Passepartout is all about documentaries and visual stuff I find worth seeing.

No place to call home: the sadness of animals in the zoo

I’m one of those people who jumps over the ‘not allowed’ fences in the zoo, pets the zebras and sometimes feeds biscuits to the bears. And now I’m one of the people who’s heart is broken, and who is not sure whether she should jump more fences or less or push them all down. Toni Amengual‘s photo series called Necrofilia I portrays the sadness of animals who got this awkward job that they never asked for, that is to be in a confined space for entertainment and observational purposes. But living in captivity impacts their psychological well-being. And facing this reality is not entertaining at all.

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A list of 12 docs to watch if you’re new to documentaries

I think best of lists are strange and potentially dangerous. Like this pretentious list Sight&Sound Magazine put together, of 50 Best Documentaries of All Time. If you’re new to docs and decide to begin by watching the films on this list, it is very likely you’ll never want to try again. It’s also very likely you will be convinced that the documentary world is some elite-connoisseur-group that likes to be bored to death.

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Sheep and the way of nature: a photo series about shepherds in the Caucasus

In a way I can only partially explain, this photo series reminds me of home. I’m not from the Caucasus and I never owned a sheep in my life, but this is more than just facts, it’s more about a feeling. The nature, the snow, the sheep all remind me of home because my home is a little bit like that too, and I have seen the men who live with sheep since I was small. I’ve seen the mud too, and the difficult life. And now I miss seeing it again.

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The read, write and watch bad weather weekend

The apocalypse didn’t come this weekend, even though, judging by the weather, it seemed like a feasible possibility. Somehow talking about the weather in The Netherlands is never a cliche. We need to talk about it to survive. So I met with friends and they complained and I complained until everything has been said and we stopped and had tea and talked and laughed about more meaningful matters. And after that I did what I do best, wrote a bit, read a bit and watched a couple of films.

I read this review in The New Yorker of Catherine Lacey’s novel Nobody is Ever Missing and it convinced me to buy the book and that was a bad decision. The book is the story of this troubled woman traveling by herself to New Zealand, leaving her life in Manhattan for a new adventure meant to replace a painful past. And despite the author’s eye for certain details and illustrative formulations out of the box, I ended up being rather irritated with her writing and with her main character, someone called Elyria. Ms Lacey seems the typical result of nowadays creative writing schools, coming up with endless creative twists and phrases, captivating (if you never read this kind of writing before) and ultimately disconnecting and empty.

Main (irritating) thing is that her characters have unusual thoughts, and people in general have unusual thoughts, but putting them on page the way she does makes me feel the thought don’t belong to the characters but to a writer that purposefully wants her characters to have unusual thoughts. Let me exemplify:

‘… and I imagined my dozen fuck-up possums gathered around me, a personal audience, and I wondered which things inside a person might be indigenous or nonindigenous, but it isn’t as easy to trace those kinds of things in a person as it is in a country. I wished that I could point to some colonizer and blame him for everything that was nonindigenous in me…”.


‘…during that silence I thought of that night when my husband and I were having one of the arguments about the way we argue and I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water but instead picked up a knife because I was thinking about stabbing myself in the face – not actually considering stabbing myself in the fact, but thinking that it would be a physical expression of how I felt – and I picked up a chef’s knife, our heavy good one that I used for everything from cutting soft fruit to impaling pumpkins and I looked at it, laughed a noiseless laugh, put the chef’s knife down, poured myself a glass of water, and drank it fast, until I chocked a little, and I went back to arguing with my husband and he didn’t know about my face-stabbing thoughts and it made me even angrier that he didn’t know about my face-stabbing thoughts, that he couldn’t just intuit these things, look me into my eyes and know that the way he spoke to me was a plain waste of our life…’.

Keeps going.

Who thinks that? Like that? And where’s the feeling? Except awkwardness coming from the writing not from the character and the situation? I don’t know. Finally, after 50 pages I concluded that even though The New Yorker was impressed and couldn’t stop reading, I am not impressed and I can easily and happily stop reading.

Some films I saw and didn’t regret: A Most Wanted Man – in which Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a great part, unfortunately one of his lasts. And Fury – with Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf – which manages to avoid some war film cliches and instead makes a feel-for portrayal of army camaraderie and of how war crushes everyone’s spirit.

Some things I didn’t do and do not regret: finish my latest article, which I’m going to do today.



The best milkmaid and the best welder: portrayals of state and local prize winners in Belarus

Belarus is one of those places in which the smell and the air of the Soviet Union is still alive, safe and sound. And Rafal Milach‘s photo series portraying Belarusian winners of the most ridiculous prizes you can imagine, is the perfect example of that. As you can see, the regime awards the working class and the people supporting the regime. More important: it awards the loyal and the good citizen all around the country, in kolkhozes, schools, nightclubs and village discos. The winners receive a state diploma which must be a great status boost in a country in which facade and prestige mean the world.

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Films to look forward too:

20,000 Days on Earth – the Nick Cave doc, didn’t get to put my claw on it yet. Wild – the film made after Cheryl Strayed’s memoir. And then this doc, which has been fully funded on Kickstarter just the other day (in only one day!). So it might take some time until it comes out. It’s a film about Joan Didion and I look forward watching discovering more about this tiny (and ferocious) lady writer.

