Le Quattro Volte

March 27, 2013

As Easter approaches, I’m thinking about the themes of life, death, and resurrection (of a kind) in the 2010 Italian film ‘Le Quattro Volte’. In its press release, the director paraphrases Pythagoras, who lived in the 6th century, BC in what is now Calabria, Italy: “Each of us has four lives inside us which fit into one another. Man is mineral because his skeleton is made of salt; man is also vegetable because his blood flows like sap; he is animal in as much he is endowed with motility and knowledge of the outside world. Finally, man is human because he has the gifts of will and reason. Thus, we must know ourselves four times.”

Regardless of whether Pythagoras philosophy resonates, the film moved me as a meditation on life and death and time and beauty in a village up in the hills of Calabria. It’s tempting to say that the village is “isolated” and “remote” and “forgotten by time”, but these platitudes are not only cliché but untrue. Read the rest of this entry »

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How to be Audrey

March 10, 2013

Audrey Hepburn, an elegant spirit

I grew up thinking of Audrey Hepburn as the UNICEF lady: a serenely beautiful, soft and well-spoken advocate for starving children. It wasn’t until sometime in high school that I watched ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and realized that she’d first been a movie star whose grace and impeccable fashion sense aren’t likely to be duplicated. Not in today’s world.

While I don’t think we should ever mimic another person or attempt to follow directly in their footsteps, we can observe and admire the way they respond to various challenges or successes that come their way. Which is why I appreciated Melissa Hellstern’s How to be lovely: the Audrey Hepburn way of life: it isn’t  a step-by-step manual for emulating Audrey or a pictorial of her style, but rather a collection of simple and profound observations from Audrey Hepburn’s imperfect yet exemplary life. So, a few lessons gleaned… Read the rest of this entry »

Identity Crisis

January 21, 2013

One of the supposed cultural differences between French and Americans is the manner in which strangers make small talk. I’m generalizing here, but apparently an American will end any and every introduction with “And what do you do?” while a French person wants to know who you are. The implication is that the French understand a person’s identity is more than what they do to make a living.

It’s ironic, then, that a recent French film should so effectively and movingly demonstrate the risks of allowing what you do to become who you are. What are you left with, after all, if what you do becomes impossible? Read the rest of this entry »

In the 1996 film ‘Traveling Companion’ (Compagna di viaggio), a young woman named Cora is hired to follow an elderly man, Cosimo, suspected of having dementia. Cosimo’s daughter is worried about him and wants to make sure he doesn’t get lost on one of his seemingly pointless trips around Rome, but since he’d balk at having someone accompany him, Cora must follow him undetected.

He doesn’t visit the Colosseum or the Spanish Steps or Campo dei Fiori, he doesn’t stroll up the Aventine Hill; there’s nary a picturesque piazza in sight in the course of his wanderings. Cora grows irritated as they move from one random outpost to another, but behind her impatience there is growing curiosity. One day she follows him to Termini station and watches, panicked, as he boards a train out of town. Where is he going? Must she follow? Read the rest of this entry »