Friday, 30 April 2004

I thought it was tough trying to speak one language in a foreign country. This, via Tim Bray, discusses (in French, try babelfish or google if you don't speak it) the increasing difficulties of the European parliament to translate between the now 20 languages of the member nations - that's something like 380 translation combinations - a veritable modern-day babel.
My cousin Kris got a writeup in The Age after Cambridge's win in The Boat Race. Of course, there was a comparison to his grandad (not mine) Syd, who was a pretty handy (Brownlow handy) ruckman for Collingwood in the 20s and 30s, but it wasn't too gratuitous.

Thursday, 29 April 2004

I miss Aussie slang, And they don't even have "paint the bowl", "tag and release a brown trout", "flat out like a lizard drinking", or "she looks like someone set her face on fire and tried to put it out with a bike chain". Oh yeah, a warning: the language in that page is a bit on the colourful side.

There's also "up sh*t creek without a paddle" (which is sometimes "in a barbed wire canoe"). I found another page, but it gets pretty nasty at times, despite some good stuff.
Australianism of the day: Flat out like a lizard drinking.

Myriam lent me a little old oven yesterday that she had lying around, which should be good for lasagne and pizza and stuff, and also for defrosting things. I also tried out my wok last night, and it worked pretty well, certainly better than the pot and, although having some ginger made a big difference to my stirfry, I still need to find some oyster sauce, or at least some sweet soy.

I started reading The Diamond Age last night.

Wednesday, 28 April 2004

While I'm avoiding work, here are some short reviews of films I've seen on my laptop over the past month or so:

  • Love Story: Crappy 70s, well, love story, with poorly drawn characters and formulaic plot.

  • The Pianist: Even not understanding a lot of the French/Polish/German, and even on a small screen, a magnificent film, and Brody deserves his Oscar.

  • Shallow Hal: Pretty run-of-the-mill Farrelly Bros entry, most of the comedy survives the translation because its about fat chicks.

  • Le Diner De Cons: Comedies are harder to understand than dramas when you don't speak the language.

  • The 5th Element: This was version originale, and it still rocks, despite having seen it so many times. The colors, children!

  • Monsieur Batignole: Not bad - although I think I missed much of the humour, the drama works.

  • Drunken Master: The original from the mid-70s, directed by Yuen Wu-Ping, and pretty cool, although I probably prefer the sequel.

  • Anatomie: Formulaic German slasher, notable only because it starred Franka Potente and Benno Furmann before the vastly superior Princess and The Warrior.

  • Run Lola Run: Actually loses something when it's translated, but still well-crafted. Perhaps controversially, I prefer Tykwer's other films, Princess and the Warrior, and Heaven.

  • About A Boy: Shame I missed this at the cinema. The main character is really pretty good, and its generally a pretty good little film. "Having my hair carefully dishevelled: 4 units."

  • L'Auberge Espagnole: A simple little film, but not too bad, although a bit rough.

  • Goshu The Cellist: Nice little manga film, fairly well animated, and uses the music well.

I need to cleanse myself of religious posts. I went to a bouquinerie today and bought The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. I wanted to buy something more "serious" but couldn't find anything. There was a bunch of Trollope and DH Lawrence and a couple of Brontés, but I was quite looking for something that serious. I wussed out on buying something French. Perhaps I'll try to borrow something.

I think my French lessons have finished. Its possible that by going to see the lady at IRISA who handles that stuff, I could arrange for another 30hrs, but today reminded me that, in between learning new tenses, its really, really slow, and there are too many days when I only learn a couple of new words. Its probably not worth 3 hours (including travel time) out of my research to learn that strawberries are sold in a barquette. I just hope that I am disciplined enough to continue learning the hard stuff on my own.
Having already had a religious rant today, I would much prefer to discuss the relative merits and problems of The Passion Of The Christ without reference to religion. However, this isn't possible. This is not to say that religious stories cannot be assessed without reference to their underlying belief systems, but that this particular one cannot. If one ignores its underpinnings, The Passion can be all too easily criticised. Its story arc is underdeveloped, and as such the characters in isolation are underdeveloped and almost incomprehensible in their actions and motivations. The villains, with some notable exceptions, such as Pilate, are too often caricatures, and are given little sympathy. This is especially true of many of the lesser roman soldiers, who exhibit too few signs of humanity. Sections of the film like the march with the cross, and the flogging, are drawn out for the apparent reason only of exhibiting more violence and pain. While this makes sense from the religious standpoint, it makes all sorts of trouble for the narrative structure.

