Our monthly pick of the best films and books either from Southern Europe or featuring Southern European locations.
TEXT: ANNA BONET
Non-Fiction, or Double Vies as it’s called in France, offers up a slice of literary life in Paris like no other. This is a film of intellectual conversation, sex, books and affairs. Having won the award for Best Director at Cannes and Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival, as well as a Golden Globe, expectations are always sky-high for renowned writer-director Olivier Assayas. But Non-Fiction is up there with his best.
Long-time gossip author Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) has a new novel, and for the first time, his editor Alain (Guillaume Canet) refuses to publish it. It might have something to do with the fact that Leonard is having an ongoing affair with Alain’s wife, Selena (Juliette Binoche), and the book is a thinly disguised portrait of his love-life.
Léonard (Vincent Macaigne)
But Alain is not without a mistress either. He’s busy carrying on with Laure (Christa Théret), the publishing house’s head of ‘digital transition’ – all the while mourning what the technology industry is doing to the book world. There’s a lot going on here, but Non-Fiction manages to be a highly perceptive and high-brow take on modern culture and relationships, whilst also being a lot of fun to watch.
Despite all the drama and sophistication, comedy is at the heart of this film. This lightness of touch stops Non-Fiction from being didactic in any way. There are some very funny characters, whose humour is as dry as it is entertaining. As the somewhat disheveled Leonard, Macaigne is particularly brilliant at getting you to laugh, though each lead is just as exquisitely matched to their role.
Selena (Juliette Binoche)
But as well as laughing, Non Fiction will have you questioning where you stand on all aspects of the modern world and today’s pop culture. Are tweets really the new haikus? What place do libraries have in today’s world? And should you go and support your local independent bookshop? Watching this film feels as though you’re there at the dinner table with them, smoking cigarettes and trying to keep up with the conversation. Truly, Non-Fiction is oh so French, and an excellent watch.
Non-Fiction is in UK cinemas from 11 July
TEXT: CLAIRE WEBB
British author Karen Swan likes to set her novels in exotic locations, and her latest book transports the reader to a sizzling Madrid. The Spanish Promise is about a young woman who appears to have it all. Charlotte Fairfax is in possession of good looks, a devoted fiancée and a successful if somewhat unusual career: she’s a wealth counsellor. Apparently being rich isn’t as easy as you might think, so Charlotte spends her days helping billionaires who feel burdened by their hefty bank balances.
A week before her wedding day, a private bank flies her to Spain to find out why a dying tycoon wants to give away his fortune to a woman that his family has never heard of. Charlotte suspects that he has skeletons in his closet, and it soon becomes clear that she does, too: she spends the balmy evening drowning painful memories with rosé. Her hangover isn’t helped by a chance meeting with her ex – a dashing history professor – at an exclusive country club.
Left to right: Karen Swan | Spanish Promise
Before Charlotte’s glamorous life gets nauseating, Swan whisks the reader back to 1930s Andalusia, where political tensions are brewing in the years preceding the Spanish Civil War. She puts us in the shoes of Nene, the feisty daughter of a prosperous bull breeder, who has been forbidden from playing with her best friend Santi – the son of a poor farmer. At this point, you don’t know what this adolescent girl has to do with Charlotte or her ailing mogul, but the vivid descriptions of her family’s sun-baked hacienda, and the simmering conflict between her landowner father and Ronda’s beleaguered peasants, sweep you along.
The present-day and Civil War narratives are neatly interwoven and slowly unravel the mogul’s mysterious family history. When Nene grows up and flees to Madrid, Swan doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, but tempers them with romance. As for Charlotte, she finds herself boarding a private jet to Andalusia with her buff history professor in tow, and staying in a certain hacienda. There’s a fabulously cheesy chapter where her ex has to come to her rescue, and you can almost feel the heat coming off the pages when they embrace.
The Spanish Promise has been written for the beach bag and Swan’s juicy prose slips down as easily as a chilled glass of sangria on a scorching afternoon. This is a book to devour while sunbathing by the pool, or to pass the time when you’re stuck at the airport because your budget flight to Malaga has been delayed.
The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan is published by Pan Macmillan on 11 July (£7.99)