Reviews

'Falling Out of Time' Is a Profound Dissection of Grief

Woven like a colorful tapestry of many characters, all of whom share the misfortune of having lost a child, this is structured like an epic poem which, despite its short length, feels fully realized.


Falling Out of Time

Publisher: Knopf
Length: 208 pages
Author: David Grossman
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-03
Amazon
“In August he died, and when that month was over, I wondered

How can I move

to September

While he remains

in August?”

-- Falling Out of Time

David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time is a work of heartbreaking genius. Initially it’s affecting on an artistic level, because his talent and way with words are rather remarkable and secondly, after you’ve done some research on him, it’s heartbreaking because you realize that the book was written as an elegy to his son Uri, who was killed by a missile in Lebanon in 2006. The last words in the book make mention of the years it took him to write it, as if suggesting that there is some hope at the end of the road, or perhaps making an empty promise to parents who might one day find themselves in his painful situation.

An exercise in trying to understand and dissect grief, Falling Out of Time is a unique work of fiction in myriad ways. Woven like a colorful tapestry of many characters, all of whom share the misfortune of having lost a child, the book is structured like an epic poem which, despite its short length, feels fully realized. The characters that appear in the book range from a woman who “stays at home” while her husband leaves to try and find their deceased son, to a strange writer who calls himself a centaur (“half desk, half man”), a Duke who serves as the Scheherazade in the tale and most peculiar of all is a Town Chronicler, who is both narrator and participant in the story being told.

More than a “story”, Falling Out of Time feels like a stream of consciousness account, that doesn’t follow conventions about narrative or character interaction. The Town Chronicler, for example, goes from being a narrator, to revealing his own problems without any warning, it’s as if the pain of the characters is so impossible to control and keep at bay that the writer lost authority over who he’d give a voice to next, all of them wanting nothing but to express their own suffering. Grossman’s words at times seem to be indulging in the pain they carry (“What could be more titillating that someone else’s hell?”), and it’s quite hard not to think he’s always talking about himself, especially when one of the characters explains, “that’s how it is with me, that’s how I’m built. I can’t understand anything until I write it”.

Sometimes, Grossman seems to try to be in denial about his own doubts. As he leads his characters to a place referred to as “there” (is it Heaven? Hell?), he wonders “but what is ‘there’? There’s no such place. ‘There’ doesn’t exist”. Writers rarely let their confusion be expressed with as much clarity, one would think, until a couple of paragraphs later, someone else adds “maybe ‘there’ has always been here all this time?” Grossman’s lack of background about these characters’ beliefs makes for a fascinating exercise in discovering that non-denominational empathy can exist, a key aspect when one thinks that the book about the death of an Israeli soldier can help his enemies learn how to deal with their own pain.

While not necessarily a political book (although how could it not be, given that it was a war victim that inspired it?) Grossman points out how death is democratic by reminding us that everyone, regardless of their social status, political beliefs or sexual orientation, shares the pain of death “the duke, for example -- who would have believed it -- walking shoulder to shoulder with the net-mender” says the Chronicler at one point.

But beyond the socio-political connotations, Falling Out of Time is revelatory because of how Grossman’s words hit us when we least expect them to (also revealing a great translation work by Jessica Cohen)...

Damn it, I realize now:

that pronoun is also

lost, it died

with you, leaving me

with only he and you

and us, and no one

will ever again

say I

in your voice.

It’s passages like these in which you feel as if you had been punched right in the gut, whether you are grieving or not. Falling Out of Time isn’t necessarily a tough read, it’s a rather short book in fact, but what’s true is that it’s almost impossible not to read key lines and sentences again and again, wondering first how Grossman was able to express so much with such few elements, and also wondering how you didn’t see what was coming, how his moments of perfect prose catch us off guard. Perhaps, Grossman’s word experiments were meant to represent the suddenness of death, and also in a way, the hope that we’ll encounter similar moments in the future.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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