film briefly touches on the artist’s private life. We see his mother, who both admires and is fearful for her son. Ai Weiwei has been married to a fellow artist for many years, and has a young son by another woman, all of whom appear significant and important in his life. The artist has turned the internet, particularly Twitter, to his, and the Chinese people’s advantage, as he doggedly shares his views on the injustices he witnesses in his native country, to which he is deeply committed.

The film is captivating and unobtrusively gives some insight into the man, the artist, and most especially the political activist.

But, and this is a small but for an impressive and must-see film, I did leave the auditorium wanting more…


Sunday, August 26, 2012

…but now back with much to say.

And so, this week I plan to share my thoughts on…

The novel, Monsieur Linh and His Child

The art of Richard Langley

The film, Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry

The film, A Simple Life

The play, London Road



Monday, August 6, 2012

This sculpture, by Hendrik de Keyser c. 1615, has recently been acquired by the Rijksmuseum, gifted by an anonymous donor.

The piece, carved in wood, depicts a screaming child being stung by a bee on his forehead. It also refers to the story of Cupid, the god of love, who was chased and stung by a bee having stolen honey from the beehive.

The sculpture may thus be a parable on love, sweet as honey, yet also profoundly painful. For me, however, the power of the work lies not in allegory, but in its extreme, almost distressing expressiveness.

It is challenging to stay with the piercing gaze of the suffering child who is agonised by his experience, such is the exquisite realism of the emotions encapsulated by de Keyser.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

I was intrigued by the premise of Bernard Shaw’s play, that of suffering at the hands of doctors, and the ethics of medical care. Currently running at the Lyttelton Theatre, Shaw insisted that the play was a tragedy, yet critics see it as a farce, a satire on the medical profession. When I saw the play, the audience appeared to agree with the critics, and I was surrounded by laughter. I was not so sure, and have now concluded, having re-read the play and particularly Shaw’s own preface, that the piece is indeed a tragic indictment of the medical profession.

The plays centres on Sir Colenso Ridgeon (Aden Gillett), a Harley street doctor and his medical colleagues. The moral dilemma Ridgeon has to consider is the choice between saving the life of an artist and ‘scoundrel’ Louis Dubedat (Tom Burke) and that of a poor doctor Dr Blenkinsop (Derek Hutchinson). The decision is complicated by his infatuation with Dubedat’s wife, Jennifer (Genevieve O’Reilly).

Thus, the play raises the question of, and to some extent explores, the value of human life, and specifically how the medical profession, at least of that era (one hopes that doctors are less god-like in their pronouncements and decisions today), adjudicates on the worthwhileness of an individual.

It is the era of consumption, when TB almost invariably carried a death sentence. It was also the era of experimentation, which raises many moral and ethical questions. Ridgeon states, as he expounds on his successful quest for a TB innoculation cure:

‘Well, it’s always the patient who has to take the chance when an experiment is necessary.’ (p.97)

A statement that may well be a truism, yet the consequences and downsides of such a ‘truth’ remain unquestioned by those who pronounce.

A colleague, Sir Patrick Cullen (David Calder) is the lone voice of conscience:

‘Well, sometimes a man knows best; and sometimes he knows worst. You’d much better cure them both.’ (p.137)

Yet Ridgeon ignores Cullen’s advice. ‘Mr. Saviour of Lives’, as Cullen sarcastically calls Ridgeon, saves one life and allows the other to die. The premise for the choice is unrealistic, Ridgeon claiming that he only has enough medicine for one more patient. Yet this fact matters little. The point that Shaw wants to convey, is how society, and most particularly the medical profession, decides on whose life is worth saving.

Ridgeon dismisses the artist’s life with:

‘It is easier to replace a dead man than a good picture.’ (p.137)

Dubebat is deemed a ‘rotten blackguard artist’ by the doctors. Blenkinsop, on the other hand, is an ‘honest decent’ sort, and one of their own. Dubebat sarcastically states:

‘Now, I’m only an immoral artist….But you are all moral men…’ (p.147)

In the final scene of the play, Dubedat’s widow encounters Ridgeon, her husband’s ‘murderer’. Ridgeon concedes:

‘Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive

Officiously to keep alive.

I suppose – yes: I killed him.’ (p.185)

He does not seem unduly concerned by this admission:

‘I am a doctor: I have nothing to fear.’ (p.186)

Dubedat’s widow accuses Ridgeon of what he is:

‘You do think you are a little god.’ (p.186)

Ridgeon’s god-like actions ultimately backfire, as the widow choses to marry someone else.  The play concludes with the doctor’s realisation:

‘Then I have committed a purely disinterested murder!’ (p.188)

Shaw is very clear on his views of the medical profession, whom he denounces openly in the preface to the play:

‘I must reply that the medical profession has not a high character; it has an infamous character.’ (preface, p.10)

He dismisses doctors as without honor or conscience (preface, p.11). He also calls for public control of the profession, and the play presents as an indictment of private medicine, and prescient of the birth of the NHS.

Shaw clearly had his own personal agenda for creating this play. The content is sobering, and ultimately tragic.

One can but hope that contemporary medicine no longer includes god-like creatures amongst its practitioners…


Bernard Shaw. The Doctor’s Dilemma. London: Penguin Books, 1906.