June 21, 2012

Literature: Arturo Pérez-Reverte's La tabla de Flandes (1990)... Or why I should really start reading more contemporary Spanish literature

"El alfil blanco se come a la dama negra [...] el escorpión se clava la cola... es la primera vez en mi vida que presencio [...] un suicidio sobre el tablero."— Arturo Pérez-Reverte, La tabla de Flandes
Summer reading. That's why I'm posting this. The hope of influencing your summer reading lists. Maybe I'll post some other book recommendations. I've got a few on my list which are about Spain or are by Spaniards. But mostly I'm recommending this book, and this author, because, after I finished reading it and then looked over my list of books I've read (a list I've kept since I was 12 years old), I realized with great shame that La tabla de Flandes, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, might be the first Spanish novel I've read that wasn't assigned to me for a Spanish language or literature course. How did this happen!?!

It's not that I'm afraid of reading in Spanish. I read _a lot_ of online news in Spanish, especially El País. I've read plenty of history books in Spanish (a professional hazard). And this wasn't even the first novel I've read in Spanish for fun. (Late last year I finished the Murakami 1Q84 trilogy in Spanish translation, rather than English translation, because the Spanish copy came out a month earlier!) It's just that recently I've read so little fiction, so little for fun, and of that even less that is contemporary fiction. (I have a soft spot for 19th-century literature). That when I thought about books I would read in Spanish by Spanish authors, I always tended to fall back on the stereotypes classics: Cervantes, Unamuno, Lorca, Hemingway, Machado, Pardo Bazán, Matute... maybe Blasco Ibáñez, Quevedo, or Ortega y Gasset for the more ambitious. (I'm taking Catalan classes, so also on my long-term list now is Martorell's Tirant lo blanch.)... You know, all those people we were assigned in high school for the College Board Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Literature test... those works that get mentioned in "Hispanomania" books as "la España profunda". (Any Spaniards reading this, I encourage you to look at the 2012 AP Spanish Lit & Culture prep guide, page 21, "Required Reading List," if you are curious to know what American Hispanophiles read to learn about Spanish-language culture.) But then I'd think, "Ugh, do I really feel like reading Golden Age literature right now." And so I read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games instead. (Did the the search ranking of my blog just jump up a notch with that last sentence?)

Page-hits experiment: I suspect Google Image Search favors images that provide
odd combinations of high profile visuals... So will this visual combo of best-
selling novels draw more web-search traffic to this blog entry? I'll let you know.

Sure, there are a couple of living authors on that Advanced Placement list, and one that is Spanish: Rosa Montero. (Mental note: add Montero to my longterm reading list.) But believe it or not, Spaniards are still publishing great literature, and it is not all about blood and sand, or even flamenco and gypsies. For example, two other names to keep an eye out for: Javier Marías, whose 1992 novel, Corazón tan blanco, was a big hit; and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, whose historical fiction, La sombra del viento (2001), seems to have gradually appeared on all my Spanish friends' bookshelves over the past decade since its release. Clearly that's not an exhaustive list, but a first impression of current best-seller Spanish authors.

And another such living and breathing (and tweeting), and best-selling author is Pérez-Reverte. I knew about him because my well-meaning wife bought me his book, yes this book, many, many years ago as part of Project Get-husband-to-improve-his-Spanish-through-immersion-in-good-popular-contemporary-literature. In my obstinacy laziness, the book languished away on the bookshelf unread, but meanwhile I noticed that Pérez Reverte surfaced in the news with sufficient frequency to confirm my wife's statement that he was an author-to-follow. Born in Cartagena in 1951, he was a war correspondent for a Spanish newspaper and then for TVE for two decades, before settling into writing novels fulltime in the mid 1990s. He tends towards incorporating history into his novels, which means they're full of cultural references (and thus vocabulary), culture which is often as much European as anything specifically Spanish (Welcome to modern Spain!); though Spanish localities feature prominently in the plots, as do Spanish personalities. Non-Spanish audiences discovered Pérez-Reverte through the Capitán Alatriste seven-book series, which was made into a Spanish movie, Alatriste (2006) starring the awesome Viggo Mortenson (whose Spanish in the film was impressive). Pérez-Reverte's other two big sellers, which along with El capitán Alatriste (1996) were digitalized this year for the e-book market, were La Reina del Sur (2002), about present-day Mexico-Spain drug trafficking networks, and El asedio (2010), which takes place in Cádiz just after the Napoleonic wars. Another of his popular novels, El club Dumas (1993), was loosely the inspiration for the Roman Polanski movie The Ninth Gate (1999).

