Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘WWII

Dark story

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The people who know the story about this first-hand are all dead, bar a few that were too young to understand. It’s an insignificant balcony on an insignificant building in the old part of Riga. No marker, no plaque, nothing noting it. You could walk by an never notice – walk by once or ten thousand times. The story is there, telling itself every moment.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

20/06/2012 at 1:26 am

Museum of the Occupation – Tallinn

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280908Mus-Occupn16I have many stories to tell about visiting Estonia and while some include unexpected tears, most are very beautiful. This one is not. Visiting the Museum of the Occupation in Tallinn was chilling.

Not sure what took me so long to get to Tallinn. I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little girl and my grandmother told me stories about Estonia. She made it sound so magical, so different from the world I knew in the Bronx – and having finally made it there, I can declare unequivocally that Tallinn and the Bronx are as opposite as north and south 280908Mus-Occupn02or cold and hot. The Bronx of my childhood was war-torn and terror ridden. The Tallinn I finally got to see was possibly even more idyllic than grandma had described.

The museum is set in a mostly residential neighbourhood near the old city – a modest glass building, reflecting its surrounds, with a very small sign indicating what it houses. Once inside I was immediately struck by the suitcases – hastily packed by people who knew they would probably never return, packed with the items they treasured most for a journey with no return ticket.

I stood there quietly, wondering if one of them had been my grandfather’s. Elmar Hiiesalu had hastily packed just such a bag when he was forced into the Soviet army, when the Russians finally overcame the Nazis.

280908Mus-Occupn01This archway threw me – I  couldn’t bring myself to walk underneath it. The power of the imagery was unexpectedly overwhelming. I walked around it instead.

Most of the exhibits were devoted to Estonia’s endless struggle to be  free. It has been alternately occupied by Danes, Germans, Russians and Swedes for most of the last millenia – the fate of a tiny country – with less than a million people. Ironically, the culture survived largely because the Estonian people were forced into serfdom and so preserved their language and customs.

City Museum - WWII - 12But in 1918, when Russia was busying herself with the Revolution – Estonia, along with neighbouring states, Latvia and Lithuania, declared itself a free, sovereign nation. Here is a photo of President Konstantin Pots at the 20th anniversary of the republic in 1938. Pots was my grandfather’s boss – he was his personal secretary. Grandpa didn’t make it into this photo, no doubt tending to some important detail.  Many of my relatives were involved in government work, including the then mayor of Tallinn. If they weren’t forced into the army or sent to Siberia, they went to prison. You went to prison for being the wife of a politician.

Which brings me to the truly chilling part of the visit. The doors. Click the thumbnails for a larger look.



These came from various prisons around Estonia where political prisoners were held, including members of my family. Something so very gruesome about these cheerfully painted doors – you would never find them on a movie set – only in real life. Just being near them, I could hear and feel the misery and sorrow they contained – I had the sensation of wanting to wash them.

280908Mus-Occupn10Things got a wee bit surreal, and slightly humourous when I asked where I might find the loo. Downstairs.

Yes, that is Lenin and Stalin, flanking the entrance to the toilets – women on the right, men on the left. A couple of spare prison doors behind them. If you look at the full-size photo, you will note the statues are damaged – this is from when they were toppled when Estonia declared its freedom again in 1991.

280908Mus-Occupn11 Various other disgraced Communists  – Russian and Estonian, were strewn about the basement floor, along with toppled monuments and Soviet era iconography. The hatred the Estonian people felt for their occupiers is palpable nearly twenty years after they were removed from power.

To be honest, the emotions were so raw, it was truly painful being there. After an hour and a bit, we really couldn’t take any more and decided to walk up to the upper city. This monument made me smile…

Free - again...

Free - again...

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

27/06/2010 at 11:04 pm

I Served the King of England

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i_served_the_king_of_englandThis dazzler from the Czech Republic coyly weaves a subtle dash of magic realism into the life of an ordinary little man, a Prague waiter who dreams of becoming a millionaire. We meet Jan Díte (Ivan Barnev and Oldrich Kaiser) as he exits a Czech prison sometime in the 60s, grateful for the amnesty that has given him three months off his fifteen-year sentence. Relinquished to a collapsing old pub deep in the forest, he commences the DIY project of a lifetime and takes stock of his life.

His first job was selling sausages at the Prague train station, a lucrative enterprise, where he discovered that no matter how wealthy and distinguishedi-served-the-king-england-5 people are, they’re always willing to get down on their hands and knees to pick up coins – a running gag, where he amuses himself by watching his betters crawl. From there it’s a pub and then a restaurant where he rises to headwaiter, deferring to the maitre d’ who has ‘served the king of England.’

