Various Shades of the Absurd and Other News

Harvard
  • Affirmative action policies in universities are once again under scrutiny. Students for Fair Admission, a non-profit run by Edward Blum, the ‘legal strategist’ of last year’s Fisher v. University of Texas case, sued Harvard University in federal court for “discriminatory policies [that] harm Asian Americans”. What’s more, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is internally seeking lawyers to litigate universities on the very same issue. Despite the sheen of progressive sounding verbiage from both the DOJ and Blum, it’s difficult to miss the sentiments and tactics behind the litigation that link it back to decades-old strategy of divide-and-conquer used by the white majority against racial minorities. As Jeannie Suk Gersen notes, “this lawsuit, and much of the discussion of affirmative action that surrounds it, makes a serious error in assuming that, in order to stop discrimination against Asian applicants, race-conscious affirmative action must end. […] It distorts and confuses the debate to lay the preferential treatment for whites over Asians at the feet of affirmative action—or, on the other side, to deny that Asians are disadvantaged in admissions today.”
  • In ‘Notes on a Suicide‘, Rana Dasgupta explores France’s cultural and social landscape and its politics through the story of Paris’s banlieues (suburbs) and the death of an eighteen-year-old girl: “Where so many people are poor and without private transport, the RER is the only way to come and go – and it has acquired a lugubrious grip over all existence. […] It is an emblem of exclusion and confinement, as one can tell from the constant references in French rap, whose heartlands are the Parisian suburbs. It is difficult to comprehend how places so close to one of the earth’s most significant urban hubs can seem remote until one comes to depend on these maddeningly infrequent trains, which take up to an hour to reach the capital. […] The car burnings that have become such an emblem of suburban life are very precise, after all, in their symbolism: they are a revolt against the mobile mainstream – against everyone whose rhythms are not drummed out by the deadening stop–start of double-decker trains.”
  • More absurdities on the extreme spectrum of the absurd: Trump’s tweet, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” at the violence in Charlottesville between White Nationalists protesters and their counterprotesters, requires a new word to describe its absurdity altogether. Nineteen people were injured after a car drove into a crowd of counterprotesters around 2pm this Saturday.
Banlieue, West of Paris. Credit: AFP photo LOIC Venance

A Conversation with Brad Deane of TIFF

Olivier Assayas

Though I’ve already written in these pages about the retrospective, ‘Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas,’ happening at TIFF this summer, I recently had the chance to speak with Brad Deane, the Senior Manager of TIFF Cinematheque, who is also a part of the programming team for the festival. It was readily apparent that he was a big fan of Assayas’s movies, and he spoke candidly about why the French director of the post May ’68 French tradition remains and will remain relevant in our conversations regarding film, modern culture, and life as we know it.

Hoon: How did you first come across Assayas’s films?

Brad Deane: I think it was at the festival when ‘Clean’ was playing at the Gala. I first heard of him when I was in university in Florida but back then I didn’t have much access to the films. I watched a few of them but it wasn’t until later on that I got to see more and more of his films. There are also a lot of earlier ones that were hard to see. Doing the retrospective is when I was first able to see them. Every time I watched the films I wanted to do a retrospective more and more as I saw these themes running through the works.

H: I’ve been always curious as to see what it’d be like to watch, virtually one after the other, a series of movies by a single director. Do you think a retrospective like this one brings certain elements of the movies to light?

B: Definitely. I think Olivier sees his works that way too. Stylistically they are very different. There’s ‘Demon Lover’ then ‘Clean’ and then he goes back to ‘Boarding Gate.’ But I still do see themes running through the whole body of works. And I know from talking to him that he sees them in that way, he sees them as parts of a larger project. He’s just approaching it from different angles.

Maggie Cheung in ‘Clean’ (2004)

H: Are there particular things you want the audiences to see in Assayas’s films?

B: I’m always reluctant to point out because you’re always going to come away with your own thing. The films are great because they are so rich and there are many different things to look at. But I do think that strong female performances throughout his body of works are really amazing. He’s been doing that since the beginning — it’s effortless, I don’t think he’s consciously trying to do it. Some of the themes about modern culture and how modernization and technology are affecting us are fascinating: As we move ahead, what are losing from the past and what are we gaining? And I don’t think he’s making any kind of moral judgments on these subjects either.

From ‘Something in the Air’ (2012)

H: And I think that’s what was so interesting about watching ‘Summer Hours’ and ‘Personal Shopper’ — he addresses these issues not in a moralistic way but as part and parcel of personal stories.

B: I think he’s someone who doesn’t like to make moral decisions. And the way he approaches things from a political perspective is really fascinating because he grew up in a post May ’68 culture. While maybe some of the views could be considered toward the left, he’s always aware and critical and trying to see what we are gaining and losing. In some ways, he’s so tricky to pin down: you can’t really say he’s this or that. I find that really interesting because it’s engaging — he keeps pulling you in and asking questions. He’s someone who’s very curious about every subject he wants to tackle. And you as an audience member feel that curiosity in the films.

