Sophia Loren – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

This book is one you don’t devour. You take your time, stirring, simmering and seasoning as if you are making a pot of soup or stew. Sophia is a Virgo, which is most of my astrological chart, except the first dominant three. I sensed a grounded woman almost immediately. A person who has taken her time and made the right choices; which led her down a path that would make her a very happy woman. As a Leo, who has made all the wrong choices, very impatiently and innocently, when you have done these things, only then can you truly appreciate someone who is smarter than you. Patience really is a virtue.

While reading the pages of her book, I immersed myself in everything Sophia. I began to look up films on YouTube, but then as luck would have it, Film Struck dedicated a week to Sophia and I had many of the Italian films right at my fingertips. Thankfully, they devoted most of her footage to the old stock from Europe rather than the cheesy “We need an Italian” American movies. I was rather embarrassed to look at a trailer for Houseboat and see that she was darkened with make-up, since no one, in 1958, was capable of accepting she was Italian without it. Odd, since at that time we had a huge Italian population in America.

As she writes in her book, she is more adept at filming in her own country, when she is portraying herself, her mother, her grandmother, and her neighbors. This is clear because she is more natural, less scripted, in her normal color, unafraid to look worn and “ugly,” and not making us think the entire time “Oh look it is Sophia Loren,” like you do when you watch an American actress on film. I think I like her in films more, when she is in a worn out dress, her hair is a mess, she is in her (what seems like) signature slip on sandals and she is fighting for whatever she is passionate about. This type of role is more of an emotional investment than a film where she is just being a pretty woman. Although in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” it is interesting seeing her portray three different types of women in various personalities. It is almost as if you are getting a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

I know I always bash my own country when it comes to cinema but being a foreign film fanatic there is such a huge difference. The answer came for me when I read her book. You are not getting a “tell-all” fraught with sexual harassment stories. There is no political agenda or a feminist bitch-fest which is riddled with “What’s wrong with men,” tales. Instead, you find that she is a professional and holds in high esteem her fellow actors that she worked with. When they were on the set, they had cooking contests or pulled pranks on each other. In her case, her mother came to the set with her while she was starting out. The only time this ceased was when she was meeting her future husband for the first time, producer Carlo Ponti.

When I watched interviews with her, she was very careful in the way she answered questions. Very diplomatic, intelligent enough to remain appearing innocent, though you knew she saw the journalists attempt to get her to “dish the dirt,” using her English as her second language as a tool to stall and prepare.

Naturally, I followed some of Marcello’s interviews as well, as he and Sophia were in some very important movies together. I was embarrassed when David Letterman tried desperately to turn him into a player (which he is) and make him seem dirty to Americans. It is a different lifestyle, a player in Europe vs. a player in America. The Europeans have more tact which results in their escapades being very classy and fashionable. Not that I agree with it or condone this, but it is their business. Here we are more focused (in the last couple of decades) on trashing what used to be alluring, exotic, and only for the mature.

When you see Foreign films, you do get a sense of professionals coming together to make dramatic stories come to life. Even when they are quirky and abstract, such as Frederico Fellini or Pier Paolo Pasolini, it comes together like a typical novel turned into a film, only with the long bits chopped out and the most important scenes smashed together through facial expressions. Serious actors who are trained by great directors and who can relax into the role are able to do these things.

Today, in American films, you have the nouveau riche who started out working hard but are now just entitled adults who can only sell overacted pieces. You get the sense that they are all having one big orgy, especially when they spend an interview flirting with each other and behaving like children. The films are not deep and cerebral, they seem geared toward children. Adults playing action heros are no longer spellbinding as “Superman” once was, or the first “Batman.” Now, everyone is doing it so it is cliché.  I am more interested in the craft, being transported into another place and time, people who appear so much in character that you don’t recognize them. In interviews, I want to see grown-ups behaving like professionals. It feels embarrassing to watch because I know they are going to dread these interviews when they become older and are “has beens” desperate for all the money they spent.

When I watch Sophia Loren in her movies, I think how Penelope Cruz has taken after her in her ability to portray women in despair and not utilize her good looks (this is what the modeling world is for). I think of a good friend that I grew up with, who is Hungarian and who naturally has that sense of being European that I am completely incapable of creating somatically; no matter how hard I try. Those nuances which catch you off guard: a tilt of the lips, a shift in the eyebrow, the movement of the hips, for example that can’t be caught on camera through a third or fourth (and so on) generation.

My favorite film with she and Marcello would be “Sunflower,” which I had to disagree with her on. She spoke of Marcello playing a character similar to Don Dummi in “Marriage – Italian Style,” and I think she mentioned the character from “Too Bad She is Bad.” Nonetheless, she was speaking of a character as a bad boy. On the contrary, I was so moved by the story and his character which from a psychological perspective, the background scenery in the film; was captured quite well. One sensed that the Russian wife understood this but the Italian wife continued to have disdain for her lover. Of course the Russian wife (a single parent) was simply looking for a husband that she went looking for one day; while walking through wounded soldiers. Whereas the Italian wife was terribly and hopelessly in love; seeking emotional revenge in the end. Like in a Fellini or Pasolini film, there is one character, a surviving Italian soldier stranded in Russia, who gives us that snapshot or foreshadowing of what is to come. Psychologically, Antonio was not a bad boy. He was grateful to his protector and felt as if yesterday, as an Italian, had disappeared or maybe it was a dream.