Viggo Mortensen grew up in South America, mostly Argentina,
and because of this is fluent in Spanish... That and his ability to
ride horses made him a clear front candidate for this Spanish production.

La tabla de Flandes (1990) was one of Pérez-Reverte's earliest hits. Following his usual signature of weaving history into his stories, it is a crime novel about an art restorer, Julia, who lives in present-day Madrid but is charged with restoring a mysterious 15th-century Flemish painting, "The Chess Game". Very early in the novel she discovers the painting carries a hidden message, "Quis necavit equitem", Latin for "Quién mató al caballero" ("who killed the knight"). In her efforts to unravel the painting's history and riddle, she and her friends and colleagues become embroiled in a criminal investigation with murder, mystery and suspense... Among the novel's more ingenious story-lines is that Julia and friends attempt to reconstruct the chess game in the painting, leading to some interest chess play and game-of-life plot twists. (I.e. the book is _great_ for chess fans... and also good for learning chess ("ajedrez") vocabulary in Spanish... rey, dama or reina, caballo, alfil, torre, peón... jaque, and jaque mate). Above all, I was impressed with the novel's vivid passages and pauses in the plot where Pérez-Reverte takes the time to describe the setting or surrounding and blend this with the mood of the location or protagonist. (Again, all great moments for non-native readers like me to encounter new vocabulary.) This novel was also made into a movie, Uncovered (1995), which, now that I know about, I'm going to have to hunt down and watch.

Kate Beckinsale in a movie called "uncovered"... hmmm.
If the search ranking of my past blog entries is any predictor,
something tells me including this poster picture of Kate Beckinsale
is going to dramatically increase the page hits of this entry.
(Notice how the "Dark eyes, dark hair, thick lisp..." entry is
always sitting in the "Popular Posts this Week" tab on the right.
I wonder why?)

Reading tip on skimming ("leer por encima"): The trouble with reading good literature in a foreign language is that your mind's eye still hasn't learned how to ignore all those words on the page that you don't need to read in order to understand what's going on in the story. Nobody really reads every word of a book... except (hopefully) the author, (doubtfully) the editor, (probably) some literary critics or graduate students writing their dissertation on it, and (possibly) some future writers who are themselves hoping to learn the art of explication and how to win with words. The rest of us have learned how to ignore "extra" words in a sentence as you read or to pass over descriptive, "internal" sections. (I'm sorry Henry James, but I think I'll pass over that vivid and fascinating description of the estate's well-groomed shrubs; thank you Dostoyevsky, but I think I more than got the psychology of our protagonist 20 pages of inner-monologue earlier.)

What's difficult in foreign languages is that your eye has a harder time picking up those subtle cues which tell you what part of the text is "extraneous" and what is critical. (This can be particularly troublesome in "whodunits", where a missed pronoun might make the difference between catching subtle foreshadowing —the butler in the dining room with the axe versus the maid in the salon with the pistol— and wondering why they haven't come out and said who the killer is. (Parenthetical to the parenthetical comment: note how Pérez-Reverte avoids incriminating gendered-language, e.g. uses lots of gender ambiguous "su", towards the end of this novel when the protagonists guess who did it, but we the reader still don't know.)) So my advice is that you go easy on yourself and not worry about whether you've understood everything on a page. Chances are whatever you missed will be more than clearly spelled out on the next page, or soon enough. It is as important to learn to enjoy reading a book in a foreign language, as it is to master said language by learning through reading books.