H: Assayas is now recognized as an auteur, yet sometime it is difficult to pin down Assayas into a single genre or a style of film. How would you describe his movies to someone who’s never seen one?

B: It’s tricky. I think ‘Cold Water’ on, there’s definitely a certain visible style of movement on screen with him. The films take place at a brisk pace, almost at the pace of life. If you don’t catch something, you can miss it, though you don’t often do since he’s so strategic about how he lays everything out for the audience. But the films move at that pace and I think that’s how he deemphasizes any moral judgments or anything like that.

H: Do you have a personal favorite Assayas’s movie? 

B: If I have to narrow it down to a few — and this is difficult because I really love his films — ‘Cold Water’, an absolute masterpiece, ‘Summer Hours’, ‘Carlos’…It’s hard to say with the newer ones but I absolutely loved ‘Personal Shopper’. It moves me every time I see it. I remember seeing it at Cannes and walking out of the cinema and feeling completely lost and dazed.

H: Tell us more about what you think of Personal Shopper. 

B: For me it’s about the idea of loss. Why are we here and what’s beyond here. And at the emotional level, losing someone close to you and how you deal with that. It captures that in such a beautiful and complicated way.

H: What I found interesting in Personal Shopper is that it’s an amalgam of genres, some of which he’s explored in his previous films — thriller, murder mystery, etc. 

B: That’s something I love about his work. He’s interested in big Hollywood type of films — we could talk about James Bond movies —, but then he also loves arthouse movies like Bergman and Hou Hsiao-hsien. He loves the high culture, he loves art, he loves trash, Hollywood…to him it’s all the same. There’s no judgment on which one’s better than the other. They all satisfy different needs.

Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas’ runs through August 20th. You can catch a double feature of Assayas’s ‘Personal Shopper’, starring Kristen Stewart, followed by Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic, ‘Blow Up.’ On closing day, you can watch Assayas’s ‘HHH — Portrait de Hou Hsiao-hsien‘ followed by ‘A Time to Live and a Time to Die‘ by Hou Hsiao-hsien. You can  get more information and purchase tickets hereStay on the look out for more information on TIFF’s various retrospectives happening before the festival this year, including ‘Ida Lupino: Independent Woman,’ a close look at the actor, screenwriter, director, and producer in Hollywood in the ’50s. 

Haunted Houses and Broken Houses and Other News

photo by William Christenberry

The Mooch is Denied a Honeymoon Period and Other News

Starting this Sunday, we’ll round up a weekly list of contents from the Internet (so big!) that we think you would (or should) be interested in. 

A postcard depicting the Latin Quarter in Paris
Photograph by Billy Farrell / Patrick McMullan (Getty)
  • And finally, long-time The New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani announced earlier this week that she would be leaving her post. Her twitter page has already been updated: “former chief book critic, The New York Times.” Her impersonal stance, though often criticized, assured objectivity and scared and elated writers of the past four decades. You can read her criticisms here.

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Bars Around Town: Archive

On one side of Archive, an exposed brick wall partly covered with a vase of baguettes and jars of pickles and dried herbs and spices lead to the bar and kitchen. On the other, a pristine white wall is background for a row of wooden tables and a bench, and decorative photographs of ferris wheels and a carousel. The space is longer than it is wide and is decidedly cozy. On a recent visit, a traveler sat planning out her itinerary next to a group of coworkers on a night out; a young couple perched by the bar and chatted with the staff; two old women sat in the corner by the window and quietly worked on their bottle of orange wine. With its two windows facing a calmer bit of Dundas West and Bellwoods and low hung yellow lights, Archive is a picture of a place one imagines one would someday stumble into, make chance acquaintance with and fall in love.

The wine list is not exhaustive but long enough for a good perusal and the small menu of tapas and cheese & meats encourage adventures and learning by trial and error. The staff take a “What do you like to drink?” approach, which is, more often than not, for formality than function, but the 3oz glass option ease the pressure. But a recommendation from a well informed staff — a glass of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from A. A. Tiberio — was refreshingly dry and delicious with notes of flowers and, in the parlance of wine descriptions, ‘minerals.’ The point, it dawned on me half way through my second glass, was to be okay with not putting the exacting words of description to a wine. A glass of pinot noir from Alsace sealed my trust in her recommendations.

The foods offers, however, were less satisfying. Small savory snacks are offered as ‘Nibbles,’ $5 per plate or three plates for $13. Though the warmed olives are decent, neither the lupini beans (served in olive oil and salt) nor the shishito peppers offer much flavor. That the bread and oil are not complementary is perhaps becoming the norm in the restaurant world today, but the utterly soft and flavorless slices of baguette were an affront to good hospitality. Neither the Prosciutto nor the Chorizo offered much solace, but the Comté was, as it often is, satisfying. The steak tartare is served with the yolk of a quail egg and the shaved vegetable salad includes watermelon radishes.

Archive is located at 909 Dundas St W and is open everyday from 5pm to 2am. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.