In Review

First, new music out of the Balkans: A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble, in a self-titled EP released a few weeks ago, downloadable here. A Hawk and a Hacksaw is mostly the project of Jeremy Barnes, drummer for the indie-wunderband Neutral Milk Hotel, and later sometimes drummer for Bright Eyes. These days Mr Barnes is making Balkan-inspired music, often in collaboration with folk musicians from the Balkans themselves. And that is a very good thing. On this album AHAAHS is joined by an assembly of Hungarian musicians, who draw upon both traditional sounds from the Balkan peninsula and upon more modern currents. The fusion of the various elements works beautifully, without being forced or otherwise contrived- not an easy thing to achieve in the world of international musical collaboration. Violins, bagpipes, brass, and some other strings whirl and whisper and crash over the series of eight tracks. Despite the EP’s brevity, it feels fuller and longer than those eight tracks would lead you to believe.

A couple weeks ago a friend recommended a Danish movie I had not heard of, After the Wedding, which was in the running for last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film. In brief, the film unfolds around a Danish expatriate Jacob who runs an orphanage in India, but is summoned back to Denmark at the behest of a wealthy businessman, Jorgen, interested in financing the orphanage and Jacob’s various other projects in India. Jorgen will only give Jabob the money under the condition he comes to Denmark. While there, Jorgen invites Jacob to the wedding of his daughter, where Jacob meets Jorgen’s wife- a wife who, as the viewer quickly discovers, had a presence much earlier in Jacob’s life. The story develops and unfolds from there, and in so doing, not only turns around some stereotyped roles- Jorgen is far from being the typical greedy egotistical businessman, and Jacob is not simply an idealistic aid worker- and raises some rather difficult questions about responsibility and the possibility and morality of directing other people’s lives. But besides these issues, the film is very well done, both in terms of acting and its masterful and often very lovely cinematography. It makes a very worthy addition to anyone’s collection, particularly if yours, like mine, is rather low on Danish-language films…

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