Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Other Son

The Other Son opens with Joseph preparing for his compulsory military service in the Israeli Defence Force, when a doctor notices that his blood type is incompatible with his parents. It turns out that he was switched as a baby when his Palestinian mother gave birth while visiting Israel. Babies switched at birth is such a well worn plot device or trope that I half expect that characters are going to break the fourth wall to complain about it. While both families find a host of things to get upset about but script writer isn't one of them.

The story unfolds in a remarkably restrained and laid back way. This is partly because some key parts of the story happen off screen. The two families are initially brought together by the hospital when it apologies for its mistake. They find that there is a common link to France: the Jewish parents are first and second generation immigrants from France and their Palestinian brought up son has just past his baccalaureate and is about to start studying medicine in Paris. When Joseph meets Yacine the easy going Yacine teaches the more uptight Joseph how to sell ice-cream to girls on the beach. The contrasts between the two ways of life, the economic gap, the difference between being on equal terms with the soldiers verses being subject to their whims are all on show but none of it leads to any serious problems.

This is a carefully constructed film is designed to challenge ideas of genetic ethnicity and identity. While the film maker has a clear idea about that it doesn't ram them down your throat. The question of whether parents and children feel more strongly about their biological offspring or parents than they do about the relationship developed over 18 years of child rearing is raised but is not the main point of the film.

Ian's rating 3.5/5, Anne's rating 4/5

Interview with the director Lorraine Lévy.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sharpe's Escape

Sharpe's Escape front cover
For a change I thought I'd do a short book review.

Title: Sharpe's Escape
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Genre: Historical, War
Setting: Napoleonic Wars
Series: Sharpe
Published: 2004

I got interested in Sharpe via the ITV TV series, this novel is one of those written after the TV series.

It is 1810 and the French are making yet another attempt to invade Portugal, the Duke of Wellington leads a combined Anglo-Portuguese Army to defend Lisbon. Captain Sharpe commands the light company of the South Essex Regiment but has taken a disliking to his new second-in-command, Lieutenant Slingsby, the Colonel's brother-in-law. While implementing Wellington's scorched earth policy Sharpe makes an enemy of Ferragus, a Portuguese businessman / thug. Sharpe and his offsider, Sergeant Harper, get separated from the regiment during the retreat after the Battle of Bussaco and have a rollicking series of adventures.

Sharpe's Escape contains a couple of carefully described battle scenes, separated by some individual adventures and introducing a new, spirited and pretty girl to fall in love with our hero. The style of this Sharpe novel is pretty standard.  There is plenty of attention to military details, and a bit of social detail and historical overview thrown in. Sharpe is grumpy for much of the novel, which affects his decision making.  His confrontational nature and private vendettas with Ferragus and Slingsby drive the novel.

Unlike other British officers of the period who typically bought their commissions, Sharpe was promoted from the ranks and is a man who makes his way in the world due to his skill and resourcefulness as a soldier and inspire of his lack of social skills. This dependence on skill makes him more like a modern man and hence easier for the reader to identify with. It also makes him an outsider to the officer class, with a sergeant as his closest friend; allowing Bernard Cornwell to describe the life and concerns of both the officers and other ranks.

Sharpe also uses a Baker rifle rather than a musket or pistol. The rifle at the time was a relatively expensive high-tech weapon, issued to skirmishers rather than ordinary line soldiers. Skirmisher used tactics that seem more sensible to people from the 21st century than those used by line infantry at the time, and skirmishers also got more interesting jobs. Both of these give the author more scope for drawing the reader in and giving Sharpe opportunity to have adventures away from the Army.

Similarly Sarah Fry appeals both to Sharpe and readers because of her independence from and lack of fear of men. An attitude that probably wasn't characteristic of middle class young women of the time.

Sharpe's Escape is well paced, while there is plenty of description it rarely gets in the way of the action. A couple of passages stretch credulity but nowhere near as much as the average action film. This book kept my attention so I finished it more quickly than most books I have read in the last 12 months.