Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Paterson; or, Life in the Woods; or, Bad Luck Fetty Wap!

Paterson, Jim Jarmusch's new movie after Only Lovers Left Alive, about a bus-driving poet in New Jersey, would seem to bear few similarities with its predecessor. Only Lovers Left Alive told a story of two vampires, lovers,  who are at odds with the 21st century and spend their days reliving their memories. But Paterson is in fact as much of a fantasy as Only Lovers Left Alive, rehashing that film's themes of disconnection from the modern world and fetishisation of the past, and it fails on exactly the same artistic grounds, being mannered, fusty, self-regarding in tone, hollow in its intellectual proposition, and politically vacant or regressive.

If you're paying attention you should have noticed one of the film's big themes before it's pointed out to you - but for the slower viewer, Jarmusch has it underlined in a moment of conversation at the old-timey, TV-free neighbourhood bar that Paterson (Adam Driver) frequents. Namely: Paterson is completely analogue in a digital world. He appears to wake without an alarm clock, serenely checking his wrist watch every morning as he rises on his way to work. He doesn't have a phone, or a TV. We learn that his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) has a phone and a laptop, but Paterson himself stops short of these frivolities. We're told, in the conversation that rams the point home (since Jarmusch now trades in a cinema of the obvious) that the world worked perfectly well before these things.

It's become increasingly voguish to fetishise a pre-digital world, culminating this year with the release of Stranger Things, which dwelt with relish on such deliciously quaint things as rotary phones, and photographs that you used to have to develop in a dark room. Adam Driver even appeared in a film that satirised this mode, Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, in which he played a smarmy hipster who plays board games with his friends and collects vinyl. While the film's observation of Paterson's physical world, and the pleasure it takes in objects and nature, seems sincere, there is something fraudulent about the way it posits its protagonist as somehow embodying a more authentic life by rejecting connection and technology in favour of introspection and objects. This lends the film a musty flavour, as it is set in an artificially constructed world in which nothing comes to jolt Paterson from his technological hermitage.

The film's paean to a pre-digital era is symptomatic of a generally nostalgic bent. Cleaving to his irritating name-dropping shtick from Only Lovers Left Alive (in which such figures as Marlowe and Jack White got a shout-out), Jarmusch gives it up in Paterson for William Carlos Williams, Iggy Pop, Lou Costello, Petrarch, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Dubuffet, and Wallace Stevens. In three particularly cloying scenes, moreover, he finds ways to have children talk about those burningly topical folk heroes Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, Gaetano Bresci and Emily Dickinson. Jarmusch's ploy here is that many of these figures (Williams, Costello, Bresci, Carter, Iggy Pop) are famous inhabitants of the city of Paterson, where the film is set, and the idea seems to be to exalt them as products of their environment, and to tie them into their community. Indeed, Paterson himself was born and raised in Paterson, making him emblematic of the argument that art and ideas have connections to place, to people. But in glorifying the past, Jarmusch makes his film feel socially and politically regressive. He has acknowledged in interviews that the most famous inhabitant of Paterson currently is the singer Fetty Wap, known for his all-conquering hit 'Trap Queen' - but Fetty Wap is too modern and commercial for Jarmusch. You won't see a trace of him in this film, because he represents the exact opposite of the proposition that Jarmusch is making - that the past is better for being more real, honourable, truthful, slow. I'd add furthermore that Jarmusch's fanboying of these male artists and heroes (the sole line about Emily Dickinson is given to a little girl of 10) chimes with his male-centric worldview in which men are the artists and doers.

