Import/Export by Ulrich Seidl

A select audience were spread around the seats of Cambridge Picturehouse’s smallest screen (3) often the place for odd ball films or those that attract a minority viewer. I have seen films here with only one other person in the theatre. On Friday night while you could have been out drinking or even watching the latest Coen brothers film, you could have been one of the audience watching Austrian Ulrich Seidl’s latest uncompromising, grim critique of Austrian culture and politics, Import Export. The narrative centres around Pauli, a macho young guy and failed security guard who travels with his unattractive step-father from Austria through Slovakia to Ukraine working for a slot machines company, and a Ukrainian nurse Olga who travels to an unwelcoming Austria to escape grim conditions in an always freezing Ukraine. Of the two, Olga is the more sympathetic. At a moving moment she makes a hurried illicit telephone call from her workplace to her mother and baby daughter and sings the daughter’s favourite song to her, all but breaking down. Pauli moves from being a rather unsympathetic tough waster to someone who develops dignity and resilience, particularly in contrast to his exploitative step father with whom he shares a white van and hotel room (on their trip east) and is forced uncomfortably to watch his degrading exploits with a Ukrainian prostitute. This was far more ‘acted’ and plot driven than the only other Seidl film I’ve seen Mit Verlust ist zu rechnen (1992)… aka Loss Is to Be Expected (International: English title). Actually although this is probably not his intention, he makes beautiful shots from the most inhospitable settings: the camera work, usually locked down – rather like his fellow countryman Michael Haneke, has a certain aesthetic. It is one of the reasons that the films are bearable. In spite of the grim things that surround both lead characters, and as the reviews say, there is a strong humanism in this film and we can’t help but feel that dignity wins out. Is the film a bit over-egged? Possibly. Seidl selects only the grimmest environments to film, then waits till it either rains or snows. The film ends with an elderly inmate of an old-people’s home repeating Tod, Tod (death death) as the film fades to black.

The Mahaparinirvana-sutra says…

‘All formations are impermanent; this is the law of appearing and disappearing. When appearing and disappearing disappear, then this stillness is bliss.’ This means that when there is no appearance or disappearance in your mind, that mind is complete stillness and bliss. It is a mind utterly devoid of thinking. This is your mind before thinking arises.

From The Compass of Zen by Seung Sahn 1997 Shamhala (p.231)

Litton Cheney

Back in 1974 between school and university I worked as an assistant warden at Litton Cheney youth hostel in Dorset. My first taste of motorcycling was as a passenger on a summer sunday evening from Dorset to Bath on the back of a new BMW that boasted electric start. I recently found this picture. I was 18.

Burn after Reading

The Coen brothers’ follow up to the dark and nihilistic No Country for Old Men may be hilarious and almost farcical but it is no less determined to present a vew of humans as subject to the destructive and meaningless whims of fate and their own vanity and ignorance. All of the screwball characters may be charming and funny but they are all caught in their own lack of self-knowledge and personal ambitions. The marriages are shot through with deceit, the CIA is full of the most unintellegent men and Hardbodies Gym is staffed by losers (one of whom reveals he used to be a Greek Orthodox priest for 15 years). Right at the end the Chief of Intellegence looks to the camera and asks ‘Well, what have we learnt here?’ ‘Not to do it again, I suppose – but what did we do?’ Clearly nothing has been learnt from this almost Jacobean catastrophe of subterfuge and mass death at the end. So the vision is bleak but really the film is hilarious with a fantastic centre-stage performance from John Malkovitch, charicature coldness from Tilda Swinton and beatuifully crazed stupidity from Frances McDormand. The film starts and ends with majestic zooms in and out from and back to space, as if the events of this bunch of idiots is just one of the many stories that could be told of humanity all probably equally as vain and meaningless – at least on the continent that we see from our high vantage point. Burn After Readig on IMDB

Preparing for the next motorcycle tour

If you look on ebay you will see panniers come up for the Triumph sprint every now and then. Amazingly quite a few of them seem to be sold incomplete, sometimes just the panniers without the hardware that you need to actually fix them to the bike. The list price quoted to me by a Triumph dealer for new panniers was £600 and even then they told me they were ‘unavailable’. when a set appeared on ebay that were the right match for my bike and complete I didn’t hesitate to pay the buy it now price of £360. A couple of days later they arrived in two huge boxes lovingly packed by their seller. It all seemed to be there – in fact there were a lot of pieces left over after I had fitted them. Like most work on this bike, you seem to need to half dismantle the maching to do anything.




Fitting the brackets to the bike took about 5 hours in total and building the panniers was easy in comparison. By the same post that these arrived so did that rather nice Triumph luggage rack which is now also fitted. Now I feel ready (apart from some Ortleib luggage) for the tour of Mittel Europe I have been promising myself for next summer.