Of course, this is not to say that slow reading doesn't have its merits.
The key is to find a balance between pausing every third line to look
up a new word or marvel at a well-written passage, and trying to move
forward through the book at a pace where the plot continues
to engage your interest.

The joy in reading (contemporary) fiction in a foreign language is that you get introduced to an entirely different language than what you'll tend to hear in day-to-day spoken Spanish. You get body motion language, such as fun phrases like to look "de soslayo" (askance or sideways). Authors exercise the "-asa/-ese" imperfect subjunctive form, which is used in literature more frequently than the more commonly uttered or spoken "-ara/-era" form. And you get the particular idioms of the author and/or the unique vocabulary of the story itself. (With Pérez-Reverte, for example, whichever historical period or plot twist he chooses to incorporate into the book in question.)

Few things are more tricky than that pesky mode/mood, the subjunctive.
I've always thought it was better to just learn the most common applications
(e.g. "si yo fuera...", "si tuviera que...") rather than master the tense overall.
Found this graphic on this website, which offers some nice practical Spanish lessons....
but fails to mention, "fuese, fuese a, estuviese, tuviese, pudiese, supiese", also all correct.

So why not add Pérez-Reverte to the reading list this summer? Or at least venture away from the conventional Spanish Lit list and try out some of these more contemporary authors? (Enough Quijote!) You'll get to exercise a more contemporary, "fresher" Spanish, and maybe, just maybe, it will give you a more contemporary "fresher" viewpoint of Spaniards than the usual "Hemingway paradigm" fare.

June 15, 2012

Guest Post: "Horchata de Chufa" (a.k.a. "Orxata de Xufa") – Valencia’s Liquid Gold!

There are few things more Valencian than horchata. Which was why at some point I had intended to blog about it. That is, until I met Neima Briggs, a fellow Austinite (i.e. from Austin, Texas) and recent Fulbright fellow to Valencia, but most important, perhaps the world's biggest chufa fan. Here is a guy who practically bleeds horchata. I was so impressed with his personal passion for the topic that I invited him to write an entry on it himself. Neima first came to Spain (to San Sebastian-Donostia in the Basque Country) back in 2009. But he returned to the horchata heartland, Valencia, in 2011-2012 on a Fulbright Research Grant to study —no, not horchata— antibiotic resistance development in bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract of humans, and how that resistance transfers between mother and infant. But he still found time while he was here to explore all aspects of Valencia's most famous refreshment. Below he provides you with a window into the long history and local love of the chufa, and even his own recipe! Following his year here, he will return to the United States to begin his studies on an MD/PhD at the University of Texas School of Medicine at Houston.

Two large glasses of horchata without sugar (left) and
horchata granizada (right), which has a frozen slushy
consistency. The dessert shown is a tart made with a
cream from tigernuts.
From corner vendors to centuries old horchatería’s, it’s hard to walk anywhere in Valencia on a warm summer’s day and not be tempted to indulge in the cold, sweet horchata de chufa ("orxata de xufa" in Valenciano).

It is unknown precisely when Valencianos first started squeezing the milk from the tigernut ("chufa"), but written records have accounts of the drink existing as early as the end of the first millennia during the Muslim occupation of Spain. The name orxata, is believed to derive from the Valenciano word ordiata, ordi meaning barley in Latin. However, ask a local vendor at an horchatería in Valencia and chances are they will tell you the local folk story of its origin.  It is said that when James I of Aragon (a.k.a. Jaume I) came to the Kingdom of Valencia to help solidify relations before the impending Muslim invasion, he was approached in Alboraya (a small town on the outskirts of the modern Valencia capital city) by a small girl carrying the drink. After sipping the drink, he told the child, "Açò és or, xata!" ("That's gold, darling!"). Whether or not this is the true etymology of the word, for locals the drink is as precious as gold.