Dear diary…

This Notebook section is my space to write about more personal stuff. About how yesterday, for example, I was stressed out and couldn’t do any work so I hid in the cinema and watched Gone Girl and loved the film and the fact that I was all alone there, sitting in the last row. Notebook is also space to write about the stuff I see in my back yard and on the street, about the books I read, observations I make, photos I randomly find and so on.

1 Marc Riboud

So here’s my favorite thing to look at right now, taken by Marc Riboud, a french photographer who traveled across Asia in the ’50s and the ’60s (and survived to tell the story). He went to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, and Japan, and his photos are at the Rubin Museum right now, in New York and that’s not useful information for me at all, since I live straight across the ocean from New York.

PS. I excluded the Notebook section from the main blog feed because it’s a notebook, you have to look at it by yourself if curious.

I’m here to improve myself: a reflection on nowadays obsession with self-development

I went to see the graduates exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, this year, and I was expecting to be done with it in the first five minutes. It’s all too often that on such occasions I end up being unimpressed by the young artists’ creative restlessness. But not this year. This year I spent a long time looking at each project, and Lynn van Asperen‘s I’m Here to Improve Myself is one of the ones I really fell for.

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Bansky’s slaughter truck: stuffed toys raise questions about the meat industry but also about ourselves

Have you seen Bansky‘s slaughter truck? I find it brilliant. The idea is that if it’s hard to relate to the animals you don’t see and end up on your plate, then perhaps is not so hard to relate to the cute fluffy toys. The fluffy toys are going to be slaughtered. How do you feel about this? What are you gonna do? I admit it made me really sad. Sad to see the toys, which I love, but also sad to wonder…are we really that far away from nature and from those terrible meat farms, that the only way to relate to animals’ situation is through toys?

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Beauty from above: the aerial photos of Kacper Kowalski

Kacper Kowalski is my new discovery. Reminding of Edward Burtynsky’s Watermark and Manufactured Landscapes, Kowalski’s photos are an eye-candy and a reminder of the beauty we inhabit. Polish and also some sort of wonder-man, Kowalski is an architect, a designer, a pilot and a photographer, all in one. And he’s the living proof that nothing is lost when you switch from one profession to another. His love for architecture and design is reflected in these almost too good to be true aerial photos he takes.

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Hidden Kingdoms (2014, BBC-Earth team)

BBC docs about nature and animals are super beautiful, but not precisely my kind of docs. It’s often difficult for me to begin watching them and if I do begin watching, it is difficult to stay awake to the end. But this one’s different. Hidden Kingdoms is a mini-series nature documentary that makes you see life from different animals’ perspective. And it’s for sure one of those beautiful and sensible films that can make you feel reassured that the world is actually beautiful and not as bad as the news say. Well, at least until the bird catches the mouse and other terrible scenes of behaviors I don’t agree with.

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When blessing is what you do for a living: Orthodox priests blessing stuff

This is not the kind of stuff you normally see on Passepartout, but I simply cannot help myself! I find it important for you to know that orthodox priests are in the habit of blessing everything, and once they start, they never stop. In the Orthodox tradition – in which I was born – people ask priests to bless, for example, a new house. But we don’t need to limit ourselves to that, obviously. Everything is ‘blessable‘. A tank, a horse, a spacecraft – all splashed with the holy water – in exchange for a more or less symbolic financial compensation. How much is this related to faith…I don’t know. But it also doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can just think and make a top 3 things you need to be blessed. Things will be arranged.

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So many stories: the magic of Alexander Jansson’s illustrated world

I cannot believe I found these only now! Where have they been hiding? It seems that every time I’m having a greyish Dutch day, I find something magical to get me out of the gloominess. Last time it was Leszek Kostuj and his surreal paintings. Now it is Alexander Jansson, this wizard from Sweden who does all sorts of mixed media illustration, 2D/3D stuff and other tricks. His work managed to completely change my day. Have a look. You really have to. It’s all magic.

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The stuffed employees: photos behind the scenes of the natural history museum in Vienna

Klaus Pichler is by far one of my favorite photographers. I love the unusual subjects he finds and the way he makes those subjects seem even more curious and interesting than they are in the first place. I previously wrote about him and his Just the Two of Us series of portraits of cosplayers and their homes (cosplayers are those people who dress up like all sorts of characters). And now here is Skeletons in the Closet, a look behind Vienna’s Museum of Natural History, in those rooms where stuffed animals pile up (and come alive at night?).

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Finding Vivian Maier (2014, directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel)

Vivian Maier’s work was discovered accidentally. She took photos all her life and kept them hidden while working as a nanny. No one knew about the photos. In 2009, soon after her death, John Maloof accidentally bought a box of negatives and undeveloped films at an auction. He didn’t know what he was buying and he was amazed by what he saw when he scanned the photos. I heard the story some years ago and now I was looking forward to seeing this film he made, in search for this amazing artist that kept everything about herself to herself, including her wonderful photos.

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Jack and the beanstalk: mesmerizing photos of Hong Kong’s flats

I have a friend who came to The Netherlands from Hong Kong and she was surprised that here you can see the stars at night. Apparently, in Hong Kong that is quite a luxury because of the light pollution. If to that you add the sight of these enormously high flats and the knowledge that the place is one of the most densely populated places on earth, you get a mental picture of this unique and crowded place. And to complete those mental pictures, see some real pictures below.

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