The machismo of Paterson's outlook extends to its depiction of the couple at its centre. Merrily flunking Bechdel at every turn, the film shows a couple where the man works while the woman stays at home; he is shown to be a great artist, while she is an idiot whose role is to give him support and encouragement. And cook for him. And decorate the house. And be corrected when she gets William Carlos Williams' name wrong. Paterson's one domestic task seems to be walking the dog at night, which he does without his girlfriend, leaving her at home while he goes to a bar. Indeed, while Paterson is always travelling around town, seeing people and working on his poetry, Laura leaves the house twice throughout the film, and is never shown talking to someone who is not her boyfriend. He supports her financially, on his bus driver's salary. The film consistently demeans Laura and laughs at her, such as a scene when she mentions Petrarch in conversation to her boyfriend, and he marvels at her having found out about someone such as Petrarch on the internet; or the scene when she says she liked an old film because it was black and white; or the scene when we learn it's her dream to be a country singer. She is a figure of perfect ridicule, decorating everything she owns in black and white swirls like some sort of mentally imbalanced Tim Burton groupie. Laura's redeeming qualities are her beauty, and the sense that she inspires Paterson to write some of his poetry, and seems somehow to grasp what makes his writing tick: everything she represents is shown through him.

Paterson's regressive stance goes beyond its iffy take on domestic politics: Paterson's unmooredness, his disconnection from the modern world, betrays a retrograde take on contemporary America. It's almost astonishing that in the America we now know beyond any doubt was roiling with tension and toxic divisions, we never hear or see any turbulence, no-one discusses politics of any sort, and no disorder comes to trouble the self-imposed peace of this hermit. Paterson is folded in on himself, writing poems about matches and rain, while the country is about to be overtaken by a political maniac: you could hardly ask for a more shining example of the inward-looking solipsism and apathy of the American white man, willingly shielding himself from any difficulties in his world or his own outlook, and looking to a glorified past for solace and inspiration.

What is sad (!!) about Paterson is that it purports to provide an alternative vision for a better world, and at times it hits its mark. The movie's slowness is best felt in the way the filmmaking takes its cues from the central character, matching his gait and his little darting glances with slow camera pans and quick cut-aways: this slowness feels right, because it is anchored in physical truth, and doesn't comment on itself. This rhythm is fresh, and it is oddly soothing, leading the viewer to relax into the film and feel stimulated by its gentleness and observation: but these sweet successes of the film's first few minutes make its late failures all the more dismaying when the authorial voice takes over from the character to create such an artificial universe in support of a retrograde voice. The backward-looking politics masquerading as a Zen life manual leaves a sour taste.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Volunteering and doing

Hiya - in the days after the election of Donald Trump I heard lots of people saying that they want to do something, and I think a lot of people are confused about what, exactly, to do. I don't really have the answers, but I thought I'd just put down a few starting ideas of actions you can take. One thing I think we have seen in Brexit and then again in the election in the USA of Donald Trump, on a platform of social division targeting women and minorities, is a sense of disunity. I think people whom I've spoken to are looking to establish a feeling of connection, and I think part of the answer to the disaffection that enabled these political events to happen could be to get involved somehow. Here are some opportunities for that. This isn't intended to be preachy but helpful: I certainly need to do more myself to be involved, both politically and in my community. (I will update this post with other ideas as they're suggested to me)

Join a political party that isn't the Tories or UKIP!
I'm a member of Labour, and while I understand that there are many people who feel alienated from party politics, and think Labour has not provided sufficient leadership or opposition on topics such as welfare or Brexit, I believe you can still become part of a movement, engage with ideas, and influence party decisions by attending meetings (something I personally need to do more). You can join Labour or another party here: 
Labour: https://join.labour.org.uk/
The Green Party: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/civicrm/membership/joining
Or even the Lib Dems!: https://libdems.secure.force.com/LiberalDemocrats/NewMemberRegistration

Support or volunteer for a charity!

