Colombian films shine at Spanish Film Festival

The Spanish Film Festival is in full swing in Australia and as usual it has been great to go along and catch some of the action. Sydney and Melbourne got the first bite at the olive this year and are in the “back by popular demand” stage, putting on extra sessions of the most popular films. But Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart still have a lot to look forward to. Here’s the official festival trailer.

One film I was very keen to see was Embrace of the Serpent (El Abrazo de la Serpiente), the first Colombian film to be nominated for an Oscar, in the Best Foreign Film category. If you ever get the chance to see it, go! It was fantastic, visually stunning and very thought-provoking. It’s a must-see film for anyone who wants to know about life on the Amazon river and in the jungle.

It is also a linguistic feast: English, Cubeo, Wanano, Tikuna, Huitoto, Okaina, Latin, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese and German with English subtitles! I guess not many films can beat that.

Check out the trailer.


Much as I like a good film, I also like a good review of it to match (there’s nothing more off-putting than a tedious review of a great film). The best review I have read of Embrace of the Serpent is this one by Jordan Hoffman in The Guardian.

There are also two interviews I found that are well worth reading:
  • one with the director Ciro Guerra – “I spent five years on this movie because I wanted to take a trip to the unknown. I was tired of the Western way of life, where humans are virtual avatars instead of people. I wanted to see if there was another way of living, and I found it.
  • and the other with a 30-year-old man of Cubeo origin who plays the younger version of the shaman Karamakate – Nilbio Torres had never been to the cinema before and had never heard of the Oscars, until he acted in a film that got nominated for one.


While I was watching Embrace of the Serpent, a friend of mine who is the arts editor of a newspaper in Canberra was taking in Breathless Time (Tiempo Sin Aire) in the national capital. She texted me after to say it was “amazing”.

For information on all the films in this year’s festival and screening times, the Festival website is here.


Palace cinemas are putting on Cine Latino: A New Festival of Latin American Cinema over a two-week period in August, plus there is the Sydney Latin American Film Festival in September.

Frenchmania – A French night in Bucharest

If you have ever wondered how French sounds when spoken or sung by a Romanian (yes, you have thought about this a lot, haven’t you) well here is your chance to find out.

The Institut Française Roumanie in Bucharest recently held a musical gala to promote the French language, and les meilleurs artistes roumains sont venus chanter (top Romanian artists came along to sing). For some, it was quite a challenge, as Dorian Popa explains in a mix of French and Romanian before doing a cover of Maître Gims’ Bella.

If you are not familiar with Maître Gims, you should be! Read about him on my post Sounds of France via Africa. Here is the original version of Bella.

Dorian Popa is a popular pop-rap singer in Romania  who is also well known for his rippling muscles, bulging pecs and formidable six-pack. I’ve selected this clip of this duet with Ruby because it has a lot of footage in Paris and I prefer it to his solo efforts.

So, who else took part in the French soirée? One singer I really like, Keo (I will do a post  on him shortly) does a great cover of Le Vent Nous Portera (The wind will take/carry us), which was a big hit in Europe for the group Noir Désir in 2001.

Adrian (Adi) Despot, who is a member of the band Vița de Vi, did a cover of one of my favourite songs by the band Indochine, Tes Yeux Noirs (Your black eyes).

Here’s Indochine doing the much loved song at one of their tremendous gigs.

I also really like this version, recorded with an orchestra in Hanoi.

A French concert wouldn’t be a French concert without a really romantic ballad. Cornel Ilie, the lead singer of Vunk, steps up for a rendition of Je Te Le Dis Quand Même (I’ll tell you anyway).

Here is the version released in by Patrick Bruel, a prolific French actor and singer.

This upbeat live version shows how well the song has stood the test of time.

Alexandra Ungureanu came on stage to do I Need You More which has verses in French.

Here is the single version that she did with Crush and Leslie. It’s chirpy!

To finish, here’s Keo again, to say he loved you, he loves you and will love you.

That song was originally a single released in 1994 by Francis Cabral. Here is a clip from YouTube which has Romanian subtitles.


C’est fini, bonne nuit!

The French film festival est arrivée!

Belle-sebastian-the-adventure-continues (5)

The adventures continue for big shaggy dog Belle and Sebastian (Felix Bossuet) in the splendid French countryside, and this time they have Gabriele (Thylane Blondeau) to help.

À vos marques, prêts? partez! The Alliance Française French Film Festival 2016 starts today in Australia, so here’s a look at more enticing offerings to add to the great films I’ve already mentioned.

