The memory rings in your ears, like a musical note in reverberation.
One loop, then another, first the guitar, slow and trilling.
Building slowly, the drums enter, steadying the scene.
Your body sways back and forth as if you’re lying face up in the ocean tide.
The voice enters. Higher pitched than anticipated,
it chills the soul in a startling way.
Your eyes close even though you didn’t give the order.
The music takes hold and you willingly surrender.
She entered my life in July 2018, while I was sitting in an apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Through the windows, the sun was setting behind the mountains surrounding the city. My roommate, a fellow digital nomad, calls her hundreds of playlists the “soundtrack to her life.” Every mood variation is accompanied by a playlist she’s spent decades of her life crafting and refining. That evening, the sunset was particularly stunning. Sun rays were blending into the clouds like marbled oil paint dripping down a canvas. As usual, my roommate was DJing and we were both working; I as a freelance writer and she as a freelance graphic designer. Creativity was in the air, and she regulated the music as if an atmospheric maestro.
I didn’t yet know that the next song would forever change me. One loop, then another, first the guitar, slow and trilling. My body began to sway back and forth; I was transported to another plane. My eyes closed, and I was no longer sitting in an apartment in Chiang Mai, writing on my computer. I was floating through a sea of bioluminescence, each note igniting a burst of color. When I was finally able to open my eyes, I looked at my roommate in awe. “Who is this magical person?” I asked. Her name was Tash Sultana, an Australian singer/songwriter who was semi-new to the scene. My roommate had seen her at a festival a few years back in Melbourne. We proceeded to listen to her entire setlist, and I’d never been so productive—and in the zone—in my life.
Flow State occurs when a person is fully immersed in an activity, so much so that the mental absorption makes time seemingly nonexistent. It also happens to be the name of Tash Sultana’s second album, which was released in August 2018; just one month after I first heard her music. I was sitting in a coworking space on the beach in Koh Phangan, Thailand. The water was the most beautiful rendition of turquoise I’d ever seen. I was surrounded by digital nomads like myself. Each of us engaged in our craft, reclined in beach hammocks, overlooking the enchanted Gulf of Thailand.
That’s when my YouTube subscription notified me that Flow State had been released. The timing was serendipitous. Already in a semi-flow state, immersed in an enchanting environment, it felt as if the universe understood the distinct moments in which to inject her music into my conscience. Similar to that night in Chiang Mai, where that breathtaking sunset had inspired my roommate to fill our apartment with the most enchanting sounds.
I put my headphones in and pressed play. The next few hours were a blur of space and time as I floated into the deepest flow state I’d ever experienced. Endlessly rocking back and forth, rhythmically typing on my keyboard, as if playing a Bach sonata.
A few months later, I still listen to Tash’s music anytime I crave elevation to a timeless state. Who knows how long her music will hold this power over me. For now, she’s my spellbinding ticket to creative productivity; a welcome passenger in the depths of my mind.
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Before anything negative comes up, I applaud both your adventuresome spirit and the inspiration that you have given to millions. Personally, your book left me depressed, but only because my achievements are so much less than yours.
As you know by now, many have labeled you foolish for your poorly arranged hike. Some question your morals and “first world problems.” To me, the important points are that your hike got you to where you wanted to be and led to an inspirational book. I’m glad that you are a fellow Portlander; (I’m really an Oswegan, but close enough).
Your example led me to restart writing: first, with four Wild related stories, and then revisiting writing from fourteen years ago. Two pieces of short fiction have been accepted so far. Some of my works are memoirs, inspired by but much less interesting than Wild. To write one piece, however, I finally found out why I was dumped by my former love forty-nine years ago.
If my elderly joints would cooperate, I would try some grand physical adventure such as yours.
I’m curious about several things not covered in the book. What are Paul, Joe, and all the relatives up to now? Where do you hike? Have you / will you ever finish the PCT? Do you have “people” who filter your email? I wonder if any of my cyber-pesterings ever reached you.
