Ekaterina – Russian TV Series – Catherine the Great

Of all the women in history, I think I can identify with Catherine the Great the most. I read Carolly Erickson’s book many years ago and was really caught by certain similarities. She married at a young age to an abusive man. She had her sons taken from her (for different reasons than I, naturally, but both political). She was a survivor and saw love as a way to redeem the much needed emotional vacancy within herself. She also never remarried (it is possible she married Grigory Potemkin but it is not documented). When I had heard about the Russian TV series Ekaterina (the correct Russian spelling is Yekaterina), I sat down to indulge myself in the two season portrayal of this great monarch.

It is important to watch this if you love women’s history. There have been other versions from different countries, all of which I have seen but they pale in comparison. The fact that this series comes from the country that she reigned over, a place that annihilated their last monarch so that there would never be one again was tempting to me. I had heard that the series was true to life. I was surprised though as I did not think Russia allowed such things to occur. Communism did away with so much from the past, so much that she worked so hard to bring to this country.

Catherine II was not Russian though. Sophia Friederike Auguste was brought from Prussia (which is now Poland) into the country as a bride for the heir presumptive Peter. She spoke German when she came to meet Peter and his Aunt Elizabeth, who was the Empress at that time. Empress Elizabeth was a very strict Roman Catholic and, well, strict is hardly strong enough a word to describe this very disturbing woman. Catherine was modest and intelligent enough to see how to play her cards the minute she stepped food on the royal carpet. She impressed the Empress yet immediately she was forced to give up her culture, speak Russian (which she had been learning) and take the name of Catherine. This is not too unusual when you look at the Native Americans being kidnapped by the Catholics and stripped of their heritage. It is typical in a power play and, for her, better than being brought somewhere as a slave. There are many attributes of Empress Elizabeth that are not played out in Ekaterina, as they focus more on Catherine. They did allude to the fact that she preferred torture over death (for example: skinning alive, branding, and hanging by their arms behind their back).

The show also showed how Empress Elizabeth came to power and this was by taking the infant heir Ivan VI and imprisoning him so that he could not claim the throne.  Later, she was obsessed with finding an heir different from her ignorant nephew, Peter, who was the equivalent of an entitled rich kid in today’s society. When Catherine gave birth to their son, the Empress took the child, the moment it was delivered and Catherine could not see her son again, except on very rare occasions. She and her son, Paul I (Pavel Petrovich), never regained a relationship ever again either. This is even after Empress Elizabeth died and Pavel was eight years old by now. From a psychological perspective this makes a lot of sense.

Children who are removed from their parents early on (and have multiple caretakers – which he did, as Elizabeth did more harm then good as a surrogate), generally suffer from attachment disorders. In extreme cases Reactive Attachment Disorder. The mother has a hard time attaching back to the child because it is as if she hardly knows this person and suddenly she is supposed to have maternal feelings. This may sound crude because it sounds easy to just give a child a hug. However, it is an extremely difficult process to re-connect. When you have a child taken from you, at such a young age, it is emotionally wounding. The mother, in order to protect herself, must detach and emotionally protect herself. This is where Catherine began to replace love with men (she hoped to have other children and with someone she loved). You can’t replace the loss of a mother’s love. One love cannot be exchanged for another.

In this series, they did a good job for the most part. The actors reminded me so much of the book I had read. I felt like I was seeing the actual people for the first time. While they did not look alike, as you see above, their ability to portray their characters personality was very accurate. Marina Alexandrova (as Catherine II) was a woman of power. She came across as a very strong, willful, persistent, aggressive woman who started out as a young silly girl, yet bright and grew over the course of the two seasons. Julia Aug (as Empress Elizabeth), while a beautiful woman, came across as a very ugly ogre. Aleksandr Yatsenko, (as Peter III) was very immature and even more stupid than I had imagined in my mind. His performance was so great as he seemed to have an ease with being the court jester. All three seemed at ease yet I think his role was more difficult because he had more behaviors to portray (or facial expressions to personify) rather than just prancing around in skirts.