  • The Albert Kennedy Trust provides support for young LGBT people who are made homeless or living in a hostile environment. LGBT people are at significantly greater risk of homelessness. You could mentor a vulnerable person if you yourself are sorted and LGBT, or give money to support their work: http://www.akt.org.uk/2/spg522/albert-kennedy-trust-helping-young-lgbt-people/can-you-help/volunteers/volunteer-selection-and-training.aspx 
  • Arts Emergency helps young people get access to education and opportunities in the arts. You could make a difference by mentoring someone aged 16-19 and giving them the benefit of your experience and knowledge. Here are the deets: http://arts-emergency.org/
  • Domestic violence is a massive problem in Britain as it is everywhere. Take direct action with Sisters Uncut (http://www.sistersuncut.org/#join) and support Women's Aid (https://www.womensaid.org.uk/donate/)
  • Fawcett are a good charity campaigning for equality and women's rights. Their research is particularly good, helping to influence public conversations about female representation in the public sphere. Join here: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/become-member/
  • Friendship Works is a charity working with children who need more social support. You could help them out financially or volunteer to mentor a kid, doing stuff like going to the cinema, and providing general support: http://www.friendshipworks.org.uk/aboutus/what-we-do
  • First Story believes lives can be changed through writing. Writers work with young people to foster creativity and improve communication skills. If you're a writer you might volunteer to help out, or you could follow them on Twitter, shout about their activities, etc etc: http://www.firststory.org.uk/about-us/
  • Have a bit of a google around and see if you can use your education to help kids with homework locally. I'm coming up short but I'm told this is a thing.
  • Become a governor at a school.
Help out at a food bank
You can find your nearest foodbank here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank

Refugees
Here's a slightly rusty Guardian article with some ideas for how to help in the ongoing refugee crisis: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/03/refugee-crisis-what-can-you-do-to-help
Donate to Help Refugees: http://www.helprefugees.org.uk/how-to-help


I'd also add that, if you're on Twitter and you're white, I think a really good thing you can do to change your own opinions and environment is start following more women and people of colour. 

That's all for now, I'll update this. 



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A few things I need to do before I get round to watching 'The Crown' on Netflix


  • Watch all of Adam Sandler's films in reverse alphabetical order
  • Read Infinite Jest, twice
  • Vote Conservative in a general election, as an act of protest against UKIP
  • Change my dating profile to say I love going on long walks, but also staying in
  • Do an M.A. at Birkbeck on Drake and memes
  • While my son and I are having breakfast one day, stab myself in the elbow with my knife and look at him with tears in my eyes as blood seeps into my sleeves, while saying to him, "What is the worth of a person, in this life? In this world?"
  • Write an article for BuzzFeed ranking all the episodes of Carpool Karaoke to date
  • Get a steady girlfriend
  • Catch up on Glee
  • Post that birthday card to my grandmother
  • Hang up my Keep Calm and Carry On poster in my bedroom
  • Change my Twitter handle to something spooky in time for Easter
  • Enjoy a little getaway to Uganda with a coterie of fuckbuddies
  • Accept a knighthood, for services to finance
  • Watch a TED talk on 3D printing
  • Watch every single piece of filmed work featuring anyone who appears in The Crown except for The Crown, including all of Matt Smith's episodes of Doctor Who and whatever Claire Foy has done
  • Watch It's A Royal Knockout again
  • Write and star in a sitcom that's as good as Arrested Development
  • Become a farmer!
  • Grow a moustache for Movember
  • Give Katie Hopkins a retweet, bless her
  • Learn all the words to 'The Personal Wrapper' by Lou Reed, and perform it in New York on his birthday every year until 2042, when he would have been 100. Sample lyric: "Herpes, AIDS, the Middle East at full throttle/Better check that sausage before you put it in the waffle"
  • Check out what this autoerotic asyphyxiation business is all about
  • Read Rachel Dolezal's autobiography
  • Finally write my book, "Famous Gay Deaths"
  • Travel back in time and relive Princess Diana's greatest hits - Carling, the Taj Mahal, landmines, Bashir. You know what, she was bloody good value
  • Make a raft and sail it down the Mississippi
  • Invent the cronut
  • Pretend to die but actually still be alive, so I can attend my own funeral and scream at people for not crying enough, or failing to mention in their tributes that I was physically very attractive 
  • Go to Las Vegas on holiday
  • Go to Australia to live, for a year
  • Meditate
  • Go viral, but not online, just contract a really horrific disease, like in the film Twelve Monkeys
  • Tell a man a series of captivating stories every night for one thousand and one nights in order not to be decapitated, then become his queen
  • Get a selfie with David Dickinson that receives precisely 48 likes
  • Watch Hamilton, the famous rap musical
  • Make out with George Galloway to raise money for Children In Need
  • Plant a tree whenever someone mentions the number 13
  • Have an introvert explain introversion to me, again
  • Have a synesthete explain synesthesia to me, again
  • Teach my mum a choreography to Shake It Off, that we would perform for my father's 70th birthday
  • Read 'Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World'
  • Something with bagpipes, TBA
  • Explain feminism to some women while getting Mary Wollstonecraft's name wrong
  • Slip into a 50/50 coma 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tips For Bathing Baby