Your association with Oprah is a negative for me. She may be a wonderful person, but the nation’s acceptance of advice from any television personalities on matters in which they have no expertise is folly. There isn’t anybody on the tube who I would trust to tell me what to read or how to live in general. This is why I wrote How to Write an Oprah Book.
A big plus is the fact that a friend of mine tells me you volunteer at your children’s school.
If you did receive my cyber-foolishness, you already know that earlier this year the toll-taker at the Bridge of The Gods said that she was in “The Movie” when she saw me reading Wild and that a bunch of PCT through-hikers at Timberline Lodge cheered when I mentioned Wild.
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I have this idea: it’s midnight and I am perfect. I am perfect because I am writing. Not writing perfect things, just writing. Because writing is not only what I love to do, the mental gesture of writing helps me figure out how to see and how to feel about the world around me. So, midnight + writing = perfection because I can see and feel everything clearly. Midnight is crisp and cold but smells like fire. There are no stars.
This might make some people think I’m a person who needs to control every aspect of my life, that clarity brings certainty and certainty brings control—or at least happy feelings of security. I don’t think it does. When you write something, you have one idea that you start with and then, as you write, it can turn into something completely different, and that is seriously awesome. Control and clarity are not about bending reality to my ideals but about opening myself up to whatever happens.
I don’t have a routine. For writing or anything else. Maybe breathing and waking up at nearly the same time every day and immediately making the bed afterward could be considered a routine. I have a day job. And I can pay my bills. I am theoretically “happy” but not because my idea of perfection exists here in the real world. It does not. I can’t stay up past midnight anymore. But I want to.
I want to translate the things I see on the outside of my brain into my own words. I feel sort of like I imagine how a shark feels when it tries to touch something. It doesn’t have fingers, so it has to use its mouth. Sometimes the shark touches something soft and squishy that turns out to be food (which I would be like, OMG food! This is amazing!), and sometimes the shark touches something that is not food but is equally soft and squishy—or something hard that hurts its teeth. That’s what writing feels like for me, trying to touch something with my mouth and not knowing what it is until I touch it.
I want to be the type of person who, when they sit down to write, they actually write, they don’t stare at the page thinking, “If I get this wrong the world will explode.” If I get this one line wrong, or this one sentence wrong, the whole thing will be ruined. But I am a rational human being and I know that one line will not wreck a poem because there does, in this world, exist the mighty sword of revision.
Maybe my doubt monster just needs a hug. And more coffee. Someone to say, “You’re going to get through this; it’s going to be okay.”
Sharks aren’t afraid to touch things, though. I don’t think they care if they hurt their teeth. But I do. So I have trouble writing sometimes. But the poems do come out eventually, so I’m cool with not writing every day and not having a routine. I’m slightly less cool with being scared, but I deal with it.
One of the most important life lessons I’ve learned is you need to run toward the things you are afraid of. When you want something and you’re afraid to go get it you need to go get it anyway. Even if what comes up scares you or you think it’s crap and no one will ever read it.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten how to start writing a poem. It’s obvious, of course, you put words where there were no words. I mean, you don’t suddenly forget how to eat. But it happens. Today I was driving home from work and I thought about how much I hate this girl back in my hometown, then I thought, “I want to write a poem about that.” Then I couldn’t figure out how or why it would even be important. I had a line, but there was no beginning and definitely no end.
Sometimes poems begin as wisps of one-liners swirling in my mind and grow into full-blown poem hurricanes before I know what’s going on. Other times, like today in the car, they don’t. I’m not sure why that is. Questions like, “What is poetry?” and “What is the muse/inspiration?” fascinate and irritate me because there are a multitude of answers, depending on who you talk to and what they think you want them to say.
I sometimes feel poems are like water flowing through my mouth and over my gills; it’s important for staying alive, but sometimes you just want to bite something, you know? When I feel like I’ve written a poem well, or written a poem that I like, I can read it and my brain says, “This is food.”