Alpine adventures

A really enjoyable film at the festival a couple of years ago was Belle et Sébastien, a gripping story of the French resistance, dangerous alpine crossings and survival during the second world war, based on the popular novel of the same name by Cécile Aubrey. This year you can see the sequel Belle et Sébastien, l’aventure continue (Belle and Sebastian: The adventure continues). Rather than a battle to outwit the Nazis, this time it is a plane crash in the Alps that triggers the action. If you are a dog lover you must see this (cat lovers, you too!).

Writer’s block and shock

One thriller I will definitely be going to see is Un homme idéal (A Perfect Man). For one thing, it stars the hottest French actor of the moment, Pierre Niney, who won the César Award for Best Actor in 2014 for playing the title role in Yves Saint Laurent. For another thing, it involves a topic close to my heart, creative writing. Niney plays a loser, Mathieu Vassuer, who stumbles across a completed novel manuscript and passes it off as his own and becomes an overnight sensation.

A-perfect-man 3

Ouch, that hurt! Mathieu (Pierre Niney) inspects the damage.

But perhaps stealing someone else’s work wasn’t such a good idea after all – someone might seek revenge. Mathieu becomes more bloodied and bruised as the film progresses, and his world starts to crumble. Plus he has to come up with a second novel. Good writing isn’t easy!

I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles on it, but if you don’t understand French, at least the one below will give you some idea of the mounting suspense.


A waiting game

It’s always good to see Juliette Binoche on the big screen and she is back in L’Attente (The Wait). She plays Anna, who lives in a beautiful Sicilian villa, and gets a surprise when her son’s supposed girlfriend Jeanna (Lou de Laage) pitches up at her door, having apparently been invited to spend Easter there by her beau. But where is the son, Giuseppe? I guess we will have to wait to find out.

Long live foreign language films!


This year the festival will feature 48 films in the following places:

  • Sydney, March 1-24
  • Melbourne, March 2-24
  • Canberra, March 3-29
  • Brisbane, March 11-April 3
  • Perth, March 16-April 7
  • Adelaide, March 31-April 24
  • Casula, April 7-10
  • Parramatta, April 7-10
  • Hobart, April 28-May 4

Film stills provided courtesy of the French Film Festival.

Happy weekend! Take a liking to Like Us

It’s the weekend! Who can’t be happy about that? To perk you up, listen to Portuguese band Like Us‘s homage to the Fim De Semana. and be sure to play it loud. (To help you understand this song a bit, here are the Portuguese days of the week).

Who are Like Us?

Well, they are a Portuguese boy band that has been cobbled together for some reason, but their songs have catchy thumping choruses – surprisingly, as Portuguese music is usually pretty restrained. Apparently their names are João, Daniel, David e Francisco, but don’t ask me which is which. The next video is a rather clumsily cobbled medley of their better known songs (some in English). I’ve included it so you can get a feel for them and see what they look like. But for the rest of the post I will use videos that show the lyrics or letras.

Headbanging in the subjunctive

The next song is full of verbs in subjective mood, including the title Se Tu Quiseres. In English the equivalent would be “if you want” or “if you like“, but in Portuguese it’s the conjuntivo/subjuntivo futuro – “if you will like“, because on a literal time scale the enjoyment is not happening at the moment, it is still to come.

Blown away at a party

Boy goes to  party, sees someone beautiful dancing, goes crazy all of a sudden and wants to abscond with them Longe (literally “long“, but here more like “far way“).

Boy band bonanza bonus track!!!!!

I know that by now you just can’t get enough of Portuguese boy bands, so just to knock your socks off here are Cláudio, Tiago, Valter, Daniel e James – otherwise known as No Stress. They were “a nova boy band portuguesa por quem todos esperavam” (the new Portuguese boy band that we have all been waiting for), remember? But now they are the superseded new boy band, I guess.

So, there you go. Where are all the girl groups?

Farcical frolics, infamy and fortune – it’s French film festival time

Marguerite 4

Frot to trot! Catherine Frot is superb as ever in the sumptuous Marguerite.

The first of the big foreign-language film festivals in Australia is due to begin shortly and judging by some of the advanced screenings I have seen for members of the press, the  line-up for the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2016 looks fabulous.

Top of the list of films to see are Marguerite and My Golden Days, both of which have garnered 11 nominations in the 41st César Awards, which will honour the best French films of 2015 – the winners will be announced on in Paris February 26.

