A summary of a series of odd events and circumstances that lead to 2017

There we go, another year that we can all cross off our calendars then try to describe as a whole as if there were any relevance to calendar years apart from the psychological idea of a new start.

But that’s what I too am doing on this cold January morning. For me 2016 seemed to rush by in a never-ending sequence of train windows and changes but somehow I appear to have landed in 2017 on my feet with signs pointing up (although we wouldn’t want to jinx anything so let’s say signs pointing at like 45 degrees from the horizontal just to be safe).

This is not to say that 2016 didn’t try to finish me off. Beady eyed observers will notice the flagrant absence of blog posts for most of November and December. This is linked to a farcically long series of events and circumstances that have sapped my energy and start with delays on a parquet floor that prompted two months of not being in my actual apartment.

It all started when I wanted to experiment with gluten-free flour and made myself a cake. The cake cooked slower than one would expect and so I had to check on it every few minutes. This involved the unreasonable act of walking across my floor. Now, I live in an old building. The floor was old and it made noise. We’d put rugs down but the noise was still very very annoying. This day I discovered that it was not only us that found this noise annoying. My downstairs neighbour appeared just as my cake was actually cooked to tell me to stop making noise. I explained that I was just walking but this seemed to be to no avail. I promised to be softer on my feet and I truly did make an effort.

Cut to a few weeks later and I have overslept my alarm for an 8AM class. I will freely admit that taking an 8AM class was a mistake in itself and I plan to never do it again. However, the situation was still that I had an 8AM class and it was 7:35. I live 15-20 minutes away from Uni depending on transport. I therefore was not paying a lot of attention to my footfall as I raced around trying desperately to find clothes and books in minutes I did not have. My neighbour did not appreciate this at all and appeared at my door banging and shouting, arguably making more noise than I considered any floor/ceiling could ever make.

After some soul-searching it was decided that the floor would have to be replaced. “It will just be four weeks and we’ll stay nearby so nothing changes”, said my mother. “ok”, said I. “Can’t believe she bought that pack of lies”, said the floor fitters to each other.

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“We don’t have the wood. There is a shortage of French pine at the moment.”

“We’ll have the wood by Tuesday then it’ll be done by the end of the week”

“Oh did we say it was a delivery problem? We meant supply problem. The wood has not been sourced yet.”

“It’ll be done by next Thursday/Wednesday/Saturday”

Four weeks quickly became five, which extended itself almost instantly to nine weeks. At one point they sent a workman over who did nothing but eat lunch then leave so they could say they’d had someone on the job. This meant that I moved into a hotel for the last two weeks of term. One of which was my finals week. I don’t know if I blocked all of this out of my memory or if my mind just stopped recording due to stress and lack of sleep. It’s about 50/50. (oh yeah, did I forget to mention the thing where I moved countries on my own at age 19 but also hate change. Yeah. Stay tuned it gets less self-aware later.)

During my exam week a pipe burst in the ceiling of the apartment where there was no floor and flooded half the building as well as knocking the lift out of action. Ok.

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Once I had finished my finals I (less than twelve hours later) went on a break to Berlin with a friend. This trip had been planned for a good while and although it fell at a time when I didn’t really feel like travelling I was glad as soon as I got there to be doing something new and different. There were two missions in our heads for this trip – bars and Christmas markets (both of us had previously been to Berlin and checked off the rather more worthy and sombre attractions). We did both, fortunately for us, we picked the evening when the Christmas market got attacked by a terrorist in a truck as the only evening we didn’t spend in said Christmas market. I think the moral of the story is not to travel with me I am clearly a bad omen.

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My next stop was to head to London for Christmas. Upon my first morning in my family home I awoke in a panic with no idea where I was. I put this down to the fact that this was the fourth or maybe fifth bed I had woken up in in the last month, none of which had been my actual bed. All official sources say I spent eight days in London. I do not believe them. Quite apart from three of those days being Christmas and therefore feeling like they were beamed from another dimension I just simply do not remember that time containing five normal days. As I packed myself off to return to Paris on the 30th of December I still did not feel like my feet had touched the ground since October.

