Lucy Popescu

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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Popescu’

Theatre review – The Plague

Posted by lucypopescu on April 22, 2017

 

The Plague After La Peste by Albert Camus

Adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett

Arcola Theatre, Running until 6 May

Box Office: 020 7503 1646

 

Albert Camus’s 1947 novel describes the effects of a plague in the French Algerian city of Oran. Some claim La Peste was inspired by the cholera epidemic that ravaged Oran in 1849, others thought it was about the Nazi occupation during World War II. This ambivalence is part of the story’s power and one that Neil Bartlett fully recognises in his engaging, multi-layered production.

Played out on a largely bare stage, Bartlett’s adaptation opens with five characters sitting behind a table at some sort of official enquiry. They begin to share their experiences. The first sign of the impending catastrophe is the discovery of rats’ corpses. Then people start to die and the authorities fail to take decisive action.

Dr Rieux (Sara Powell) works tirelessly to save lives but there are other, less scrupulous characters. Rambert (Billy Postlethwaite) is a journalist more interested in escaping the city’s lockdown to be reunited with his girlfriend than reporting the truth while Mr Cottard (Joe Alessi), a petty criminal, tries to turn events to his advantage and make money smuggling desperate people out of the city.

I was reminded of the HiNi pandemic, the Ebola outbreak and the current refugee crisis. What Bartlett draws out are the human responses to tragedy – some kind, others cruel, or self-serving. But as Dr Rieux remarks, the most merciful act is “to speak up and bear witness; to make sure that there is at least some memory of the injustices and violences that are done to people…” It’s a poignant piece of theatre with particular relevance to our troubled times.

 

Originally published by Camden Review

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Film Review – I Am Not Your Negro

Posted by lucypopescu on April 10, 2017

 

 

Raoul Peck’s provocative and timely documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, is an incisive meditation on America’s black civil rights movement told through the eyes of the late novelist James Baldwin. Peck’s Oscar-nominated film focuses on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, about the lives and murders of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Baldwin, who was remarkably fortune to escape assassination himself, was friends with all three and their deaths were to have a profound effect on his life and work.

Interspersed with Baldwin’s reflections, narrated by Samuel L Jackson, is footage of various civil rights demonstrations from the 50s and 60s, together with recordings of Baldwin’s lectures, debates and TV appearances. He is an arresting, articulate figure with an incredible ability to summarise racial and cultural politics. “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” Baldwin once remarked. Peck underlines the continuing truth of this statement by juxtaposing past brutality – against civil-rights protesters in Birmingham and Selma in the 1960s – with more recent racism such as the violent assault of Rodney King by Los Angeles police filmed by a bystander in 1991. As Peck demonstrates, appalling inequality and racist attitudes prevail today.

In one essay, Baldwin described how mainstream cinema has helped fuel race divisions by presenting the differences between good and evil in black and white terms. Peck bring this vividly to life with scenes from popular American films dating from the 1930s. John Wayne’s cowboys, for example, were always on the side of right, and the native Indians were always the baddies – leaving the spectator to presume that they deserved to be massacred. In the 50s, blond bombshell Doris Day exemplified the perfect American wife while in early Hollywood films, black actors only featured as lackeys and servents serving to consolidate specific racial imagery.

Although past and current race relations are starkly drawn, Peck’s film never feels bleak. This is mainly due to Baldwin’s charismatic screen presence, his passion for reasoned argument and the power of his rhetoric.  As he claimed in one television interview: “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”  It’s this resolute defiance that sets the tone for Peck’s film. Baldwin died in 1987 but I Am Not Your Negro serves to resurrect his indomitable spirit as well as introducing this great writer and social critic to new audiences.

Originally published by Cine-Vue.com

 

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Film review – A Quiet Passion

Posted by lucypopescu on April 10, 2017

 

Terence Davies is no stranger to biographical film, having mined his own life story to great effect in Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes.  The overall tone of his sensitive Emily Dickenson biopic mirrors the great American poet’s contemplative style. The languorous pace may divide audiences, despite some strong performances and memorable camerawork.

A Quite Passion, starring Cynthia Nixon, opens in 1848 with Dickinson’s family rescuing her from the evangelical Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She had been considered something of an outsider and was chastised for her lack of religious conviction – something she wrestled with for many years. Dickinson returns to her Amherst home with her beloved family, and there she remains for the rest of her life and the film’s duration.

