La Vie En Rose

When my Dad announced that he’d taped a subtitled French film for us to watch on a Saturday night I was, I will admit, dismayed. One might even go so far as to say that I was appalled. A French film? French? Really? Oscar-winner my foot – I just wanted to watch Kung Fu Panda . . .

I was determined not to like the film, and nurtured a faint hope that if I fidgeted about in my seat enough, it might get turned off and replaced with something better.

The fact that the recording had cut the first few minutes off didn’t make it any easier to get into for it seemed to start with a little kid running amok in a brothel – how very French, right? But then she was taken away by her father to join the circus, and suddenly the film was interesting. I’ve never been so engrossed in a film that wasn’t in English before. What I loved so much about it was the sense of melancholy captured not only by the truly outstanding acting, but through the music and cinematography as well. It reminded me a bit of Chaplin in terms of its nostalgia. The locations, too, were stunning, ranging from the slums of Paris to the glittering theatres of New York, spanning the 1930’s to the 1960’s and perfectly recreating a sense of lost glamour from yesteryear – all long gloves and cigarettes from when smoking was still elegant rather than a mark of – dare I say it – silliness (hurriedly apologises to all my smoking friends – you know I love you guys really).

Marion Cotillard is amazing as Edith Paif. Whilst I was watching it I half thought that perhaps the older version of the singer was being played by another actress altogether. It wasn’t just the effect of make up but the way she moved and spoke – even her voice sounded different. Her transition from vulnerable, wide-eyed teenager to a strong, forceful woman is incredible. A performance utterly deserving of an Oscar if ever I saw one. The sad parts of the film are gut-wrenching but the occasional sweet, tender moment is all the better for the fact that it is understated and never becomes cloying.

I thought about this film for days after watching it and ordered the DVD the same night. I can tell it’s probably going to become a film I obsess over a bit – the same way I obsess over Amadeus. I can watch that film and enjoy it; be fascinated and intrigued by it; totally lose myself in the magic of the story; read up all about Mozart (or, in this case, Edith Paif) and his life (or hers) . . . and then feel thoroughly miserable for the next week. But it is totally worth it.

Really, it just goes to show that when it comes to music, books or film, my dear ‘ol Dad really is my Sam-I-Am, and I’m a fool for ever hesitating to trust his excellent judgement. La Vie en Rose is a masterpiece and I’m extremely glad he made me watch it.

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My Name Ain’t Gabriel

When my Dad joined the merchant navy (in the brief time before deciding that stockbroking was the way forwards) he was told that there were three subjects that must never be discussed in the officers’ mess: religion, politics and sex. If you don’t want to upset people then this is generally sage advice wherever the conversation happens to be taking place. Obviously I endeavour to ignore sage advice whenever possible on principle. And, indeed, the above rule is why I was very often shushed at any dinner party my parents threw for clients back in the day (although admittedly this was more because I wanted to talk to them about religion and politics rather than sex – even I am not quite that odd).

The point is that religion is a tricky subject. People get upset much more quickly when talking about religion than they do discussing, say, Hungry Hippos (although I guess it depends on how competitive you are at games). It’s therefore not my intention to go into great detail about religion on my blog, nor do I plan to respond to reviews (be they good or bad) for the simple reason that I find blogging about my animals and my love for strange headgear more entertaining.

But I’m going to make a bit of an exception with this post because I’ve seen – a couple of times now – reviewers state that Gabriel’s religious views in The Ninth Circle are clearly my own. When I talk to people about the book they often expect this to be the case as well. This week I spoke to a book club about The Ninth Circle. I’ve never done this before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They were a lovely bunch of people who asked me some very intelligent and thoughtful questions about the book. I did, however, get the impression that some of them expected Gabriel Antaeus to walk through the door rather than me. Hopefully by the end of the session they realised that we are two entirely separate people – after all, at no point during the evening did I attempt to attack anyone, or suggest we engage in group prayer (that I can recall).

But – for the record – I am not Gabriel.

Gabriel is a fictional character that I made up and just because the book is told in first person does not mean that I’m simply writing down everything that I believe. It’s probably unavoidable that a little bit of the author seeps into the character, but it’s something I actively try to avoid even to the extent of deliberately distancing myself from my characters (this is another reason why I generally prefer to write male protagonists).

Gabriel is a fiercely religious man, but I do not believe in God. I’m not an atheist, but I am an agnostic. In its attitudes towards women, slavery, gay people, working on the Sabbath etc, I think much of what the Old Testament says is utter – utter – nonsense. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good in the Bible too. But I would never blindly accept every word it says even if, much of the time, Gabriel does.

My name is not Gabriel, chaps. When I write about his faith I’m not writing about my faith, but imagining his. The first thing they always told us in creative writing classes at school was “write about what you know.” I’m afraid I would have to dismiss this completely. Where’s the fun in that? I might even go so far as to say “write about what you don’t know.” I don’t believe that I need to be religious to write about a religious character. Much in the same way that I don’t think I need to cut off my own hand before I can appreciate that it will hurt. Surely you can conceive of these things using your imagination alone.

It’s not that I would ever be offended by people mistakenly believing me to be religious. Far from it. Nor do I get offended when people see my name and automatically assume I’m a bloke. It’s not insulting; it’s just that it isn’t true. But considering what an odd character Gabriel is, it concerns me a little that people sometimes think I am him. It should be a common sense thing, really, and I’m sure most people don’t believe it. Otherwise no one would talk to me at the author parties (or at family get togethers, for that matter). But for those people who do suspect that I am Gabriel, I guess you’re just gonna have to take my word for the fact that I’m not. Honest.