BEN TIBBER

BEN TIBBER

We watched the 2003 movie “I Am David,” which is based on “North to Freedom,” a novel for children written by Ann Holm in 1965. The book was first published in Denmark, where it was a best seller.

The story concerns a 12-year-old boy who has spent his life in a Soviet labor camp in Bulgaria. The boy — the David of the title — is played by Ben Tibber. Although it isn’t overly graphic, the film makes the point that these camps were similar in their brutality to the Nazi concentration camps that the public is more familiar with. David, whose parents are inexplicably absent, is heavily influenced in the camp by an adult inmate, Johannes, played by James Caviezel.

JAMES CAVIEZEL

JAMES CAVIEZEL

From the beginning of the movie, a disembodied voice urges David to escape from the camp, tells him how to accomplish it, directs him to travel to Denmark, and advises him to blend in as well as possible with the people he meets and to trust no one. David’s understanding and application of this last instruction is the battery that drives the story.

The unseen voice tells the boy to pick up a bundle that has been left for him outside the prison fence. This contains a bar of soap – heavily symbolic, as it turns out – a piece of bread, a folding knife, a compass, and a sealed envelope he is to deliver unopened to “the authorities” in Denmark.

The bulk of the movie follows David as he makes his way through Italy and Switzerland, a process that is made easier for him because life in the polygot culture of the labor camp has made him multilingual.

joan_plowright

JOAN PLOWRIGHT

A pivotal figure in David’s journey is an artist, Sophie, whom he stumbles on while wandering northward in Italy. This character is played by the redoubtable Joan Plowright.

This film, directed by Paul Feig and shot in Bulgaria, is visually appealing. A contrast is repeatedly and effectively drawn between the harsh conditions in the labor camp and the bright and colorful outside world that David experiences for the first time but is hesitant to adopt as his own.

The actors are all exemplary, particularly Ben Tibber, who seems to have understood well how a child of that age would be affected by the inhuman treatment he received from his jailers and by the lack of a normal education in social life.

Perhaps because its source was designed for children, this film’s principal weakness is that it repeatedly strains credulity. Happenstance plays too frequent a part in David’s journey for this story to be taken seriously – or, rather, for it to be taken literally. It can be taken seriously as a kind of fable about fear and trust – including the tendency of the state, at times, to fear the people in whom its trust would be well invested.

BEN TIBBER and JOAN PLOWRIGHT

BEN TIBBER and JOAN PLOWRIGHT

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Hillary’s folly?

June 24, 2009

INUIT WOMAN sciencepoles.org

INUIT WOMAN sciencepoles.org

It was always the subject of some mirth, in the heyday of the Soviet Union, that the name of the most prominent newspaper there – Pravda – meant “truth.” The paper was shut down in 1991, but the name lives on in several forms, including another daily paper and an independent web site — pravda.ru.

I have never seen the newspaper, but the web site, if anything, is worth even more laughs than the old Soviet sheet. While it carries a lot of breaking news stories, much of the content would fit in well at the supermarket checkout line. Among the headlines on the site today, for example, are “Atlantis Found Under Antarctica,” “Russian Scientists Contact Nether World,” and “U.S. Scientists Unveil Secrets About Cities on the Moon.”

GREENLAND ICE MELTING

GREENLAND ICE MELTING

There was also a headline that I found especially compelling: “Greenland to Become 51st State of the United States.” The bulk of the story was about a law passed by the Danish parliament that expands Greenland’s autonomy in a couple of ways related to management of natural resources and foreign policy. The writer was tentative about some of the facts, remarking, for example, that Greenland is “presumably populated by the Eskimos” and that “the majority of Greenlanders are presumably employed in the fish-processing industry.”

One doesn’t have to read between the lines to get the impression that the writer has a low opinion of the native people in Greenland — who prefer to be called Inuit, not Eskimos. The story reported, for example, that “Many in Denmark believe that the Greenlanders are not ready for their independence. It’s not for the high level of social problems, alcoholism and suicide rate. The majority of Greenland’s qualified specialists come from Denmark. The gap between them and the culture of hunters and fishers is too large.” Well, excuse me for living!

The only thing in the story that supports the headline is the last paragraph:

“There is another relevant reason which puts Greenland’s independence into question. The island may quickly become the 51st state of the United States if it acquires sovereignty. The White House has been showing interest in the island since the 20s of the 19th century.”

Where is William Seward when you need him?

 

SANDRA DENNIS

SANDRA DENNIS

Sandra Dennis, the actress, once told me about an embarrassing moment she had when she stopped in to see how Valdimir Lenin was making out in his tomb in Red Square. Well, it would have been embarrassing if it had happened to anyone else. I’m not sure – considering the glee with which she described it – that Sandra didn’t enjoy it. She was with another actress, touring what was then the Soviet Union, when they made the obligatory stop at Lenin’s place of repose. As they descended to the crypt, Sandra said, the temperature got colder and colder, giving them a sense of formality and sobriety. That feeling ended abruptly, she said, when they first caught sight of Lenin’s body in its crystal coffin. “All I could think of was Snow White,” she told me, “and I burst out laughing. It was bad enough, but the sound was echoing all through the tomb.” Somehow, I would have expected nothing else from Sandra, who was a lot like many of the quirky characters she played on the screen.
Well, Sandra might have appreciated the following story that appeared in Pravda this week, pointing out just how tough times are:
.
THE BODY OF VLADIMIR LENIN, the leader of the Great October Revolution, will be left without a new suit this year due to the economic problems in Russia . Lenin’s clothes have not been changed after two months of prophylactic measures, although there is a strong need to have the mummy displayed in new clothes, The Trud newspaper wrote.  

LENIN IN REPOSE

LENIN IN REPOSE

Lenin has been wearing the army type jacket for 17 years as his mummified body was resting in the Mausoleum on Red Square . His clothes need to be changed once in three years. Most recent change of Lenin’s suit took place in 2003.

The funding is hardly enough for embalming activities, specialists of Lenin’s Tomb complain. “The state has not been assigning anything since 1992. We live at the expense of the Lenin’s Tomb Fund. Then there is this crisis going on,” an embalmer said.

 

Lenin’s body is dressed in expensive custom-made suits made of Swiss lustrine – the fabric, which Vladimir Lenin preferred when he was alive. The suit has a modern cut, which is still popular nowadays in men’s fashion. If specialists do not change the suit during the prophylactic works, they steam-clean and press it thoroughly: a slight speck of dirt can ruin the embalming effect.

 

Lenin’s mummy has been exposed to biochemical treatment this year. It was placed in the bathtub filled with the solution of herbs that produce the embalming effect. “This is a unique technology. It will help the body keep up its shape for some 100 years,” an embalmer said.

 

Lenin’s Tomb opened its doors for the general public again on April 18. Russia will mark the 139th anniversary of Lenin’s birthday on April 22. A visitor is first shown to the check point in the Tomb, where they will have to leave photo and video cameras, cell phones, large metal items and any types of drinks. Visitors are not allowed to either eat or drink during the viewing. Men are supposed to remove hats. It is not allowed to keep one’s hands in their pockets during the viewing either.