December 1, 2020

Fairy Tales Are Not Just for Children

Die drei kleinen Schweinchen or Three Little Pigs

Have you ever read a fairy tale to a child? Did someone read them to you when you were young?

Cinderella or Cendrillon by Perrault

There are usually five elements to fairy tales; a moral lesson, a hero and a villain as stock characters, an element of magic, obstacles or tasks for the main character to overcome, and a happy ending. Fairy tales teach children what it is to be human and how they may fit into the world.

Let me point out two other great uses for fairy tales.

Language-learning can be greatly enhanced by reading and listening to these familiar stories. Pinterest has dozens of posts on fairy tales in French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages. Some posts take you to paid services, but many allow you to use the material for free. There are even slow audio versions so you can really train your ear to hear the new language.

The Fable Cottage allows you to read fairy tales in five different languages for free; access to video and audio material does require becoming a member, however.

YouTube is another excellent source for fairy tales in other languages, but there is another use for English speakers: sleep enhancement. There are videos using readers with soothing voices to lull both children and adults to sleep. Some of the videos bill themselves as “Truly Boring Fairy Tales,” “Bedtime Story Fairy Tales to Fall Asleep,” or “Softly Told Tales.”

Then again, perhaps we should avoid some of the more gruesome tales by the Brothers Grimm if we want sweet dreams.

Buona notte! Bonne nuit! Buenas Noches! Gute Nacht! Good night and sleep tight!

The Fable Cottage web site which has selected fairy tales in five different languages:

https://www.thefablecottage.com/

“Truly Boring Fairy Tales” on the Casper Sleep Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p0B2MD11QI

“Bedtime Stories for Adults – More Viking Myths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNUbZtbi_HY

Sophia Loren in “The Life Ahead” on Netflix

Netflix’s offering of the movie, “The Life Ahead,” is creating quite a buzz. Not only does it feature the iconic Italian actress, Sophia Loren at age 87, but the director is her son Edouardo Ponti.

Is it the greatest movie ever? No, but it has enough redeeming qualities to invest roughly 90 minutes of your time. Momo, a Senegalese-Italian orphan played by first-time film actor, Ibrahim Gueye, has a natural presence that makes up for his inexperience as a thespian. We have noble plot lines galore. Loren as Madame Rosa is a survivor of Auschwitz and a retired prostitute who has been a foster mother to the children of working girls. She provides daycare for Babu, the son of her transgender neighbor, Lola, along with a Jewish boy named Iosif who was abandoned by his mother.

The heart of the movie is the friendship that develops between Madame Rosa and Momo. The young orphan is pulled in the direction of drug-dealing for one man, and doing more honest work for a kindly Arab artisan who patiently introduces him to his birth family’s Muslim faith.

As a side note, the American film world tends to retire actors as they age, and the tendency is even more stark for actresses. Try to think of women who have had major roles in their 80s. Maggie Smith and Judy Dench (both 85) spring to mind, but the big screen tends to be geared towards more youthful appearances. Streaming productions, however, have opened up new avenues for senior actors. Witness the success of Jane Fonda (82) and Lily Tomlin (81) in “Grace and Frankie,” or Alan Arkin (86) in “The Kominsky Method” and the late Max Von Sydow who was 87 when he was in “Game of Thrones.”

TWO WOMEN, Sophia Loren, 1960

Back to a final word on “The Life Ahead.” It certainly gives you a slice of Italian culture. I would also suggest you watch Loren’s Academy Award-winning performance in Vittorio DeSica’s 1960 film, “Two Women,” not to note how she has aged in the intervening decades, but to see that she still has the vibrant screen presence that has made her an international screen treasure.

MHZ Choice TV: “Pièges,” “Capitaine Marleau” and “Grey Zone”

I have regularly mentioned MHZ Choice, a streaming service that features European television programming, but there are some new shows worth noting.

“Pièges,” a French, two-part thriller tips the hat to Alfred Hitchcock with an intricate murder plot and a dramatic music soundtrack.

