White Night

IcelandLast night we watched the pilot of The  No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a BBC adaptation of the novels by Alexander McCall Smith. I read one of the books a while back (The Miracle at Speedy Motors) and found it delightful. The books are set in Gabrone, the capital of Botswana, a relatively new Commonwealth country bordering South Africa. The main character, Precious Ramotswe, opens the first detective agency in the country with a female proprietor, and sets about looking into mysteries, such as whether a husband is a rascal or whether the man who insinuates herself into a woman’s life is really her father. There are some more serious cases–such as the disappearance of a teacher’s son–but for the most part this is a congenial and charming series of novels, and the movie carries that through to the screen. The pilot was directed by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), who died before the show aired in 2008.

Next we watched an Icelandic film called White Night Wedding. White Night refers to the midsummer time of year when the sun is up all day. Though billed as a comedy, it’s really a cynical look at life and marriage. The main story is about a widowed university prof who is supposed to marry one of his former students, 18 years his junior. However, the story jumps back and forth in time to show his deteriorating marriage to his first wife, who seems to have been bipolar. He gave up his job at the university to move to Flatey, a very small and isolated island of Iceland’s coast, because that was where his wife came from. However, the move didn’t appear to do her much good (and the logic of the move defies explanation as she didn’t seem to have any family on the island, so it only increased her isolation). She spends her time creating art out of seaweed and sketching obsessively, and something as simple as hitting a goose with her car can send her into a tailspin (she cooked the goose and fed it to her unsympathetic husband for supper). The cast of characters is eclectic, from the local pub owner who dreamt of being an opera singer, to the local drifter who has the wacky idea of building a 9-hole golf course on an island that’s smaller than most country clubs (the local cemetery becomes a hazard on the third hole). The new bride-to-be’s mother hates her prospective son-in-law (because of an overly complicated perceived financial obligation) but she isn’t wrong in thinking that the marriage is probably a bad idea for her 20-something daughter. The entire 24-hour period from the rehearsal to the wedding itself takes place in daylight, which affords the characters plenty of time to get up to drunken hijinx, and the story does have a few funny moments, but it is tainted mostly by the cynical attitude of the widower-groom, which is outlined during a flashback to one of his classes. Though it almost seems like it will be an all’s-well ending, the coda spoils everything by demonstrating “the truth” of the groom’s philosophy. An interesting look at an unfamiliar country and culture, but not a terribly uplifting film, with lots of bitter people and plenty of shouting. Iceland’s version of Jack Black provides the movie’s best moments.

I finished my Storyteller’s Unplugged essay and now I’m about to get to work on my Cemetery Dance column. There’s a good chance that the first pass page proofs for my next book may show up today, so I want to get those other matters handled before I need to spend a week proofing pages.

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