Asterix, Chicken Little and The Argentinian Hardware Guy

6 01 2013

I feel bad for not having written too much original stuff of late. I do re-post things I’ve found interesting and thought you might like too, but it’s a bit harder to find the time for some concerted keyboard molesting. And if you’ve seen the way I type, you’d understand the turn of phrase. I was a programmer for many years, but began my career in the days before it was trendy to teach boys things like cooking and keyboard skills. (Though, in defence of my schooling, I was once taught how to knit.) As a result I type with only the first two fingers on each hand as well as the occasional thumb-whack of the space bar. I also stare at the keyboard while I’m doing it, which is apparently not the preferred way. Yes, I can read hex and do arithmetic in binary. Your point? :)

In the early days of my programming, we once played a trick on a new employee by prising off a few keys from his keyboard and swapping them around. In this day and age of wide-spread touch typing it would have had no effect at all, but back then, it was great to see the confusion. Yes – I know it was immature, but have you ever noticed how much more fun children have compared to adults?!

So, stick around, and I’ll take you on a typically serpentine tale of my evening last night. Sitting comfortably? We’ll begin when I was 11. I like a good run up, and 37 years seems like a good lead in to last night. When I was 11, I started my secondary school education at Bradford Grammar School. As well as more esoteric things like Latin and Rugby Union, we were also taught French. Now, being from Yorkshire, one might assume that I’d reject the concept of speaking the Queen’s English, let alone a proper foreign language. Au contraire mon ami (see – some of it plainly stuck too!) I actually took to it like a canard to d’eau. You see in my young malleable mind it was like a secret code. A relatively formulaic way of converting one set of words (English) into a mysterious codified form (French). Specifically one unknown to my sister.

I really enjoyed my time at Grammar School. I’d won a scholarship and felt I was benefiting from quite a privileged opportunity to learn. To encourage the less enthusiastic, the French teacher had several copies of Asterix & Obelix comic books. The creators,  René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo made all these wonderful plays on words as well as loosely covering various areas of European history and national stereotypes. When fighting the Britons for example, the Roman army was confounded when the Britons “broke for tea and sandwiches” at 5 o’clock. It was in the original French, and really made you want to understand what was going on.

Wikipedia: Asterix’s village

Needless to say, I quickly obtained English versions of the many comic books and though some of the word play had to alter slightly, they were just as much fun. The tuneless village bard for example was Cacaphonix, and the healing druid was Getafix. Anyway, all this just to bring us to our first point of interest on today’s guided tour through irrelevance: the rotund village chief, Vitalstatistix, was always afraid that the sky would fall on his head, which I took to be a quaint Gaulish superstition at the time. I had no other point of reference.

So – fast forward a couple of decades and we move to Canada, and I become familiar with the music of The Barenaked Ladies. They end up doing the soundtrack to a film called Chicken Little by Walt Disney in 2005. This would otherwise have completely been missed by my RADAR (yes it should really be capitalised – it stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging. However, like many other made up words (e.g. laser) it has entered the fluid entity known as English as a normal noun – radar. A little like Google has become a verb).

Somewhat like The Little Engine That Could, Chicken Little is largely unknown beyond the admittedly large borders of North America, and so it was only the 2005 film with its BNL soundtrack that introduced me to “The Sky Is Falling”, and reminded me of bumbling old Vitalstatistix. I’ve since discovered that the tale goes back thousands of years and is actually known as Henny Penny in the UK (Mrs E admitted a vague recollection of that story, though plainly it was largely out of favour by the late 60s when I was being read Jemima Puddleduck and Thomas the Tank Engine.) Anyway, this is the second toilet-stop on our circuitous journey.

Finally we reach last night, and it finds me at the VanCity Theatre in Vancouver, watching a VIFF presentation of  “Chinese Take-away”. Though the VIFF festival itself is long past, they continue to show foreign films, and they often appeal to my off-beat tastes. This film is Argentinian and a gentle, well-crafted comedy, with a couple of subversive political statements – primarily about police power and government ineptitude. These are not the main themes however, which are really about shared humanity, compassion and loneliness.

VIFF: Chinese Take-away

VIFF: Chinese Take-away

The lead character Roberto runs a small hardware shop in Buenos Aires, and is very set in his ways. He lives a simple life and enjoys simple pleasures too like freshly made chips/fries, black pudding and bull testicles. He is also an avid collector and scours the newspapers for stories of bizarre deaths from around the world. His uncomplicated life is turned on its head when he finds himself morally obliged to help a Chinese immigrant with no Spanish at all, in search of his uncle… who has moved with no forwarding address.

Roberto spends the film flip-flopping between what he feels is the right thing to do, and what is comfortable and familiar. Matters are complicated further when a friend’s sister visits and their previous affection is awkwardly rekindled.

This certainly isn’t a film for you if you’re into the crass Hollywood “in yer face” excuse-for-humour that is so prevalent these days. If you’re interested in keenly observed humanity and clever subtle humour though, this is a gem.

The director, Sebastian Borensztein is the son of Tato Bores, a popular political comedian on Argentinian TV. He was famous for a recurring sketch in which he would pretend to phone the president of the time, whoever it was, to voice his criticisms. With some of Argentina’s recent leaders, that was potentially risky.

The film, as I’ve mentioned, has a couple of political digs of its own, including a brief mention of the Falklands conflict of 1982 and a sly dig at the UK and BSE.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed this film and would wholeheartedly recommend it. If you live in or around Vancouver  it’s on for a few more days yet. Check out the VIFF page for details.

Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald. They draw a parallel with “Amelie” which is definitely sound.

Oh, and the third stop on our journey of irrelevance? Well, let’s just say that the film has a truly memorable opening scene, inspired by a true incident reported on Russian TV.





Ever been affected by a girl?

22 04 2012

The world could use a good kick in the pants








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