When the 30’s bring the Nazis, Jan is torn between his love for the tiny German soldier, Líza (Julia Jentsch) and his country’s hatred for everything German.istkoe-marry After having his sperm approved, he marries her and moves on to a posh hotel, which the Nazis have converted to a motherhood clinic, where Aryan blondes romp naked, waiting to be impregnated by German soldiers and he continues to serve.

Jan and Liza have a plan for after the war – stamps she has pilfered from the homes of deported Jews, which will make them rich.i-served-the-king-of-england-6 (When he asks where they were deported to, she merely shrugs, an alarmingly simple gesture of indifference that speaks volumes.) But his good luck always has an underside and things never turn out as expected.

There is a surreal sensibility that occasionally surfaces when Europe examines its recent history, a sense of helplessness and disbelief at the reality of what has happened, recently seen in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Oscar winning director Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, 1966) lures us into a slapstick comedy with profoundly deeper implications, you’ll be thinking about it for weeks.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

12/04/2010 at 8:04 am

Posted in dreams, Writing

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Pan’s Labyrinth

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untitledIt’s 1944, five years after the end of  Spanish Civil. The close of WWII in Europe is at hand.

Ten year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her heavily pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) travel to a remote fascist outpost in the Spanish forest, where they will join her new husband, Capitán Vidal (Sergi López). A ruthless man, he is charged with dispensing the last of the rebels. Despite the risks to her health, he has insisted she give birth to his son where he is.

Capitán despises stepdaughter Ofelia, not least for her love of fairy tales. But deep in the woods, Ofelia has met a wondrous faun, who has given her three tasks to complete to prove her character. If she passes, she will be returned as a princess to her true home deep in the earth. Can she do it? Or will Capitán and the horrors of the real world devour her first?

pans_labyrinth_xl_04-film-aThis is one of those rare movies that pulls you into its heart so you share the suffering of each the characters. It is savagely brutal in the way classic fairy tales usually are, though this is balanced by the beauty of the otherworld.  (Note – this flick is much too violent for young viewers to handle! Don’t be misled by the little girl on the cover.)

pans-labyrinth-picsGuillermo Del Toro is a master of fantasy. In Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004) he brought comic book characters to life. Here he draws on his passionate love of classic fairy tales to create his own fantasy world, so delicately crafted the CGI special effects blend seamlessly and you are simply dazzled by all that unfolds.

pans-labyrinth-1The two-disc set is loaded with special features, including making of featurettes on set and costume design, cast and crew interviews, commentaries, storyboards and more. One of my favourite movies of all time.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

30/04/2009 at 10:42 pm

New York, New York

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new-york-new-york-posterMartin Scorsese has made more than a dozen films set in New York, New York, but the one that bears the full name of the city was shot on a Hollywood lot – an homage to the MGM musicals of the 40s.
You can’t help wondering what he was thinking. It was 1977. The previous year he and Robert deNiro stunned critics and audiences with Taxi Driver and Travis Bickle’s improvised “You talking to me?” soliloquy. They return with DeNiro clad in oversized shoulder pads and spats, noodling a saxophone and bullying America’s sweetheart. This against a background of 40’s big band lounges and painted sets, with a full half hour of Liza Minnelli ‘starring’ in a musical movie-within-a-movie.
It bombed. The studio withdrew it, axed 40 minutes of music – and it bombed again. When it came to musicals, audiences wanted Saturday Night Fever or Grease. And if the story was brutal, Scorses himself had taught them to expect reality, not rough stuff mixed up in glossy sets and glitzy costumes.nyny3

30 years down the road, the timing of its release is irrelevant and Scorsese’s  musical passions have extended to docos The Last Waltz with The Band (1978), No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005) and last year’s Shine a Light with the Rolling Stones. He’s more than paid his musical dues and New York, New York is worth another look.

nyny5If it’s not one of Scorsese’s finest efforts, this movie takes chances, many of which play very well. DeNiro is loathsome as Jimmy Doyle, gifted saxman and borderline sociopath who sweeps the equally talented singer, Francine Evans (Minnelli) off her feet and marries her before she fully understands what she is getting into.  Their on and off-screen chemistry is palpable and much of their banter is improvised with the cameras rolling.

The two-disc set includes and introduction and commentary by Scorsese as well as interviews with Scorsese and Minnelli and the producers reflecting on what they loved about it as wnyny3_jpgell as why audiences hated it, alternate takes and alternate ending, deleted scenes, storyboards, a photo gallery and more. Best though, it comes with both the edited and original versions. If you’re a musical lover, glory in the Busby-Berkeley extravaganza. The rest of us however will enjoy studio’s cut much more.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/04/2009 at 12:23 am

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