Shown here is the tigernut plant
(photo from tigernut.com),
a small tuber plant with the tigernut
itself growing in the ground. Harvested
between April and September
year, fields and fields of it can be seen
on the northern outskirts of Valencia.
On average 10mm long, tigernuts are small tubers that make great snacks, but are predominately grown to make horchata. My Valencian coworkers, themselves health scientist and doctors, have told me on numerous occasions about the health benefits of the tigernuts. High in minerals such as Phosphorous, Potassium and Vitamins E and C, tigernuts are currently under study for health benefits with improving blood circulation and prevention of heart attacks. The high fiber content combined with the highly soluble glucose content have many Valencian doctors recommending the drink to help reduce the risk of colon cancer and to help with normal day digestion. [Editorial note: If you are curious to read more about the Valencia "chufa" denomination of origen standards, click here.]

A name familiar throughout most of Latin American, up into the southern United States, horchata exists in many forms. Known as horchata de arroz (white rice) to Americans and Mexicans, although similarly prepared, the milk extraction from rice creates its own distinct flavor. The source of the milk varies greatly worldwide, ranging from ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tigernuts. To make local varieties even more distinctive, spices and flavors are commonly added, including an 18 herb infusion in Ecuador, cocoa and nutmeg in El Salvador and jicaro seeds and spices in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Basket of cleaned tigernuts made available for consumption for patrons at Horchatería Daniel.
Sold in small packs for individual consumption or in larger bags for making horchata.

Given the regional craze for all things chufa, there is naturally
a local organic beer brewed from the tigernut, too.

Exterior photo of Horchatería Daniel from Hola Valencia
You can find horchaterías (sit-downs dedicated to making fresh horchata) all over Valencia. The most famous among the locals is Horchatería Daniel, located in the heart and birthplace of horchata, Alboraya on aptly named Avinguda de l’Orxata (right next to the Machado metro exit on the red Line 3). [Editorial note: the people of Alboraya even jokingly call each other "chuferos".] Many Valencian city locals will flock with the family to this small town north of the city on a lazy Sunday afternoon to drink various concoctions Horchatería Daniel makes using horchata – including with coffee, without sugar for diabetics and non-sweet lovers, and different flavors of ice cream - and desserts made of chocolate and sometimes the tigernut, too! A traditional snack to have with the ice-cold horchata is fartons, a light pastry with a light glazing on top or powder sugar. (Don’t be surprised to see everyone around dunking their fartons into the horchata!) While you’re out in Alboraya be sure to walk along Avinguda de l’Orxata to the Museum of Horchata

Two traditional glasses of horchata with fartons (pastries in between the horchata) and
churros (fried bread with sugar on top), the latter of which is usually eaten with thick melted chocolate.
A delicious and filling Valencian treat at Horchatería de Santa Catalina!

Horchatería de Santa Catalina: Beautiful and typically Valencian hand-painted tiles encompass
horchata drinkers as they enjoy it inside one of Valencia's favorite establishments.

Its iconic exterior façade.
Two other equally worthy establishments where you can also try horchata are right in the cultural heart of Valencia in the Plaza de la Reina. The first, Horchatería de Santa Catalina is an establishment with over two hundred years of horchata-making tradition and its history encompasses you, literally. With ornate carvings in the ceilings on the second floor and beautiful hand-painted tile work in the entrance and walls, the building is as much of a treat as their incredible horchata. Although the choices are limited compared to Horchatería Daniel, the horchata and fartons are nothing short of perfection on a Valencian hot summer day. Right across the walkway is Horchatería El Siglo, another horchatería with two hundred years of tradition, but smaller in size. Worth a visit for the horchata alone, Horchatería El Siglo also has nice outdoor seating, perfect for a sunny day.

The Falla de Santa Catalina even included a miniature rendition
of the Horchatería El Siglo in its 2012 falla.

