Monday, November 10, 2008

FILM: The Secret Life of Words

SANDY: Most people have heard of The Secret Life of Bees. Fewer know about The Secret Life of Words, a Canadian release from December, 2006, produced by the Almodovar brothers and directed by Isabel Coixet of Spain. We chose this obscure film due to the participation of Pedro Almodovar, Tim Robbins, and co-star Sarah Polley, director of last year’s sleeper hit Away from Her. The action starts with a fire aboard an oilrig off the coast of Ireland. One man dies and another suffers severe burns. To avoid difficulties with insurance, the decision is made to care for Josef in the infirmary on board. Hanna, a partially deaf and anti-social factory worker, applies for the job as infirmary nurse to avoid compulsory vacation time. The rest of the film revolves around the affection that develops between Josef and Hanna and how their backstories affect their lives. The Secret Life of Words is unusual and compelling, with top-notch performances from all the actors involved.

SVEN: Julie Christie, as the international caseworker in Denmark, sadly tells Josef, “Who remembers the Armenians? Who will remember what happened in Yugoslavia?” In the middle of the movie, we realize the protagonist has been deeply hurt. At the end, we understand she is a survivor of the horrible war in ex-Yugoslavia, and specifically of the ethnic cleansing and mass rapes, which occurred in the early 1990s. Her comment to Josef about the disbelief of the local population gives us insight into what the victims must have endured. The film reminded me of the bewilderment of every European who watched the horrors on television but was unable to react and pressure government to intervene. It is no coincidence that Hanna’s caseworker is Danish. In today's world, the Danes and the Swedes are at the forefront of caring for civilians who have survived war trauma.

CONCLUSION: The Secret Life of Words takes viewers beyond the facts, as reported in history books and newspapers. Fortunately, most of us never have to face such evil and horror. Some people do. Although perhaps physically unharmed, their souls remain tormented by the experience forever. Once you have seen this film, you will remember what happened in Yugoslavia and be one step closer to making sure such atrocity does not reoccur.


Zuleme said...

Hi Sven,
Thanks for the movie info. We're in northern NH and anything we can get on Netflicks we will watch. Have you seen The Lives of Others? We watched it twice.
I am a Cape native and my husband is Swedish. My Swedish and Finnish in laws live with us in our video studio (they have an apartment on the first floor). I miss the Cape a lot and love to read about walking there.
I have some family history pieces and info I have stored on line. My great great great grandfather was a glass designer in Sandwich, my grandmother started the Glass Museum and my earliest Cape relative was a woman named Elizabeth Snow in Eastham. Someday I'd love to trace some of this history and learn more.
And have you seen The Chorus?
Please keep writing!

Thomas said...

Hi. It's Tom Bryant. Camille's Tom.
Sandy mentioned you were writing and the topic of the first blog which I will now have to hunt down! I like to find films I have not seen and Camille and I share this love as we do with books. Her masters degree was in film actually and she has often opened my eyes to new worlds (like the @ 2004 0r 2005 "The weeping camel.") Recently we watched the French movie "Tell no one" by a french director who's name escapes me but has been on the scene a long time. Very intriguing.
Have to run now but if you like to stay in touch reach me at Cheers Tom

Thomas said...

oops I said Must get another coffee and get back to work. I meant Great work Sven love to hear more!! Ciao Tom

Thomas said...

I found and Camille and I watched The Secret Life of Words! I found it a compelling story that I liked. Obviously the topic is a difficult one with the interweaving of two tragedies (the fire offshore and the terrible civil war that pitted Muslim and Christian against each other and against their own in Eastern Europe in the 90's) against the harsh work environs of an offshore oil rig. But in the end there was a redemption for those involved which is always a possibility with the human spirit.

I will try to outline my thoughts on "life on an oil rig offshore" as Sandy mentioned you wondered how accurate it was and so here are my observations.
The physical space of an oil rig offshore is very confining given everything that has to be at the ready and you get a sense of that as you fly on to the rig in the story. The arrival of the helicopter is a nice moment on a rig as it usually brings some mail and news from home as well as parts that are needed and fresh supplies and personnel. There is nothing more crushing than to hear the helicopter and know you are leaving and then to have it unable to land due to weather and to hear it fly off. Sometimes this extends shifts by weeks for certain crew. The range of personalities and the common thread of those who find themselves in such jobs is accurate. Many people do "l;ike to be left along" as the old toolpush says to the young "nurse" when the converse. His gentleness coming through a crusty personality was common from the old pushes for whom these rig workers represent "family" as much as any family they have whereever they come from.