On the lighter side is “Capitaine Marleau” starring Corinne Masiero as a French detective who can out-quirk Colombo and Monk combined. The clever plots, gorgeous scenery and Marleau’s oddball attire make this series the antidote for a stressful day.

A new show from Denmark, “Grey Zone,” shows great promise after having watched two episodes. Starring Birgitte Hjort Sorenson (whom you may have seen as a reporter in “Borgen,” or as a wildling leader in “Game of Thrones”) plays drone expert Victoria Rahbek who gets mixed up with kidnappers and terrorists. New episodes will be added weekly.

The MHZ service has programs in French, Italian, German, Dutch, Serbian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Flemish and Spanish. Some of my past favorite series on MHZ are “Beck” from Sweden, “Montalbano” from Italy, “Borgen” from Denmark, “Commissario Brunetti” from Germany, “Aber Bergen” from Norway and “Spiral” from France. And this is the short list!

As a side note, if you really want to support a streaming site, please try to avoid signing up for the service through Apple or Amazon. MHZ makes less money if you don’t buy it directly from them. Automatic monthly debits and easy cancellations can be instigated on the MHZ Choice web site.

Happy viewing. There is a free trial offer.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

“Money Heist” on Netflix

As a general rule, heist plots bore me to tears, but after two different friends recommended “Money Heist” on Netflix, I decided to give the Spanish tv series a look-see.

Wow! Every episode contains action and just enough complexity to make the show interesting yet not confusing. A band of miscreants dressed in red jumpsuits and Salvador Dali masks, led by a man called “The Professor,” hold hostages in the Royal Mint of Spain while they print themselves millions in paper currency. In their minds, they are not really stealing from anyone.

The plot thickens with the introduction of the female official who is investigating the incident. She meets and falls for a handsome stranger who is none other than “The Professor” who has masterminded the heist.

Originally a hit tv show in Spain, Netflix obtained global streaming rights and reconfigured the length of episodes. There are currently four seasons on Netflix with a fifth and final season planned.

The program has also warranted a documentary called “Money Heist: The Phenomenon.” It seems the series has been a hit in several countries. You may want to jump on the “Money Heist” bandwagon and work on your Spanish, too! The original Spanish title is “La Casa de Papel,” which is “The House of Paper.” Expensive paper, indeed!

The Bureau French tv series on Sundance Now

If you are up for a French tv show that has some similarity with Showtime’s Homeland, The Bureau or Le Bureau des Légendes on Sundance Now may be your cup of cafe au lait.

Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz) is an undercover agent with France’s DGSE (General Directorate of External Security), the French equivalent of our CIA. He has been posing as a French teacher in Damascus, Syria and falls in love with an Arab woman who is college professor. Their relationship and its complications is the main through line of Season 1. We are also introduced to Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau), a newbie spy who is embedded as a seismologist in Iran to shed light on that country’s nuclear program.

Ancillary characters are other French agents along with their bosses and handlers, CIA operatives, Kurds, terrorists, politicians and business people from different countries, kidnappers, imams and family members of the main players. There are brutal scenes with French captives so this is not a show for the faint of heart.

What you will get with The Bureau is whip smart plotting, memorable characters and a greater sense of the stakes in the Middle East. This is not light entertainment, but you will be immersed in a world that is, hopefully, unlike your own.

All four seasons of Le Bureau are available on Sundance Now.

Ibrahim Ferrer – Afro-Cuban singer and musician

Some may remember the marvelous 1996 recording, “Buena Vista Social Club.” Surely one of the most endearing world music Afro-Cuban singers to be highlighted was Ibrahim Ferrer who had a marvelous last chapter as an entertainer. After officially retiring from music in 1991, he was brought back to record with the Cuban All Stars in 1996, followed by performing on Ry Cooder’s Grammy-award-winning “Buena Vista Social Club.” The recordings garnered him world-wide popularity. He toured Europe with groups and as a soloist until his death in 2005 at age 78.

You don’t have to know Spanish to enjoy this Latin standard about a perfidious lover.

Perfidia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDT-xuqpH2U

Havana goes on my travel list with its vintage cars, pastel buildings, delicious food and soulful music.