Poetry is one of those things that I think no one will ever completely understand because I think no one really understands humanity or why creative expression does what it does to people. One of my teachers, Lynda Barry, said (and I’m paraphrasing), "Art/creativity/play is like your immune system, you need to express yourself in order to survive."
So, there you go, writers. Just keep swimming. Go out and eat something. Don’t die.
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Just a box. That looked kinda like a cigar box. At first blush.
But not the cardboard kind, stacked HIGH under a “FREE” sign, near the back door of Barney’s Cigar Barn. The kind that shelters shoddy smokes that smell and taste like “BEWARE OF RACOONS.”
A box, more like the Kon-Tiki expedition kind in the 1947 journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. And, the “Happy Birthday, Honey” kind, beautifully displayed in the front window at Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue.
A box between two photos. The larger nostalgic-hued and framed one shows a bushy-tailed, bright-eyed dude, posing for an “any thing’s possible” graduation celebration. All decked out in a HIGH roller wannabe’s 3-button suit and white buttoned-down shirt under a complementary tie with what appear to be bulls on their back legs and $norrrting for profit. The smaller one in lived and living color and framed in copper-wizened green shows a “Been there, done that” man with smoky hair and a wise-king-Solomon stare that knows the stock market is unpredictable. So, constructing a balanced portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other investments is “Be/ing safe not sorry,” as his Midwest first-grade-teacher Mom and men’s-store-owner Dad often cautioned him during his pre-school “Walk, don’t run” training.
A box to the right of an American flag. Folded beautifully in an equilateral triangle. Signaling service to his country and passion for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and just plain-Abe Lincoln-decency and honor and undying love for his wife and son and daughter. And, e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d family, friends, and acquaintances, too.
A box in front and to the right of a framed golf ball with the words “HOLE-IN-ONE. September 10, 2013. Hole No. 10. Which he cherished as much as a generous shmear or two of pure Wisconsin butter on an apple fritter with a bottomless cup of Maxwell House between loong puffs of I can’t remember which grave brand. Can you?
A box directly in front of a black and silver Panasonic clock-telephone, time/dated 1:59 p.m., August 18, 2018. A telephone like the one he snuggled to make cold calls to hot prospects on the road to ****ing as a Cracker-Jack-stock-broker at Merrill Lynch, that afforded an early sie$ta.
A box on a 2 by 4-foot table with a pure-white-vestal-virgin mantle just like his SUPER saintly UPbringing and Woody Allen wit and Sean Connery charm and Princess Grace grace and Penelope patience and never-ever scream, “Fudge Bar,” disposition. And, if you believe all of that, well, either you live in a golf ball or won’t eat butter or swear that raccoons are odorless pets or never-ever screamed “Fudge Bar!”
Just a box? On reflection, “Oh, no!” As Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 116, “It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. It is the star to every wand’ring bark, whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
An ever-fixed beauty that embodies his height, mark, and worth.
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Since the war, I haven’t been able to sleep. For years I wondered why. Finally, I realized the disturbance stemmed from a book I owned—a gift from a kind-hearted older woman. I burned it, and as the flames licked its pages and curled them into ashes, a surge of happiness filled my heart. Before you go thinking I’m a barbarian, let me explain.
It all began while I was visiting the island of Corsica with a friend. Even though there is known magic on this island, my friend and I found none. We did, however, meet a writer who told us about a spell that was essentially a thousand words in a very specific order. When we asked him to give it to us, he refused. We didn’t think much of it until later on when we were visiting a specific rock formation. There was the sense that there were ghosts around. Nothing you could see, only sense. Looking around, we did find animal skulls and recently smeared blood. There was graffiti all over the rocks, most of which referred to “the endless death.” I tried to take a photo and couldn’t. Why is still a bit of a mystery. Needless to say, we left. Driving as fast as we could for some city lights, we saw that we were being followed. Until we left the island I had the feeling that we were being watched by at least a handful of eyes.
I recently read a news article on Corsica, a beautiful island if ever there was one, whereby some of the militias or mafias there wish to fight any Islamic influence creeping into their world. An odd piece of news from an emerald isle with so much to offer.