Many years ago I saw “Two Women,” the one film she won an Academy Award for. I felt that she should when I saw it. I don’t think the Internet was around at the time I viewed the story so I only learned this from the book. Also from reading her story, I understood that she was playing a character in a time period she had once lived through. This took on new meaning for me.

Last night, I re-watched Marcello and Sophia in “A Special Day,” which was a gay film that isn’t trying to be a gay film like those we hear about in America today. Again, it is the nuance of a phone call; a slight mention that one has to pay close attention to.  His character is discreet, careful, cautious and classy. Later he has to be more obvious because Sophia’s character is too innocent and lacks street smarts. The ending is tragic in a quiet way for Marcello’s character, while Sophia’s appears to be saying silently “Well, I guess it is back to business,” in her household. Terribly emotional and hard to fight back the tears that you feel rising up from your chest. The second ending is the landlady, who has played a small yet pivotal role hoping to divide the characters. She stands in front of her building working a double entendre as she speaks to her tenants. It was perfect. I am not sure young people or new people to foreign films about World War II would quite understand the intent of this scene. Watch a few more films and then come back to it, if so.

What I loved about the writing in this book was how grateful Sophia Loren is for her life. She tells you over and over again, in so many ways, that she does not take one single thing for granted. I am not sure she realizes that she did do all the right things (not to say she was perfect), as she never lived a life where you do all the wrong things. Her gratefulness is her modesty. It is all her characters rolled up into one thanking the directors, the producers, the family, the audience for helping them to be portrayed in such an honest way. For telling the stories that wanted to be told and creating a space for the unsung heroines of Italian heritage.

What I saw is that she wanted to be a star but she didn’t sleep her way to the top. She was desperate but not stupid. As I mentioned, her mother was there. She worked very hard to understand her roles, to study acting, to listen to her directors and respect them. She wanted to be a wife and mother and patiently waited for her turn with Carlo. When she had her children, they became a priority for her. She talks of her love for the children and how they changed her life. It is quite clear that we won’t be getting a “Mommie Dearest,” book from Eduardo or Carlo Jr. She talks of how she consciously looked over her boys, and how she and Carlo Sr. recognized the talents each had to offer, early on. One son became a director and the other; an orchestral conductor. Having seen one of Eduardo’s movies “The Human Voice,” featuring his mother, this is not a famous man’s son doing his best. He is a man who stands alone. I feel there will be more great things to come.

It is so much easier to be grateful when you have done all the right things and good things happened to you as a result. I am reminded of that first line in “Anna Karenina” by Leo  Tolstoy. I continued to learn as I read her book and took it in on a philosophical level. At this stage in my life, almost 30 years behind her, I am looking back at life in a very spiritually contemplative way. It was not an accident that her book happened to be at the library one day in the “used books for sale” room. I love going through there to find stories I can keep and I had been meaning to buy Sophia’s book through Amazon for some time now (on my wish list). Like when I was a young girl and the library presented so many magical surprises, now the same occurs for me as an adult only I am helping fund the library at the same time.

As I came to the end of her book, she mentioned that her husband had been the producer of “Dr. Zhivago,” when discussing an homage that she and her sons put together in memory of him. Suddenly, he became much more than Sophia Loren’s husband and producer of many of her films. I had no idea that he was responsible for such a beloved masterpiece. This was a nice surprise. Their love story was not quite one that I came to really understand and relate to, as I have never been married for 56 years or a long time relationship period. I have never been able to understand women who are with men twenty to thirty years their senior either, as I was never quite mature enough to undertake such a flirtation. Perhaps other women, like my Hungarian friend will cling to this like an old soul.

I was able to relate to her male counterparts that came to nothing more than friendship, soul mates or a missed out on love that probably would have come to nothing anyway. Having watched a great deal of her films as I read the book and viewing photos of she and her family online, I came to respect this very professional woman whom I once saw, only, as another sexy actress. I hope you will re-visit her work as well and see how it impacts your life.

Alaine Polcz – Hungarian Writer and Psychologist

In her book, “A Wartime Memoir: Hungary 1944-1945,”Alaine tells about a life changing year that instead of being her downfall, became her life’s purpose. Sitting ducks with a changing guard, from Russian to German on an on-going, what seemed like a never ending basis, she travels from Transylvania (then hoping to remain with Hungary) to Csákvár, in Hungary and back again. In the end, you can imagine the frustration in knowing, if she had never left, her life would have remained simple an innocent.

