Tuesday, March 26, 2013

French Golden Oldie - "Les Feuilles Mortes"

“Autumn Leaves” is without question one of the much loved golden oldies of the 40s. Its original French version “Les Feuilles Mortes” sung by Yves Montand, in my opinion, surpasses any other version in poignancy, and it leaves a lingering after-taste. No doubt this is owed much to the heart-wrenching sentimental lyrics. Indeed, the French song was rendered from Jacques Prevert’s great poem of the same name.

Jacques Prevert may perhaps be a lesser known name than Charles Baudelaire, Stephane Mallarme or Paul Verlaine in the realm of French poetry, nonetheless his name was first introduced to me when I was studying French in my youth at L’Alliance Francaise. Ever since, one of his poems, “Barbara”, which was about the afflictions brought on by war, has stuck in my head to this day.

Here’s the link to the French song “Les Feuilles Mortes” (“The Dead Leaves”) performed by Italian-French actor/singer Yves Montand:-

Here’s the link to Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Autumn Leaves”:-

The lyrics of “Les Feuilles Mortes” as performed by Yves Montand in the above clip:-

Oh ! je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes
Des jours heureux où nous étions amis.
En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle,
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd'hui.
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié...
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi,
Et le vent du nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l'oubli.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais.

C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m'aimais et je t'aimais
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.

Here’s my English translation of the lyrics:-

Oh, how I wish that you could call to mind
The happy days when we were friends.
At that time life was more beautiful
And the sun more sizzling than today.
The dead leaves gather around the shovel,
You see, I’ve not forgotten…
The dead leaves gather around the shovel,
The memories and the regrets too;
And the north wind carries them
Through the cold night of oblivion.
You see, I’ve not forgotten
The song that you sang to me.

It is a song that mirrors our story.
You, you loved me, and I loved you;
We used to live, the two of us together.
You, who loved me, and I, who loved you.
But life separates those who love each other
Very softly, without making a noise.
And the sea wipes away from the sand
The footprints of lovers torn asunder.

But life separates those who love each other
Very softly, without making a noise.
And the sea wipes away from the sand
The footprints of lovers torn asunder.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Outrage or Apathy?

While Hong Kong activists are busy talking about another “Occupy Central” movement – this time to be a better organized and better grounded one than the last, the passing away of Stephane Hessel, a much revered champion of human rights and author of Time for Outrage (Indignez-vous!), the very book that inspired “Occupy Wall Street”, went largely unnoticed in Hong Kong. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Critique of Critic's Prize Award

The Hong Kong Arts Development Council’s award of a Gold ADC Critic’s Prize (the first of its kind) to a local journalist Jia Xuanning for her critical essay on the film “Vulgar Comedy” (“低俗喜劇”) has stirred up much controversy. The essay itself is under caustic attack from liberal-minded Hong Kongers.

Here are translated excerpts from another retort article by an InmediaHK writer:-

“I have commented from a cultural viewpoint. Now let me give a critique on the latter half of the essay from a social viewpoint.  The essay points out [the Mainland may well act as Hong Kong’s benevolent master, but it has not won Hong Kongers’ heart. On the one hand Hong Kongers bow to the Mainland’s economic prowess, while on the other refuse to let go of their residual sense of superiority on the mental level. This paradoxical mentality is like the psychological struggle of the film’s character played by Du: he shows an obsequious smiling face, while at heart he feels he’s being raped; they feel alienated from the mainlanders’s ‘inferiority’, yet they are being naturalized and glossed over. In the face of the Mainland, Hong Kong senses a loss of self-esteem and a collapse of the last line of defense with no power to retaliate, and in the end the already sickly relationship between the two places will only exacerbate.] (I’ve quoted this from the original essay, to avoid being accused of taking remarks out of context.) Jia’s essay smacks of imperialist mentality, full of condescension, insinuating that Hong Kongers are subservient to money, that being rich is almighty (as implied by ‘benevolent master’). Yet, Jia does not have a clear perception of reality. To say that Hong Kongers are jealous of mainlanders’ wealth is pure conjecture. According to IMF data, Hong Kong has a GDP per capita of close to US$36,000, while the Mainland’s figure is around US$6,000. Hong Kong is the Mainland third largest export partner (the first two being the European Union and the United States). The PRC’s Commerce Department data shows that Hong Kong’s investment in Mainland China amounts to US$600 billion, i.e. 46 percent of all of its foreign investment. As is apparent from data of different sources, the Mainland has to rely on Hong Kong.”


“Even without mentioning the mutually beneficial economic co-operation, the Mainland is still indebted to Hong Kong from the historical standpoint. During the Great Leap Forward when 30 million Chinese were starving to death (I do not know whether Jia has read about this part of Chinese history?), Hong Kongers selflessly extended help to the Mainland. More recently, whenever there were natural disasters like floods and earthquakes, Hong Kongers, apart from donating money generously, were involved in a series of rehabilitation hope -projects. On the other hand, the so-called tourism benefits brought about by the individual travel scheme are only concentrated in sales of luxury goods and local properties, to the detriment of local small and medium businesses. The real effect of that scheme is to enrich the few conglomerates; it does not benefit the average citizen at all. Indeed, citizens have had to bear the negatives, like street congestion, bad behaviors of travelers, parallel trades and a whole lot of resource distribution problems. I would urge Jia to take a fuller view of facts before writing, and would beseech the award panelists to use their common sense in making judgment.”    


“On another issue, the essay mentions that the film ‘Vulgar Comedy’ discriminates against mainlanders because one of the characters in the film played by Cheng mocks at mainlanders, which reflects a fear that Hong Kongers harbor. First of all, the film is not discriminatory towards mainlanders, as that character is a nouveau-riche plebeian and is not representative of all mainlanders. What the film tries to mock are the philistine habits of some nouveau-riche commoners – it does not amount to discrimination. However, what Jia says about Hong Kongers’ fear is correct, but for the wrong reason. Starting from the day of the handover, the Central Government has constantly been chipping away Hong Kongers’ freedom, trying arrogantly to domesticate Hong Kong with the Mainland’s officialdom way of handling things. It even mentions co-operation of the three powers. Now Hong Kong enjoys less and less freedom. Dissidents are suppressed. A society attuned to lies is in the making, thanks to the Central and Hong Kong SAR governments. The freedoms that we enjoy are a natural endowment – they are not granted by the Basic Law. We are being robbed of those freedoms. Certainly we have good reason to fear.”  


“What should have been an arts critique essay turns out to read more like a social commentary, full of political motives. I cannot but be baffled as to why such an essay could be selected for an award. Is it proper for the Arts Development Council to be thus politically charged? Why has this Council in Hong Kong become so like the Propaganda Department in directing ideology? If such an essay is worthy of an award, then participants in the next competition will probably slant their essays towards ideology. I would rather watch vulgar films than read a work of venomous lies.”