Dickinson never ventured far from her Massachusetts home, apparently she never found a reason to leave, and so Davies focuses on her relationship with her family – the occasional power struggles with her stern father (Keith Carradine), her love for her supportive sister Lavinia (Jennifer Ehle), affection for her brother Austin (Duncan Duff), and despondency over her ailing, bedbound mother Emily (Joanna Bacon) as well as an ardent friendship with the feisty Vryling Wilder Buffum (Catherine Bailey).

Dickinson has to ask the permission of her father in order to write poetry and letters during the night and she proves a prolific correspondent. However, most of her letters were destroyed after her death and only a few poems were published in her life time. She never married and, considering herself unattractive, became increasingly reclusive and embittered in her final years. She died young, aged just fifty-five, never suspecting that she was to become one of American’s best known and loved poets. Davies matches Dickinson’s reflective nature with some ponderous takes – especially when the family are in the drawing room reading or crocheting. He admirably succeeds in conveying Dickinson’s stoicism and her frequent internalisation of emotional pain but, at times, A Quiet Passion feels desperately slow.

Although the sisters find succour in their affection for one another, their observance of familial duty is oppressive. Following the strict social mores of the time, they both quietly accept their formal, cloistered existence, rather than attempting to forge a life outside. It is no surprise that Lavinia also remained a spinster.  Nixon gives a hugely sympathetic performance and portrays Dickinson’s mental and physical decline with real conviction. She stands out from her fellow actresses, some of whom appear to have graduated from the same school of acting – there are a lot of stoical smiles and eyes brimming with tears. The men’s exuberant hair, admittedly true to the period, also proves something of a distraction.

Dickinson’s life, like many of her poems, was suffused with melancholy. Davies suggests her sole infatuation was with a rather dull, married clergyman who admires her poetry. It’s only fleetingly touched upon in the film and Dickinson’s obsession appears to come out of nowhere. Similarly, Austin’s affair with Mabel Loomis Todd (Noémie Schellens), who was to posthumously publish Dickinson’s poems, is barely explored and yet it almost destroyed the siblings’ relationship. While Davies vividly captures the period’s austerity and Dickinson’s despair at being misunderstood, there are a few too many scenes of repressed emotion followed by wild outbursts of grief. A Quiet Passion would have benefited from a subtler lightening of the shadows, if only to better appreciate the darkness which was to gradually engulf the reclusive but prolific poet.

Originally published by Cine-Vue.com

 

 

 

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Film review – Denial

Posted by lucypopescu on January 29, 2017

denialMick Jackson’s court room drama, Denial, focuses on the 1996 British libel suit brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall), the infamous Holocaust denier, against American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publisher Penguin Books. Based on Lipstadt’s book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, and adapted for screen by David Hare, Denial offers some fascinating insights into Irving’s twisted logic and the intricacies of British law.

When Irving claims that Lipstadt’s book had attempted to destroy his reputation as a historian, Lipstadt is shocked to discover that the burden of proof is on the defendant. She is forced to come to London to argue her case with the help of British solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), a rising star after having represented Diana in her divorce from Prince Charles. Irving’s claims are outrageous – that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were not used to kill Jews (according to Irving they were built to kill lice) and that Hitler had in fact opposed the murder of European Jewry. Because there is no photographic evidence of the actual genocide, these claims have to be tested in a court of law. More worryingly, Lipstadt’s representatives have to prove that Irving intentionally lied about the Holocaust and isn’t just effectively in denial.

Lipstadt has a formidable team working for her, including leading libel barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), while Irving chooses to represent himself in the hope of gaining public sympathy for what he refers to as a “David vs. Goliath” conflict. Even if one doesn’t already know the outcome of this renowned legal case, it’s pretty obvious who is going to triumph from the outset and this drains a degree of tension from the judge’s deliberations. Wisely, Hare’s screenplay focuses on Lipstadt’s conflicts with her legal team’s strategies and their refusal to allow her or any Holocaust survivors to take the stand. They argue that Irving, rather than the Holocaust, should be on trial. Lipstadt believes that survivors should not be denied a voice.