Of course in fairness the movie gives us little insight into an operational rig as the fire is a blur and then the rig is on standown with only a small skeleton crew keeping an eye on things till the "company" makes a decision on what to do next. Much of the space you see (ie: where the basketball court is being used - is only temporarily open. It looked like they had removed certain things and that may well have been where the drill pipe would be racked before spudding a well or while tripping (depending on the total depth of the hole and the capacity of the derrick to carry stands of pipe upright when tripping to change tools), or after production casing was cemented in and the rig was readied for movement to another site. The narrow passageways and small spaces kept so tidy reminded me of many experiences offshore. And always the smell of diesel fuel and cleaning fluids in the work areas. At night the sound of the big motors (used for rotating the drill and manhandling 100-250 tons of steel drill pipe in and out of the hole) vibrate you to sleep but with blackout curtains on the portholes you sometimes awaken in a cabin disoriented as to what time it is. ( Some shifts vary) - I have worked 8 on 8 off and it is the most disorienting as you can lose track of where you are at in the day. Not that anyone would let you oversleep! And in some situations there are not enought bunks so many of the cabins are called "hotbunking" as you wake up and go to work and someone else uses your cabin when you are not there. Every once in awhile you have a restless shift off as well and don't sleep but usually with the bonecrushing work you sleep for awhile. (In that respect it is not unlike other maritime pursuits I have engaged in many many years ago such as salmon trolling where you fall into an exhausted sleep after 20 hours away only to be up in 2-3 hours resetting gear or working on anchor handling tugboats where we were moving rigs around and would be on deck in difficult weather sometimes for 24 hours.)

They made the comment about smoking but in the situation they were in it would likely be allowed. It can be limited sometimes depending on what stage the well is at and what type of gases may be present.
Cell phones where not an option in my days offshore ane even today in some remote locations would not work. Then a few minutes a week of mobile phone use from the bridge or radio room might be allowed for the crews to call home.

The cook is a realistic figure on board. I never had a bad experience - the food was always varied, fresh and top notch. Sundays were prime rib and steak and lobster. The cooks were nonetheless often criticized in the way that was descibed in the movie. Many of the men had very narrow palates.

Seeing the big mess empty but for a table was a great device for it gives you a sense of the rig being in limbo. It is usually a happy noisy place of shifts getting ready to go out and coming in and much banter.

In all the years I was at sea I never encountered homosexual activity. They guys were tough bastards and if they were given to that interest they did not talk about it except in the way that guys crack jokes in many work settings.

Sometimes a woman would appear briefly and I can tell you the men felt the tension and attraction but in general I found them quite well behaved around the occasional female visitor who was usually a scientist or official of some sort.

The accident that they described would likely not have led to hiding an employee on board. The death was already the worst possible outcome for the company.

Interestingly the fire would likely not have been seen as the fault of the crew given the description of the cause (downhole gases and some friction and spark at the surface) unless of course some criticism would be launched regarding their managing of the balancing of the drilling fluids which might have overcome the gas ability to blow out. But this would have led to firing a driller or more likely rebuking him and whoever was managing his mud program for him. I think the rig would have been shut down only briefly pending decisions about the viability of the well only. And perhaps then a different directional well may have been drilled or the rig would be prepared for moving to another site. These type of rigs are rented by oil companies at $200,000 + a day and they are not idle long.

One final thought, I was working offshore in the Arctic during two major offshore disasters elsewhere in the world. The sinking of the Ocean Ranger off Newfoundland with the loss of 80 odd men, and the fire and destruction of the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea which killed more than 200. And so I can tell you these are not places for the faint of heart. A thick skin and a tendency to calm and to concentration as well as some pursuit that maintain your psycholgical state is what works. I liked to read and write and learn everything I could about a seaman's skills in my years at sea. Some play musical instruments. Some quietly go mad. In my experience no alcohol was permitted and was grounds for immediate dismissal.

Hope this was illuminating. Regards TJB