I opened my apartment front door, having taken the lift (now repaired, but still flashes up that it’s passing floor 96 in between floors 1 and 2) half expecting it to vanish into thin air as soon as I opened it. It did not. I breathed, I sat down. I slowly felt myself relax and actually be able to see and appreciate the things around me. I even did some walking around. It was the most chilled hour of my life. Then I heard a knock on the door. I ignored it, not wishing to restart the cycle of wishing I could have a flying carpet just to become less acquainted with my neighbour. The knocking came back much louder accompanied by the shout “It’s the firemen”.

You can’t really ignore firemen. If you don’t answer they break your door down and having locked myself out once I know how much those doors cost and it’s not pretty. “Do you know your downstairs neighbour? He’s not been heard from.” (we very quickly established that they were talking about my other downstairs neighbour, not the one who disliked the floor) “can we use your balcony to see how we can get into his apartment?” The firemen looked from my balcony, wished me a good evening and ten minutes later a firetruck with one of those huge ladders like you see on TV appeared in my road. The firemen kicked in the window just below me and then left without telling me anything of what happened. The next day I heard the piano music that neighbour always listens to floating up to my apartment. I really don’t know what to make of the whole scenario.

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That’s it. There’s no real conclusion to this. It was bizarre. Life’s looking less bizarre and stressful but who knows really? See you around more often in 2017 blog readers!

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Una (2016)

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I saw 10 films at the London Film Festival and while I have a lot to say about many of them, that will come later in its own time. Today I want to talk about the film that has stayed in my head since the moment I saw it, Una.

Una is directed by Benedict Andrews, starring Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, and Ruby Stokes and is adapted from the play by David Harrower. It bears the aura of being adapted from a stage play, as many such adaptations do. However I don’t feel that this is necessarily a bad thing. One of my favourite films of all time bears this same aura and it’s that which makes David Hugh Jones’ Betrayal so special. But back to Una. Benedict Andrews is a long-time theatre director just now making his first film. What strikes you straight away is that this doesn’t have the shy, mannered feel of a first film. It could just as well have come from a director with 20 blockbusters under his belt. Although this is due in large part to the three key performances that hold the film.

Rooney Mara plays a woman, Una, who has come to confront, or maybe even simply see, the man with whom she had a relationship with, be it sexual, loving or abusive 15 years earlier. Over the course of an hour and a half the two dig up the past, going over what happened between them and what went wrong. The question of right and wrong is almost totally ignored as the film focuses in on the emotions between the two. The film opens on the young Una going in search of something or someone and cuts before we see what she does. Fifteen years and some exposition later we see who she’s looking at in a sweeping long shot that starts on Rooney Mara’s defiant yet vulnerable face, zooming out to show her standing in a warehouse, dressed to impress before swinging round to Ben Mendelsohn, Ray, whose face bears the absolute lack of composure of someone who has seen their own demons brought to life. There is no cut,  no shot reverse-shot. Their meeting is a strong and shared moment that fills the immense space in time and the physical warehouse space chosen for the film.

This is Andrews’ touch of genius, to have transformed a stage play that takes place in a single room into a winding story of spaces and windows and the opaque. The young Una (Ruby Stokes) waits behind a glass pane for Ray to return. Now Ray shoves her into a break room to talk in private, compartmentalising the situation. Yet the break room is made of glass walls and so their drama has to play out in words alone so that it won’t be seen. In a demonstration of a continuous rebellious personality in Una she refuses to sit and wait, in either case. She walks the empty streets as a child and the towering warehouse structures looking for Ray, looking for the one simple answer. One of the few lines spoken by Ruby Stokes as the young Una is to ask Ray why he left and it’s this question that she still wants to ask now. As a child she could never have the answer, the question is asked to Ray through a television screen and so any real communication has been blocked off, once again, by a pane of glass. Here Ray can hear and see her but she has nothing. They get close to communicating when they are forced into hiding in dark rooms, finding once again the codes and habits of how they used to relate to each other Later in the film the two share genuine intimate insights while physically divided by a cubicle wall. We know there is something between them but we don’t see the wall, the frame stays just on their faces and they seem to talk to each other properly for the first time. As much as seeing each other rendered them speechless, not seeing seems to allow them to talk.

This is not to say that everything is resolved. The best that can be said is that a void that lasted Una’s whole life has been filled, at least to her satisfaction. What truly happened between them, truth or lie, right or wrong, remains unknown. Ray’s life and behaviour is certainly no more stable, but this isn’t his story, this is about Una, who, after years of searching, finally walks away.