We've been receiving a lot of requests for tips as to how to bathe your baby properly, especially since one of the community members shared a comment mentioning the 'All-Over Baby Cleanse' on a post about baby health. So, without further ado, here are some guidelines for giving your child the All-Over Baby Cleanse. Please remember: these are just guidelines, but it's extremely important to follow them very closely or your parenting will suffer and your child's upbringing may be impaired.

Place baby in the bathtub. His or her dumpy little body should sit up to about 2/3 height in warm, soapy water. You can test the temperature with a bath thermometer, available in all good chemists, or by dipping your elbow in the water. But don't fret overly: if the water is too warm, you will in any case be alerted to this by your baby's helpful shrieks. Mother nature thinks of everything!

Take a minute to gaze at your baby, sitting innocently and a little stupidly in the water. Your baby's skin is so soft, upholstering uselessly pudgy limbs that soften and become adorably more impractical in the bathtub. Baby's eyes are shinier in the water, and you may want to take this opportunity to ponder that you, yes, you, may very well have created the first perfect human, whose excellence can still be preserved, you're certain of it, just as long as you don't fuck up from here on in, and protect him or her from all the world's cudgels and skewers forever. Baby gurgles happily in the water, looking back at you, and releases a gorgeous fart that fwollops up to the water's surface and commingles with the bubblebath.

Placing one hand gently but firmly on your baby's unbent and unburdened shoulders, use the other hand to sluice baby's body with warm, soapy liquid, and scrub very lightly with a sponge. Wash down the fat little legs and tickle baby's feet, and along baby's short, stumpy arms to where the only visible dirt has accumulated in baby's miniature fingernails, which are like the fingernails of a silly, silly doll sitting on a lace-lined shelf in a house belonging to your second-favourite great-aunt.

In one firm and smooth gesture, lean baby back into the water in order to slosh around with your sponge among baby's genitalia, which are so soft and useless and silly, and heartbreaking somehow too, as you dreamily muse that your baby has no shame.

Dipping your baby's outsize head softly back into the water, rinse his or her head, and give it a bit of a scrub if you feel like it. Be careful not to get any water in baby's already watery eyes. Using a bit of cotton wool, delicately rinse your baby's face with clean water, being careful to reach behind the ears for any evil pollutants.

Sit baby back up in the tub, because now comes the slightly tricky bit. Don't be scared. It can feel a little tough at first, a little daunting, but your baby's body is very new and pliable, and it's important not to skip this step. Placing both hands on the back of your baby's skull, press gently but firmly until you feel a bit of give on the outside of the cranium. At this point, push right through in one smooth motion, gently popping your baby's head inside out. Repeat this process all down your baby's spine, feeling your way very gently to pushing your baby's whole body inside out, so that the skin is on the inside of the body and flesh and organs are presented on the exterior. Legs and arms will naturally fold down into the newly out-turned body. Your baby's body should now be fully flipped, and you will observe all of the tiny, still functioning organs and inner workings of your spawn, like pert peas sitting perfectly in a pod, or the pipes on Pompidou.

At this point you have a few minutes ahead of you to wash and clean your baby's innards, since baby hasn't a great deal of breathing time available in this new configuration. Lightly slosh water around the newly flayed limbs; these don't require a great deal of cleaning, and you can be fairly brisk. Using a soft little baby toothbrush, scrub along the visible elements of your baby's vertebrae, where impurities may have accumulated, Using a cotton pad, wipe the little beating heart, pumping so charmingly in the nest of your child's perfect ribcage, making sure to get in among the little ventricles, and wipe down the tiny organs such as kidneys and liver etc etc. Baby's brain, nestled inside the soft skull, can similarly be towelled very lightly, and you can remove muck from behind the eyes with a cotton bud. The main thing is to give the organs a bit of a buff, plump them up, and remove any filth - so don't be too concerned with anything finicky. Blow gently on your baby's insides, using a warm blow - not a chilly blow - to dry out everything a little bit before you turn your baby back the right way.

