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Michael Haneke’s film won the best director prize at Cannes in 2005. The plot is simple. Georges, a successful public intellectual with his own television program, and his wife Anne receive an hours-long video tape which shows only the front of their home from across the street. The sole purpose of the tape seems to be to make them aware that they are being watched. Disturbing drawings follow. There then follows a video shot from a car. A visible street name allows them to trace the location as a run-down apartment block.

This leads Georges to the flat of Majid, an Algerian man who turns out to be someone from his past. That this visit is also being secretly recorded becomes apparent when it becomes the content of a later tape. In what appear to be flashbacks, we learn that when he was six years old, Georges’ parents were on the point of adopting Majid, the same age as Georges and the son of their Algerian farmhands. Majid’s parents had disappeared after what was called the Seine river massacre. This was an incident in 1961 during the Algerian War for Independence when demonstrators in favour of independence were shot or drowned in the Seine by the French police. The Seine river massacre was not officially acknowledged until 1998.

Georges’ parents prepare to adopt him, but disturbed by the six year old’s story that Majid killed a cockerel in order to scare him, the boy is sent to an orphanage. The disturbing drawings are connected to this incident.

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Palermo airport is on the headland at Punta Raisi west of the city. The city itself is around the headland and out of sight as our flight makes the approach but there is a fine view of the hills on the promontory across the bay. After collecting the hire car we took the autostrada west towards Alcamo and then south to Castelvetrano. The road doesn’t follow the contours of the land but floats over the valleys on viaducts and tunnels through the hills. The central reservation is a drift of pink and white Oleanders.

At Castelvetrano we picked up the SS115. We made good time to Agrigento but then missed the turning to Palma di Montechiaro which delayed our arrival at the hotel. We were staying at the Azienda Agricola Mandranova (*) . The hotel is at kilometre 217 on the SS115 but the entrance was not on the main road and it took us a few passes to locate the turn, which is at kilometre 215 and signposted to Campobello di Licata.

Mandranova is an olive farm now also diversifying into almonds. Our room was in the old railway station. Supper is a four course meal which was served communally at 8:30pm on the terrace, except for on the last night of our stay when the wind, the Scirocco, blew in from Africa and we had to move indoors. To go with the food there was an excellent selection of Sicilian wines. We tried three of the whites, a rose and a red on subsequent evenings, all from vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna.

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La Bataille d’Algers was released in 1966, four years after Algerian independence from France. It was an Italian Algerian co-production, directed by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, and won the Lion d’Or at the Venice Film Festival. It was initially banned in France and wasn’t shown generally until 1971 and not until 2004 uncensored.

Algeria had been invaded in 1830 and had become a part of France in 1848. The war for independence was started by the FLN in November 1954. By late 1957 the army had succeeded in dismantling the FLN organisation in Algiers but demonstrations broke out again in 1960. Tanks were deployed and civilians were shot in the street but, dismayed by the brutality of the methods used and the breadth of support, France conceded independence in 1962.

The film covers events in the city of Algiers between late 1954 and late 1957. It is shot in black and white and some of the scenes might easily be newsreel or documentary. It was filmed mostly on location in the Casbah. Ali la Pointe is shown grafting on the street and then in prison watches the execution of an FLN fighter. Radicalised by the experience he is recruited to the FLN by El-hadi Jaffar and rises in the organisation. After a sequence of bombings and shootings and reprisals, French paratroopers under the command of Colonel Phillipe Mathieu are deployed to restore order. Mathieu’s strategy succeeds. Jaffar is captured. Ali la Pointe’s hiding place is betrayed and, refusing to surrender, he is blown up. But at the end of the film this is shown to be only a temporary victory.

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Winter Sleep is called Kiş Uykusu in Turkish which means something like hibernation. It is set in Kappadokya in the winter time. The landscape looked very familiar. We were there last year in the summer and stayed at a hotel built into the hillside with a similar feel to the one in the film (*). It is based on a couple of stories by Anton Chekov.