The only drawbacks from the film, that I found distracting, were some of the publicity stunts. It was portrayed as a “love story,” which almost made me not want to watch it, knowing that it was anything but. Catherine II had a great many lovers and this was used against her as she became the butt of many jokes internationally and throughout the court. The film also made a big deal of her love affair with Grigory Potemkin and even showed a marriage which is only a possibility.  They also showed Pavel with a black servant (politically correct nonsense?) From what I can find there was a black family that served Peter the Great but they left the castle once he died and lived out their days on an estate. The second season dulls in comparison to the first season and this is because Catherine II is now in power and so it is more a season of “Which lover shall I choose,” and drama with her teenage son. In other words the second season was just a day in the life of a Queen and the first season was a lot of extreme drama and suspense. I feel they should have ended the series at Season I, which appeared to have initially been the end (they stated in the last episode’s credits that she reigned for 34 years). 

One note of interest and I may be wrong about this but I believe the paintings on the wall were the actual paintings of each of the people being portrayed. In the second season there was a scene in the palace where Catherine II leaves the room and the camera angle lingers toward a painting on the wall that I am very sure was the Empress in old age. I found these aspects touching to pay homage for those of us watching who are history buffs. The end of the second season they tried to portray a humbling experience of Catherine II getting in touch with her spiritual side and becoming a more enlightened woman. It came across appropriately but then the show ended so quickly (telling rather than showing). It would have been nice to show the various changes that Catherine II created for her country, in the second season, rather than being so focused on war, teen angst and conquests of men. I don’t really think she came across in such a great light because reading her accomplishments on the screen credits is not the same as showing her love for the arts, philosophy, science, and many other intellectual pursuits. Catherine II was the longest running monarch in Russia.

What the life of Catherine the Great gives us, as women, is a look at a woman’s rise to power. It is insightful to read about her story, even today, as you think and compare her life (minus the castle), with that of a young single parent trying to have a career and even gain an education. Women complain too much in today’s modern society. They whine about what they can and cannot do. It seems to me that they are unable to take responsibility for their own behaviors in the situation in question, they just want to blame. Catherine II’s story also shows us that women are not perfect or the ideal person in power. She was not dominated by a paternal society, she was the matriarch of her kingdom and her word (and Empress Elizabeth’s word during her reign), was the final straw. In actuality, women have accomplished many great things in history and they have done many bad things as well. It is not about what gender or race or culture that is in power but what that person is capable of accomplishing. We are too desperate today to have a woman or a black or a gay in power and this cloud’s our judgement in making choices for who that person should be.

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Politically Correct Debate for Modern Thinkers

This is quite a fascinating debate series founded by Hungarian born Paul Munk in 2008 out of Toronto, Canada. Interestingly, I learned about this through a client recently. I find that I get many good resources from the people I serve almost as if it were providence. They did make me aware of who won the debate before I saw it, though it wasn’t that hard to figure out as it was quite obvious which side were more gifted in speech and somatic comfort. What is troubling, as always, are Americans abroad. They are just incapable of realizing it isn’t all about them.

This debate is about Political Correctness, or at least that is what it was supposed to be about. The argument isn’t really about what is fair or which words should be used, it is more about whether it has gone too far and what might be a better way to go about this. I recall being a student at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, back in the 90’s and my fellow alumni (now) and I were having discussions about this ourselves. At that point, we could already see the ridiculousness of this new language and so I can imagine how they would feel watching this video today. Unfortunately, we parted and went in various directions, most of us onto graduate schools and with that, a much more difficult level of study that didn’t allow for keeping in touch with old friends quite so easily. It was before FB and Twitter and LinkedIn and by the time those things came about, I couldn’t even recall their names.

Watching this debate, I was already prepared for an interesting discussion by Stephen Fry as he is most likely a genius and typical with most Brits and Europeans, very humble. I have never heard of Jordan Peterson before today and will definitely pick up one of his books and learn more about what he has to say. While the Americans on the panel had no appreciation for his highly intellectual banter, I certainly am eager to see what the controversy is all about. Remember that most philosophers, scientists, inventors; they were all controversial in their time. Whenever someone challenges your thought process, it is debatable and can be fun to see the direction they take it in.