Turn your baby outside-in using exactly the method you adopted before: the flesh and joints will naturally click back into position. Baby may be a little perturbed at this point, as he or she will have been gazing in at the inside of his or her head. Give baby a quick cuddle, splash with one last round of water, then remove from the bath and towel dry your baby, who will now be cooing quite happily, and will doubtless want to play a quick game of peekaboo under the towel's warm folds.

Brush baby's tooth-bones with a little brush and a pea of minty cleansing putty, making sure to reach back to your child's hilariously unfunctioning molars for any scraps of grub left over from lunch, or another meal. Dress baby in some clothing of your choice.

Voila! Your baby is clean in every way - hopeful, fresh-smelling, innocent, gleaming, creamy, true and kind. Repeat once a week until your baby is able to talk, at which point his or her cries of complaint may induce you to cease the operation altogether.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

No It Won't

Could anything be more brazen and mendacious than the Tory party, in their annual conference, parroting Sam Cooke's Civil Rights anthem 'A Change Is Gonna Come'? Theresa May employed the phrase six times in her speech today, making it more than a mere coincidence. Is a change going to come? Well, in a year that has seen political lies, manipulation and distortion reach a truly gut-quaking nadir, this has to count as one of the biggest daddies of all.

When Sam Cooke recorded 'A Change Is Gonnna Come' in 1964, it was as a direct result of personal injustices he had undergone, being turned away from a hotel with his wife because of the colour of his skin. He saw the racial injustice all around him, and was inspired by Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind to write a protest song of his own. Cooke's song is personal from the get-go: "I" is the very first word you hear. This "I" relates specific experiences: an unhallowed birth, being chased away from movies and downtown, and dealings with a "brother" (read: the man) who knocks him down to his knees over and over again. Although Cooke's song has had a sort of popular universality bestowed upon it since, its agenda is actually precise, and its voice goes against the current. Cooke makes very clear that his experience is that of a marginalised person - destitute at the beginning, then running, displaced, and brought down to the ground in the final verse. His story takes place not in parallel with a mainstream, dominant culture, but in opposition to it, in a seemingly perpetual struggle with it.

Does the Tory party speak for the rejected, the turned away, the displaced? It's not just that the Tory party doesn't do that, but the extent to which they do the exact opposite could take your breath away when juxtaposed with this song. If you listened to the lyric "just like the river, I've been running ever since" and were to seek a political parallel, I wonder if you might not alight on the refugee crisis, rather than the sort of duff meritocracy that Theresa May purports to be selling to the country? Britain's record for welcoming refugees is a disgrace, and Theresa May has even mooted deporting European nationals from Britain. When Cooke sings "Somebody keeps telling me, don't hang around", he is alluding precisely to this experience, of being impoverished, unwanted, and racially discriminated against. Britain isn't the object of the world's injustices, but a proponent of it. Theresa May's ilk aren't Sam Cooke, they're the people who move him along.

Theresa May speaks of wanting to build a meritocracy, but the grammar schools she plans are an objective example, verified by studies, of the sort of social injustice Sam Cooke was calling out, and of the racial discrimination, even, against which he railed. It isn't fucking hard to see that the 11-plus, a test which clearly favours the privileged, isn't going to be doing Britain's ethnic minorities a whopping solid. And sure enough, a study in Buckinghamshire in June of this year found that British Pakistani and Black Caribbean children were half as likely to pass the 11-plus as their white counterparts. Oh go on then Sam, let's hear it: "Then I go to my brother, and I say brother, can you help me please. And he winds up knocking me back down on my knees." Thank you Sam, I think that'll do.

