Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

Social norms are so normal we don't notice them very often.  But they control us, or at least influence us or some might say they are there to be challenged or ignored.  Social scientists are dissecting the world and it seems continually identifying new ways to divide us into useful bits that others can use to better understand (and manipulate) our behavior.  Michelle Gelfand has identified a continuum that is both a result and cause of many other factors namely, looseness and tightness and has a few ideas how to balance them.  She also includes that social norms are what binds groups together.

When the author talks of tightness she is referring to social norms that are restrictive, regimented and conformative.  When she refers to looseness it is the disregard for strict rules and more relaxed.  The tightness-looseness scale is a continuum with the extremes at either ends and what passes for normal in between.  

Surveyed 33 countries to determine how they fit on a continuum between tightness and looseness.  The tightest nations include Pakistan, Singapore, Norway, India and Malaysia.  At the other end the loosest nations include Ukraine, Israel, New Zealand, Brazil, Netherlands and the United States.  Corporations and individuals have many variables.

Why are some nations tighter than others?  Generally an outside threat unites the population and they accept restrictions for the common good.  Outside threats include invaders, drought, turbulent weather, pandemics, scarcities, etc.  Orderliness is highly valued.  With the lessening of outside threats people have less need for order and restrictions.  The author relates her scale to companies and individuals allowing that each group has variations.  As individuals we are tight about different things, but most of us feel a need for looseness with other activities.

The benefits of tightness are a regimented power to get something done.  The benefit of looseness is innovation (I would add more fun, at least in the short view).  The truth is taken to an extreme either factor can hurt society extremely.  Finding the balance, as the author puts it, the Goldilocks principle is an ongoing battle.  You might remember Goldilocks found one porridge bowl too hot, another too cold and another just right. 

She points out that early American settlers from Scotland and Ireland were very concerned about honor, but generous until they felt insulted.  That attitude helped set the tone for United States and also Canada.  Diversity opened up looseness, until some felt conflict.  Gelfand suggests there might be some genetic flows as people tend to associate (and mate) with similar people.

An experiment highlighted in this book that demonstrated that people tended to conform to the majority, reminded me of an embarrassment that haunts me.  At university I majored in sociology and we were encouraged to do experiments to understand better.   Simply a vertical line was shown on the left side and the participant was to determine which of three lines matched it.  Simple enough, except that all but one of the participants had been instructed to give false declarations to see if the test subject would bend to the majority judgment.  In many cases they did.  My group decided to see if women were more compliant then men which in general they were (this was before 1970).  Why I feel guilty is that I recruited the sister of a good friend.  She was intelligent and well educated, but had been raised in a Central American culture that was even more male dominated than our own.  She caved almost right away despite the others being blatantly wrong.  She was a decent person who was willing to do me a favor and I am sure she felt humiliated.

Quote from the author "From the time we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we experience the ebb and flow of tight and loose mind-sets... Each of us has a default setting."  Another quote, this time from Dov Frohman of Intel Israel, "If you aren't aware that the people in the organization disagree with you, then you are in trouble."  Dissent indicates a looseness that can benefit the corporation.

The tightness-looseness continuum relates closely to other traits in what she labels a curvilinear relationship such as diversity, mental health, happiness, even life expectancy.  As we are all tied to global concerns it will be necessary for loose and tight societies to co-operate.  The author offers examples of how this has worked and might work in the future.

The book was published in 2018, but I learned of it through a recent television interview between Fareed Zakaria and Michelle Gelfand that focused on how different cultures were reacting to the Covid 19 pandemic.  Tight cultures established control much quicker, but were not as able to adapt to changing variants while the loose cultures were more adaptive.  It was concluded that a mixture would be better.

From the Acknowledgements we learn a conversation with her father helped expand her interests.  Studied to be a doctor, but became interested in cultural matters.  Has pulled together a variety of academic disciplines.  In the end she marvels that with her husband and two daughters she personally has achieved the Goldilocks Principle.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Heaven's Garden (Cheonsangui hwawon)

 Korean tv series have become very addictive with me. "Heaven's Garden"  was slightly different in that it was released in 2011, meaning it is not quite as slick as more recent series.  Still this one proved to be not only very enjoyable, but mind opening.

 Like all the others seen it has a very complicated plot with many minor characters developed over the course of 30 episodes.  Although many are not likable at first they gradually more understandable and even likeable towards the end.