I saw Marguerite last week and was enthralled. There is a role in it I was born to play myself – someone who can’t sing in tune! Set in 1919, it features sumptuous sets, superb acting by a great cast – words deceive yet the facial expressions reveal so much – and although it largely focuses on the world of opera and musical theatre, there is a good look at the craft of literature, journalism and photography, as well as at the foibles of the upper classes and contemporary politics. As satires go, it’s pretty vicious, and all the elements of voyeurism and narcissism in it reminded me of modern social media. The technology has changed but people are as peculiar as ever. Basically, though, it is a film about loneliness.

Marguerite 8

When Madame sings, you need ear plugs!

The film, directed by Xavier Giannoli, was partly inspired by the story of  Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy American soprano and socialite who was ridiculed for her dreadful singing abilities (Meryl Streep plays Florence in a biopic due out this year). It stars the excellent Catherine Frot, whom some of you may remember playing François Mitterrand’s private chef in Haute Cuisine (see “Sydney goes Gallic, hear those Fraussie accents“). Here’s the trailer.

Variety has an excellent review of Marguerite, I urge you to read it.

My Golden Days (The French title is Trois Souvenirs De Ma Jeunesse – Three souvenirs of my youth) is Arnaud Desplechin’s prequel to My Sex Life, or How I Got Into An Argument. It is among many other things a story of young love.


Quentin Dolmaire (left) and Lou Roy-Lecollinet in My Golden Days.

Here is the trailer.

Another film that I have seen and can recommend is Microbe & Gasoline – the nicknames of two boys who don’t fit in at school or even in their own homes. Microbe, played by Ange Dargent, is tiny and timid and sometimes mistaken for a girl, whereas Gasoline (Théophile Baquet) is as bold as brass and often reeks of petrol.

Microbe & Gasoline 1

Theophile Baquet (left) and Ange Dargent in

It’s a road movie with a typically French difference – the two boys run away in a home-made house on wheels.



This year the festival will feature 48 films and the Alliance Française and organisers are hoping that that attendances will break the 160,000 mark (the record 157,000 set last year. The dates are

  • Sydney, March 1-24
  • Melbourne, March 2-24
  • Canberra, March 3-29
  • Brisbane, March 11-April 3
  • Perth, March 16-April 7
  • Adelaide, March 31-April 24
  • Casula, April 7-10
  • Parramatta, April 7-10
  • Hobart, April 28-May 4


You can see the full programs and venues on the Festival’s official website. Film stills have been supplied courtesy of the French Film Festival.

Nicoleta Nuca, INNA and Antonia – what a combination!

Hello, I just made an exciting discovery, a very different yet surprisingly lovely version of a Romanian/Moldovan pop song I really liked last year, Nu Sunt, by Nicoleta Nuca (it was first mentioned on this post). This one, though, features not only Nicoleta but two other superb contemporary Romanian singers, INNA and Antonia. INNA’s the one on the left, Nicoleta is in the middle and Antonia is on the right. Three beautiful women singing a beautiful song in a beautiful language. Check it out

Just as interesting is this version, recorded by Nicoleta – who hails from Moldova – with the Chisinau Youth Orchestra.

To give you some idea of what the song is about here is a snippet of the lyrics taken from the Versuri.Ro website:

Ultimul moment, ultimul regret / Mi-a ajuns! / Tot ce am avut, oricum s-a pierdut/ 
Tu nu vezi? / Nu sunt doar un trofeu pe patul tău

This is the last time, the last regret. / I’ve had enough! / All I had has been lost anyway / Don’t you see? / I’m not just a trophy on your bed.

For the record, here is the original version of the song.

Nicoleta, who was a contestant on the Romanian X Factor talent show, followed that up with another catchy hit, Linistea, which means “peace” or “silence”.

Her latest is Inima Mea (My Heart).

So, what of the other singers, INNA and Antonia? I’ve featured both on this blog before. INNA is probably Romania’s best known contemporary singer and has managed to conquer the English language market (and she sometimes dabbles in other Romance languages). Here is a recent international hit.

Antonia (her full name is Antonia Clara Iobescu) was born in Bucharest but her family moved to the United States when she was five, and she has had a very successful career as a model as well as a singer. Most of her output has been in English but she has linked up with a number of Romanian singers in the past few years, including veteran Romanian groups Holograf and Vunk. Here is a sample of her work.


I hope you enjoyed this peek into the music of Eastern European Romance language countries.


Catching up with Carla’s Dreams

Carla’s Dreams are a group from Chisinau in Moldova who make some really interesting music (singing in both Romanian and Russian and occasionally English).