Many or most of these factors could be overlooked by someone with sympathetic religious views to Gibson, perhaps. Personally, I hold cinema higher in my philosophy than the historical accuracy of the bible, and as such found them too difficult to ignore. Of course, the intention of the film is as an expression of Gibson's beliefs. As such, he has constructed it with great ability, and the film's violence is certainly visceral. The performance of Caviezel is commendable, given the paucity of dialogue that might have developed his character.

Finally, the dénouement is just crap, irrespective of theology. To me it felt like a bad ségue at the end of an 80s Hollywood action film, suggesting a sequel in which a buff and shirtless Jesus exacted bloody and gratuitous revenge on his sinners while uttering snappy one-liners in an Austrian accent. Had the film finished with Mary holding Jesus' body at the base of the cross, it would have had an extra point in the ratings that I don't give.
I saw the film last night with Jacques and Sophie, who are both fairly strong Catholics. I guess I should have expected it, but afterwards Jacques asked me the very difficult question, "do you believe". Unfortunately, my first answer, after some umming and aahing, was "no", which I then proceeded to qualify for 10 minutes. I think this might have upset Sophie, although I hope not - I have too few friends over here to lose them.

I thought about it a bunch more last night, and now have a better answer. For me, it doesn't really matter whether its true or not, since I don't really consider its truth important or even relevant. The bible's message to me (and I realise it is different for many or most others, in particular church-goers) has nothing to do with historical accuracy, and everything to do with trying to get a message across about how one should live one's life. Much of the material in the old testament is, in fact, so bizarre and contradictory by my standards of proper behaviour, that it almost begs that the book as a whole not be taken as a history. As such, I don't. To be honest, another factor in this is the huge weight of the crimes perpetuated in the name of Christianity, by the church and others, which really makes me pretty averse to organised (sic) religion.

Phew, thank goodness that's out of the way. Now I can go back to not thinking about religion for a while :-)
It seems that my film attendance has not been adversely affected by the move to France. I saw The Passion last night, which makes 14 for the year, and probably puts me about on pace with last year, or perhaps even slightly ahead. There are a few regrets in the list - Blue Planet, The Wrong Man, Immortel - but each had good reasons to recommend a viewing.

Monday, 26 April 2004

On the way home from the Thabor on Sunday, I dropped in to TNB (Théatre Nationale de Bretagne, and also my local cinema) and saw Frida, a part of their festival of "other desires". It was a film I'd missed despite my fervent viewing habits around the time of its initial release a couple of years ago, and maybe its a good thing, because I think I appreciate it more now. The most critically discussed (and, indeed, acclaimed) part of the film was Salma Hayek's acting, but for me the most interesting part was the way the director incorporated Kahlo's art into the picture. I wouldn't know Kahlo from J-Lo, but the movie was at pains to incorporate her images in many forms, in style - Hayek is constantly garbed as Kahlo was in her self-portraits - and also more vividly in scenes where the action fades into or out of a still painting. The latter are handled pretty well, considering the difficulty, and the former also. In all, its a pretty good flick, with good performances from Hayek and also from Alfred Molina, as Diego Rivera. Geoffrey Rush also makes a chameleon showing as Leon Trotsky, continuing the impression that it has been made compulsory to include an Australian in every new Hollywood film.
On Saturday afternoon I finished off another book, Shogun, by James Clavell. It took me just under 2 weeks, but that's deceiving because, at 1242 pages, it's by far the thickest I've read this year. The story, like The Years of Rice and Salt, is historical fiction, but unlike the Kim Stanley Robinson book, Clavell attempts to weave his story within history, rather than revising it. I won't give a summary of the story, since I'm sure its better captured elsewhere. The setting of feudal Japan is cool, and the political intrigue within and between the warring factions is generally well-handled. The romance aspect between the English protagonist and Mariko had the potential to be grating, but was generally OK, and the culture clash between east and west, probably the main focus of the book, is well-developed. I was also interested, from a personal point of view, in the account of the westerner coming to a country where he didn't speak the language, and in his attempts to learn. At times, this was interesting, but it fell by the wayside later on. In fact, the end of the book was probably a little unsatisfying. Strange though it seems, it actually felt a little bit short, and abortive in some ways, as we never arrived at the final battle, for which the chief sacrifice had been made.