The basic plot starts with an estranged father and daughter with a step daughter thrown in.  As the series progresses we can add in a husband and ex wife.  Neighbors with their own relations are added in.  A theme picked up early is children not living with their birth mother.  In the first instance the estranged daughter, distraught with marital concerns finds her father upset that she would bring a step daughter.  She is made to feel unwanted, but in the end she is the key to the whole series.  She loves her step mother who cannot imagine living without her.  She would be about 13 at the beginning and comes right out and asks what she has to do for acceptance.  The first character transformation is with her grandfather who in facts does accept her and we learn he is a very strong character who is conscious of mistakes made earlier in his life.

There are loads of complications and misunderstandings.  And it should be mentioned loads of transformations.  At the end there are still a few loose ends, but that just reflects reality.  Most of the characters are better off.

What makes it meaningful for me is what might be a tree analogy somewhat explained by the grandfather to his step-granddaughter.  He is a farmer who seems to have a good understanding how things grow.  When asked about why one tree looks a little different he explains about grafting a branch from one tree to another creates something better.  Over a number of episodes the mother and her step daughter become comfortable with the concept that she is really "special."  We encounter some other special children with their parents and appreciate that they (both parent and step child) are better off.  

The writer used an interesting tool to finish the series.  The one step daughter has been asked to do a last will as a school project.  Most of the other students procrastinate, but Eun-soon thinks it would be "fun."  She puts it that she likes to think about what she would leave behind.  She explains to her grandfather that she wants to be a teacher and specialize in "special' children, but also including their parents (birth and otherwise).  Her vision is that they would all live together and learn from each other.  She wanted to leave behind her a school for all of them.  A day or so later her grandfather offers to the whole family with his own will that includes organ donations, but is highlighted with his idea of a special scholarship to make Eun-soo's school possible.  The series ends with many of the characters writing about what they want to leave behind.  Knowing the characters, some of the messages are stirring.

Obviously films like this do not just happen.  Although it is not as slick as more recent series, the script, direction, acting and the many actions of the full crew blended to make it very memorable.  

The script writer is the most critical key.  Not able to learn much about Eun-nim Ko, except she is female and she has been active at least within the past two years.  The plot contains lots of complications that viewers love, but it has an underlying theme that sneak up over many episodes.

The director Jong-han Lee is only credited with one other film which was earlier.  No listings for producers, music, cinematography or any other crew functions.  Many details fall into place for the overall strong impression.  One aspect that impressed me was the landscape which was rural over the whole year with interludes with natural scenes involving birds and running water.

They key roles were very well done and conveyed the difficult range of emotions.

Ho-jeong Yu plays Jae-in, the estranged daughter which is really who we follow and she is very likeable.  Will she win over her father, will she get back with her somewhat shady husband loved by her two children or with her confidence shattered accept the advances of a very likeable man, will she be able to reconcile other relationships.  She is excellent and apparently has an active career.

Bool-am Choi plays the estranged father/grandfather.  We do not like him right away, but soon he melts a little and over time we learn a little of history which does include awareness of many mistakes.  He is also accepting of other people who have made mistakes.  His relationship with his step grand daughter and his daughter is enjoyable to watch.  His career goes back to 1968 and extended a bit beyond this film.

Sae-ron Kim plays the step daughter and appears mostly always cheery, although she also conveys someone with deeper thoughts.  The year before this series she had a role in "The Man From Nowhere" (2010).  She has gone onto more films and has won a few awards.

Seo-hyun Ahn plays the natural daughter of Jae-in and at times appears very spoiled and also jealous.  She had appeared in "The Housemaid" (2010) and reached a much bigger role with "Okja" (2017) an American/Korean project directed and co-written by Bong Joon Ho.

The many supporting characters were very well done.  A few seemed stiff, but as the series progressed a change was evident that reflected acting skills.

It is my hope that more people will catch it on Netflix or some other source.  It's message deserves a wider audience.

Another favorite series:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/03/its-okay-not-to-be-okay.html

The one that really got me started:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Body Remembers when the world broke Open

 APTN, the television network offerss movies that have some sort of indigenous connection.  Most of the movies have low budgets and one feels the network feels an obligation to present the indigenous perspective.  The title  "The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open" (20190 comes from a an essay by Cree poet, Billy-Ray Belcourt.