What is beautiful about this book is that she is not talking like a psychologist but instead, goes back in her mind to re-live painfully traumatic experiences at the age of 19, as if she were that age once more. As a psychotherapist myself, I get the sense that she probably never went through her own course of treatment. This is because she continues to repeat over and over “I do not remember…” This is typical of a sexual abuse survivor or someone who was horribly traumatized at a young age and blocks the exact details of the trauma from their mind, for their own “assumed” well-being. Ironic, as she was a psychologist yet even today, people in this profession are closed off to doing their own work. It is important so that they can properly support others without transferring their own pain onto the client or confusing the client’s story with their own. I am not condemning her though because this was more typical of this time period. I grew up with Hungarians (refugees from the revolution), none of whom went into therapy and all of whom went through some of their own harrowing ordeals. Not least of which was fleeing their beloved homeland.

Alaine was born in Kolozsvár, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (at this time known as the city of Cluj-Napoca). Now it is Romania and it was in 1944-1945 as well. This was a time of unrest between the Romanians and Hungarians, power struggles on the Romanian part that included violence and discrimination against the Hungarians who lived there. Alaine’s father gave her this male name because of two reasons. One, he did not know French and so unaware that it was a man’s name but Two, his only purpose was finding a name that was not able to be translated into Romanian.

At the onset of 1944, Alaine, at 19, was married to her childhood sweetheart János. Within a few months into their honeymoon period, he gives her gonorrhea. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it is at this point when he detaches from her and begins to be an emotionally abusive husband. She has the luck of being a strong woman, though terribly naïve. His mother, Mami, happens to work for the Esterházy family, who are of noble origins. It is here that they will go to live and because of him that she follows the family as they escape into Hungary to live and work at another estate, which will be the beginning of the end of Alaine’s life as she knows it. In Csákvar, what seems to bring some peace and safety for a short time, ends up being the front lines, which means constant harassment or torture from either the Germans or the Russians. For women, as with all wars, she and other villagers will be gang raped on what appears to be a daily basis, and at this time, she is under the impression that her husband was executed. The most impressive lines that she writes of her first account of abuse goes like this:

He put the photograph [of she and her husband] on the nightstand and laid me down on the bed. I was afraid he would not give me the picture. When he was done, he took the picture into his hand and showed it to me again…

When she writes, she is not writing like a writer in this book.  She states facts, over and over. There are no pictures drawn and yet there is a story being told. Fuzzy memories are re-told and sometimes they are not even in order, so you have to re-read to catch yourself. It is as if you are sitting with her and she is telling you a story. When I got to the line “When he was done,” it came at me so quickly; I had to read it a few times to let it register. “Oh, okay,” I thought, this is how she is protecting herself and the audience. Even though she is not talking like a psychologist, she is consciously protecting throughout the book.

At some point, days, maybe a month or so later, she is escorted to a cellar, with 79 other Hungarians, who are doing their best to survive. They will go through days or months (you are never sure of the timeline but the book is only one year), of not bathing, very little food and at one point no water, ritual defecating and urinating (they can only go outside to do this during the 10 minutes of ceasefire which occurs daily at the same time), as well as lice and natural body odors. She is only with Mami and her dachshund “Filike,” who she holds at her breast, under a coat which no one notices until the end of her time there.

Alaine does spend a lot of time talking about blood and guts and waste, more than any other writer I have seen when it comes to war zones. One does wonder how people use the toilet during these times. When she mentions herself running away from a gang rape sequence, she talks about running through the snow with a slip on and blood being caked on her body and in her panties. She mentions being in the cellar when she pulls her shirt away from her body and a woman notices the skin of a sore coming with it. She is telling us about how you just keep going, no matter what, becoming oblivious to your own vanity.

The war is at the end, in 1945, when this part of her story comes to a close. She returns to Budapest, still without her husband, to be reunited with family; who will then return to Kolozsvár. She is saved from being labeled a whore, as most women will be in this time period, because her family are good people and she finally denies what happened. By this time the gonorrhea and the life conditions she has just endured have taken its toll on her body. She is hospitalized for some time before she will recover and get some of her life back. The irony is that she will never be able to bear a child and this was the fault of her own husband. The sardonic twist is the realization that all those Russian soldiers had went home to their wives passing on her venereal disease to them.

She and János will part ways and soon she will meet her second husband Miklós Mészöly, who went on to become a famous Hungarian writer. Alaine will go on to become the founder of the first children’s hospice program and win two different awards. She receives the Tibor Déry Award in 1992 (for this book, which was written in 1991) and The Middle Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2001. Alaine’s husband dies in 2001 and she will pass six years later.

Post-Script: What is horribly frustrating about the book is the writing and translation. Albert Tezla is the translator and having read a great number of translated books from several different countries, this is pathetic. You would almost think he didn’t speak English because the sentences come across as broken and unedited. I believe he is translating word for word, rather than trying to put it together in some organized fashion. It is also possible that Alaine was never edited since Albert was not either. I think this is embarrassing to both the writer and the country itself. While I am not a prolific writer myself and certainly need to be edited, I am self-published and have no professional acclaim to add to my repertoire.  I was disappointed to say the least. However, this story, edited or not, annoying with the redundancy or not, needed to be told. What I have noticed when I find anything about women in history, this is so often the case. It is sad because I can’t recall any time when I have seen the same about men.

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.

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.