The protagonist is a former actor who has now retired to live in the centre of Anatolia. He has inherited the hotel from his father along with several properties in the village. He writes columns for the local paper which it is likely few read and plans to write a book about the history of theatre in Turkey. His name is Aydın, which means intellectual or enlightened person. He lives with his sister Necla, who has recently parted from her husband, and his much younger wife Nihal.

There are only a few guests remaining at the hotel this late in the season. When one guest notes that there are no horses at the hotel, although horses are featured on the website, Aydın is prompted to go to the horse catcher. A wild horse is lassoed by a stream, subdued and pulled from the water exhausted. Soon afterward the guest, who is travelling without a fixed itinerary by cross-country motorbike, departs unexpectedly and Aydın, perhaps in a moment of clarity, sets the horse free. It gallops away through the valley in the moonlight.

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I have been reading Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist who won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2002 for his work on judgements and decision-making. With Amos Tevsky, to whom the book is dedicated, he developed prospect theory as an improvement on expected utility theory as an explanation of decision-making in economics. They had earlier proposed the heuristics and biases model of intuitive judgements. In his later work Kahneman has developed the idea that measuring well-being is problematic because there are two selves in play, an experiencing self and a remembering self, and they don’t agree, raising some interesting questions about the pursuit of happiness.

Two academic papers are included as appendices, but the book itself is written for non-specialists. The target is water cooler conversation and gossip. We are mostly good intuitive grammarians, but we are not good intuitive statisticians or logicians. In order to recognise our mistakes we need, Kahneman suggests, on the analogy with medicine, a set of precise diagnostic labels where the labels bind illness and symptoms, possible antecedents and causes, possible developments and consequences, possible interventions and cures. With these to hand, we can improve our recognition of errors and possible create counter-measures.

Kahneman proposes a two systems model of the mind. System 1, or fast thinking, is the intuitive mind. It operates quickly and automatically and without effort, generating impressions, feelings and intentions. However, it is also impulsive and impatient. System 2, or slow thinking, is who we think we are. System 2, is the introspective mind, the mind which consciously reasons. Introspection requires attention and effort but system 2 is lazy, possesses limited knowledge and makes mistakes. Most of the time it is content to endorse the impressions, feelings and intentions generated by system 1.

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We only caught up with the films of Béla Tarr a short while ago, when we saw A torinói ló, The Turin Horse, his latest and last film. Tarr has been making films for 30 years. The Turin Horse starts with the captioned story of an incident in 1889, when Nietzsche saw a horse being whipped by a cab man in a street in Turin. He intervened, falling weeping on the animal’s neck. It was the start of his disintegration into madness and death. The story ends “We do not know what happened to the horse”.

This story may have no direct relevance to the film. The film opens with a long take of a horse driven along a road. But there is nothing to indicate that this is the same horse and we seem to be somewhere on a nameless central European plain rather than in Italy. The remainder of the film is set in the farmhouse where the cabman lives with his daughter. Each day is a repetition of the last. The daughter fetches water from the well, cooks a meal, which is always baked potato, helps her father, whose arm is injured, dress and undress. When the tasks are done, she stares out of the window at the wind battered plain. There are only two interruptions. A neighbour calls by and harangues the cabman about the influence of a mysterious they and a party of gypsies draw up noisily to drink from the well. They leave behind a book which the women read’s haltingly.

But this world is disintegrating. This is maybe the connection with the story about Nietzsche. Each morning the cabman tries to hitch the horse to the wagon but the horse refuses to move. It refuses to eat. The well dries up. They decide to leave, load everything into the cart, and the woman pushes because the horse won’t pull. They disappear over the horizon and then, with no explanation, return and unload. There is no escape. Finally the lamps will no longer light and even the sound of the wind drops away.

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During our recent trip to Ankara we visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (*). The museum houses artefacts from the Palaeolithic through to the modern period, including the finds at Çatalhöyük, the most important Neolithic site, and Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite state.