 It is a story about someone trying to help someone in need and being resisted.   Aila is herself indigenous with one parent Blackfoot and the other Sami (Norwegin) but she looks educated and middle class.  A pregnant, poorly clothed indigenous woman, Rosie was crying, barefoot and Aila hustles her new acquaintance away from the abusive boyfriend and to her home.  Rosie is  unhappy, but also fearful of change, revenge and public disapproval.  From this point Aila tries to persuade Rosie to seek help, but Rosie acts resentful.  Aila, after several phone calls finds a shelter that has an opening and shames Rosie to visit with her.  After a lot of guidance and a tour of the shelter, Rosie decides to go back home.  That is basically the story realistically presented.

About fifty years ago I was a young, naive social worker and found myself being advised to help a woman who felt abused, but reluctant to take action.  I had a run in with her husband who was very drunk,  aggressive and threatening.  I was rescued by a police officer I had met on the job.  The next day the husband who had been put in jail, came and apologized to me.  I wasn't on the job long enough to know how it worked out.

The writer, director and actor Elle-Maija Tailfeathers played Aila identifying her actual racial background.  Aila is a well meaning do gooder, but finds Rosie difficult to motivate.  Elle-Maija graduated from the Vancouver Film School and University of British Columbia majoring in First Nations Studies.  This movie is based on a personal experience.  She has done well as actress, director, writer and producer winning awards in all these disciplines.  Has even done some editing and camera work.  Awhile back I saw a movie done by Chloe Zhao on APTN that led her to bigger projects.  "Songs My Brother Taught Me." (2015) .Elle-Maija seems another candidate. 

Kathleen Hepburn  writer, director has partnered with Elle-Maija and shared in many of the same awards.  She has also done editing and camera work.

Lori Lozinski, producer known for socially conscious films with strong female characters.  Alberta born and now based in Vancouver has won awards.  She has been producing since 2004.

Tyler Hagan, producer has partnered with Ell-Maija, Kathleen  and Lori on several films. 

Alan R. Milligan, producer with experience in Norway and Iceland, including "Rams" (2015), Cannes Film Festival winner.  Oslo Pictures of Norway help produce this film.

Norm Li was the cinematographer who has been involved with camera work since 2005.   Filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia,

The editor, Chrisian Sibenherz is Norwegian and has edited films since 2006 including "The Wave" (2015.)

Violet Nelson in her first film played Rosie, the pregnant abused woman   Her role was to  be distrustful and fearful of authority figures.

Barbara Eve Harris played a shelter person who tried to reassure Rosie and in the end recognized it would take more than one encounter.  Born to Jamaican parents,  raised in Ottawa she has appeared in many tv. shows and movies (both sides of the border and beyond) including "People Like Us" (2012), "How to Get Away With Murder" (2015).

Since I was a student, I have been interested in indigenous people, but mostly ignorant.  I have read and watched lots of presentations and feel that APTN offers something not only for the indigenous, but also for the rest of us who have only a superficial understanding.

The bolded film titles are ones that hae been seen. 

Another film seen through APTN:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/tia-and-piujuq.html

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Oak Island Obsession

An obsession is something that is difficult to leave alone no matter how frustrating.  The Oak Island mystery is one of mine.  I am far from the only person obsessed with Oak Island--Rick and Marty Lagina have spent literally millions, spent countless hours on the project and have attracted a lot of support.  Their tv. show has generated more interest and likely more money for the project.   More about them later.

 When my daughter decided she wanted to go to university in Halifax, neither my wife or I had ever been to anywhere in the Maritimes.  I read as much as I could learning about the fascinating history and culture of Nova Scotia.  Somehow stumbled on a book about Oak Island and its mysterious hole.  There was rumored to be a treasure partly because so much money had been spent and lives lost to set it up.   Not sure how long ago the story begins, but the Crusades possibly are an important part of it.

I was a salesman with a lot of freedom and one of my bosses agreed to help finance a trip to the Maritimes and I decided I would try to make sales all over the Maritimes.  I was expected to move my daughter's furniture and sometimes her,  back and forth.  One of my trips I was able to stay in a hotel within eyesight of Oak Island.  The road was blocked.  My timing was good in that the hotel was most empty (about the week before the March break).  Second trip almost full and got a room in the basement.  Not able to get any closer.

