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Cultural Diary pt. 4

So, these past few weeks have been crazy!

I can’t say I’ve got anything to complain about: this year I can finally take advantage of all the amazing things that are happening in Montreal during this time of the year. Just this past weekend, I went to five concerts and saw a live taping of a radio show that I love (La soirée est encore jeune). This city is truly an amazing place to be in the summer. The best part is that things are barely getting started! So, what I’m saying is, if you’ve never spent time in Montreal during the summer, what are you waiting for?

Anyways, here are a few things that I saw, heard and read in the last few weeks:

Movies

Avant les rues/Before the streets

It’s a shame that in Canada, so few movies feature stories about First Nation peoples. In Quebec, a film studio called Wapikoni Mobile does a great job trying to bring cinema to these communities and giving them the opportunity to tell their stories using that format. However, these films are rarely seen by a wide audience. That’s why movies like Before the streets are so important.

The story is centered around a young man named Shawnouk, who on the brink of adulthood, struggles to find motivation in his daily life. Early on in the film, he finds himself stuck in a bad situation, which ends up forcing him to face his guilt and his anger issues. Life isn’t easy on the reservation. Around him, alcohol and drug use are a part of the daily regimen for many of his peers. His sister, obviously underaged, is the reluctant mother of a toddler. Jobs are scarce and everyone carries heavy emotional burdens related to their own past and that of their ancestors.

As Shawnouk searches for a way to channel his anger, he ends up delving into a number of traditional rituals, rekindling his connection with the natural environment that surrounds him. Though in no way a magical remedy to his troubles, this form of treatment helps put his problems into perspective.

Before the streets is a deep, stunningly beautiful film, spoken almost entirely in the Atikamekw language. All the more impressive, considering that this is Chloe Leriche’s first full-length feature and that most of the actors are amateurs.

Demain

Demain means tommorrow in french. In this case, tomorrow as in “The future”. Where other documentaries focus on everything that is about to go wrong in our world, Demain was made specifically to take a bit of weight off our shoulders so we feel up to the challenge. The film starts off talking about the horrifying predictions that we’ve all heard a hundred times: upcoming exctinctions, war, pollution, famine and all that jazz.

Yet after a few minutes spent covering the bad news, the film’s narrators tell us that they’re going to look at what we’re doing right. Along with a group of friends working in the film industry, actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) and author Cyril Dion set out around the world to find small and medium scale initiatives that are truly making an impact. They travel to the U.K., the U.S.A., India, Scandinavia and France in order to speak to people who found simple ways of doing their part to make the world a better place. These solutions are fairly easy to apply and could be replicated in most parts of the world. Throughout the film, we meet people who, after getting tired of waiting for the government to act, decided to take matters into their own hands. Lots of great ideas are covered in different fields: economy, transportation, ecology, agriculture, education and democracy, among other things.

All in all, Demain is an interesting that should be seen by a large audience. However, there is one aspect of the film that could’ve been improved, which is the fact that these new ideas seem overtly positive. They never talk about potential drawbacks or limitations within these models. Maybe I feel that way because I have witnessed one of these models failing firsthand (local money). Nonetheless, this documentary’s positive aspects far outweigh the negative and I’m sure many people will feel inspired by it.

Serial Mom

I put this movie on my Netflix list, not knowing that it was a John Waters flick, Once I saw his name pop up on the screen, I knew I was in for a fun ride. Serial Mom is one of his most “standard” movies (no genuine dog poop eating scenes in this one!). Still, the storytelling and the plot reflect Waters’ view on normalcy: a typical suburban housewife who just happens to love hurting and murdering people. Sound too dramatic? Well, it’s all so over-the-top that it plays out hilariously. Kathleen Turner is perfectly wicked as the mom and Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake and Mathew Lillard balance things out as the naïve husband, the self-absorbed teenage girl and the horror-movie-obsessed son. The whole film is a blast. Absolutely delightful!

Books

Shrill by Lindy West

Oh, Lindy… Yes, I know… I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with this girl!

Lindy West is a writer, sharing her hilarious yet thought-provoking prose on various platforms, namely, The Guardian. I became a fan of her work back when she was writing for pop culture feminist blog Jezebel. Already, she had developed her distinctive style, gathering numerous fans, as well as an astonishing number of haters, along the way.