Çatalhöyük is south of present day Konya in southern Turkey and at the northern edge of the Levant where agriculture in Europe originated. The site at  Çatalhöyük was occupied between 9,500 and 7,700 years ago. Unlike modern villages, the public space was the rooftop, from which the building was accessed by ladder or steps. There is evidence of the domestication of sheep and cattle as well as hunting. There is also evidence of the use of woven cloth to wrap the dead. The artworks produced include murals and figurines, such as the massive women giving birth. There is little sign of social stratification. The dwellings are of similar size and there is no obvious ceremonial centre.

Something I hadn’t appreciated before visiting the museum is that the sedentary lifestyle preceded farming rather than being a consequence of it. The sedentary lifestyle is thought to have originated in the Levant in what is called the Natufian period between 15,000 and 11,800 years ago. Although still a hunter gatherer economy, the sedentary lifestyle was made possible here by very favourable conditions. The hypothesis is that farming first developed in the Near East as a response to a period of colder weather between 12,200 and 10,800 years ago and then later spread across Europe, westwards and northwards, between 8,500 and 6,500 years ago.

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Cappadocia, Kappadokya as it is pronounced, was not as difficult to reach as I expected (Turkish).

We had arrived in Turkey through Istanbul’s second airport Sabiha Gökçen (*). The airport hotel  is only a couple of minutes walk from the terminal and is surprisingly good for overnight stopovers. We flew to Ankara the next morning and then hired a car for the remainder of the journey. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to drive from Istanbul. It’s about 600 km, 300 km to Ankara and another 300 km to Cappadocia and on good roads I estimate around 6 hours travelling time.

We arrived in Uçhisar towards 4pm and checked into our hotel, argos in Cappadocia (*). The hotel is essentially the old village rebuilt. Some years ago Uçhisar was moved from the east to the west side of the hill and the old village fell into disrepair, a ruin rather than a ghost town. Since 1997 the houses and courtyards have been gradually renovated and in 2010 the hotel was opened. There are now 53 rooms. The concept “a village with a reception desk” is perhaps overstated, but the labyrinth of narrow streets, stairways, passages and courtyards does give the sense of a hill-top village. From the terrace outside our room we had a panoramic view of the whole region.

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The film we saw at last week’s film club is called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is a documentary made in 2010 by Werner Herzog about the pre-historic cave paintings in the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of southern France. In order to preserve the paintings access is strictly limited to small scientific teams and it is not possible for the public to visit the cave. Herzog was allowed to take portable cameras, cold led lighting and a small crew into the cave.  A narrow metal walkway runs through the caves which the team had to keep to. This is to protect the cave floor which is covered in cave bear skulls and other objects. The film was made in 3D. Herzog doesn’t see the value of 3D for film-making but was persuaded it would work for this project because the cave painters took advantage of the natural contours and bulges in the rock walls. Our copy was in 2D so it is impossible to tell how much was lost of the effect of depth.

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Der Himmel über Berlin is called Wings of Desire in English, and on the commentary track included with the DVD, the director Wim Wenders says that the English title is the one he prefers.

At the start we observe many Berliners and overhear their thoughts. We share the perspective of the angels, particularly Damiel and Cassiel, as they watch over the city and its inhabitants. Why are they there: to witness, to gather evidence, to testify to the inhabitant’s spiritual existence.

Peter Falk is in Berlin to make a film about the Second World War. Very little happens. Damiel thinks about becoming human, to feel the weight of things, to experience rather than to observe.

It is wonderful to exist as pure spirit and day after day and for eternity, to bear witness to what is solely spiritual in people – but sometimes my eternal spiritual existence becomes too much for me. I then want no longer to hover above, I want to feel a weight within me, abolishing limitlessness and binding me to the earth…

But sometimes I get fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel there’s some weight to me. To end my eternity, and bind me to earth. At each step, at each gust of wind, I’d like to be able to say: ‘Now! Now! and Now!’ And no longer say: ‘Since always’ and ‘Forever’…

Finally to “suspect”, instead of forever knowing all.

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