So now that you are addicted to Valencia’s liquid gold, you'll want to know how you can get more when you go home. Luckily, bottled horchata is sold all around Spain in grocery stores. Before you leave Valencia, you might also consider the fact that many horchaterías (and at the airport) sell a condensed horchata, so at home you can turn a one liter bottle into five liters worth of delicious enjoyment. Do you think bottled horchata is just not the same as that overwhelmingly delicious fresh-made hortchata? For those returning to the United States or anywhere in Europe, there is a Spanish food distributor LaTienda.com where you can order food to fill all your Spanish cravings (no need to stuff your suitcase with tigernuts!). They sell a bottled brand of horchataChufi.

Neima Briggs, today's guest author, showing his love of Valencia
at Sevilla's Plaza de España

That said, I have found making the horchata myself fun and without question well worth the effort. At $18 a bag, you can treat yourself to four liters of horchata spread out over the course of months. Although once made the horchata will go bad after a week, the nuts stay good for two years when placed in a well-ventilated dark space (best in a dry portion of the refrigerator). The recipe is quite simple and, building from years of practice, I have include my recipe below for those adventurous enough to try it. If you are interested, click the link below and keep reading...

June 10, 2012

Movie Review: Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012)... A Moveable Flop

"I do not see myself as a footnote to someone else's life." —Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn in the movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012)
So I finally got around to watching the made-for-TV HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012), starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, which tells the tale of the steamy exciting relationship between our hero Ernest Hemingway and his third (third time's a charm, right?) and arguably most interesting wife, Martha Gellhorn. Though in no way a Spanish movie, I thought I'd review it for you here given that it treats this blog's patron saint and his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and because I've noticed a lot more Hemingway-search-related traffic on my site these past two weeks. (Why the sudden rising interest in EH?) Besides, you always have to ask, what motivates the making of a movie like this, what kinds of stereotypes images of the author or of Spain will it (re)produce, and perhaps most importantly, what kind of audience does it think it is reaching? As I sat down to watch the movie last week, these were the kinds of questions swirling through my mind.

The opening shock impact that I felt from the first scene with EH in many ways serves as a metaphor for the film's many challenges and shortcomings. Me and my wife's first impression of Clive Owen, with mustache catching a swordfish near Key West, was that he looked more like Groucho Marx than Hemingway. Which reminded me what is always the biggest problem biopics face when depicting iconic figures: the audience's expectations about the actual historical figure, a film's competition with the person's many other existing popular depictions, almost invariably leads to the audience's disappointment when the film does not live up to that long shadow cast in this case by America's most famous expat in Spain. (This doesn't always doom biopics. I like My Week With Marilyn (2011), and Monroe is surely an even more treacherous subject to tackle than EH. But everyone has to admit that the first thing you wonder upon seeing Michelle Williams is whether she's going to be able to pull off the Monroe look.) Putting first impressions aside, from that moment forward I was self-conscious that this would be a movie trying too hard to invoke (or escape) the legend of Hemingway, and it might stretch the limits of good storytelling or good cinema in its efforts to squeeze in those images of Don Ernesto that it thinks its audience wants or needs.

This image of the actual Hemingway and Gellhorn
nicely captures what must have been their
powerful, larger-than-life characters.
The acting was not bad. Kidman and Owen did a fair job playing their parts, and yet despite this somehow there was no real energy or chemistry between the two. In the scene where the two characters meet, snappy banter is meant to convince us there is chemistry, but it is oddly paced and the lines are not that snappy. For example, I introduce you to the world's wimpiest line: "Papa doesn't want you to go," says EH to MG in the middle of movie at a critical juncture in their relationship. It is pretty clear what Nicole Kidman's motives were for doing the movie. She got to play the part of a strong, adventurous and charismatic woman. If the movie succeeds at one thing, it is letting us know that one of Hemingway's wives was actually really quite an interesting person in her own right. Kidman's acting doesn't exactly detract from that, but I found myself wishing I could see Gellhorn play Gellhorn, and not some Hollywood superstar. We get to see old Gellhorn, and thus an old Kidman, which is always an interesting make-up accomplishment (how to reverse the reversal of botox); but Kidman's old-Gellhorn voice, low, monotonous and soft, which narrates the movie,  is noticeably affected and becomes kind of irritating.

