Identity

I don’t watch that much German television but one thing I do like to catch when I have time is a talkshow called Kölner Treff. The host, Bettina Böttinger, invites several guests like actors, singers, writers, journalists, etc. and in the round has conversations with them. She interviews each guest separately but often others in the round will also chime in and interesting talks happen. I never think to watch the show when it first airs (I think on Friday nights) but when I can (and when I remember to) I catch it on repeat on Sunday mornings, over my bowl of Weetabix and a cup of tea.

I am not very in tune anymore with the current German cultural landscape, I haven’t been for many years, which means that I often won’t even know most of the guests on there, except for maybe some older German showbiz people I knew from the time I / my parents lived there in the 1980s and 1990s. Regardless, the conversations are often interesting, more or less, and every time I come away learning something about people.

Yesterday I watched one such Kölner Treff episode…

… and the guests were alright, didn’t really do that much for me even though I do always enjoy the conversation, until Bettina came around to interviewing the final two guests. One was a war journalist called Katrin Eigendorf who I would love to hear more from and the other was a young, red-haired actor called Daniel Donskoy.

Source and link to the video of the show

Katrin Eigendorf was very interesting and I liked what she had to say about her work, about neutrality in journalism not always being good and virtually impossible, and also about her private life, being mother to a handicapped son who died at 17. With Daniel Donskoy I immediately felt this sense of recognition and familiarity. I had never heard of him before, but apparently he also played a tiny role of Princess Diana’s lover James Hewitt on The Crown in season 4.

What drew me to him was his diverse identity, not necessarily professionally but personally. Born in the USSR, moved to Germany as a baby in 1990, later also lived in Israel and Berlin and London. He has Jewish parents but is also secular and feels like he belongs everywhere and nowhere. The 14 minute interview (in case you’re interested, link is here) made me curious about a show he makes called Freitagnacht Jews where he interviews people over dinner who talk about their (liberal) Jewish life and experience in Germany.

He has made eight 25 minute Freitagnacht Jews shows interviewing other German Jews (playlist is here). I have been watching these shows yesterday and today and I feel this connection with him in his struggles with identity and not being able to (or wanting to) label himself which made me think of how I see my identity as well. I also really connected with his normality of being (secular) Jewish, it felt like I could be sitting at the table with him and his guests and join in with the discussion of my Jewish life, even though I am not Jewish! I really had fun watching these and they really made me think. By the way, I also quite like the title song to his show and will tune in to his second series when I can as well…

So… the thoughts on my own identity have been swirling around my head these past two days. Like him, I too have lived in several countries. Like him, people make assumptions about who I am when hearing only a bit about me. Also, this concept of starting over again in different countries and cultures is very recognizable to me.

I was born in Jerusalem to Dutch parents and lived there until I was 10. Except for once, I can’t remember thinking anything about my identity back then but I am not sure whether it was due to me being a young child or whether everyone I knew in my international school or outside school were all ‘different’ with diverse and complicated backgrounds. My background didn’t seem that different. The one time I remember realizing I was different was when I used to admire the school uniforms these Palestinian girls wore in the Old City in Jerusalem. They wore these blue and white striped dresses, under which they also wore their long trousers. As I loved those outfits, my mother once bought me such a dress and I wore it to the Old City one day. I was very blonde with blue eyes and walking dressed as an Arab schoolgirl through the Old City drew so much attention (and pinching of my cheeks that I can still feel the soreness from to this day), I realized that I was something different than a regular Palestinian schoolgirl and I don’t think I ever wore that outfit again, at least not publicly. Children want to blend in, after all

I first started feeling really different and ‘the other’ when I lived in Germany in my early teens. Of course, it didn’t help that we moved from a world city such as Jerusalem (where identity is more connected to religion than to nationality) to a little village in Germany. I was the foreign outsider and many thought I was Jewish, due to my name and ‘coming from Israel’. I learned to speak German like a German and completely learned to blend in (again the need to not be so different from my peers), with the people later never questioning my ‘German-ness’ if I didn’t tell them anything about me. It helped that I ‘looked’ German too. However, I always felt separate inside and even somewhat guilty for wanting to blend in like that.