Looking back, I frequently travel down the narrow roads that penetrated the green heart of the island, like riding upon the back of a green sea turtle with an ancient brown crusted shell: a welcome change from the sweltering coast; and I remember an old lady we helped. Stranded, we pushed her car off the road and drove her to a cafe filled with her family or friends or both, all jumping at her command, one translated English for her.
As a token of her appreciation, she gave me a book. I didn’t open it until a few days later in the city of Ajaccio when I had a moment to myself. Brittle and yellowing, I wondered if she had given it to me to rid herself of a story written in a language she didn’t care for.
I finished reading the book a few days later, on a bright loud fecund night, and flung the damned thing across the room, angry that I had even bothered to read it. But later, as my friend harassed an entire bar while I played chess with a local in the corner, the book’s theme rushed back to me, and I lost an easily-defendable position because of this loss in concentration.
Back in my hotel room, standing on the balcony, I pondered what exactly the book was trying to say. It had started with a woman wandering—or lost—in a city (like many things, the book was diffuse or coy or post-modern about motivations) unknown to her. In her hands, she carried a box. We know nothing of the box or what’s in it. Sometimes she looked through the box’s contents and was filled with joy or grief. She also tried to touch others with the box to elicit emotional reactions, gaining some level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, depending on the person—though there was no pattern I could discern.
The interactions with her and the box are well laid out, and every character is worth a book of their own, but our protagonist moved no closer to escaping the city, which seemed to be an abstract goal—even as she met more people.
Most of the people she meets, however, point her to a house in the middle of the city. They do it for many different reasons, and, of course, as in the post-modern style of this book, some people claimed the house did not exist, while others try to warn her off finding it.
The last chapter has her in this house filled with mirrors and an odd dinner table laid out. Statues with undefined faces sit at this table in all but one chair—where she sits. The dishes are revealed to be platters for the heads of all whom she’d met. The faces of the statues eventually become clear: her family. She takes out her box, it crumbles, and she turns to stone. The end.
Do you see why I flung the book across the room now—even burned it? What I can’t account for is why the story has turned to glue in my brain folds, my bones, to this day. How can it be that something I want to label as a pseudo-intellectual-Euro-tripe is this permanent? I’ve tried to understand this. Even going so far as to reevaluate what I define as a classic—making sure that this book doesn’t get accidentally defined as one, such was and is my hate for it.
Indeed, there were a series of parallel stories, or rather methods that she tried using to escape the city. The first involved graffiti messages etched into specific cornerstones. At first hopeful, they become belligerent, then downright hateful at the end.
The shadows in the city, which move like ghosts, whisper riddles that seem philosophical, but mean nothing, even if she solves them. She tries to capture a few by using old spells she vaguely remembers, but she has no luck. The few times these ghosts help, they reveal a little about the city’s history: a battle won here, a love lost there. But these anecdotes often contradict earlier statements, and even though the sum of that paints the picture of a handful of families who control the town—or rather how the town acquired the bones and ligaments of its enemies to make the required mortar for its world-renowned buildings, or that it “purified” its water via a process that kept humans in a barely-alive state, nothing of real value for her escape is revealed.
Now, one shadow or ghost does whisper that all who escape are turned to stone, but in another story, she’s told a powerful, ruthless family escapes without turning to stone. All very unhelpful, especially for me, a soldier, having just returned from my first tour in Iraq, it was very discomforting.
It resurfaces here and there, the memory of this book, but only recently did I bother to do some research on the author. She had only written this one book, and she was killed a few weeks after it was published, likely by the Algerian OAS, though no one really knew why: she had never made any public statement about the Algerian War one way or another and neither had her family. A Google search, even in this miraculous age of internet and algorithms—revealed not a single other human being talking about her book.
A few days ago, I found out that the hacker group I&I was ready to release an algorithm that was created in her honor. Well, they didn’t name her, but it reminded me of her work in that it was intended to subvert by only releasing certain pieces of news: a word here and there (e.g.: government officials lied, instead of said) the sort of language that severs most trust in the world. I suppose this might not make sense to some, but I’m seeing enemies everywhere now, and I blame this book for undermining my previously status-quo views.