How, how can this government have the gall not only to bring its needless, stupid, unproven measures in so brazenly, but to accompany it with the patronising and unearned language of struggle? How can they speak in racist terms of immigrants while cloaking themselves in the words of a black leader? The use of Cooke's words isn't just a detail, it's a measure of how confident the Tory party now is, that they could do so with such impunity. It's a flaunting of their apparently unassailable position. It's a slap in the face delivered with a smirk.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I've Suddenly Thought of a Way To Nail My Next Work Assessment

Boss: OK Caspar, so, thanks for attending this session to review your performance over the last year.
Me: You’re very welcome!
Boss: So, comparing your results against the professional goals that you set yourself last year, you stated in your objectives that…
Me: No I didn’t!
Boss: What?
Me: I don’t know who told you that, or where you got this, the, this so-called fact document or whatever!
Boss: We went over your objectives in April, it’s on the work intranet.
Me: Ask anyone, ask my mum or the guy who works on reception, great guy, phenomenal guy, his name’s Ignacio, or Chavez, I never said that I would or wouldn’t do something, and I’m a man of my word, ask anyone who’s worked with me, bet you haven’t.
Boss: Caspar. Please let’s look at the document. You stated that you would implement a new system for the whole team at work to share documents and files more easily. Now, in October you just sent an email round to everyone…
Me: Oh OK, here we go, can’t wait to hear how this story ends!
Boss: …saying you couldn’t be bothered, and you wanted to go for a walk.
Me: OK for starters, are you real? I did not do that, in fact quite to the contrariness I did set up the new system, matter of fact I even did it twice, and this was against the better advice of all my friends all telling me not to work, because it would have been better for me not to work, because I’d still get the same salary, but I still did do it and I even did it twice, just ask anyone on the street, seriously, let’s get serious here, you keep saying I’m not serious, let’s be serious.
Boss: Why would you do the same thing twice? You only needed to do it once.
Me: Well this is just everything that’s wrong with this company, I've got to tell you! [I pause to high-five myself]
Boss: Moving on…
Me: Thank you, at last!
Boss: A new objective for you…
Me: Again I don’t recognise the so-called veracity of this but continue, please, be my guest.
Boss: A new objective for you was to answer all your emails.
Me: Nope! Wrong.
Boss: It says here that…
Me: I’ll tell you what I do, and I got told I did amazing at this, best ever, is I sometimes phone someone, or maybe I’ll shout across the office, you’ve heard me do that, I do what I say I say I do, it’s just as good as emails, even it’s better because…
Boss: Our international colleagues can’t hear you shouting across the office, Caspar.
Me: Let me finish, you keep saying I have an attitude problem, I’m sorry Missy, Miss boss, or should I probably say Ms, I don’t know, but only one person has an attitude here and it’s not Caspar Salmon. I don’t email, fine, I’ve said that, I’m on the record as saying that to the bus driver in the morning when I do my commute, and to Natalie in accounts, and many, many other people, people I could name all day. But they all say I did excellent, and the reason is I did a great job.
Boss: But you’ve seriously underperformed over the last year, Caspar. The figures don’t lie, you haven’t brought in as much revenue from the…
Me: I’ll tell you revenue! Another word for revenue, which is just a fancy wording for a word I call money, is I’ve excelled at that from start to finish, beginning to end, 100 percent, constantly. Money up, figures up, less negatives and so on. Compared to the previous guy in the job, who probably got fired, I don’t know…
Boss: James. He died.
Me: Compared to James who died, then, I’ve done incredible.
Boss: This brings me to something that’s quite difficult to bring up, Caspar, and that’s an attitude problem that…
Me: I’m glad you brought up your attitude problem, I didn’t want to be the one to do it, but it’s a fact and I’m glad we can talk about this to be quite frank with you, very glad, because I and many other people, lots of them, several, believe me it’s dozens, are noticing this attitude from you and it’s a real big problem.
Boss: No, you’re the person who…
Me: …who has the guts to come on out and say it, and I’m glad I did, because now who’s the one who’s saying names, calling this and that to others, about results and emails and attitude, it’s not me, but it’s me that says things out in the open, and I think this is bad.
Boss: You’re not listening.
Me [almost at the same time]: YOU’RE NOT LISTENING, I’m an expert OK, I know this stuff, and this is bigger than just did I do what you said I didn’t do, or not, as the case may be, it’s about whether I was the best, and I am, and that’s just a fact.
Boss: I’m now warning you that I will have to notify management of this meeting and conduct a full review of this. It’s just not acceptable, Caspar.
Me: I’m more than happy to do that, in fact I’ll conduct the review myself, that way I’ll know they did a good job of it, being as I’m the only one who does any work around here. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On Almodovar and Munro