I am most certain that the Portuguese had come to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland to fish well before any of Columbus's trips.  And they wanted to keep in secret.  There were Portuguese contacts with the Templars.  The Vikings also preceded Columbus.  Columbus did not come blindly, but had some sort of access to Atlantic information.  It is clear that our history books are very incomplete with much knowledge hidden from view.

I had read about the Templars beforehand. They came into being as a result of the Crusades.  They developed a system of banking which was used in part to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land.  We do know that the Papacy declared them heretics forcing them into hiding.  Templars had discovered other religious beliefs and heard different versions of the life of Jesus.  They were said to have taken valuable religious relics and sought a safe place to hide them.  Henry St. Clair of Scotland took them under protection.  One episode showed a connection between the Templars and Portuguese.

Speculation has it that they traveled to Nova Scotia with the idea of hiding their treasure.  Apparently Henry St. Clair hired two Italian seamen and many ships in about 1198 and we cannot account for where they went, but there are indications they were in Nova Scotia.  Portuguese Templars left a mark in nearby New Ross, Nova Scotia.  Apparently they met with and worked with the local M'kmaq Indians who likely gave them information and perhaps provided some of the labour.  It is thought the Templars had access to mining skills needed to build the system of shafts and tunnels.  One suggestion was that they used Cornish tin miners.  All that could be true or something similar or maybe not at all.   If they did, how much of a secret was it?  Many suggestions involve pirates, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Sacking of Havana, French Revolution. A thread that holds much of it together is the Masons.  Masons may well have evolved from the Templars as they shared rituals.

Some of the secret was revealed in 1795 when 3 teenagers visited the island and noticed a block and tackle hanging from a tree over a depression on the earth underneath.  They dug and quickly noticed some logs bundled together to form a floor.  Going further they found every 10 feet there were more logs forming floors.  At one point they saw a plaque with strange symbols.  Going further unleashed a water booby trap.

It seems possible that some of the treasure has already been "stolen"  Samuel Ball, an escaped slave and British Loyalist was a cabbage farmer on Oak Island, after the American Revolution, but somehow bought other lots on Oak Island as well on the Mainland and died a rich man.  The three young boys who discovered the Money Pit in 1795 seemed to have become very well off .  

In the over two centuries since then a variety of men have dug, drilled, drained water and researched.   As I write this it is possible much of the mystery will be resolved. After reading several books I have been watching  5 seasons of the tv. series "The Curse of Oak Island" on DVD.  It has been frustrating in that there are many promising leads, but an endless stream of disappointments.  They seem to have learned much that leads to tantalizing speculation.  The curse is based on the claim that seven people had to die before the treasure would be found and only six had died so far.   By their 5th season they set up interpretive centre with artifacts and photos   Dan Blankenship started effort in 1970 after reading article in Reader's Digest actively involved in his 90's, actually living on Oak Island.  Dave Blankenship, living in Florida,divorced, physical problems joined his father in 1972  after marrying a local woman maintained his involvement to the present time.

Two brothers, Marty and Rick Lagina from Traverse City, Michigan brought together a business partner, experts of a wide range and previous explorers.  They traveled to and consulted with experts including from nearby universities, an American library and European sites.  They decided to set up a television program that has run several years.  Along the way they gave a history of efforts and discovered artifacts and information.  Lots of encouraging developments, but frustrating disappointments. An Oak Island curse was that 7 people would die before the treasure could be uncovered.  Six had died before this video series started. I have followed five seasons of their shows by DVD borrowed from my local library.

There are many intriguing lines of query that perhaps are connected.  Over many books and the tv. series I have read about the Templars, Francis Bacon, Shakespeare,pirates the sacking of Havana, Marie Antoinette, etc.  Speculation is fun

One interesting treasure hunter was Franklin Roosevelt, a Mason.  Even after becoming president he expressed an interest in the search.  Apparently he thought the treasure was jewels of Marie Antoinette.  The Laginas went to the  Franklin D. Roosevelt museum and library where they learned Roosevelt's grandfather involved.  He had made his fortune at least partially through the opium trade with China.  It was thought Marie Antoinette/King Louis XVI who ended being guillotined had trusted the royal jewels to a lady in waiting who did end up in Nova Scotia  including the Mahone Bay area where Oak Island is located.