Apart from shots of Lipstadt’s seminars with her students, her morning runs, meetings with lawyers and a poignant visit to the remains of Auschwitz with Rampton, Denial is set largely in and around the court room. There are some excellent performances – in particular from Spall as the slippery and odious denier and Wilkinson as the wine-loving barrister who proves disconcertingly sharp-witted. Given the alarming rise of far right xenophobia, a film that portrays this memorable defence against fascism and the rewriting of history, feels exceptionally timely. There are more than a few parallels to be drawn between the swagger and deviousness of Irving and another well known falsifier, President Trump.

Originally published by Cine-Vue.com

 

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A Country of Refuge at the Houses of Parliament

Posted by lucypopescu on December 19, 2016

mps-and-michaela

Michaela Fyson, Tracy Brabin MP and Lucy Popescu

 

An October excursion to a local bookshop by a pensioner and human rights activist has this week ended in MPs receiving a Christmas gift she hopes will challenge the rhetoric surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

At the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, Michaela Fyson from Staffordshire handed over copies – one for each MP – of A Country of Refuge, with help from the book’s editor, Lucy Popescu. The event was attended by MPs, members of the Lords, writers and refugees.

A mixture of specially commissioned fiction, memoir, poetry and essays, A Country of Refuge was created “to make a positive and vital contribution to the national debate and to foster a kinder attitude towards our fellow humans who are fleeing violence, persecution, poverty or intolerance,” Popescu said.

 

“There are too many politicians referring to these groups of people as if they are animals – talking about them ‘swarming’, or needing their teeth checked like horses to see how old they are. That is what we need to change.”

Sebastian Barry, one of the contributors to the anthology, whose Fragment of a Journal, Author Unknown investigates an earlier migration by people fleeing the Irish Famine, who crossed the Atlantic in “coffin ships”, said:“If we don’t honour the redemptive fact that all modern humans belong to the same family, and that therefore the children who have been abandoned in France are our children and our urgent responsibility, then there is no justice, and no human history to be proud of.”

Mirroring the book’s route to market, Fyson crowdfunded buying the 650 copies needed. “I had to get the money together in a great rush,” the 71-year-old said. “I did it through a network of people: friends and friends of friends. Some gave a few pennies others several hundreds of pounds. Everyone was incredibly generous.”

Fyson has spent her life campaigning for refugee causes after a Hungarian refugee came to live with her family in 1956. She said that MPs would be contacted after Christmas to make sure they have read the book.

Help with her task has come from unexpected sources. “When the books were delivered they arrived in a great pantechnicon in the middle of my village,” she explained. “The driver said he had to leave the pallet with all the books on it on the pavement, but when I told him what they were for, he helped get them inside. People have been so generous and supportive.”

 

Popescu was inspired to curate the collection two years ago after hearing the rhetoric being used to demonise refugees and asylum seekers in the media and by politicians. Her aim was to encourage compassion and empathy, she said

Though writers asked to contribute to the collection had been supportive, publishers were less enthusiastic, Popescu said. “This was before the Syrian refugee crisis, and none of the big publishers would touch it,” she added. “My agent went to every major publisher in town and everyone said that a short-story collection about refugees wouldn’t sell.”

Crowdfunding publishing house Unbound picked up the title. A second volume, focused on the experiences of refugee children, is planned for next year, Popescu added. “We want to get it onto the school curriculum and into school libraries. I am doing a call out now to children’s authors to get them involved.”

From The Guardian, Danuta Kean

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Book Review – Cove

Posted by lucypopescu on December 4, 2016

coveStories of individuals pitted against the cruel forces of nature have a broad and enduring appeal, from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. When executed well, survival narratives take hold of your imagination and remain with you. It is this rich seam that Welsh novelist Cynan Jones mines in his novella Cove.

In a short prologue — a dreamlike sequence narrated in the second person — a woman waits on a shore. Then the focus shifts to a man, adrift at sea, having been struck by lightning. As well as being paralysed in one arm, he has lost his mental moorings and is unsure of who he is or why he is marooned in a fragile kayak covered in a thin veil of ash.