The other problem was that we only really get to see Gellhorn in counterpoint to Hemingway. (Okay, so there was no false-advertising here.) And Clive Owen interprets Hemingway, at this point in his life already a celebrity, as bombastic, childish, and overly obsessed with his manhood. If they were a comic duo, Gellhorn would be the straight man to Hemingway's more dynamic, larger-than-life persona. But this is a love story... or wait, is it a biographical story? And who's the protagonist again? Throughout the movie you see the irresistible story of Hemingway interpolate itself into the scenes of what is framed and billed as a story about both of them... We see EH big sea fishing (Old Man and the Sea, anyone?), we see the Spanish Civil War years (more on this below), and they can't resist showing us EH's suicide (and foreshadowing the hell out of it throughout the film) even though he had long left Gellhorn by then. At some points it seems like Owen and the scriptwriters forget what the movie is about, and feel obliged to deliver us an argument specifically about Hemingway... but they never do. I was wondering if the movie would be a critique of Hemingway: he's not the great man, but really an arrogant, pompous chauvinist. But they never really go there either. Fans of Hemingway will be annoyed by how childish EH is here, while critics will be annoyed that the movie never dots the "i" in the feminist critique of him.

But let us not forget that this is a historical drama, and not just a love story. Certainly the director (Philip Kaufman) of the film wouldn't let us forget it. H&G is a movie where the grand events of history through which the characters pass are meant to move you. This endeavor also feels uneven at times and falls flat at others. The movie can't resist historical cameos (did he just say "Orson Welles"?), literally bomb-bastic war scenes, and the obligatory imagery of a Dachau holocaust camp at the end of WWII (which comes across as an out-of-kilter somber moment thrown in to oblige and to disturb). New film techniques are used to nest the film's stars in actual historical footage. Which frankly comes across a bit sappy. The cinematographer shifts between color (to indicate a lived present) and B&W or sepia tone filters to create a retro film affect. But the transitions are distracting and happen too frequently to be subtle, and there is something about seeing Nicole Kidman in sepia which just seems comical rather than historical.

Get what you pay for: Robert Duvall delivers one of the worst cameos ever,
as a Russian general which was a walking cliché. Though you can't blame him,
since apparently he did the part as a favor to the director.

Here you can see Nicole Kidman (in sepia) asking herself, "How did I end
up here on the Spanish front?" Good question, Nicole. Good question.

Scenes like this, that is county-side trench scenes,
always pepper the Spanish Civil War genre. Irresistible.
However, the application of this technique speaks to the irresistible iconography of  the Spanish Civil War, one of the most photo-documented wars of its time. So sure enough, we get a photographer in the plot to allow the director those irresistible photo homages to the iconic images of the Spanish front and heroic International Brigade fighters. Want "authentic" wartime music, too? Don't worry! We got that, too! But after this movie, if I don't listen to "Ay Carmela" ever again, I'll live a happy life... as if there weren't dozens of other classic Spanish Civil War songs to mix in. (Maybe they couldn't afford SGAE's rights-of-author charges for them. Or maybe its like all those summer beach clubbing hits here in Spain which guiris love because the title chorus is so easy to remember.) But despite all these filmic love affairs with the Spanish Civil War, and, yes, the hackneyed history theses one-liners (we get Kidman-as-Gellhorn calling it "a dress-rehearsal" for WWII), it is only just a backdrop, a stage for romancing between the two protagonists. In one widely commented upon scene, EH and MG manage to have sex in a hotel building even as it is being bombed apart and they are covered in the ruined dust. Who knew war was such a great aphrodisiac? (In one interview, Kidman tries to pitch this scene as capturing some useful insight into the two historical figures, that they were so intensely passionate that they were even capable of love-making when in mortal danger. Perhaps, but I couldn't help but think the scene makes light of what is the real backstory: Madrid is being bombed and civillians are now dying in their own homes.)