When I moved to The Netherlands at 16, I spoke Dutch as learned at home but I still needed to learn about Dutch life and culture. Many thought I was a ‘good’ German as they thought I was not only German but also Jewish (again due to my name and that faint connection to Israel everyone somehow seemed to know about). In those years, I learned to embrace my being different instead of trying to hide it away and I always amused myself by correcting people’s assumptions about me. It also helped that I was at an international school again, where lots of the kids had different diverse backgrounds, and I didn’t stand out as much. By the way, I haven’t been mistaken as German now for many years, as my German has deteriorated somewhat and I have lost any hint of a German accent in my English or Dutch speech than I may have had for a while there.

Nowadays I’m not ever considered anything else than Dutch, although some may comment on me maybe being English when I throw in an English comment or sentence. And they don’t understand how I can be so fluent in English when I have never lived in an English-speaking country (apart from a 5 month internship in England in the 1990s). And if I want to travel to countries in the Middle East other than Jordan or Egypt, I may encounter troubles getting in as my name sounds Jewish and my passport says “Jerusalem” as my birthplace, even though I am not Jewish and my stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very middle of the road, not particularly favouring any one side. Yes, this identity thing is complicated and not only when it comes to nationality.

People also think I am a religious Christian, especially when they hear that my father was a pastor and a theologian and I do feel at home in Christianity but I also feel at home in Judaism. If I had to choose a religion to follow, it probably would be Judaism, but right now if I had to categorize myself I would in essence call myself a non-religious humanist.

And then there’s also my family, which is also complicated! If I introduce my black brother or my Arab looking brother as ‘this is my brother’ you can just see the questions appear in people’s eyes. Explaining my family is a whole process of its own!

I have now lived in The Netherlands for many years and at first glance and when people first get to know me, I am a ‘standard’ Dutch person even though after all these years I still don’t feel that way. There always, always, in each new acquaintance I make, comes a time when I feel the need to define myself as not standard Dutch. When people ask me where I’m from, I always hesitate to answer because I never quite know how to answer that. There is never one quick simple answer. Yes, I have the Dutch nationality and while I like living here in The Netherlands and I do have this whole Dutch background, I don’t like to be pinned to just the Dutch nationality. So, when people ask me where I’m from or if I’m religious or they ask me about my family, I usually say ‘it’s complicated’ and if they have half an hour, I can make some time to explain. And I haven’t even gotten around to explaining anything about my professional identity and what it is I look for in work. I’m quite restless in that as well.

All my life I have tried to fit in while on the inside rebelling against the feeling that I need to fit in. I want be to seen as ‘normal’ on the one hand and my life has become quite ‘normal’ too because I do feel quite comfortable with that, yet on the other hand and at the same time I struggle against ‘normality’ and don’t want to be stuck in the same thing forever. When I try to explain my background to people, it can feel like I’m bragging and that they may think that I think I’m ‘better’ than them. If I don’t explain about my background, I feel like I’m holding back or even lying. And always I somehow feel restless, like I’m not living up to the potential of my diverse youth and yet at the same time also being happy with my family and work now. Identity and figuring life out is a tough thing… will the struggle ever end? Or is it the struggle that makes it interesting?

Daniel Donskoy is 20 years younger than me, but I have become a bit of a fan because he has made me actively think about these questions of identity again and it’s very interesting for me to see how he figures out similar life questions for himself. Should he ever write a book about all that, I’d be very interested to see how he tackles that. I sometimes consider writing something about identity myself but then always fail on figuring out precisely how to do that and from what angle to approach it. Maybe one day, when I am old and grey and very wise and have more time on my hands and more patience, I will be able to figure that out.

Go Luke!

So, I may have mentioned before that on occasion I enjoy watching Hallmark movies. There was a time I watched a lot of them but I have become a little more selective over time because they really start to blend into each other and some (especially the Christmas ones) can really get on my nerves. I do have a few favourite Hallmark actors and I always tune into their movies when a new one of them airs. One of my fave Hallmark actors is Luke Macfarlane. He’s made something like 13 Hallmark movies and going through his IMDB list, I can list these as my faves of his:

Especially the last one, A Valentine’s Match, is quite lovely but I like pretty much all the ones he’s in because I like him! They are all what you expect from a Hallmark movie but these do have that bit of extra charm or bite.