See, Lindy West has had it with the bullshit. As a woman in comedy, she’d heard one too many rape jokes where the victim is the butt of the joke. One particular incident that sparked West’s ire happened when a famous comedian told an audience member, when she made it known that she didn’t enjoy his rape joke, that it would be funny if she was raped by five men at that very moment. West felt the need to react in writing. At first, the article was one of many other cries of outrage. However, eventually, West became seen as the poster girl for feminist outrage and along with it, PC culture.

This whole controversy had created a divide between feminists and many comedians who found that their fellow comic had every right to say what he said, not matter how offensive it was. These comedians have huge followings, a portion of which are misogynist men’s rights activists. As a result, West became a prime target for a wide and relentless group of internet commenters, who filled up comment sections under each and every one of her articles with rape threats, insults and comments about her size (yes, Lindy West knows she is fat, no need to point it out). One man even went as far as creating a Twitter account using her recently deceased father’s identity to send her messages.

Strong as she is, West had never faced so much hatred.  Eventually, the intense volume of trolls decreased, though it never dissapeared. With all this experience being a woman sharing an opinion on the Internet, West decided to write a memoir. Shrill is glorious, consistently hilarious and beautifully self-aware. It tells the story of a lady who doesn’t exactly know how she found her voice and doesn’t really know what to say when people ask her how to be strong like her. What she does know is that she’s not afraid anymore and that she’s not going to be shut down by other peoples’ opinions. I love her.

Comic Book

L’arabe du futur volume 2 by Riad Sattouf

After reading the excellent but very light Retour au collège I was intrigued to find out more about Riad Sattouf and to read his other, more deeply autobiographical books. Born in Paris to a French mother and a Syrian father, Saatouf spent a good part of his childhood living in Lebanon and Syria. In a series called l’Arabe du futur (Arab of the futur), Sattouf illustrates the stories of his childhood. Through the eyes of a kid, we see countries that nearly always on the brink of war, dictatorship and other horrors. Nonetheless, the tone of the books remains quite positive, with many hilarious anecdotes. I can’t wait to read the first and the upcoming third tome of the series!

Music

Concerts I’ve seen in the last few weeks: Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra/Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Death from above 1979/Eagles of Death Metal, Tomas Jensen, Élage Diouf, Pierre Lapointe, Klezstory and Canailles/Bernard Adamus/Stephen Faulkner/Mononc’ Serge. All were amazing concerts.

Here is what has been playing on repeat on my IPOD these last few weeks:

Cultural diary: week 1

Julia Easterlin

Singer Julia Easterlin

New feature on this old blog! Once in a while, hopefully every week, I will try to share my cultural diary. In it, I will share things that i have read, watched and listened to.

There’s so much stuff out there! it’s hard to take in everything, nevermind having the time to analyze it!

Here’s what I enjoyed this week:

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wadjda

9 fictional films that feature strong muslim female characters

Muslim women or women living in Muslim countries are too often portrayed in western media as quiet and submissive. However, if you start to look into foreign cinema, a growing number of movies now feature characters who are strong, assertive women taking control of their own lives. Sure, the characters hit obstacles, experience sexism and live through horrible situations, but their strong personalities shine through.

When I noticed that few articles had covered this subject, I decided to make my own list. I’m not Muslim, nor do I live in a Muslim country. I am just tired of seeing the same stereotypes that fail to present aspects of reality that are more complex and that don’t fall back on typical stereotypes. This subject deserves a full essay or even a memoir. I’ve decided to make a humble list which, I hope, will bring lots of food for thought to everyone who reads it. The following movies have challenged my own preconceived ideas about these cultures.

Please note: The title is somewhat inaccurate: these characters are not all Muslim. However, they all live in or come from Muslim countries. An interesting fact is that many of these films were directed by women.

Wajda:
Set in Saudi Arabia, this film tells the story of Wajdja, a young 12 year old girl who sets her sights on a brand new bike. Her rebellious ways put her into trouble but when she learns that a Koran recitation competition could earn her enough money to buy the bike, she puts herself to work. This is first Saudi-Arabian film directed by a woman (Haifaa Al-Mansour).

Amreeka:
Living in the West bank (Palestine), Muna and her teenaged son Fadi receive green cards which earn them entry into the United States. They move to a suburb near Chicago, where Muna’s brother has been living for years. As they settle into life in their new, more stable country, both mother and son are quickly hit with a few hard truths. In 2003, anti-Muslim behavior is on the rise and even though Muna and her family are not Muslims, they are affected by hurtful comments and ignorant behaviors. They also experience culture shock and have to work at entry-level jobs. Through it all, Muna remains determined to keep her spirits up and to provide a better life for her son.

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