As a side-note, the link between the previous book and this, in retrospect, is that of samurai swords, as both protagonists, Hiro and Blackthorne, carried them.
It was another fairly predictable weekend, really. I woke up late on Saturday and, after doing some domestic stuff, went shopping for, well, stuff. Franck and I made some sandwiches and went to the Thabor (for Chris, its like the Marzili and, at 20-25 degrees yesterday, you would have hated it). It was quite spectacular. All of the spring flowers are out, including the biggest tulips I've ever seen, and the colours are just awesome. I took a couple of photos, but I don't think they'll do it justice. After sandwiches, I headed over to see Avenir de Rennes play again - everyone (well, 4 of us, plus our teacher and her family) came along, to surprise Liz. Once again, they won easily, by 30 points or so, and there was some good basketball in there. The others cheer mainly for Liz, but I also enjoy the basketball. The 4 for Avenir put a drop-step on a much bigger opponent for an easy bucket that was just beautiful to watch.

On Sunday I again woke up late, then made myself some sandwiches and headed to the Thabor again. It was another spectacular day, and I spent all afternoon sitting or lying on various park benches finishing off my book. On the way home about 6pm, I noticed that Frida was showing at TNB, so I popped in and watched that. When I got out I was a bit shocked that it was still light, even though its been that way for a few weeks now.

Friday, 23 April 2004

For those who are interested in what I'm doing at work, here is another blog that I'm now posting to, with Franck, on MDE and Testing. It is probably more his thing than mine, but we've been writing a paper on the combination together, so I now know a lot more than I used to about testing.

Wednesday, 21 April 2004

Well, apparently this is the latest meme making the blog rounds, apparently from here:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

Les labiales sont formées par le mouvement des lèvres: ils s'agit des consonnes -b, -f, -m, -p, -v, comme dans: bain, femme, masque, papa, voile, etc.

Tuesday, 20 April 2004

Back on the reading things, I am conscious that I am now reading in a similar fashion to the way I was using TV/film at times in Australia. I felt guilty about it then but, for because its reading, not guilty now, which is an interesting comparison. My french teacher is continually disappointed that I'm not reading French stuff, and she's probably right. Perhaps I'll get her to recommend something. The catch is that it will take me forever to get through even a short french novel, whereas I can plow through a english book, even one as long as Shogun, in a week or two.
Interestingly, Ken Park is coming to a local art-house cinema in a week or so. This is the film that was banned from a festival screening in Australia, in the most recent chapter (unless there's been one since I left) in Australia's censorship debate. I'm tempted to go and see it to see what they objected about, even though the IMDB reviews are only lukewarm, and even though I was burnt by a similar reaction to the previous chapter of the censorship debate, Baise Moi. The latter was an awful film, not so much in its violence or explicitness, both of which were considerable, but awful in terms of its handling of narrative, cinematography, and the elements on which all films should be assessed. It shouldn't have been screened because of being crap, and having no commercial, artistic, or other merits. Anyway, I suspect Ken Park would be better in that regard, but time will tell if I get off my lazy, book-reading arse and see it.
This weekend, I ha' been mostly reading, Shogun. I would like that I stayed home and read through all of Saturday and most of Sunday "despite best intentions", but that would be a lie. I had no better intentions, and was pretty happy to couch-potato away. I woke up late on Saturday, read for a while, then thought about going out for a walk or a run, read some more, went out and bought some gallettes, wine and bread, ate, then read some more. Sunday, I woke up late, read a bit, went and did my washing, wandered around to a nearby park I'd been meaning to check out then, after collecting my washing, read some more, ate, and then read some more. I missed lunch both days, but I didn't really care since I'd had breakfast at about midday anyway, and had big dinners. On Sunday I cooked up a chicken cacciatore and had it with a salad, half a baguette, and a couple of glasses of bordeaux, all followed up by some camembert and a coffee. Very european, and pretty typical of how I've been eating lately.

Thursday, 15 April 2004

Yesterday I thought I was going to see my first French film since arriving, but it turned out not to be so. The makers are French, but they have made it in English, so I caught a Version Originale screening at Gaumont. I guess in this way its a little like Besson's The 5th Element, but that's where the similarities end. Where the 5th element was comic, self-deprecating, colourful, and slickly produced, Immortel (Ad Vitam) is none of these, sometimes by intention but at its worst by either lack of money or lack of skill.