There is one Hallmark that he did that I did find quite awful: Sense and Sensibility and Snowmen. Except for the names, the characters were nothing like the Jane Austen novel or all mixed up. The actress playing Elinor (Erin Krakow, I can never quite warm up to her, she’s also one of the leads in When Calls The Heart) was more like a Marianne in character. Kimberly Sustad (I really do like her) played Marianne but was was far more like Elinor in character. Luke played Edward Ferris but I saw no Edward Ferrars storyline in him. And while there was a Brandon (Jason McKinnon), he was nothing like the tortured soul Colonel Brandon.

Left to right: Jason McKinnon, Kimberly Sustad, Erin Krakow and Luke Macfarlane

I might have liked that movie alright if it had NOT been linked to S&S, but because it does link to S&S, I can’t see it as a separate entity and I found it pretty disastrous. I might watch bits again just for Luke and Kimberly (maybe they should have matched those two up instead?) but other than that, this is the one Macfarlane Hallmark movie that makes me cringe. OK, getting off my soapbox now…

I haven’t watched Luke in a Hallmark recently, so why mention him now? Well, he’s in entertainment news a lot now because he has just made a new movie called Bros, which is a Judd Apatow movie, a romantic comedy about two detached gay men, who have given up on love, falling for each other. It is co-written by Billy Eichner, who also stars in it, and Luke plays the other main character. Luke has been openly gay since the mid 2000s but has not made any feature films yet. This one is with an all LGBTQ+ cast and seems to be quite big. I for one am quite stoked at Luke getting a shot at a bigger audience!

I read that the film had a disappointing opening weekend and that Billy Eichner (whom I’ve never heard of before, other than possibly in passing) has his own theories as to why. I can’t speak to that, what I can speak to is that I do very much enjoy a good romcom and by all accounts, this one seems to be romantic and funny. I plan on going to see the new Julia Roberts / George Clooney one and I also want to see this one. Not because it’s gay or straight but because Luke Macfarlane is in it and he can do sweet and soulful and charming really well and if it really is a romcom that is well done, well, then I sure don’t want to miss it. I’m rooting for Luke!

Mandy Patinkin liked it…

… as did Chris Evans (who seems to be friends with Eichner, so may not be unbiased).

… and maybe I will too? I’ll have to wait and see and in the meantime I’m glad that Luke is getting more exposure. Maybe that will bring him some different kind of (and more challenging) work to sink his teeth into. I’m curious to see what more he can do.

Persuasion 2022

So, I have said before that I am a sucker for a Persuasion adaptation. I think that together with Pride and Prejudice it is my favourite Jane Austen novel. The new 2022 Netflix version arrived just before I went on holiday and I got around to watching it during my holiday as soon as I had the time and headspace for it.

It stars Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, Cosmo Jarvis as Frederick Wentworth, Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter, Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russel and the marvelous Henry Golding as William Elliot.

I saw that the movie was trashed in reviews and in honesty I didn’t think it was that bad. It wasn’t great but not bad. I don’t mind adaptations veering off from the original source as long as it is well done and I have been very pleasantly surprised with some modern takes on books I love (like, for instance, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), so I thought I could maybe enjoy this too. I read this review on Roger Ebert and I think it is the review I most agree with. I especially liked what it said about it being a pop-culture full-circle moment:

If anything, director Carrie Cracknell’s “Persuasion” achieves an intriguing pop-culture full-circle moment. Austen influenced “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and now Bridget herself seems to have influenced Dakota Johnson’s thoroughly charming portrayal of Anne Elliot. There’s lots of drinking red wine straight from the bottle, crying in the tub and lying around in bed, narrating her romantic woes with a familiar, self-effacing wit. She also repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, “Fleabag”-style, with an amusingly dry aside or a well-timed eye roll. Anne jokes that she’s “thriving,” and clearly she is anything but, but she’s so winning in her state of loss that we can’t help but root for her.