I really like their latest single, Te Rog (which is a familiar form of saying “please”; vă rog is the formal form). I like the handclapping and eastern influences (I feel I could do a kind of flamenco belly dance to this).

If you want to sing along, here is a clip with versuri (the lyrics) and you can find translations of all the songs mentioned in this post on this Lyrics Translate web page.

Carla’s Dreams first came to my attention when their duet with Inna (probably Romania’s best known singer) P. O.H.U.I. was a huge hit a couple of years ago. (It’s on my post Join the Inna circle). Rather than replay it, I’ve chosen this clip without Inna, and with the words on show.

Carla’s Dreams have notched up a notable achievement recently. Cum Du Noi (which translates as what/how we feel for each other), their duet with the popular Delia (Delia Matache –  I have written about her often before, just type ‘Delia’ in the search field), was the first song in the Romanian language to get more than 10 million views on YouTube within a month of its release (it’s up to more than 30 million now). It’s a song which annoys me and seduces me at the same time!


I’ve made some other exciting musical discoveries recently – stay tuned! Cheers

Tony Carreira to tour Australia

One advantage of sitting around in the coffee shops and restaurants in Sydney’s “Little Portugal” is that you soon learn which Portuguese singers are coming to perform in Australia.

Due next April is a huge name in contemporary (well, sort of) Portuguese pop, Tony Carreira. He will be performing at the Melbourne Pavilion on Saturday April 23, 2016, and at the Clancy Auditorium at the University of NSW in Sydney the following afternoon (April 24).

My first introduction to Portuguese pop music was via a bargain bin of CDs at some hypermarket on my first visit to Portugal as an adult some seven years ago. The were called “Disco do ano” (discs of the year) although sometimes the year was not specified. They seemed to consist of the same stable of artists trotting out the same simple cheap and cheerful cheesy pop songs – tolerable but certainly not cutting-edge stuff. Still, you have got to start somewhere.

One song that I did like on them was Tony Carreira’s Quem Era Eu Sem Ti (Who was I without you), which came out in 2002. Here, though, is a live version recorded in Lisbon in 2010.

About seven years ago my Portuguese was pretty basic but I was pleased to be able to listen to this song and understand some of the lyrics … and it helped me remember two of the four weather seasons…

CHORUS Eu sem ti/Quem era eu sem ti?/Um inverno sem sinais de primavera/Eu era! (I without you/Who was I without you?/A winter without signs of spring/I was!)

The full lyrics  can be found here, and below is the studio version.

I have written about Tony before: not long ago he recorded an album of duets in both Portuguese and French, you can read about it here.

So, would you go to a Tony Carreira concert? Let’s have a look at two other songs which have made it onto his greatest hits compilations, starting with A Vida Que Eu Escolhi (The Life I Chose).

The next one will help you remember a common subjunctive, seja, from the verb ser (to be). Mesmo Que Seja Mentira (Even if it’s a lie).

Where to buy the tickets, which have just gone on sale, is a little bit complicated as it involves the Portuguese community network around the country. Your best bet is to email, but if you are in Sydney they can be bought at Fernandes Patisserie at 420 New Canterbury Road in Dulwich Hill, tel (02) 9668 2114. Adult tickets are from $69 while children up to 18 are $30. If you buy them at Fernandes at least you can sample their delicious pasteis e pudins (see my previous posts) while you are there.

Sydney has had a taste of Portuguese music recently. Just last month acclaimed fado singer Ana Moura was in town. Here’s a short clip of her Sydney performance at the Enmore Theatre.



Sampling Portuguese pudins

How do you follow up a post on Portuguese tarts? Go for the puddings!

“Pudding” in Portuguese is pudim, and I prefer the Portuguese spelling as it has the m at the end, so it has that element of mmmm (as in delcious) built into it. Say, “yum, pudim!” and you will know what I mean. In the plural, though, the m changes to an n and it becomes pudins, as is often the case in the language.

So what does a Portuguese pudding look like? Here are a couple from my favourite pudim palace, Fernandes Patisserie in Dulwich Hill, Sydney. This one is like a crème caramel, only the Portuguese seem to make them much sweeter and more decadent.


I note, though, that the sign above calls it a pudin, which is closer to the Spanish spelling (it’s pudín with an accent). Unless it’s a mix of Portuguese and English!

By the way, the light streak across the pudding is a reflection of the roof light on the glass counter.

On to the next one. There was no description for it but it looks light and fluffy and I reckon I could eat one of these and still have room for dessert afterwards, haha.