The worst decisions made are in terms of effects. The majority of the film's supporting characters are computer-generated, and the resulting contrast between the very poor animation and the "real" (and I use the term generously) characters is jarring and uncomfortable. Worse still, in one case, in one of the cases when they don't use CG, they really should have - instead they go with a red rubber hammerhead that brought me back long-repressed memories of a rubber axe in Dungeons & Dragons. I can't even comment on the acting, since not even the two main characters were developed enough to justify comment on their presentation.

Wednesday, 14 April 2004

My film education was for many years limited to whatever tripe Hollywood saw fit to dump in Brisbane multiplexes, so it was hardly surprising when I looked at it a couple of years ago that I saw some pretty big holes. I filled one on Friday night, when I saw the third of the Monty Python films, The Life of Brian, which was re-released in France last week. I had seen the first half hour or so a week earlier on a friend's computer, but the sound was appalling, so I had deliberately stopped, not wanting to spoil a much anticipated experience.

Those who praise this film are entirely justified. Its insights into organised religion and other social issues are more pointed and better articulated than in any other comedy I've seen. True to the Monty Python roots, the film is in some ways more of a montage of sketches than a single coherent story, but this doesn't matter. Scenes such as the debate of the left sandal, the romans correcting the vandal's grammar, and the open window address - "Yes, we are all different!" - are just classics. In some ways, this is a bit like Kill Bill, Volume 1 - the sheer quality of the parts overwhelms any shortcomings of the whole - only moreso.
After the Grapes of Wrath, I continued my alternation between American social commentary (Vernon God Little, Steinbeck) and Sci-Fi (Foundation, Revelation Space) with Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Actually, this book really falls in both categories, because, like all good sci-fi, it draws very clear analogies with society, and in this case with American society and the growth of the franchise as a pervasive cultural icon. I had seen this recommended in a number of places, and also by Michael, my ex-boss, so I was keen to read it.

However, for me its a bit of a flawed work. Its action scenes are pretty formulaic and not really convincing to me - in my experience, the odds of a hacker also being the greatest swordsman in the world, and of his virtual swordfighting experience translating into real-world action hero credentials, are London to a brick. As such, it felt a bit like a hacker's version of a James Bond film at times. It also veers dangerously into pseudo-intellectualism for vast sections of the book, using Sumerian mythology and aspects of linguistics in ways that are probably pretty spurious, but that kind of stuff appeals to me, so I didn't mind suspending critical judgement for the day. The future-gazing at a hyper-franchised America was entertaining enough, although it bordered a little comic-book at times, in particular at the very end of the book. While this was consistent with the vibe of the action sequences, it wasn't a perfect fit with the neurolinguistics stuff, and overall I felt the book lacked a really consistent tone. Still, good fare for a lazy Monday afternoon, and another chapter in my versing in cyber-punk. Next stop, Cryptonomicon, and some more Gibson.

Last weekend I finished off The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This book took me a while to finish, but I put that down to reduced reading opportunities, because I really enjoyed it. Like East of Eden, which I read a month or so ago, the characters are really well developed, but the author really has a much more coherent and compelling underlying message in this book, and consequently its much more interesting. Like Eden, the book finishes a little curtly, but I think that's probably an inevitable consequence of Steinbeck's style, in that he really writes about groups rather than individuals, families and classes of people. His contribution is in painting the details of their day-to-day lives, that we might better understand the problems they face, and the story is not so much about their life as their way of life.

Anyway, I really liked this book.
It was supposed to be a long weekend, but I wound up spending most of Saturday and Sunday at Franck's place working on our paper, which is due next week. It has crossed the magical 12-page barrier to 14, which means we now have an editing process to look forward to. Still, its coming along nicely.

This left Monday to do weekend stuff - reading. I finished off yet another book, bringing to 7 the number I've read in the just-under-12 weeks I've spent in France. Its fallen away considerably since I started with 4 in the first month, but its still a pretty healthy average, and likely to remain so if yesterday is any guage. I was 21 pages into Snow Crash before getting up yesterday, and finished off its 470-page length just after dinner last night. I managed to squeeze in lunch, but didn't go outside all day, which is probably not overly cool as a general strategy for cultural absorption.

Saturday, 3 April 2004

The water in my apartment, and most noticably in the shower, ran brown again this morning. This happened earlier in the week, on Monday I believe, so this time I was not already showering before I realised. Its brown enough to leave a sediment after it sits for only a short while, which is a bit disturbing. I think perhaps I'm starting to realise why people around here buy so much bottled water.

In other news, on Wednesday I exhibited my spinelessness by not going to the Roy Hargrove concert at UBU. Inexplicable, really.