Warning: read on from here at your own discretion as there are some spoilers ahead (and pert opinions) in this review!

So, yes, this Anne is a little less, well Anne, and more Bridget Jones and once you get over that it’s OK. I didn’t even mind the fourth wall thing so much either, it gave a nice background narration to the story. I also read a lot of criticism on the language like Anne calling Frederick her “ex”, which yes, was weird, but, apart from it raising my eyebrows now and again, I could get over that and it really didn’t bother me so much. Some of the modernisms even really amused me, like Anne showing the ‘playlist’ Frederick had once put together for her.

I did like Dakota Johnson as this Anne, even though she’s not the Anne I envision, but that’s all down to the script in this version of the story. However, this Anne also did have some awful moments, like for instance that scene at the dinner party where she blurts out that she was proposed to by someone else. The Anne I know would never have said that and even for this Anne it was a very nonsensical thing to do. So yes, there were some real misses here in the script. And yes, she may have been a little snide and too self-satisfied with her own cleverness, but I could laugh at that. Overall I did like this Anne well enough and didn’t even mind her love affair with the wine bottle.

I also really liked Richard E. Grant in this, he is perfect as Anne’s very vain father, Sir Walter…

… and Nikki Amuka-Bird did a nice job of being Anne’s confidante.

The scene stealer in every scene he was in, though, was Henry Golding. So charming and a little wicked and smart. I swear he could level anyone with just one arrogant look. And that crinkle nose thing he does is irresistible!

In a link Herba shared on Twitter, he is one of the names mentioned for possibly being considered as the new James Bond. I’m not a huge Bond fan but for Henry Golding I would go see it on the big screen.

I also liked spoiled sister Mary played by Mia McKenna-Bruce. In the 2007 TV adaptation she was awful, but this Mary was quite perfect in being very annoying and self-centered and in all her spoiled mumblings she occasionally even did make sense. I love that line about men always getting out of disagreeable things, I’m really glad they kept that line in here.

So, with quite a few positives, what are the negatives you ask? Well, first and foremost that was Captain Wentworth for me. What a boring sap he was in this! I really couldn’t understand what made Anne pine for him so. What makes Wentworth Wentworth is that he has lost his youthful innocence, he has hardened and has become a self-assured man of the world whose pride was deeply wounded when Anne rejected him in the past. He is hell-bent on erasing her from his life, he perfectly hides his vulnerabilities and he is dismissive of Anne and yet in little miniscule details you get the suspicion he still cares for her and can’t quite let her go. The miracle of Wentworth is that he at the end can let go of his hurt and can soften again.

This Wentworth had nowhere near the stature of man of the world, despite his uniform, but I could forgive that. What I couldn’t forgive was his mooning all over the place instead of trying his best to ignore Anne. This just didn’t seem like a man who had grown in the intervening years since the break up. There was a scene at the beach where he wants to be friends with Anne again. What on earth was that about? It was absolutely cringeworthy. I think the “We’re worse than exes, we’re friends” bit may have been the absolute low point. Cosmo Jarvis is, I am sure, a gifted actor but this sappy puppy-dog-eyed Wentworth and his seeking Anne’s friendship was so not it!

From the first meeting he was just too openly soft with her and that just did not feel right. I feared then that this was not my kind of Captain Wentworth and as the film progressed I was sadly proved right. It’s a pretty bad scritping idea when you take away the central tension between Anne and Frederick in Persuasion.

I know it’s tough to touch on the standard of Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth in the 1995 adaptation but even other adaptations I have seen, whether good or bad, they at least did get Wentworth right. This adaptation totally didn’t.

And that magical letter scene at the end. Oh man, why did they have to mess with Jane Austen in that? The 2007 version was awful, the 1995 version was perfection…

… and this version was… meh… I mean, the kissing and hugging were fine (and that end song was very fitting and sweet) but the letter just wasn’t.

So, yeah, I could get over the character of Anne being different and the modernizations but I just could not get over Wentworth and the dynamic with Anne just not being right. That dynamic is supposed to be the heart of the story and it really wasn’t. I admit images at the end were evocative…

…. but other than that I’m sure the Mr. Elliot in this Persuasion would have been way more interesting for this Anne, he was the only one who could match her wit and insights and even playfulness.