 Pirates or privateers are a natural suspects as they are already noted for burying treasures that they have stolen.  On the other hand they are not considered sophisticated enough to construct an elaborate booby trapped system found at Oak Island.  But some do in fact have access to expertise.  And some like Sir Francis Drake and Captain James Anderson have royal connections and even more interesting were Masons and privy to secret information.  Captain Anderson actually lived on Oak Island around 1791. Captain Kidd is another name that comes up and I remember him from a mystery book by Nelson DeMille, "Plum Island."  The Sack of Havana by British forces is suggested as they seemed to have traveled to Nova Scotia.  Spanish coins from 1600's were discovered by the Lagina project.

The most fascinating speculation for me is to do with Francis Bacon, the originator of "Knowledge is Power."  One far out story is that he might have been the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I.  He certainly had royal connections and was a very intelligent man.  He was also a Mason.  A lot of people feel that Shakespeare wasn't really Shakespeare and there have been a number of men educated enough to have written the plays and poems.  Shakespeare did not have the education many feel was necessary to be the writer of the classics attributed to him.  It is suggested that the real treasure at Oak Island is not gold or jewels but the original Shakespeare texts and perhaps proof of who really wrote them.   

Some tidbits remembered from the shows: 

French explorer and cartographer, Champlain left out Mahone Bay on map leading to speculation that he wanted to keep that knowledge secret.  At that time the French controlled what is now Nova Scotia.

Coconut fibre was uncovered  in the digging were determined at Acadia University to be over 200 years.  Spanish coins were found suggesting pirates had visited.

Petter Amundsen from Norway visited with a theory.  He believed Shakespeare's first folio had been altered to provide clues which culminated in a astronomical map that pointed towards Oak Island.-

A Templars researcher, Zena Halpern believed she had Templar documents from 1100 and 1300 that showed maps of Nova Scotia and Oak Island.

Legal concerns crop up from time to time, concerning their right to dig and they sometimes had to half some of their efforts..

One hopes that this obsession will be resolved, but if not it has been a most interesting journey. 

A bit more on my interest in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/07/travels-of-salesman-part-two-maritimes.html

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

 Good memories of "Bear Town" and having watched "A Man Called Ove" spurred me  to read the latest book of Fredrik Backman.  At first it seemed very frivolous and "arty."  As pages were turned it turned out to be layered.

A simple story (?) about a messed up bank robbery and an awkward hostage situation.  People meet one another and we discover connections gradually.  The past is always present and steers the future.  You may not be able to hold back a laugh or two. 

The narrative is rendered in different formats.  We think we have a rough idea where this is going and along the way we read some insights that we mostly would agree with, although we seldom give the matters much thought.   It takes awhile (unless you are more observant than me) to catch on to a deeper meaning.

A quote that needs to have context to be appreciated; "We plant an apple tree today, even if we know the world is going to be destroyed tomorrow...We save those we can."  It is worth reading the book including the acknowledgements to understand.

 The book is originally in Swedish and set in that country, but the humans are universal.  The references to Stockholmers can be substituted to your more familiar metaphors.

Normally acknowledgements are skipped or skimmed, but this book offers something unique and something that helps explain the book.  Another book, "Old Age A Beginners Guide"  with a unique acknowledgements:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/old-age-beginners-guide.html

I have come to admire the author who was first suggested to me by Chris, a  local librarian.  I liked a movie based on Backman's book and found a co worker who enjoyed the book.  "Bear Town" was about a small hockey town with political and social dynamics, not particularly unusual, but well explained.

"Beartown" is another book well worth reading:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/06/beartown.html

A blog on the movie "A Man Called Ove" might interest you as an English version will soon be available. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/a-man-called-ove.html

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Fisherman's Diary

I don't blog every movie I watch, but lately it seems that several seen in a short time are worthy of more attention.  This one is worthy because of its message.  It is of interest because it shows a developing cinema power that boosts options for all of us.   Available on Netflix.

Education is the message.  For girls in many third world countries it is very difficult.  This film is set in a poor African (Cameroon) village.  There is a small private school financed by a moderately wealthy man with some connections.  The father of Ecka loves his daughter, but is dead against education for girls as are most of the fishermen in their community.

Ecka, even at 12 years is very good at organizing the women wanting to buy fish.  She wants to be educated and since her father won't pay for it or even allow it she sneaks to the school house that has holes through the log wall where she can follow the teacher.  Eventually the teacher realizes she is a quicker learner than her paying students.  She tries to help and brings up the memories of Malala who had been shot in her face because of her effort to get educated.  This is brought up another time and at the end in a more triumphant manner.