As Jones tracks back and forth in time in his characteristically spare prose, we learn that the man had come to sea to scatter his father’s ashes and to catch some fish for lunch. Jones’ economy of language means that his imagery, his choice of metaphors and similes, has to hit the nail every time. It is some measure of his skill as a writer that they invariably do. Consider the following descriptions of the man’s shattered memory: at first, he has only “a sense of himself, a fly trapped the wrong side of glass”. When he catches sight of his name on an address label “it was like looking into an empty cup”. He remembers the beginning of his journey and drifting out to sea, but “the time in between was gone. Like a cigarette burn in a map.”

Jones’ terse lyricism, together with his repetition of resonant images and motifs, encourage the reader to fill in the gaps as slivers of the man’s memory return: he finds a wren’s feather inside his dead mobile phone and “the sense of her came back”. He imagines her, “the bell of her stomach”, waiting for him on the beach. He knows they each have a feather. This slow, partial remembering serves as a reawakening — it succours the man and gives him the will to live: “The idea of her, whoever she might be, seemed to grow into a point on the horizon he could aim for. He believed he would know more as he neared her.”

The odds are nevertheless stacked against Jones’ protagonist: he is suffering from overexposure, he has lost his paddles, he is injured and in pain, one arm is useless and he’s low on water. As he drifts, hopelessly, at the mercy of the sea and the weather, he becomes acutely aware of nature’s gentler side — the butterfly that alights on the boat, the sunfish staring him in the eye, the dolphins playing around his kayak. These precious reminders of the here and now strengthen his resolve to survive.

Jones strips the story down to its elemental core and much of it reads like a prose poem. His vivid descriptions allow us to feel the man’s physical discomfort and flagging spirit. Cove is a slighter work than Jones’ previous novel, The Dig, but explores similar themes. Just as The Dig was about the rhythms of rural life, Cove is about the dangerous, unknowable rhythms of the sea. Both are about devastation — one emotional, the other physical — and both examine love, loss, memory and the will to live. Cove is a haunting meditation on trauma and human fragility.

 

Originally published by FT.com

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Speed reading – books about migration

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

 

Migrant Women's voicesMigrant Women’s Voices pays tribute to the numerous female migrants who contributed to the reconstruction effort post World War II and those who joined the British workforce in the following decades. Based on the oral histories of seventy-four migrant women (collected between 1992 and 2012) Linda McDowell charts how Britain was transformed into a multi-cultural society. The testimonies demonstrate “the huge commitment made to Britain, to its economy and to its population by ‘ordinary’ women… who made the decision to move across national borders and make a life elsewhere.”

In Refugee Tales, poets and novelists, including Ali Smith, Patience Agbabi and Marina Lewycka, retell the stories of refugees who have experienced Britain’s appalling policy of indefinite immigration detention. Inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, these accounts are told from the perspectives of a lawyer, unaccompanied minor and a deportee, among others. This impressive anthology illustrates the limbo often endured by those seeking a safe sanctuary. British citizens enjoy the basic human right not to be detained without charge for more than 14 days, while asylum seekers can be detained for years before being granted leave to remain.the-immigrant-handbook

Caroline Smith’s haunting poetry collection is inspired by her experiences as an asylum caseworker for a London MP. Many of her characters’ fates are uncertain: Every week for seven years Dr Khan has walked to Hounslow’s immigration reporting centre. Arjan Mehta has spent seventeen years phoning the Home Office waiting for a response to his application:

 

He is now forty.

The sealed-up phone box

long out of service,

the black cradle

within its sepulchre,

silent as an obsidian urn.

 

Originally published by The Tablet

 

 

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Dangerous Women – Aslı Erdoğan

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

asli-erdoganOn 15 November, to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN centres around the world protested the detention of Aslı Erdoğan, a Turkish novelist and journalist considered a ‘dangerous woman’ by the state for her journalistic activities. Aslı, 49, is a columnist and on the advisory board of the pro-Kurdish opposition daily Özgür Gündem, shut down under the state of emergency imposed after the failed military coup of 15 July 2016. Aslı was arrested at her home in Istanbul, on 17 August 2016 together with twenty other journalists and employees from the paper.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is increasingly intolerant of political opposition, public protest, and critical media. Restrictive laws are regularly used to arrest and prosecute journalists, while media groups who criticise the government are fined.  Since the coup attempt, the silencing of critical voices has reached epic proportions. The government declared a three-month state of emergency (which has been extended for a further 90 days) and, according to PEN’s last count on 24 October 2016, 135 journalists had been charged and were in pre-trial detention; at least eight were detained without charge and others were in police custody under investigation…

