Recommendations from The Xeno File
This week, Dominique binge-watched a Brazilian TV Show available on Netflix called 3%. 3% is mildly like The Hunger Games, in that the show’s conceit consists of a test that allows citizens to become part of the 3% (or the elites). But what makes this show so fascinating is that it is much more complex than “good” and “bad” or “elites” and “the 97%.” The budding resistance movement fighting for more equality is not clearly all good, and the founding principles of the 3% are not all evil. It’s a deeply intriguing show.
Dominique is on a mission to read more contemporary writers in Spanish, and she couldn’t have started in a better place than Guadalupe Nettel. Born in Mexico and living between her native country and France, Guadalupe Nettel has written three award-winning novels and three short story collections. Despues del invierno, published in English by Coffeehouse Press in 2014, follows two parallel stories, one of a young Cuban man in New York and a young Mexican woman in Paris, until they entwine. Nettel’s prose is crisp and thoughtful, yet sweet and honest. It’s a mellow read, perfect for the colder temperatures in the Northern hemisphere.
Call My Agent, or Dix Pour Cent in the French, is a TV show comedy about a talent agency in Paris. It's a joy to watch the main characters (all high-powered, fast-speaking Parisian agents) juggle the egos of a similarly eclectic cast of actors and actresses.
We're always looking for great documentaries that transport us to different places and times. Virunga takes you to Easten Congo, where you meet a family of orphaned gorillas and their caretakers, who are battling dangerous political conditions to keep the gorillas alive. It's a poignant, gripping, and heart-wrenching journey.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf was marketed as the African Game of Thrones, which I ultimately found to be a disservice to the book. Instead of high-fantasy, the reader is plunged into a hallucinogenic, violent fever dream chock full of African mythology, terrifying monsters, blood, guts, cunning, and adventure. The story, told by the titular Red Wolf, is piecemeal, episodic, and strange, and at every turn we wonder what story we are meant to be reading until it comes together in sobering and heartbreaking conclusion. It is the first book in planned a Rashomon-style series, the Dark Star Trilogy, and I can only say to Marlon James what Red Wolf says to his inquisitor at the end of the book: "Tell me."
"Esteman" is a Colombian singer and songwriter from Bogota. Known for his catchy rhythms, playful lyrics, and vast musical influences, his performance at Estereo Picnic this year was well attended. "Solo" is a danceable blend of carribbean beats about the joys of being alone! (Fun fact: "este man" is typically used in Colombian slang to say "this man" - Dominique spent a couple of days hearing Esteman's name unable to understand that this was, in fact, his name and not a monicker by series of forgetful friends)
In 2010 the Iranian government briefly imprisoned director Jafar Panahi, and officially banned him from making films for 20 years. Taxi is Panahi's third film since the ban went into effect. A faux-documentary shot entirely on dashboard cameras and mobile phones, the movie follows Panahi as he drives his taxi around Tehran during a single afternoon. Old women, a young accident victim, a banned film distributor, Panahi's young niece, and old friends all pass through his cab as the city bustles around them. Almost entirely plotless, the film lives on the dialogue with the passengers, which can be funny, heartfelt, irritating, or mournful, but always orbits the political. Panahi crafts a tender portrait and stiletto critique of his home city, all the more amazing because it seems to happen by chance.
Incendies is an astonishing work. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's play of the same name, this movie follows a pair of twins who return to their mother's (unnamed) country in the Middle East to uncover the family's past. They embark on a heart-breaking journey that exposes the impact of a brutal civil war. This is a tough, but beautiful and moving film.
Dominique's latest musical obsession (can you tell she gets these often?) is Parcels, an Australian band now living in Berlin creating nostalgic, soothing, but ultimately boogie-worthy music. Withorwithout is a song on their latest eponymous album. The band's sleek but goofy vintage aesthetic is quite charming, too. (Though the video is mildly terrifying)
We loved this film—it depicts a middle-aged woman waging a war on a developer looking to buy out her apartment to demolish a classic building on Recife's coast. The main character is a force of nature - she is the best kind of stubborn, sticking to her (literal) ground, despite what anyone around her says or thinks. This is a forceful and beautiful movie, with an excellent, empowering, and bewildering ending.
Juan Gabriel Vasquéz has been lauded as one of Colombia's (and Latin America's) most important contemporary writers. Tasked by a friend to read this book before visiting Bogota, Dominique dutifully dove in, compelled by Vasquez's ability to weave elegant reflections about life and love within a multi-layered plot. Following a narrator who witnesses a new friend's murder on the streets of Bogotá and who then embarks on a journey to learn about his friend's past, El ruido de las cosas al caer helped Dominique understand how wide reaching Colombia's violence was, while also showing how resilience has helped the country move forward.
Turkish rock potentate Gaye Su Akyol’s latest album is titled İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir, “Consistent Fantasy Is Reality.” The title track veers between Akyol’s silky, sharpshooting voice and a doomy chorus of male backup singers, all over a rich rock and roll backdrop. But Akyol’s devotion to her country’s music, with runs up and down the scale, mesmerizing repetition, and the jangling of ouds, give these songs sonic breadth and historical depth. The result is a uniquely sharp album, thick with dissenting attitude in the best rock and roll tradition.
French Netflix production Osmosis is the latest in a line of gripping and brainy Western European sci-fi shows. Siblings Esther and Paul are the founders and leaders of a tech startup promising to revolutionize the way we fall in love. Using a system of “implants” and mind mapping, they promise patients total emotional consummation with their “soul mate.” (We know: what could possibly go wrong?) On the eve of the company’s public launch, beset by treacherous test subjects, mutinous staff, and sinister backers, Paul and Esther begin to unravel the consequences of their own emotional needs. A deeply felt and deliciously tense story about what we feel and how we try—and usually fail—to control it.