The teacher is reprimanded for her efforts and then threatened with violence.  Ecka is beaten and hunted down.  Her father's brother suggests to marry her off, although she is only 12 years old.  She is forcibly married to a friend of her uncle and forcibly raped.  She pleads with her father who tells she must go back to her husband.  Her father learns that his brother arranged the marriage to pay off a heavy debt. and is very upset.  Ecka makes another attempt to escape.  The next time we see her she has been entered in a television contest and wins.  There is an appearance years later at a graduation ceremony.    -

Cameroon has two official languages English and French, but well over 200 tribal languages.  In the film you hear English from educated roles and pidgin English whenever uneducated characters are in the conversation.  Most of the dialogue is subtitled, but much of the meaning is easily understood.  I remember being surprised to learn that basketball players Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid conversing in French.

There is not yet a long history of Cameroon cinema and much of their expertise is borrowed from elsewhere, but they are building up their resources.

Enah Johnscott the director and writer was born in Wum, Cameroon.  In an interview he explained that where he grew up school costs a small, but difficult to get fee each day.  He had to "hawk' goods to get the daily charge for school. He made it to university and got interested in acting through watching fellow students rehearsing.  He felt their scripts were not very good and set out to write a better one.  He attracted attention and was asked to direct a play.  From there he learned on the inter net and YouTube some of the basics of directing.         

Kang Quintus was also born in Wum, Cameron and reached university education in Europe focusing on economics.  He drifted into acting and became very interested in film.  He wrote, acted and produced "Rejected,"(2015) which was filmed in Maryland, and Washington, D.C.  He claims fund raising was the biggest challenge.  Also edited film, demonstrating he has learned a lot, but declares will enter the New York Film School while he finishes up a Ph.D in accounting. 

Rene Etta handled the cinematography  Apparently the script worked best in the rainy season where there was more fishing, but when it rained they had to take expensive delays.  It is well done.  He did two short films, one in South Africa and the other a French language film in Cameroon. 

Music was provided by Ewube who is also a backup singer. for some of the songs.  The soundtrack was nominated for an award.      

Faith Fidel plays the 12 year old girl who is very savvy, but gets beaten a number of times and once raped on camera.  Been in Cameron films since age 5. 

Damarise Ndamo played the teacher who did what she could to help Ecka.  She has appeared in two television series.

 Ramsey Nouah played the headmaster who was aware of local resistance, but wanted to sneak Ecka into a national contest that would enhance his position.  He has been in over 100 Nollywood  films including some filmed in South Africa and the United States.

The film does not seem amateurish, in fact seems worthy of awards.  Engaging from the beginning.

Read about Nollywood that contributed expertise for this film:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/nollywood-upcoming-force-in-global-films.html

I met her Malala's father who gave a presentation at my local library and had a few words.  You can read about that:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/let-her-fly.html

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"Mandela" a Tamil satire with apt references for the U.S. Senate

 Satires make all sorts of points  If you are not familiar with Tamils you may have heard of the Tamil Tigers, the originators of suicide bombers.  But this is not them, these ones are in a small rural village in India (not Sri Lanka).  They have a long history of film making that includes political satire.  Netflix recently offered this film for streaming.

A homely man, pictured to the left, of a lower caste is early shown no respect.  His caste allows him few opportunities and he is the village barber.  The film starts off with some scattological humor that illustrates how humiliating a low caste person is treated.  In India public toilets were an election promise to dramatically improve economics, feminism and of course health. 

While talking to a female postal employee we learn he has no legal name, just insulting nicknames.  The clerk after trying several names is inspired by a postage stamp and suggests the name Nelson Mandela.  He has never heard of him, but sees a photo that faintly resembles him while the clerk flatters that the two men are both nice and searching for an identity.

An old respected man who has tried to keep two rival factions (here designated north and south) from hurting one another.  Although well respected by both sides they want him to make decisions in favor of one or the other faction.  An early example was that the old man  built the first public toilet--only one, because he thought they needed to learn how to share.  The somewhat hot headed factions decide that they need to elect a leader.  The old man agrees, recognizing he is aging.  Reality is stretched so that after a lot of effort they each calculate that the votes are exactly tied.  After getting his name changed Mandela was sent a voting certificate in public and each side realized he had the critical vote.

