Book Review: A descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams and forgotten pasts

Updated 01 August 2018
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Book Review: A descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams and forgotten pasts

  • Originally written in French in 1990, The Hospital fell into oblivion until Bouanani’s death in 2011
  • Bouanani’s novel is a descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams, forgotten pasts, mythological anecdotes, religious fervor, and unknown illness

Ahmed Bouanani’s complex but provocative novel The Hospital does not serve the living but the dead. When not being treated, patients wander the halls, interact, and attempt to navigate the expanse of the hospital while Bouanani’s nameless narrator writes down all he sees. Eventually, the line between their realities and nightmares fade, and the hospital gate disappears, making it a prison they can never leave. 

Originally written in French in 1990, The Hospital fell into oblivion until Bouanani’s death in 2011. It was not until 2012, when his novel was reprinted in France and Morocco, that it received great acclaim. It was translated into English by Lara Vergnaud and published by New Directions Books in 2018. 

Bouanani’s novel is a descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams, forgotten pasts, mythological anecdotes, religious fervor, and unknown illness. When Bouanani’s narrator first walks into the hospital, he assumes that he must have been alive because he can still “smell the scents of a city” on his skin. 

The narrator meets porters, shopkeepers, and unemployed patients. He meets smugglers and thugs and “the rejects of inexplicable wars and an aborted nationalist resistance, farm boys without land or bread, left behind by chance like febrile castaways with a cargo of off-seasons and coarse languages.” Nevertheless, the patients come together in Wing C, donning their blue pajamas and feasting together for their last remaining days. 

Bouanani’s text overflows with descriptions of Morocco’s landscape and the depth of its history with clarity in a text riddled with vague and dreamlike characters and their delusions and stories that are indistinguishable as real memories or fantasized pasts. 

The characters are reminiscent of the marginalized, says translator Vergnaud, and the forgotten, “first by a colonial regime and later a bureaucratic and oppressive new state.”

Bouanani’s novel seems like a Kafkaesque novel at first, but it is layered with decades of insight into social and political changes. 


Film Review: Movie master’s reflective study of ageing film director low on energy in ‘Pain and Glory’

“Pain and Glory” is a vaguely disguised autobiography. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2019
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Film Review: Movie master’s reflective study of ageing film director low on energy in ‘Pain and Glory’

CANNES: One of the most arresting qualities of movie masters such as Pedro Almodovar and Emir Kusturica is their boundless energy. But lose it, and film fans soon notice something is amiss.

While Serbian legend Kusturica still manages to keep his cinema bubbling with life, Spain’s Almodovar – pushing 70 years old and somewhat bogged down by physical ailments – appears to have taken his foot of the pedal in his latest outing, “Pain and Glory.”

The drama, about a film director reflecting on the choices he has made in life as past and present come crashing down around him, competed for the Cannes Palme d’Or and won best actor award for its hero, Antonio Banderas. The Spanish star is an alter ego of Almodovar himself – much like Indian actor Soumitra Chatterjee was of Satyajit Ray.

“Pain and Glory” is a vaguely disguised autobiography of Almodovar, revealing the anxieties rather than glories of the auteur’s chequered career.

His earlier works, such as “All About My Mother,” “Volver” and “Julieta,” were fantastic studies of Spanish society narrated with unbelievable vigor. Who can forget the opening scene of “Volver” in which dozens of widows, including Penelope Cruz’s character, are seen cleaning their husbands’ graves on a windswept morning?

“Pain and Glory” lacks this dynamism and is mostly ruminative.

Banderas plays film director, Salvador Mallo, a step-down role from his usual dashing screen image. Mallo has not made any movies for years but has enough money to lead a comfortable life surrounded by expensive artefacts.

However, he suffers with depression and worries about his headaches, back pain and a tendency to choke on his food. But a chance meeting with old acting friend Zulema (Cecilia Roth), leads Mallo to get in touch again with film star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), after the two had fallen out during a shoot.

When Crespo introduces Mallo to heroin, he remembers an old script titled “Addiction” and asks Crespo to perform it on stage. In doing so, Mallo opens the curtain on a new life.

In a way, “Pain and Glory” talks about how to come to terms with death, but it is also witty and about lovers and mothers.

Almodovar is such a master craftsman that he does not allow his work to sink into self-indulgence. It is a movie within a movie, and a dream that leads to another.

Most importantly, Almodovar could not have found a better actor than Banderas, who transforms splendidly into Mallo.