Alice Munro would not seem to be a perfect fit for Pedro Almodovar, whose new film Julieta is an adaptation of three short stories by Munro. Unlike the work of Sarah Polley, who adapted Munro’s story ‘The Bear Came Over The Mountain’ for her film Away From Her, Almodovar’s oeuvre shares few thematic or stylistic concerns with Munro’s. But Julieta feels in many ways faithful to the source material while staying true to Almodovar himself, and the key differences that exist between the two artists’ versions are revelatory about their approaches.

An early scene in Julieta, and in ‘Chance’, the first of the Alice Munro short stories from which it is drawn, sees the young protagonist taking a night train, which is forced to come to a halt after a man throws himself in front of it. The young woman, in the following minutes and hours, recovering from the shock of this death, meets the man who will become her partner and the father to her daughter. Thus far the two accounts of the event are broadly similar in film and book, but Almodovar makes key changes to this significant early moment.

Almodovar’s version is more overtly sexual: when Julieta meets Xoan, the attraction between them is instantaneous, and, in a superbly shot scene where the lovers are shown mirrored in a darkened window of the train, they make love in her carriage after he has escorted her back from the restaurant car. Munro’s version is both bolder and more low-key: her Juliet has to excuse herself after meeting Eric because she is on her period, and she rushes to the lavatory to take care of the emergency. But she is unable to flush her menstrual blood away, since the train is stationary while the suicide’s body is being cleared away outside the train, and she fears attracting attention. Munro juxtaposes death, fertility and social angst in one extraordinarily vivid image which is anchored in a socially conscious representation of 1960s Canada. Almodovar excises this altogether, to focus on the sexual rapport between his characters. For him, the scene is about sexual connection, and about the solace and liberation to be found in sex. The scene tells us, also, that Almodovar’s interest is in the plasticity of bodies, and in creating beauty from a moment of ugliness. Finally, his tone is in many ways gentler than that of Munro, whose even, measured prose can disguise a singular brutality.

Almodovar’s shrewdest touch in adapting Munro—and his most elegant act of fidelity—is to transpose her action from 1960s Canada to 1980s Spain, at the height of Movida when he first came to the fore as a director. Munro’s trilogy of interlinked stories (‘Chance’, ‘Soon’, ‘Silence’) stretches from 1965 to the early 2000s, and functions, in one possible reading of it, as an examination of the compromises and betrayals of baby boomer liberalism. Juliet, a young woman in 1965, meets Eric on a train, moves in with him in his house in remote Whale Bay just after his wife dies, and they have a daughter together, Penelope, who will later sever all links with her mother after discovering a new age type of spirituality.

Julieta meets Xoan in 1985 – a time when Spain opened up in the years following Franco’s deposition and a new liberal politics was possible, including for women. Adriana Ugarte, playing Julieta with short dyed hair, resembles nothing so much as Victoria Abril in Almodovar’s early films. This aligns the film’s events with Almodovar’s creative life, in the same way Munro’s trilogy centres on her years of creativity. As Julieta progresses through to the present day, the film works in a similar way to the short stories as an account of liberal Spain, and its difficulties in adapting to modernity. Where Munro delights in savaging Juliet’s narcissism and the idiotic spirituality her daughter seeks refuge in, Almodovar’s perspective appears more bittersweet, concentrating more on Julieta’s sadness and depression. In ‘Silence’, after Penelope has abandoned her mother, she sends her birthday cards on her own (Penelope's) birthday for several years, as a kind of odd, unspoken rebuke; in Julieta, the mother makes a birthday cake every year for her daughter who never comes home to share it with her. Again Munro’s imagery is more vivid, again more cruel; Almodovar looks for the heart in his characters, where she allows them to hurt each other.