On the other side we had a woman who sat with her legs spread apart, most of the time, eager like the “feminist” thinkers of today to say “look at my vagina but don’t touch it.” Such a contradiction, a mixed message, from a foolish person who would probably do a better job as a dominatrix.  Then you have a minister who appears to be bi-racial but has so much anger for one part of himself. These two wanted to make the program about them and their issues with being a woman and being black. A debate is not meant to be a memoir, it is about giving an argument for the side you are on. All four of the people on the panel were liberal and so much of the time they were agreeing with each other in different ways. I suppose this was a safer way to have this discussion, even though the pros didn’t seem to understand that they were all liberal. They behaved as if they were up against Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump. But as I said, they felt it was all about them.

This is the issue with Political Correctness and the extreme thinking of today. It is the reason Donald Trump is in office. The people who voted for him needed some balance because the liberals had swung so far left they couldn’t even remember which side they were on. With Clinton taking all the jobs away from Americans and giving them to communists, turning our country effectively into one big ghetto with a huge opioid crisis. One only needs to visit a previous factory town that gave some dignity to the people there and notice the dealers, the depression, the hopelessness, the poverty. After this we went to Obamacare, which took precedence over the recession and the only ones who approved of this and will sing its praises are people who get their insurance paid for by the companies they work for. I can certainly say that I am no fan when my medication went from $30 to $700. There was no concern for human beings in the country that they served when these two major changes took over our lives. I am not arguing that Republicans haven’t made mistakes here, I am arguing that Democrats forgot what it meant to be liberal in their need to enforce their self-righteous viewpoint.

On a world stage such as the Munk Debates, it is such a dichotomy when you have socialists vs. capitalists. Nonetheless, I am captivated by this series that I have now signed up for. It is refreshing to know such an exchange of words exists, is allowed (naturally we wouldn’t be able to handle this in the U.S.) and to feel related to people who haven’t disappeared or crawled under a carpet.

Don Draper – Self-help Guru

Since I don’t pay for cable, I have to wait for episodes of good TV programs, from around the world, to come on Netflix. I try to stay off of entertainment news broadcasts so that I have no idea what is going on and can watch it with the same surprises as everyone else. However, I did catch a few news headlines about the end of Mad Men and waited with bated breath to see what I would think of the ending. Needless to say, I was a little perplexed at the thoughts people had about the end of the show. The caption had read something like “Is Don Draper committing suicide?” I rather hoped this would not be the way Matthew Weiner ended the series because it just didn’t feel right to me. It is obvious that Don Draper suffered from Depression, yes, but to commit suicide? Hardly. This man was a survivor, not a victim.

Don Draper was always re-inventing himself throughout the eight years that the show played out. He didn’t strike me as a “give-up” kind of guy. He worked on his memoirs at one point, which was the beginning of him stripping down the layers of his psyche. He was fired from a major firm and worked for that same firm behind the scenes. He wasn’t the type to be had. He was the type to say “FU” and figure out how to make them crave him even more. He also lost two wives, had numerous affairs (and never once seemed to get a venereal disease), drank enough for an entire bar it seemed and never seemed to put up a sweat. The man always looked like a GQ model for his generation. It made women swoon and gave men a hero. I never quite got caught up in idolizing him as a potential fantasy mate. I wouldn’t have minded a liaison but definitely not a “commitment.” Who wants an alcoholic womanizer?

You could say he was a Narcissist and to some degree he was. What kept him on the border was that he had a heart and a soul. He cared very deeply for the people around him. He was a reluctant leader, I think, though he craved being on top. I suspect many people have this push-pull, who are in power and you can see this is the way that they hesitate. It makes sense to have moments of despair because with authority comes exhaustion: emotionally, physically, and mentally. A Narcissist isn’t quite into self-growth or introspection as Don Draper was. A Narcissist thinks they are perfect, just the way they are.  He had to behave like a Narcissist because this was a power play. It kept him from looking like a failure or a “Dick,” Whitman (his real name if you have forgotten).