Though I burned the book, it still bothers me. I’m not sure why. Such are the reactions of barbarians, I suppose, but in reality, us civilized folk can fear those symbolic scribblings more than anyone. For the thoughts they implant can be too much at times.
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NELSON LOWHIM was born in Tanzania, of Indian, Seychelles, and Euro descent. He Lived in India for a year. At age 10, he moved to the States (all over) and currently lives in Seattle with his wife. He is a writer, artist, photographer, and veteran. His stories and art have been published in Red Rock Review, BlazeVox, Talking Writing, Omni, Dead Mule School of Southern Lit, Nine Line Anthology, Vet Lit: How We Remember War, Vet Lit II: So it Goes, SF Books, LA Review of LA, Seattle Poetic Grid, The Mantle, Intersections International, Medium, ItsComplicated.vet, Aaduna, Artists Studios, Flyway Journal, and Afterwords (forthcoming in Callaloo!). He also has a published novel titled, CityMuse. You can find him on Twitter @nlowhim, Medium, Intersections, and his Personal Blog.
Branko Miljković was one of the most famous Serbian and Yugoslav poets of the second half of the 20th century. He was born in 1934 in the Serbian city of Niš. In 1953, he moved from Niš to Belgrade for philosophy studies and graduated in 1957. He also wrote essays and reviews and was considered one of the leaders of the Neo-Symbolist movement which brought together Surrealism and Symbolism.
He died prematurely in 1961 at the age of 27, found hanging from a tree in a park in the city of Zagreb, Croatia where he was living at the time. This controversial incident was officially recorded a suicide although it remains unclear to this day. He was an outspoken critic of the Communist Party, and it is possible that he was murdered by Croat Nationalists.
Branko’s poem “Poem for my 27th birthday" was written shortly before his death and, given his untimely demise, is packed with insights of his views on life and death. As such, it has always been a bit haunting for me and inspired this translation.
(That last stanza is especially poignant, I feel, given the mystery surrounding his death.)
The translation of poetry has always been regarded as a controversial practice within the already complex area of literary translation. Since poetry is a literary form in which content and form are inseparably linked, it is clear why it’s the most demanding form of translation.
In its simplest form, translation of poetry is the transfer of complex poetic thoughts from one language to another. It could be argued that translation is little more than the creation of perfect echoes. And literally, I mean the echo that arises from a voice in a natural environment where words are repeated with some delay and some sound deformation. However, minimizing deformation depends on the context in which keywords are strategically placed—a nuance often lost in translation. The case is the same with deformation of sounds and the rhythm of songs, as well as loss of articulation, which depends on the intended meaning and corresponding feeling for their native language.
By carefully observing both poem versions, you will notice that the English version sounds a bit “chaotic," as if the words were haphazardly chosen. One of the most problematic aspects of poetry translation is that it produces an extremely "condensed" and compacted form of the original poem, whereas the language of poetry is based on connotations not denotations. Newer approaches to translation recognize that the former opposition to the translation of poetry—that is, the emphasis on its non-conducive nature, was focused on the inability to fully transfer all aspects of the original poetic work into the target language, its cultural definitions and traditions.
In the twentieth century, the task of translating was simply to transpose the original lyrical work, but it must also keep its poetic value and function in the target language as an independent poetic form (without comments or footnotes). Since each song or poem is a story in itself, each compiler, in defining priorities, is left to oneself and is faced with many choices.
In short, translating a poem is like trying to sing a song that’s been written as a crossword puzzle.
