As March is winding down – how are we a quarter of the way through 2021 already?! – it is time to reflect back on the month and what I’ve read/watched. Because I’m very slowly making my way through a couple of chunky books, I only managed to finish and review two novels:
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi
I really enjoyed (perhaps the wrong word for it) Burnt Sugar; I found it thought-provoking and beautifully written. It’s definitely not for everyone though as the Goodreads reviews will attest. Such a Fun Age was fine. I struggled to connect with one of the main characters which made the narrative drag, plus the ending seemed unnecessary. Perhaps if I had read it after the hype had died down, I might have had a different experience.
Aside from the reviews, I also wrote my predictions for the Women’s Prize Longlist 2021. Out of the 16 books listed, I managed to guess 5 of them correctly with Burnt Sugar narrowly missing my final predictions, a fact which annoyed me. That’s probably the lowest number of accurate predictions I’ve had for the Women’s Prize since starting my blog, and no wonder considering the number of surprises on the list. Very few people guessed Dawn French making the cut.
When the list was first announced I was a bit disappointed, and not just because I did so poorly on my own list. Partly because of the hype – this is my favourite literary prize, I love reading others’ discussions and predictions surrounding it, and like to read as many nominees as possible. Quite frankly, the longlist could never have matched my sky-high expectations, which is entirely my fault. The other reason is due to the lack of diversity on the list. I was hoping to see more women of colour on the list, plus writers from countries beyond the USA and UK. Alas that wasn’t to be, which was a great pity considering how Bernardine Evaristo is the Chair of the judging panel this year. It feels like a wasted opportunity.
Despite my initial misgivings, there is some positives to be found. I’m glad Burnt Sugar made the list, and it’s nice to see the first transgender author on there. Out of the 16, there’s 13 that sound interesting and books that I would have picked up eventually. Currently I’m reading Luster by Raven Leilani and enjoying it so far, so will be reviewing that one in April. The book I’m dreading the most though is probably Summer by Ali Smith. I think Smith is a very clever, talented, and witty wordsmith, but I always find her books cold, and I struggle to connect with the characters and their plight. Her work is always very well-constructed but doesn’t make me feel anything. Since Smith announced she didn’t want her work submitted for prizes, I thought I was safe and didn’t need to complete her Quartet (I have only read Autumn). Clearly I was wrong! But I will give Summer a go – it’s just not one of the first ones I’ll read.
Whilst I have been busy reading and guessing predictions, I have also watched a bunch of films. At the end of February/beginning of March was the Glasgow Film Festival, which was hosted completely online due to restrictions. It was sad not to be able to go in person, but being online also meant I could watch more movies on the line-up that I could before. As well as GFF, my local independent cinema launched their own streaming platform which is great. This is just a long-winded way of saying I watched a lot of movies in March. A lot of them, more than I’d intended. Since the list exceeds 10, I’ve decided to just mention my top 3 films. That way this post isn’t going to be massive, and you don’t need to hear me drone on about films I didn’t even particularly like. We’ll kick off with the one I liked the most:
There Is No Evil (dir: Mohammad Rasoulof)
The winner of the Berlinale’s Golden Bear for best film in 2020, There Is No Evil is made up of four different stories, all discussing the death penalty and oppression happening in Iran. Rasoulof is currently barred from leaving the country, and this film has also been banned there. The film’s production and release is just as harrowing and devastating as what happens onscreen. Yet There Is No Evil is visually stunning. Rasoulof and cinematographer Ashkan Ashkani have offered a feast for the eyes, capturing a lively cityscape, lush green forests, and harsh, unforgiving-looking tundra. The stories themselves differ as much as the landscapes, being connected only thematically. The cast, as a whole, excels; their performances are instilled with a sense of urgency. But, a particular standout was Ehsan Mirhosseini as Heshmat, who is the main character in the first story. His performance is very quiet and understated, making the twist at the end all the more shocking. A thought-provoking, eye-opening film, and one I definitely recommend.
The Woman with Leopard Shoes (dir: Alexis Bruchon)
A burglar (Paul Bruchon) is hired by the eponymous woman with leopard shoes to steal a box from a mansion. He successfully breaks in and finds the box but, before he can leave, the owner returns home with a party in tow. Our burglar is forced to hide in the study, where he makes a very grim discovery. The Woman with Leopard Shoes was out of my comfort zone: it was listed on GFF’s website as a horror and I’m a complete scaredy-cat who doesn’t like excessive amounts of gore. Needless to say, horror and I never really get on. But, I would say the film is more of a thriller than a horror and I found myself gripped until the very end. It’s not so much about who hired the burglar, but rather how he is going to escape. Bruchon effectively creates this sense of claustrophobia, making you feel just as trapped as the main character. It’s almost a relief when the film is over. Bruchon is great as the burglar; the film rests entirely on his shoulders and he carries it very well. He was great at reacting to the unfolding events and made you sympathy to his character’s predicament. One for slow-burning thrillers.
Mama Weed (dir: Jean-Paul Salome)
I’m a very simple woman. When I see Isabelle Huppert’s name, I will watch the film. It means I’ve seen some truly great films (Elle, The Piano Teacher) and not-so-great ones (Souvenir). Whilst I don’t think Mama Weed is Huppert’s greatest performance, it is still a fun romp. Huppert is Patience Portefeux, a police translator who is struggling to cope with her ailing mother, and the debts her late husband has left her. One day, she discovers the son of her mother’s nurse is involved in a drug smuggling plot. She helps him, and decides to take the drugs and sell them off herself, becoming ‘La Daronne’ aka ‘The Mum’. Huppert clearly had a lot of fun in the part, and the rapport between Patience and two hapless dealers called Scotch and Chocapic was entertaining and funny. Patience is a wonderful, morally grey character whose actions are questionable but you can’t help but root for. The storyline itself contained plenty of plot twists to keep the viewer on their toes, and I was gripped throughout. Whilst I didn’t love the ending, the ride was entertaining enough that it’s a minor quibble. Huppert fans will really enjoy this.
And that is it from me in March! Let me know what your favourite books/films from March have been and I will see you in April!