The final episode seemed to be taking its time getting to that last frame. In doing so, many things happened to this character. He learned his first wife was going to die of cancer and he would lose the right to raise all of his children in lieu of another family member. Not a big deal, he would continue to have visits as he does now.  His company completely collapsed and this time he made a choice to walk away and give it all up. The road trip seemed to be a soul searching journey. A Jack Kerouac mixed with Charles Kuralt.  He seemed to be letting it all go, getting naked, something that needs to happen in order to have a truly eye-opening, aha, kind of moment. For someone in power as he was, it would have taken quite a major shakedown in order for him to begin again. In the end, it was a simple loss to be trapped at a self-help resort. The phone call where he was on the ground in tears was his final break down before having his break-through. He had now shed away all the layers and there was nothing left of him except an empty space inside of a used up body.

In the final scene, he is in a lotus position, deep in meditation and has a smile on his face. There was a sense of inner peace that I myself have felt and have seen on a great many others in the same posture. The grounds he had been left at gave a feeling of utopia. Heaven, some might say, but this is a very naïve way of looking at things. It could have been Big Sur or Point Reyes, places that do not make one think of committing suicide but of happiness and joy. The last thing on my mind when the credits began to roll was that Don Draper was going to become a Tony Robbins type of person. As soon as this came to my mind, I began to reminisce my own 80’s as well as imagine the future for the character. What we were left with was a brilliant new beginning.  Enlightenment.

The time period, at the end of this season, was the 70’s and it was when many motivational speakers were making their mark amongst young adults as well as the older ones. It was the advent of the “me” generation. People like Werner Erhard were already giving EST workshops around the country. Tony Robbins would make his start at the very end of the seventies and would later become famous for his “walking on hot coals,” which people would proclaim had changed their life. Scientology began to become infamous as a celebrity no, no and kabbalah would later become an “in” thing that was respected amongst the rich and famous. It is natural to assume that Don Draper would suddenly re-emerge on the scene as a motivational speaker and end up a very wealthy man.

Having been to many self-awareness workshops over the years, it gives me great delight to imagine Don Draper as one of those leaders. Most of us who have been to these seminars already know the rest of the story and I think it will give them a chuckle to realize this is probably correct. It was an amazing way to end the series and well played out along the years, so that it made sense the show would end just this way. This is what I had begun to wonder about way back when he was writing the book and so I think it wrapped up quite nicely and believably. Congratulations to Matthew Weiner for creating a masterpiece. It is a rare thing to have such an insightful and well written program.

written by Annika Valour, March 6, 2016

Un Village Français

A French Village is set in German occupied France, World War II. We are being shown local townspeople being forced to make choices to survive. It is romantic, because there is always love when you are in a traumatic situation. It is not biased and so you see bad Germans and bad French. What is amazing is that the most important thing that you see is people at war. As you watch it, you have to try not to view this from the lens of an educated person who obviously knows what happened during WWII. You must try to behave as ignorantly as the characters are to have an ability to appreciate their choices and empathize with them. Some people you don’t empathize with such as the character Heinrich Müller, who enjoys putting cigarettes out on people. Including the one he loved.

Heinrich and Hortense

Today, I watched the first episode of the third season and was struck by the fact that I felt as I did when I worked in the county government for eight years. In this episode the head of the local government, the prefect (I believe he is called or deputy prefect) is handed a list of Jewish names to round up in the neighborhood. Up until this time, the city of Villenueve was protected and the Jewish people could more or less feel their lives were somewhat safe, although they were unable to run their businesses. In this tiny town, they assumed that the Prime Minister Phillipe Pétain, had the power to protect French Jews from being deported. In this episode we learn that this has now changed. When I worked for the county government our mindset was “What was in the best interests of the children,” until the recession hit. Then it was all about saving money and putting them in the cheapest places. I fought this and all the other changes that were going on until I was put on Administrative Leave for a year and then I finally quit. I quit because their evidence was lies or fabricated stories and I knew I would be fired if I stuck around.  I couldn’t believe that a huge agency like that would be so concerned about me (there were lots of people involved). So while, my personal situation with the government is a far cry from making decisions during World War II, I like putting things into perspective with the here and now.