The election was called for 4 weeks later and each faction canvassed the voters including on death beds and overseas, but  still could not break the deadlock.  We use polls to determine who is most likely to win, but always qualify the results.  Each side through threats and bribes could force their side to toe the line.  Reminds one of some political parties.  Anyone think of Trump?

Mandela now realizes he has more leverage than ever in his poor life.  At one point even offers his vote in an auction.  This escalates until a younger friend he is fond of, has a life threatening injury and he evaluates his behavior.  The postal clerk who liked him, was disgusted that with the name she gave him, he was behaving atrociously.  He then cleverly got a new school built, roads paved and the one public toilet restored as his price.

The ending was ambiguous but symbolical.  We know Mandela voted, but we don't know for who (we really don't care).  Tension mounts as he refuses to reveal who he voted for and one of the factions (the one that thinks they  lost) is planning to kill Mandela as revenge.  He is with the postal woman who has forgiven him and sending her away for her safety.  While he awaits the elder leader asks him for a shave.  Then people from both sides ask him to perform various barber tasks until virtually the whole village is lined up and the assassins give up.  We are never told who won, but the narrator lets us view the town side as the film fades.

The U.S. Senate is a unique situation.  The Vice President (currently Kamala Harris) presides, but can only vote to break a tie.  As it happens the Democrats and Republicans each claim 50 voters.  A Republican, maybe Mitt Romney or Susan Collins could side with the Democrats to help pass legislation, but Mitch McConnell has a tight grip with committee appointments and primary support.  The Democrats have a few members in tightly contested states and have been known to vote with Republicans.  It would only take just one defector to defeat Democrat legislation.  Joe Manchin, basically a Democrat, but has voted for Republican measures that he feels his West Virginia constituency would prefer.  He now has the ability to modify legislation towards what he feels is in his best interest.    

The movie exaggerates human nature at its worst.  As an individual we have little power, but those who do have power make the rules and bend them to their benefit.  The two factions could be any two groups that differ in any regard:  Israelis and Palestinians, Democrats and Republicans, a high caste and a lower caste, etc.  Whichever group has the power can easily rationalize why they not only deserve it, but are entitled to do whatever is required to maintain it.

The producer, S. Sashikanth started as an architect and became involved with major projects.  Later he became interested in films and bucked Bollywood traditions that made producers more in charge of financing movies.  He preferred to pitch creative ideas and began producing Tamil language films in 2010.  "Mandela" certainly is creative, making political points in comic fashion.

Madonne Ashwin, the director writer appears to have moved up with this film as he had written only one feature before and had directed short films.  He has created a masterpiece and one expects great things in the future.

Bararath Sankar wrote the music.  He got his start in music departments with "Nila" (2016).   Has written lyrics, been a playback singer (including this film) and a mixing engineer.  He wrote the music for "Dharala Prabhu" (2020) that I bought one of his songs thru iTunes. Dharala Prabhu was a remake of "Vicky Donor"  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/vicky-donor-cf-dharala-prabhu.html

Cinematography by Vidh Ayyanna and editing by Philomin Raj.

Yogi Babu played Mandela from a very humble man to an arrogant one. and back.  He started in a major role in a Tamil tv series running three years in 2004.  He has appeared in numerous films including "Chennai Express" (2013) and "Mersal" (2017). 

Sheela Rajkumar plays the postal worker who took a liking to Mandela after she picked his name.  She has been in Tamil films since 2017 including a long running tv. series.  Also appeared in "Kumbalangi Nights" (2019), a Malayalam film.

Sangili Murugan played the elder authority that tried to bring democracy to a small village.  He has been in films since 1981.

"Mandela" was a simple story about political corruption that is universal.  A small, seemingly backward Tamil village displays the same characteristic that are duplicated on the big screen U.S. senate only with more money.

As usual I have bolded the movie titles I have seen. 

About the original Nelson Mandela, http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/12/nelson-mandela.html

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Chernobyl

 It is hard to comprehend the horror of what happened at Chernobyl in Ukraine.  At the time it was part of the Soviet Union and it appears there was a great deal of ignorance about the threat to human life.  People in power thought they understood and were resistant to scientific opinions.   Fortunately some courageous knowledgeable people persisted and helped to ameliorate the damage or the rest of the world would have been more greatly affected.  The root cause of the disaster was lies and the film makes it clear that lies were found at all levels.