And much could be said about the signature HBO gratuitous sex scenes. And much of it is being said elsewhere. Let's see, what do I want to say? I certainly wouldn't complain about them. (There are three scenes in total.) Do they add much beyond giving us what we secretly want (to see Kidman naked)? Probably not. Unless they are meant to emphasize how kinky the two characters are, since the scene mentioned above and another sex-scene in the changing room of a Cuban cabaret club both have an oddly voyeuristic and kinky feel to them. The sex in these scenes doesn't exactly consumate a growing love between the two characters. (Maybe that is what the third sex scene accomplishes.) Again, I'm not complaining. But I won't pretend (as many others seem to be doing) that it adds much of anything to the story about Hemingway and Gellhorn. (And so much for showing this movie to the kids to encourage them to take an interest in American literature and world history... though perhaps Hemingway is not much of a PG figure anyway.)

Maybe the movie is worth watching just for this totally unnecessary sex scene,
in a Cuban cabaret changing room.

This would be the gratuitous sex scene where EH and MG are actually
consummating feelings of love and closeness to each other, rather than
merely demonstrating to audiences the passion of their personalities.

Whether to watch the movie or not, that's what a review really boils down to. And on this question I'm conflicted. It would be hard for me to recommend this movie on its filmic or entertainment merits alone. I think it was a bit boring, kind of a flop. Still, part of me wonders whether the movie has at least been useful for another injection of Hemingwaymania. While the world hardly needs more Hemingway fanatics, they do less harm than good. (As a Spanish Civil War movie, I'd say it's more farce than tour de force... I would redirect you to the hundreds of Spanish movies that cover that topic with much greater care and consideration. In this movie, the war boils down to the clichéd old-school American account, "You can't trust them Russians," which is a pretty impoverished understanding of all that went on in the war.)

Gellhorn must have been a kick-ass person, what with all
the wars she covered on the front-lines.
But I think the real irony of this movie is summed up by the epigraph I placed at the top of this post, easily the best and most memorable line of the movie. (Probably the line that convinced Kidman to take the part.) Gellhorn, in an interview at the end of her life, complains to the journalist asking her about Hemingway: "I do not see myself as a footnote to someone else's life." Something tells me that a lot of people in Hollywood liked this project because they thought they could breath new life into the conventional story of Don Ernesto by instead focusing on his just-as-fascinating third of four wives. At times it felt as though the movie was meant to be a celebration not of Hemingway _and_ Gellhorn, but really just of the impressiveness and greatness that was Gellhorn. But by the end of the movie, when Kidman-as-Gellhorn utters this line (in one of the few good scenes of the film... probably why this scene appears in every positive review of the movie), nobody is convinced. The line falls flat, because, irony of ironies, this is _not_ Gellhorn: The Movie. She has, in fact, managed to become a footnote, or at best the second-named titled character, to a featured event that is about Hemingway.

And this was the great failure of the movie, it couldn't get it's story straight, and just pick a genre. Was this a "behind every great man, there's a great woman" picture? (As one reviewer put it: "a lot of hooey about Hemingway".) Or was it actually a stealth biopic of Gellhorn, the trailblazing female professional war correspondent, who among her many amazing accomplishments was actually there at Normandy to cover the D-Day invasion? (Is this why the movie aired on Memorial Day?) Or was it a kind of Alexandre Dumas style historical fiction, where the characters' secret love lives crisscross the great moments of history? (We learn, for example, or that is the film implies that Hemingway's _real_ motive for going to cover the Spanish Civil War was _actually_ to pursue Gellhorn.)

In the end it was none, or it was all of them, but none done very coherently or convincingly. So maybe you should pass on this movie and wait for the remake, which I propose be titled: "Not Hemingway's Wife." Now that's a movie about Gellhorn that I'd like to watch.

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