Marcel Larcher, a communist

When you think of a soldier at war, doing what he or she is told to do, they really don’t have any choices of whether or not they like it. When the “team” loses, suddenly we turn on them, and everyone is punished; whether they really had a choice or not. This is something I keep thinking about as I watch this show. While the character may seem bad, you can recognize a corporate boss; eager to get a promotion. You can see a “company man” who does what he is told. When you are working for corporate America or government, this is how most people behave. Most employees don’t sit down and weigh the consequences of what their boss tells them or how it is going to affect people, business, employees, or the community at large. You just do it because that is what you are told. At the end of the day, you go home to your families and try to forget about what you heard.  I didn’t have a family to go home to, so I went home and thought about my day a little more. That was my problem, I thought too much!

As I have seen a trailer for the seventh and last season, I am aware of the fact that many of these people will be blamed for the choices that they made. Every episode has been and is going to be sad and tragic but that one will be the hardest to endure. The reason is that these characters who have lasted till the seventh season, their lives will have been disrupted to the point of forgetting who they are. Already we are seeing choices that are being made to help a Jewish maid, or a lover, or a business associate who is collaborating to stay alive. They aren’t trying to help a vast number of people though at times they try to get the list, for example, from 20 down to 10.

Daniel Larcher, The Mayor

It is really too bad that most Americans, especially liberals won’t see this TV show. As far as I am aware, the only way you can see it now is if you have MHz Choice which is an international channel you have to pay for and have to know it even exists. I was aware of MHz from PBS when they pretended to collect International Mysteries from around the world. After doing some digging I realized the guy on PBS was lying; all they did was purchase a channel. They had me going though for a while there. American liberals love to blame people and do it so loud that you feel nauseous having to listen to it day after day after day. I feel that most of the time it is very hypocritical and seems to lack in values. I am on the border of the left and right and can never seem to sit on one side.

Jeannine Schwartz

We are in an era now where people are being blamed who had ancestors in the Civil War. They want to take down a statue of a soldier in the South, General Robert E. Lee. He was a man who did his job and because he came from the south, chose this side so he wouldn’t be killing his own family. He was a soldier being asked to lead a team, a side of government. If the south had won, we would want to tear down a statue of General Ulysses S. Grant. I don’t see a need to tear down any statue because I am fond of history. General Lee wasn’t responsible for slavery as Adolph Hitler was responsible for the holocaust. It is apples and oranges; but here in America we are not reasonable people. We allow ignorance to prevail because we feel sorry for them (those in this mindset).

A French Village could teach Americans quite a great deal about having to make choices in a time of war.

Raymond Schwartz

Whether or not they would be able to focus on such a great historical show without finding it racist, I could not say.  The show even shows a shady Jewish character, could Americans handle this? This seems to be the new wave of lying to our children. We educate them with period pieces that have politically correct storylines rather than literal or factual storylines. If North and South, probably one of the last great American TV historical fictions made, were filmed today; it would be such a joke. No doubt they would not be able to create an honest re-make. The actors would complain that they could not do the show because they could not speak the historically accurate lines (which would mean they are terrible actors).

I cannot imagine how tense it must have been to be on the set of A French Village. These actors do not ever come out of character, so that we are able to feel as if we are there; with them. I feel transported into another time and place. I feel tense every moment, wondering what will happen to this person or that. So tense that I had to look it all up online to see who will live and who will die. I just couldn’t keep watching without this sense of relief because it is traumatizing to watch this TV show. I do know what happened and while I try to think like the character, I am not perfect. When you feel like these characters are real people and they actually existed, you know you are hooked and drawn in.