If you have a sweet tooth and you are in a Portuguese-speaking country, there are a couple of other words you should know:

  • sobremesa – this means “dessert”
  • doce – this can mean “cake”, “jam” or “sweet” (adjectival).

Next time I am in Fernandes I will go for the savouries and have a quiet word about their spelling prowess.

Até já – see you soon!


Introducing Portuguese tarts

I work for a magazine company in Sydney that, among other things, does a lot of cookbooks. The recipes have to be tested and tested again – the magazine where I do the bulk of my work tests each recipe at least three times. The problem is, when they cook something, again and again and again, someone has to eat it afterwards, again and again and again, otherwise the food goes to waste. It’s an onerous job, but I volunteer for it. My motto: my waist = no waste.

On Friday, for example, the food team was photographing and filming its Christmas day meals for the December edition of the magazine. So I had to tuck into a huge Christmas lunch. The things I do for journalism.

I live near the Portuguese precinct in Sydney, where there are a couple of great Portuguese bakeries/patisseries (Fernandes Patisserie and Sweet Belem). I feel sorry for the bakers who go to such hard work making these delicacies, so whenever I am passing I go in and buy some and consume them just to cheer them up. The things I do for humanity.

One day I was feeling very generous (and a bit peckish) so I bought a big box – or about two dozen – of the various Portuguese tarts to take into the office. My plan was about to eat about a dozen myself and let my 20-odd co-workers have half of one each, but the greedy buggers wanted a complete one, or two! I was lucky to get a nibble. What surprised me was, even though this magazine has a fine cooking and baking tradition, few people in the office had eaten Portuguese tarts before. OMG!!! Where have you been, do you know what you are missing out on!!??

So if you find yourself in the same boat – a boat that has not yet pulled up at the docks in Belém in Lisbon where the famous Portuguese tarts were invented – this Portuguese tart sampler is for you. (The pictures were taken on my phone through the glass counter at Fernandes, so there is glare from the overhead lights reflected in the glass, and I have included the tags for descriptive and language purposes, even though they are not particularly attractive.)

Pastel de nata

tarts nataThis is the king of Portuguese tarts! Bow down in homage, you will never find a tart better than this. Pastel means pastry, nata means custard, buttermilk or cream, but don’t confuse it with the the ordinary commercial custard that you can make from packets or buy ready made. This is a delicious creamy concoction of egg and sugar on a crisp flaky base. The history of this tart is interesting – you can read about it here. Incidentally, I have been to the famous patisserie in Belem that has to churn out 15,000 of these on busy days to cater for the demand from salivating tourists and passers-by, but I prefer the ones in Sydney. Other patisseries may add their own twist to the recipe – down in Lagos in southern Portugal, for example, I came across some with puréed maça (apple) added to the mix. These tarts are best eaten in the plural, which is pastéis.

Bolinhos de leite

bolinhos de leiteA bolinho is a sweet or savoury delicacy that has been rolled into a little ball, leite means milk. Think of these bolinhos de leite on the right as pastéis de nata without the pastry. They are moist and clammy and wobbly – I pop them into my mouth very quickly as I’m afraid they’ll wobble their way onto the floor.  The ones on the left are similar but with some kind of sugary glaze on them. This is not food for diabetics!

Mystery tart

tartsgreen2These caught my eye as I was leaving the cafe. If I had seen them earlier I would have ordered one, or two or three or possibly all four. From memory they are similar to the bolinhos de leite but have coconut in them to give them a bit of substance, plus of course that delicious glaze on top.

 Bolo de Berlim

bola de berlimThis is basically the Portuguese version of the Berliner doughnut. The ones pictured here have a custard filling, but there are many variations, including jam fillings. When I was doing a summer language course at the University of Algarve, the cafeteria there had a delicious jam variation (the filling is often hidden inside). A bolo de Berlim became my customary breakfast or mid-morning snack. It was the best thing I learnt on the course (haha).

Pastel de amêndoa

tarts almondOnce you have scoffed a few pastéis de nata or bolinhos de leite, you will probably want something a little drier and more solid to counter the creamy custard. If you like amêndoa (almond), half a dozen of these should do!

Pastel de feijão

tarts coconutI don’t know why these coconut tarts are labelled as feijão (which normally means bean) but who cares. Maybe there are some beans in there so you can get your vegetable quota at the same time! The word for coconut in Portuguese is coco.

Bernardo’s Sunday breakfast ….

How's this for starters?

A pastel de nata, bolinho de leite and a good old palmier biscuit.