For the Perspectives column, two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time. This roundup is a summary of the films and works of literature featured in the Perspectives column in 2017.
We start the second part of 2017’s Perspectives roundup with two filmmaking legends. Satyajit Ray’s The Expedition introduces us to Narsingh, a taxi driver and member of the warrior caste, whose bitterness inspired Martin Scorsese’s notorious miscreant, Travis Bickle. Chantal Akerman’s adaptation of Almayer’s Folly, Joseph Conrad’s debut novel, is more subdued, uneasily traversing the rivers and lush rainforests of its Malaysian setting.
In contrast, Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers is dominated by urban locations. The animated film follows a trio of homeless people – an alcoholic, a former drag queen, and a runaway girl – who discover an abandoned baby while trawling through the trash on Christmas Eve. Rushing through the bustling streets of Tokyo in search of its mother, they face run-ins with the yakuza and hitmen, and meet all manner of eccentric characters.
Over a decade before directing one of 2017’s biggest blockbusters (Thor: Ragnarok), director Taika Waititi was nominated for an Academy Award for his short film Two Cars, One Night. Stuck in a pub car park, three children pass the time by talking to, and taunting, each other. What results is a gentle and humorous homage to fleeting encounters.
In Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon, the young protagonist has only an inanimate floating object for company, yet their friendship is one of simple joy. The same cannot be said for the pairings in Raw Love, Martín Deus and Juan Chappa’s sensitive look at the relationship between two teenage boys, or Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy, Tracey Moffatt’s thorny film about an Aboriginal Australian woman caring for her frail white mother.
Robert Amram’s Sentinels of Silence sets its sights not on human subjects, but on the ruins of ancient Mexican civilisations, which are captured on camera via helicopter. The only short film to date to win two Oscars, its English-language version was narrated by Orson Welles. John & Faith Hubley’s The Hole places fact and fiction on a collision course, as two construction workers discuss their fears of a nuclear apocalypse.
Graphic novels and poems
North Korea spent much of 2017 in the news due to the regime’s series of missile tests, yet everyday existence in the totalitarian state still remains a mystery to most. Guy Delisle’s graphic novel Pyongyang offers a rare first-hand description of life under the Kim dynasty. Invited to work at an animation studio in the city, Delisle took the opportunity to document the minutiae of its rules and restrictions, relaying them to the reader with both bafflement and disquiet.
José Lezama Lima’s poem ‘A Bridge, a Remarkable Bridge’ seems to have no such anchor in reality. A strange fever dream, it includes allusions to great silver sharks and millions of ants, mermaids and jellyfish, light bulbs, and pregnancy. The last of these is at the centre of Jordie Albiston’s ‘Uterus’, an ode to the womb, conveyed as awe-inspiring, a church and a sanctuary, a ‘storehouse of unspoken words’.
Gabrielle Tuloup’s slam poem ‘Naissances’, also about motherhood, is structured in tribute to the act of giving birth, using a gamut of literary techniques to create a sense of momentum. Though contrasting in subject, Patricia Smith’s performance poem ‘Skinhead’ shares a similar forward motion. Adopting the identity of a snarling white supremacist, she subverts his hate-fuelled words and turns them back against him.
Two short stories explore humankind’s desire to catalogue and measure the world. The narrator of Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ recounts the enigmatic tale of a fictitious planet, found only in an encyclopaedia. Peter Carey’s ‘Do You Love Me?’, meanwhile, depicts a world where people are gradually fading away, and in which the annual census is obsessively scrutinised by those seeking clues relating to the disappearances.
The other short stories featured in the Perspectives column in 2017 are similarly fantastical. Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s ‘Faeries of the Nile’ tells of a woman whose meetings with mystical ‘phantom women’ provide her with a rare source of joy. There is no such solace in Augusto Monterroso’s ‘Mister Taylor’, a macabre parable about a Bostonian who moves to South America and starts a lucrative business selling shrunken heads.