If you have read “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah, published in 2015, you will no doubt appreciate A French Village. I had read it last summer and so it was fresh in my mind. Two completely different stories as Ms. Hannah’s book was a little more biased. I feel it is important that A French Village created a lack of bias so that you can wonder. So that you could have a discussion after watching the show and think a little more deeply about those times.

I grew up with a step-father who took political asylum in the United States in 1956. When I wrote a historical fiction about that time period, it was while I was on leave from the government. It was actually perfect timing to have a sense of communist Hungary. I remember a family member telling me that I was actually on house arrest from my job. At the time, I had no idea why I was being paid to stay at home and do nothing. My father raised me to fear Russians and communists. He told us all kinds of horrible stories. I tried not to be completely biased while writing because I knew some of that was his hatred of people who ruined his life and his family’s lives. As I did research, as most historians due, you read the facts and put together your own interpretation of what you see. This is blended together with the biased interpretations of the people who witnessed. I don’t say biased in a bad way either. No one can ever really know the whole story. A French Village seems to be saying this. They are showing you a broader perspective, 75 years later.

A Guide to Watching Foreign Films

Of course it doesn’t hurt to grow up in a European-American family. Where the world that revolves around you speaks another language, has different values, talks about the old country and you begin to look at America as a second home. Watching foreign films for me has always felt as if I were welcomed; as one of theirs who got away. That I was getting a sneak peek into a home that existed but that I had never lived in; yet it felt like it belonged to me. There was a sense of familiarity about it.  Déjà vu.

Foreign film observation began at home, not with my family but with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. This was a children’s program that featured the puppets Kukla and Ollie and their friend Fran who would host a film from around the world each week. There is a website to learn more about this but unfortunately very difficult to get the actual films. Hello Netflix?!? This would certainly be a great program for you to buy.  Since Kukla, Fran and Ollie was an American program, all the characters were dubbed with British English from what I recall. I didn’t realize it was dubbing as a child, I just though everyone spoke English with a cute accent. There may have been a couple of programs with subtitles but I can’t recall.  I do remember circus bears on the loose, a Cinderella story with a bird that would say “Koo-koo-ri-koo, Who is the one for you?” and other wonderful adventures that kids would get themselves into.

As an adult, I had quite forgotten about foreign films for a few years and then, while managing a records and tapes (i.e., VHS and cassettes) store in Los Angeles (this was the onset of Compact Discs too), I suddenly re-acquainted myself with the genre once more. You’ve probably heard this phrase said for other reasons but I will use it here for this “Once you go foreign, you will never turn to American ever again.” Settle down and grab your Cadbury, Lindt or Toblerone (a reason to never eat American chocolate again) and enjoy the show!

1. Subtitles are not that difficult. If you are literate you will get used to it. If you like tennis, you already know how to bob; only now it is vertical instead of horizontal.

2. Foreign films are intellectual and a realistic view of life. It helps to look within as you view the characters that resonate with your own feelings, strengths and weaknesses. If you are pissed off at the character there is something within you that is just like them and this bothers you. If you are so passionate about the lovers that you feel ill inside when they are kept apart, even at the end of the movie, and are depressed for several days after, that’s not entertainment folks, that is the mark of a great film.

3. There are no happy endings because the world is not a happy place. No one lives happily ever after and no one says that tireless bs that you see in cookie cutter films, here in the U.S. Yet at the end of a foreign film, you will be thinking about the ending for days and weeks on end, still wondering “What if?” just like the one film the U.S. got right in “Gone With the Wind.” If a film isn’t bugging you for some time after, it wasn’t worth it.

4. When they are funny, it is sarcastic humor. Life is never funny when you have had your village annihilated by Hitler or your country was taken over by communists or the British or someone who had power during those years in question. So you laugh because you can’t cry anymore or because you know that this is a memory that will be replaced in the future, or you nod your head in some form of cultural agreement.

5. When it is really dark, the writer has pulled out some psychological button that you have thought about but never dared to speak in public. These are the best moments because you almost feel a sense of guilt that someone else was thinking it too. You can almost feel a kinship but it is too perverse to even smile. If someone sees this on your face, they will know your deepest secrets.