Almodovar sadly discards almost all of Munro’s bite: where his film is relatively restrained, her short stories feature some laugh-out-loud jokes, which all feed in to the bitterness of her worldview. The first gag comes on the very first page of ‘Chance’: “Juanita said that she wished her lover’s wife was brain-dead”. In ‘Silence’, Juliet’s anger with the spiritual leader she sees as having taken her daughter away from her prompts her to nickname one guidance counsellor ‘Mother Shipton’: “That was what she had finally decided to call her, having toyed with and become dissatisfied with Pope Joan”. Munro’s most delicious joke is that Eric, who lives and works in Whale Bay, is a prawn fisher; she slips it in very gently, but in the drag world you would call that a read. Almodovar’s film is very beautiful, replacing Munro’s tartness with a kind of melancholy languor, but it loses out to Munro’s work on punchiness. Julieta, after his comedy I’m So Excited, is his second-least funny film.

Almodovar’s tools, his cinematic language, operate on a different level to Munro. Her composure as a narrator is total, presenting her characters and situations with deft, even-handed coolness over several pages, all the better to clobber you with a two-sentence narrative jolt or brutal observation. Almodovar’s natural register is melodrama, and although Julieta sees him dial down many of his tendencies towards those heightened emotions, his style is unmistakeable. Beautiful backwards tracking shots, mesmerising close-ups, a lush and insistent string score that ramps up the tension, and a colour palette of startling reds, puts Julieta in the lineage of other Almodovar films like Talk To Her. This is also what lends Julieta its warmth, its aesthetic generosity, and helps to temper the crushing sadness of its subject matter.

Almodovar’s fascination with beauty is what leads him to diverge from Munro’s stories in another crucial regard, namely their work on bodies. As shown in the menstruation scene, Munro’s emphasis is on the earthiness and almost grotesque quality of bodies. She contrasts the coarse physicality of human bodies with what she sees as the sophistry of faith. In ‘Soon’, Juliet can’t bring herself to tell her dying mother that she will see her in heaven, and there is a sensational moment when a diabetic priest has a panic attack during a sugar-low.  In ‘Chance’, Munro delights in a gruesome account of Eric’s overtly non-religious funeral pyre on a beach. “One of the men cried, ‘Get the children out of here.” This was when the flames had reached the body, bringing the realization, coming rather late, that consumption of fat, of heart and kidneys and liver, might produce explosive or sizzling noises disconcerting to hear.”

If Julieta discards this theme, it’s because Almodovar is obsessed with the sensuality of bodies, with their cosmetic gorgeousness. Munro tells us, rather wearily, that Juliet is beautiful, but Almodovar goes to town on the idea. Julieta is gorgeous, and framed exquisitely in the film as played by Ugarte in later scenes and Emma Suarez as an older woman. Xoan, her mismatched partner, is also shot in all his gentle-yet-macho splendour, a little like Almodovar used to film Antonio Banderas, minus the outright horniness of his early work. Almodovar can’t bring himself to show the failure of bodies: for him, redemption for life’s miseries and deceptions is to be found precisely in physical attraction and connection, in the marvel of human beauty. What his film loses in psychological and social precision compared to Munro’s work (we know next to nothing about the fishing village Julieta and Xoan live in; we find out very little about Julieta’s parents) it gains in the wide-eyed wonder he has for the loveliness of youth and the power of sexuality. Munro’s stories show how Juliet’s intellectual life sustains her, to a point, through her ordeal; Almodovar gives us a brief but salutary glimpse of Julieta’s fulfilling sexual life as an older woman. Julieta gives us an idea of disconnection, but sex and beauty still seem to invigorate Almodovar’s work, leavening its sorrow and loneliness.

Julieta’s feat, ultimately, is that Almodovar himself is so present and alive in this story, which in so many ways is lightyears away from his perspective and experiences. In Julieta, the character, we see a reflection of the hopes, dreams, desires and sorrows of a man who is not afraid to bare his soul. His moulding of these stories into this highly personal film shows that, as in the work of Munro herself, surprises may lie ahead in his later work.