OK, maybe not, as he is devious and slimy, so maybe Anne would have been better off with neither of these men and best on her own.

In ranking the Persuasion adaptations I have seen, I thought a Modern Persuasion Hallmark style version from 2020 was the absolut lowest of the lowest, the 2007 adaptation was pretty disastrous in some areas but with a few highlights (and Rupert Penry-Jones being the most watchable part in that), this adaptation was semi-alright, the 1971 adaptation was alright, but over long and somewhat stiff, and for me the 1995 Persuasion safely remains the best adaptation of the story so far.

A Zoey jukebox

The other day I mentioned watching Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. On and off, some of the songs and their connected scenes in the TV series have been playing in my mind. So, I thought I’d share here as well. All the videos are quite short, most songs are between a minute and a minute and a half long (or around two minutes max), so quite perfect for quick musical fixes.

In the show, the father (Peter Gallagher) of main character Zoey (Jane Levy) has a rare disease that causes him to lose his muscular faculties. From the beginning it is clear that he won’t have long to live as he sits rigid and silent on the couch, only able to look and take in but not able to communicate with those around him. As Zoey can hear people’s innermost feelings in song hallucinations (that no one else can hear or see) she also unexpectedly is able to connect with her father in song. It was such a powerful moment for me to see her communicate with her father again. It really struck a chord as my father too was not able to communicate well with us in his final years and I would have rejoiced at such a moment that Zoey is able to have with her dad.

I already shared my favourite dad and daughter moment in my earlier post but can’t resist sharing it again here as well. I think it’s the video I have re-watched most.

On a lighter note, Zoey hears her best friend and co-worker Max (Skylar Astin) pronounce his true feelings for her…

… and is touched by his intention to stand by her…

Her other co-worker, who becomes a friend as well, is Simon (John Clarence). I can so very well identify with the sentiment in this brief song, especially in a work setting. “My name is NO!” is something I think all of us have felt at some point, whether in work or in life outside of work. This cracks me up and I am keeping this in the back of my mind for future reference.

Ah, and there she is, Lauren Graham! She plays Zoey’s boss Joan in the first season who becomes empowered after she finds a way to deal with her husband.

I’m not too fond of love triangles, but there is one on this show as well, with both Simon and Max vying for Zoey in a musical battle.

I really like group numbers like this one where a lot of the main cast get to play a part.

There’s a racism storyline in the second season and before Simon holds a press conference to confront the world with the racism in his workplace, Zoey hears his heartfelt plea to please not be misunderstood.

This video of Simon expressing his frustration about the self-congratulatory white world around him not seeing the racism is good too.

This following video is so relatable. Sometimes, when everyone around you is cheerful, you can’t help it, you still remain sad…

Goes for this following video as well. Zoey and Max aren’t quite as into this dress up marathon as everyone else seems to be.

Mo (Alex Newell) is Zoey’s genderfluid neighbour and friend who falls in love but still has some things to work out with the man he loves…

Zoey’s brother Andrew (David Clarke) and his wife Emily (Alice Lee) have some beautiful moments together…

… while even the outward quite perfect Emily also falls apart on occasion. Alice Lee who plays her is really so heartbreaking here.

One of the saddest songs is this one from the final (Christmas special) episode. At this point in the story Max temporarily also has the power to hear the ‘heart songs’ that Zoey normally hears and is stunned by the outpouring of grief that isn’t as visible on the outside. I so very well understand how the family feels.

To end on a more positive note, everyone wanting to kiss each other during a party is kinda sweet.

Of course there is far more, like a long funeral scene set to American Pie (on YouTube it is split into three videos here, here and here), but these are the ones that most stuck with me – my own personal Zoey jukebox so to speak.

What is it with Persuasion?