6. The French could be called perverse but the Chinese have upped it to a degree you won’t even see in a pornographic film. I’ve had to turn it off because it was hitting the “ick” zone in a way that, well, wasn’t in my bureau for psychological buttons but it could be in yours. The French tried even harder with Nymphomania 2 but since I only read the abstract on Wikipedia and decided Part I was enough for me, I couldn’t be too sure.

7. India has it all, film, musical, romance and absolutely NO SEX. Yet you get so caught up in the story, you actually forget that the lovers never once touched anything except their hands – if that. That is good storytelling. It is quite rich in family values and I think they are a must to watch for all virgins as the female leads are all very good role models. Yes, it is all about weddings but the brides all deserve to wear white, even if that isn’t their custom. They all gain a deep amount of respect which is really the point.

8. Hungary has mostly been poor depressing people up until this past decade. They have begun to bring in some modern storylines, some good, some depressing because you can see how much the country has been ruined by capitalism and the other word one dares not say. The older films however, really teach you a lot about all those years of history, how people survived. So don’t get squeamish when you see a horse being butchered in the street and morsels handed out to kids to take home to their parents (in their bare hands). You really get a sense that this is what it is like to live so desperately in tough times.

9. The Spanish have Pedro Almodóvar who has directed some hilariously dark comedies or as the French say Film Noir. Penelope Cruz appears to be his muse and while she could be said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, (now topped by Fahriye Evcen from Turkey or shall I say Feride in Lovebird), I’ve seen Ms. Cruz get really really ugly and that is acting! I am not talking about looking dirty but having bleached teeth when she smiles either. I am talking unrecognizable as in “Don’t Move.” If you watch the extras in a take home film, they have her act out different moods while sitting on a stool and it is here that you are able to see how a real actress performs, without costume and script. “Don’t Move,” is probably the most beautiful I have ever seen Ms. Cruz in a movie, even though she is portrayed as a really ugly woman. The character’s personality, especially at the end, it is quite moving.

10. The Turks really love to mess with your mind by making you feel such love for the couple that you feel they have stabbed your own heart at the end because they never end up together. I think it must be a sin to show true love on film and they have to get around it this way.  I’ve recently found myself turned on to their films since Netflix is my new foreign film delivery service. At first I thought everyone in the family had the last name of Bey. It took me awhile to realize the women weren’t called this and then to see that the neighbors who were called this were not their brothers. I assume it means Mr. as in Monsieur or Herr or Señor.   This is the great thing about foreign films; you learn a new language – at least a few words that would give you some understanding when you travel abroad.

11. The Italians have Sophia and Gina and well, now they have Luca Zingaretti, for the ladies. As a young girl I looked up to these beautiful women, now I am the older woman and I am more focused on the handsome older men. Inspector Montalbano is like Bruno Cremer in Maigret (with a better body, though Bruno was sexy) or John Thaw in Inspector Morse (still anal but not a heavy drinker). These are the kind of men who you hope inhabit your local police force but are pretty sure they don’t. The Italians remind you that the mafia is still alive and Italian-Americans aren’t faking Italian (except that ridiculous reality show). They probably talk more with their hands in NYC then Rome and more on the streets than in the professional world.

12. The Brits are hands down the easiest to understand because we speak their language – or do we? Nope, you have to learn the slang and the accent. “If truth be told,” a fag is a cigarette, getting pissed means you are drunk, serviettes are napkins, napkins are diapers, a boot is the trunk of your car, and so on. Try the British “Mars” bars too, much more richer and delightful. Stay away from the “All Sorts” though if you can’t stand licorice like me. By far they have the best TV shows that capture forensic episodes with real people not cute models. You have to add any film with Bill Nighy to your list; sexy and hilarious for a too skinny guy. There are lots of other old blokes over there that play character actors better than our big stars here. When you see them appear on a film (and once you get to know them you can get excited with only the opening credits), you know you are in for a treat. Great actors like this know how to carry a film and how to pick one too.