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Since this is a Hungarian film, Hungarian names will be written in the order customary in the country, which means that last name comes before first.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Immediately after the title card, this film feels a lot like the director’s first picture, Son of Saul. The camera, the score, the acting. Written by Nemes László, Clara Royer, and Matthieu Taponier, Sunset obviously took the recipe from the same cookbook. Melis László returns for the score, while Erdély Mátyás was the cinematographer on both of Nemes’ films. Kormos Mihály, too, reappears as the caretaker, and the lead is played by Jakab Juli, who was Ella in Son of Saul. At first, the similarities between the two films are glaring to the point of being offensive. And yet, as the film progresses, Sunset becomes so entirely different that comparisons to Nemes’ earlier film become obsolete. The fine dust of very-fin-de-siecle Budapest swarms around the characters in this fever dream of an adventure that initially looks a lot like Son of Saul but doesn’t taste like it at all.
I watched this movie while sitting in a small, stuffy, Budapest theater—the kind now being driven out of business by multiplexes. The opening scene is a girl trying on hats in 1913 Budapest, and I get the feeling that because I speak the language I’m seeing a different Sunset from those who do not. Whenever I do glance at the writing on the screen, it seems better not to: the subtitles, to be brief, are terrible. Things that mean something like, “How long ago that was...” are translated as “Where is it?” Aside from that, I am pretty sure that the Hungarian-ness is palpable to all, if most do not know exactly what that is. Even the title, Napszállta, is an Easter egg for Hungarian people: it technically translates to “sunset,” but it is also an archaic term that some may recognize from the literature of the time, possibly a great-grandparent who liked to wax lyrical.
But let’s get down to the actual film. We get to know the protagonist, a naive and more-curious-than-reasonable girl named Leiter Írisz (Jakab), as she appears at the millinery her parents used to own before they, and the store, perished in a fire and Írisz was shipped off to Trieste. She’s on a mission: a job at the hatmaker’s that bears her name. From her fine dress and manner, we can deduce that this is due to some sort of nostalgia, rather than to find gainful employment. So far so good, you would think, but things go sharply downhill from there. Not to reveal too much of the plot, Írisz is finally employed by the brutish boss, Mr. Brill (Vlad Ivanov), and soon finds out she has a brother. She then proceeds to purposely get herself into dicey situations involving various “randy” men, alone and/or in groups, and all of this is somehow related to the war about to start. Her motives remain murky, and often one is struck by a feeling that this girl suffers from some form of autassassinophilia, or the desire to seek out dangerous, possibly lethal situations.
In contrast, the head milliner at the store is a strict, unkind, and a vitally important character named Zelma, played by Dobos Evelin with riveting grace and force. It seems obvious that in a scenario where we, the viewers, would have to name one of them as the victim, the choice would fall on Írisz. But this, like so many things in the film, is easier said than done. Sunset is not a story that moves logically from a to b or even has a clear plot structure. Very often, things seem to carry an underlying message, mysterious and unresolved, which may be frustrating for some but intriguing for others. For instance, there is a naked foot on a carpet—one simple moment that is still, perhaps, the most violent in this otherwise openly gruesome film. The image of the foot sticks with you, though it isn’t clear why. Anyone who has seen it will tell you that this picture is irritatingly ambiguous, both in plot and in moral, but in a way that entices and provokes. It may be hard to love, but Sunset is even harder to discount.
Somewhere along the line, the search for the protagonist’s brother becomes unimportant, both to Írisz and to us: we are so close visually, not by choice but force, that we can’t help but become her. The camera rests on her face, or the back of her always tense neck, and the background is blurred so that we couldn’t break away even if we wanted to. Viewers have a lot of time to contemplate Jakab’s face and feel that it is one they won’t soon forget: both of the time and of the region, she was a perfect choice for the role. Her performance, which may seem inhibited and wooden at first, slowly becomes one thing above all: believable. Jakab’s eyes are often cast toward the ground beneath our sight, a telltale sign of reserve, fear, or shyness that belies her character’s bravery—or rather, lack of common sense. Írisz seems inappropriately undaunted by the fact that there is some dark plan afoot, where absolutely everyone is mean-spirited and whispering ominous things to her along her misguided journey down the rabbit hole. Still, it isn’t Jakab – it is Írisz who we feel should just get the hell out of dodge, out of this mess where it remains forever one against all and all against one. But she stays and uncovers a sinister ring of debauched, nefarious activity that is a metaphor for and reflective of a failing monarchy. The film obviously deals with an important time in history and draws parallels to the start of a war that changed the world, but to say that Sunset is a liberal interpretation would be an understatement. This, like most of its shortcomings, is not only forgivable but irrelevant. Sunset does capture the supposed zeitgeist of the period with authenticity – a feat that is not negligible. The set and costume design are breathtaking for the budget which, though many times that of Son of Saul, was still rather modest. It is almost painful how much effort is put into these parts of the production only to remain largely obscured. But it isn’t all in vain: the elegance of the frames and the people in them make the viciousness far more painful to witness.
