Year 1, Week 14: A Movie Week: Skyfall, Argo, Dans la maison

1:14

A relatively relaxed week, although we have been starting going for 2 hour walks through the wonderful urban and rural mix that is Geneva. My leg muscles feel the increased effort, not to mention my lungs and heart, but it is a good feeling. Some of the fatigue, as noted earlier, is a normal post-transplant side-effect, and it just means I have longer naps.

I had forgotten to write about my lymphoma support group meeting last week, before getting on the plane to Geneva. Nice to see many of the same faces again and Ottawa being a small world, met some people I had not seen in over 10 years or more, or others that I had only known through work email exchanges. The presentation by one of the hematologists on how to read blood test results was disappointing, however, too basic and too disorganized, although it did generate some good discussion with the group.

I finished Cloud Atlas and can not recommend the book highly enough. Engaging set of interweaving stories, style adapted to each period, convincing characters, and a consistent theme of the struggle between ‘savagery’ and ‘civilisation’ that provides much of the coherence and frame. Just delightful, I expect picking my next book will be a bit of a challenge.

Good week for movies with a mix of lighter and more serious fare. Starting with the latest James Bond, Skyfall, which, while perhaps not as strong as some of the critics have said, nevertheless brings the series back alive, and has a more interesting balance between action and psychological tension. Some good new characters introduced (some will be back in the next one) and overall an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

We also saw Argo, what we used to call the ‘Canadian Caper’ of getting 6 American diplomats out of Iran as their fellow diplomats were held hostage in the US Embassy in 1980. I went with some trepidation; both our son and Jian Gomeshi, the Iranian-Canadian radio host (see his piece here) had criticized Argo’s portrayal of Iranians as overly negative, if not racist.

However, watching Argo, neither I, my wife and mother-in-law (both of whom lived in Iran during the revolution) had the same reaction. Like all revolutions, it was an ugly time, with ugly and brutal things happening. While some details are exaggerated or overly dramatized, the film did capture the atmosphere of Iran at that time, a scary place for Iranians and foreigners alike. And for Hollywood, more nuance about Iran than expected, starting with the vignette of Iranian history, the role of the maid in protecting the identity of the Americans, and some of her interaction with the Revolutionary Guards, which captured the indirect way threats were often made.

And I also enjoyed some of the historical clips, particularly that of former Foreign Minister (and ‘useful idiot’) Ghotzadeh huffing and puffing about Canada’s violation of Iran’s sovereignty for helping the six escape, knowing that his usefulness over, he was shot a few months later (The Satanic Versus has some wonderful sections about revolutions eating their own …). For some good commentary about some of the ‘useful idiots’ in the West, see Arun’s blog, here.

My suspicion is that there may be a generation gap between the older generations, who lived through the revolution, and the younger generation, that did not. For the former, Argo brought back many memories, not happy ones, and captured the time well. For the latter, divorced from the reality of living through such a time, seeing most Iranians portrayed negatively, was the issue. Iran’s image in the West is less monolithic than before, given the failed Green Revolution and the movie, The Separation, allowing more people to make the distinction between Iranians and the Iranian regime.

Wearing my Canadian hat, of course, some of the details were wrong: the Americans were not all staying with the Ambassador but were in several houses, the Canadian role was greater than merely being the hotel (e.g., Canadian diplomats went in and out of Iran more frequently than normal to test Tehran’s airport procedures), and the like (fair game, I supposed, for keeping the CIA role secret for close to 20 years while Canada got all the credit).

As I had been part of the team that reopened the Canadian Embassy in 1988 (it was closed for 8 years after the escape), the movie also brought back memories of the various brushes with the authorities at checkpoints and at the airport (and having been back since then but without a diplomatic passport, am all too familiar with the tension these checkpoints provides). And lastly, ironic seeing that Canada closed its Embassy once again this fall, Canada would be unable to play such a comparable role should circumstances necessitate.

On the serious film side, we saw François Ozon’s Dans la maison (In the House), a creepy yet compelling movie about a student, from a broken home, insinuates (or infiltrates) a comfortable family, and the relationship with his literature teacher, seeing literary promise, almost eggs him on to develop the story and the ‘infiltration.’ It works on a number of levels: the basic plot, the characters, discussion of writing, and the complexity of relationships. And a strong parallel structure of conversations between the teacher and student, and teacher and his wife; the former on writing and the need to go to the imaginary and take risks, the latter the voice of caution. One of the stronger films I have seen and well worth seeing.

While Geneva is particularly cheery at this time of year, with its elegant Christmas decorations (and not called politically correct holiday decorations), on the other hand, a less cheery time as my mother-in-law’s operation approaches this coming week. Some pathetic fallacy with the grey skies overhead.

The surgeon has the intense, competent and precise look typical of surgeons, has a very good reputation, and explains things very well. However, it is still a major operation and so we all have the normal worries one would expect.

To my American readers, have a good Thanksgiving this coming week.

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