13. The women in foreign films are real people. I mean you feel like they are your neighbors and this is what gives you the sense that you are welcomed into the story. You know these women and men, it seems you have met them before. Sure there are the outstanding looking beauties but generally they aren’t playing the outstanding looking beauty in the film. Often, they will take a less gorgeous lady and dress her up and suddenly she is the most beautiful woman in the world. It is the character that makes her or him very lovely, not the costume though. When I think of Bruno Cremer in Maigret, we are looking at a slightly obese man with a huge mole on his face, yet the character he is playing respects women, dresses sharp, smokes a pipe – which is quite debonair, is loyal to his wife and the most intelligent man on the show (that is the funny part which you have to see it to get it). We are so stuck on size 3 waists here and no one really has this except models and actresses, people you will never meet. The majority of the women in foreign films are an average sized woman of a size 8-12.

14. If you find that the movie is going along very slowly and seems almost boring, just trust the director. This is building a scene for a particular purpose or a character or a culture. If you are patient, it will all make sense and by the end of the film you are going to really appreciate those opening scenes because it will all begin to come together. Sometimes the beginning can be really weird too with a lot of confusing scenes, trying to introduce so much in a short space. Again, stay still, trust the director, it is going somewhere good. I often find this is a clue that something better will come.

15. You will be so moved by foreign films that your tears will fall for the first time for a reason that you know will change your life forever.

Spanish TV Series Review: The Time in Between

Adriana Ugarte delivers a remarkable performance as a respectable seamstress, spy and loyal confidante to her select group of friends; in the Spanish TV Series now on Netflix entitled “The Time in Between.” Ms. Ugarte plays “Sira,” who maintains strict boundaries and does not cede to the style of Mata Hari. The costumes for this World War II period piece get an A- and this is only because of the shoes which are about 3” too high for the 1940’s. I have noticed this happening more frequently with historical fiction, especially from Spain. The TV Series “Velvet,” also showed some of their major characters in heels that were not appropriate heights for the 1950’s time period either.

The story revolves around Sira, a poor girl from Spain on the eve of the Spanish coup of 1936, which of course is about to be on the eve of World War II as well. She runs off to Morocco with the boy who would take her heart away from the good boy next door. Naturally, we all know he is a player and the character of Ramiro does not disappoint. While in Morocco she meets Rosalinda Fox, a British lady who is the mistress of a Spanish foreign minister. Naturally, while everyone in this TV Series is German, British, Portuguese and Moroccan, they all of course speak Spanish. I find this hilarious when I watch foreign programs but of course we do this too. Half-way through this 17 episode bundle, Rosalinda encourages her to become a spy on behalf of the Brits, using her storefront – which will be moved to Madrid – as a hovel for German ladies gossip. The storyline is rich and the characters addicting. The leading ladies Ms. Ugarte and Hannah New (Rosalinda) are adorable, young and vivacious. Ms. Ugarte could be the next Penelope Cruz coming on to the scene.  I don’t doubt that America will rip her up from her native roots and put her in Hollywood as soon as they can. I hope that unlike Sira, she will not be tempted into this new life and will stay devoted and loyal to her country. Ms. Cruz and Selma Hayek have drifted over to English speaking roles but I find that the characters we give them pale in comparison to the respect they achieve at home.

Naturally you should also pay attention to the fitted suits, thick quality fabrics they are made from, the hats for every occasion, gloves, purses and ball gowns. Other than her peasant clothes (so to speak), there wasn’t one outfit that she wore that I wouldn’t kill to wear. The turbans I could do without as they look especially tight and cumbersome, yet they are elegant at the same time. I could see wearing these clothes in today’s society, if we were still elegant fashionable women – though, the only place fitting these days would be Buckingham Palace or the Oscars; none of which, I dare say, I will ever see an invitation.

If you are a big fan of women’s history and enjoy learning about different era’s through fiction, you will appreciate and adore this series. It is a more honest way of showing a strong woman with some integrity.