Many may see the similarities between Sunset and Nemes’ first film as a sort of cop-out. What makes a director’s style recognizable, after all, is not that the movies look the same. But Nemes, while deciding to use the same methods, made two movies entirely different from one another. This in itself is an achievement, if only to excuse any perceived laziness on his part. Sunset is shortlisted for an Academy Award in the foreign language category and, after seeing the rather piddling attempt of the German contender – by a director who has previously made one of the most fantastic films to ever come out of the country – I do not think Nemes’ sophomore effort is without a fighting chance. That being said, it’s clear that this film will be lost on many people, as is evident by the reviews (take the hilariously disparaging one by Jessica Kiang at Sight&Sound). But then, a lot of cult classics start out that way. Sunset is a Kafkaesque fever dream, or nightmare in plain English. This is a graceful film with horrible undertones, often so portentous it can become hard to bear – as nightmares often tend to.
The first question that arose in my mind when the screen turned dark was whether this film had a feminist message. Nemes said in an interview that it was contemporary, in its way, which could be meant with regard to the political turmoil. But underneath that, is this a movie about a woman looking for her brother only to find her own strength? And then, just when I thought the movie had ended, well into a black screen, we’re suddenly in the trenches: wartime. There we see the protagonist, though she is disguised as a man so we’re not immediately sure whether we’re supposed to recognize her—unlike the other time she had tried to pass as male. The intellectual dilemma here, though, is that she would, in this scenario, be fighting for the monarchy. The very same thing she rose up against. Why?
As I walked out of the little cinema into the night air of downtown Budapest, looking up at the buildings, appearing as if they were taken straight from the film’s set design, I felt glad Napszállta was made.
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I suspect she would have approved of the formation of the Noise Abatement Society. And who can blame her? She may not have lived in a county dominated by dark satanic mills, but she wasn’t far from a few. England is not huge and the Industrial Revolution, with all its attendant pollutions, had a profound— transformative—impact on every village, town, and city.
She had seven siblings, six brothers, and one sister: her beloved Cassandra. All of whom survived the rigors—and terrors—of a late eighteenth-century childhood.
And then there are the servants, the nameless, numberless servants, who lit the fires, emptied the chamber pots, swept the floors, attended to the needs and whims of the children, cooked, scoured the utensils, and the chamber pots, polished endlessly, and so on. She excised them. The Vicar of Wakefield was one of her favourite books, but her opinion of She Stoops to Conquer is not known. I have not read any of the biographies; Wiki suffices, so I do not know where, when, and how she found the time and space to write novels—but peace and quiet, if not tranquility, must have been a prerequisite.
Forty-years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Emily Dickinson lived a recluse-like existence—recluse-like because she was a wonderfully prolific and intimate correspondent in a substantial, almost uninhabited house. Siblings were scarce and servants an addendum which allowed her to withdraw, write, and read, for she was more than familiar with Austen’s novels.
So that’s it then, one writer somehow contrived to write in a house thronged with people and the other went from vacant room to vacant room, in her plain muslin dress, tapping her fingers and humming.
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RICHARD BROWN lives in the North London suburbs where he is semi-retired from the insurance industry. He's written dozens of screenplays. Most notably, The Whitechapel Murders, which has received some interest on Amazon Studios. In his spare time, he is a 5-course breakfast aficionado.