To read more please visit http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/11/07/3597/

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Book Review – Crossings

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

 

CrossingsNick Murray’s impressive collection of essays is part travelogue and part meditation on other, metaphysical borders he has experienced. Murray has traversed various continents, countries and counties. Borders, he muses early on, “are not attractive places. They want to instruct you, as forcefully as they can, about their importance, about what they signify, so everything about them is designed to underscore that meaning…” On crossing the frontier from North Africa to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, he notes how roughly the Spanish policemen treat the Moroccans: “I have seen farmers deal this way with recalcitrant sheep.” In ‘The Toxicity of Borders’, he argues against Europe’s current “war” with migration, pointing out how the movement of people “enriches the collective experience, it is a prophylactic against insularity, complacency ignorance.”

Observing with humour some of the class boundaries that remain entrenched in Britain today, Murray recalls a talk he gave at Eton and how he made the unforgivable faux pas of asking for a speaker’s fee: “In this place, where only the sons of Croesus can afford to lodge, payment is plainly unheard of and to request it an awful solecism.”

In ‘The Last Frontier’, Murray poignantly describes the limbo between life and death endured by an unnamed elderly patient in a care home: “cut off from our world, unable to speak or acknowledge her children and friends, in the fathomless, silent place granted to her by a paralyzing body dementia…Silently I ask myself: will no one come to lift the barrier and let her through?”

Murray combines philosophical reflections, the musings of other writers – from Voltaire to Bruce Chatwin – and personal vignettes to terrific effect. In the shorter, second section of Crossings, Murray looks back at the twenty-five years he has lived in the Welsh Marches and reflects on the history of its border with England. In contrast to the negative feelings for border posts in his opening pages, he concludes that he is “divided, not an easy belonger, preferring the fugitive margins of border country to the confident claim to a single, definite patch of turf in the centre of things.”

Originally published in The Tablet

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Dangerous Women – Anna Politkovskaya

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

anna_politkovskayaOn 7 October 2006, award-winning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment. She was deemed a dangerous woman by many for her investigative work and paid for it with her life. Her body was found slumped in the lift of her apartment block, together with a gun and evidence of four bullets. Her murder had all the hall marks of a contract killing, down to the kontrolnyi vystrel – the control shot, a final bullet into the head at close range – and there is little doubt that her death was in retribution for her fearless reporting, particularly on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Born in 1958 in New York, Politkovskaya studied journalism at Moscow State University. She worked on the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya for over ten years, before joining Novaya Gazeta in 1999, one of the few newspapers to be openly critical of the Kremlin, its policies in Chechnya, and corruption in the armed forces. She worked as special correspondent for the Moscow newspaper and wrote extensively about Chechnya and human rights abuses in Russia. Her books, translated into English, include A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya(2001), Putin’s Russia (2004) and A Russian Diary, published posthumously in 2008.  At the time of her death, she was working on an article about torture in Chechnya that implicated Ramzan Kadyrov, then the Chechen Prime Minister appointed by President Putin. After her murder, rumours began to circulate that Kadyrov himself was responsible and had ordered the contract killing to coincide with Putin’s birthday.

Politkovskaya was recognised worldwide for her championing of human rights, but her reporting had brought her enemies from various quarters. In the early noughties I was working as Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee and we regularly held campaigns protesting against the intimidation of this courageous journalist. In 2001 Politkovskaya was forced to flee to Vienna, after receiving death threats from a military officer accused of committing atrocities against civilians in Chechnya. She acted as a mediator in the Nord-Ost theatre siege in Moscow in 2002.  Two years later, we learned that Politkovskaya had fallen seriously ill as she attempted to fly to Beslan to cover the hostage crisis there. After drinking tea on the flight to the region, she lost consciousness and was hospitalized, but the suspected toxin was never identified; the results of her blood tests were reportedly destroyed. This led to speculation that she had been deliberately poisoned to stop her from reporting on the siege. Politkovskaya was shaken by this, but continued to write, despite the death threats. One of her enemies was undoubtedly the Chechen leader Kadyrov who, she claimed, had vowed to kill her…

To read more visit http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/10/26/anna-politkovskaya/

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