My daughter suggested I might be interested in this.  A mind opening choice.  Like everyone else at the time I was aware of it and periodically would read about increases in cancer in areas nearby.  This series first appeared on HBO, but I saw it from a DVD from my local library.

The Soviet Union wanted to keep information from reaching beyond their borders, but radiation was detected in Germany and Sweden and traced to Chernobyl.  The Soviet authorities then realized it was better to open up, but tried to control the flow of information. Some people willingly risked and sacrificed their lives for survival of the rest.

The action ends with a show trial.  The writer took liberties to highlight the role of the lies that led to the disaster.  The Soviet prosecutors wanted it to boil to a manufacturer's error but some of the truth came out when the main character emphasized the role of lies at all levels.  With the credits, facts about individuals as well as statistics about the effects are displayed.

Craig Mazin, executive producer  created the series idea and script.  He has written scripts for "The Hangover, Part II" (2011) and "Identify Theft" (2013).  For a time he was a college room mate of Ted Cruz, but markedly differs in his views.

Johan Renck, the director/producer got his start in his native Sweden.  Music was a big part of career and has worked with Madonna.  He has directed episodes for "Breaking Bad" (2009-2011)  and "Walking Dead" (2010).

Hildur Guonadottir, the composer and Oscar winner for Joker has done many films including "Tom of Finland" (2017) " and  "A Hijacking" (2012).  For this film Hildur traveled to Lithuania and the site used in the movie to listen to the sounds made by the decommissioned power plant used in the movie.  The music was composed after listening to the heard sounds.

Jacob Ihre, Swedish born  cinematographer has filmed such movies as "Odesa...Odessa" (2005),  "Oslo, August 31st" (2011) and "The End of the Tour" (2015).

Jinx Godfrey consultant editor for "My Octopus Teacher" (2020). Pray for Ukraine(2015) & "Winter on Fire:  Ukraine's Fight for Freedom" (2015) , "Man on Wire"(2008), "The Theory of Everything" (2014).

Jared Harris plays a nuclear physicist who early recognizes that the Chernobyl explosion is more significant that authorities recognizes.  Throughout he is at loggerheads with authorities, but gradually winning them over as he in turn recognizes he has to be diplomatic to have an impact. The son of Richard Harris, he showed little interest in theatre until attending Duke University.  He acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and later performed with the New York Shakespeare Festival. He won an Obie Award with an off Broadway play.  His films include, "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008). and "Lincoln" (2012).   Some of his favored roles were with the tv. series  "Mad Men" (2007) and "The Crown" (2016).  He received several awards for his role in "Chernobyl" including a BAFTA for leading actor.

Stellan Skarsgard played a high ranking Soviet security officer who at first wanted to do everything as directed by Communist bureaucratic dictates, but later realized the scientist's had the truth.  Some of his films include "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg" (1990), "Insomnia" (1997), "Amistad" (1997), "Mamma Mia" (2008), "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011), "Mamma Mia Here we Go Again" (2018).  Born in Sweden, he performed on stage and as a teen starred in a tv series.  He sang in "Mama Mia" which was used songs from the popular Swedish group ABBA.  He also starred in a British tv series, "River" (2015).

Emily Watson played a nuclear scientists( really an amalgamation of several scientists) stationed in nearby Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union.  She was able to influence some of the cleanup efforts and was pressing for the truth to come out.  She got an Oscar nomination as leading lady on her debut film.

 Jessie Buckley played the pregnant wife of one of the fire fighters who lost his life after radiation exposure while she received dangerous radiation while visiting him.   Irish, singer,  She sung in many musicals in England.   She has acted in many films including "Judy" (2019) and the television series, "Fargo" (2020).

Geography does matter and so while watching I checked out Belarus and its capital Minsk where some of the radiation reached.  These are places that matter, but which most have a distorted awareness of.

In the end it turned out to be a series of human errors that seemed impossible.  Although many corrections have been instituted, one must be concerned about humans.  There are business interests associated with nuclear power and like any institution there is a layered bureaucracy.  There are terrorists trying to figure out how to get their hands on bombs and some of whom see nuclear power plants as targets in themselves.  You will not easily forget the suffering images shown in the movie.

Note:  I have bolded titles that I have viewed.