I love Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Persuasion adaptations and as I have grown older, I think it has surpassed even my love of Pride and Prejudice. A year ago I read there were two Persuasion adaptations in the making and I was curious to see how those two would portray the story and also how much they would differ. I now understand that the version with Australian actress Sarah Snook is not happening anymore, which is a pity. She says in an interview with Vogue magazine from last fall: “Case in point: Jane Austen’s Persuasion with director Mahalia Belo, which was meant to be her next project. “The short story is that Netflix decided to greenlight their own, so Fox abandoned the one we were doing, which is disappointing because it was a great script and a director I really wanted to work with,” she says with a shrug. “But had I been doing that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come back to Australia so soon and see family and friends.”

Well, that Netflix version is now finally coming to the screen on July 15th and today a trailer was released:

The cast looks good!

I’m not a huge Dakota Johnson fan but she could be alright in this. I don’t know Cosmo Jarvis who plays Frederick Wentworth but he does look like he has some charisma. I wonder if his charisma can beat Henry Golding’s charisma. I really like Golding, I think he could have made an excellent Wentworth as well but he also looks like he can imbue Mr Elliot with just the right amount of charm and ambiguity. I also love the casting of Richard E. Grant and in the snippet we see of him he already looks perfect as the very vain father of Anne. Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell looks interesting too. I didn’t know her name before I looked it up but I did know her face instantly from bits and pieces she’s done on TV where she somehow always manages to capture my attention.

For me an adaptation really doesn’t need to be the same as the book (I unexpectedly really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for instance) but it does need to capture it’s spirit somewhat. In this trailer, I do wonder about a friendship storyline that is hinted at – one of the big points in Persuasion is that Captain Wentworth is wounded and therefore outwardly very dismissive of Anne Elliot, so much so that there is no question of a renewed friendship until closer to the end of the story. Also, Captain Wentworth looks less stoic and unforgiving in this trailer so I do wonder how that will all work out. There also seems to be Anne breaking the fourth wall in this, which could be either very cool or very annoying.

No matter how good or how bad, I am very excited for this and I will definitely watch it as soon as I can. This adaptation has big shoes to fill, because I do love the Amanda Root / Ciaran Hinds version from 1995…

… but I don’t think it can be as bad as a Hallmark-ish version that was released two years ago (with the uninspired title of Modern Persuasion), which was quite terrible. I’m really curious on the take of this adaptation.

Besides the film/TV adaptations I also like reading Persuasion book adaptations and I just happened to finish reading one over the weekend. Even if the adaptations can’t always equal the original, the original storyline is quite strong and therefore the adaptations are really enjoyable for me too. So, I keep going back to them. Somehow I can’t seem to get enough of this story. I do keep wondering what attracts me to all these Persuasion re-tellings. Is it because the story is about a slightly more mature love? About second chances? Is it about learning from your mistakes or possible errors of judgment but also being grateful for them because they brought you to where you are today? It’s all of the above, I guess, and more. At the end of the book Anne Elliot says this:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now. To me, she was in the place of a parent. Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice. But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with;

I really like that. Even though the choice she made then caused her a lot of heartache, it still was the right choice for her at that time. It made her who she is but also drove Captain Wentworth to become as accomplished as he is. It also shows that timing is everything. There is a time to listen and take advice, there is a time to grow up and learn, there is a time when you can let experience lead you to another choice.

One of the great things about Jane Austen novels is how the main characters learn to know themselves better and what they want out of life and I think Anne may be Austen’s most self-aware character. She has loved and lost and has had time to absorb and analyse, thus maybe making her more wise and more empathetic than other Austen characters. She has had time to reflect and now knows who she is, she is level-headed and capable and she assuredly knows that if given a second chance she will grab it with both hands. I think it’s Captain Wentworth who is forced to make a bigger learning curve in this story, learning to deal with his petty anger, learning to understand himself, learning nuance (her youthful choice against him didn’t mean she didn’t love him) and finally accepting the fact that Anne, being steadfast and wise and empathetic, is indeed the best woman for him out there. I love Anne and that she stays true to herself and I love that she is able to inspire Wentworth to know himself better.

Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last completed novel. It is possibly her most nuanced one as well (despite also having some biting characterizations) and I think I will forever love coming back to it. Ah, the stories Austen could have told had she only lived longer!