Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December, 2019

And Then We Danced ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th December, 2019

3549BA0F-D8AB-4471-A6C2-5A39BE1A3A5FGeorgian traditional dance, truly a form of ballet, is an expression of the nation’s soul, but it it is also a manifestation of the age-old human mating display. The girls glide gracefully, their eyes focused on the ground, in virginal modesty, while the young men stomp and strut their stuff, like peacocks on parade. Just as some families work in circuses for generations, handing down their experience and technique, so sometimes this dancing is also a family tradition, poorly paid but blessed with a certain cultural kudos, rejecting the homogenisation of our contemporary globalised world. This is the case with two brothers in Tbilisi in Levan Akin’s delicate drama, And Then We Danced. One drinks to excess and chases girls, eventually getting one of his conquests pregnant, while the other, Merab (beautifully played by newcomer Levan Gelbakhiani) is a more sensitive soul, in a gently romantic relationship with his main female dancing partner that he is no hurry to consummate. Then a handsome newcomer arrives from Batumi, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). At first Merab sees him as a rival, but quickly falls under his masculine spell and circumstances lead to a brief carnal relationship. The innate homophobia of Georgian society then swings into action. Merab’s dancing is damned as effeminate but he has by now acquired a new spirit of defiance, accepting that if he is going to be true to his real nature he will have to leave the country, while Irakli opts for “normality”. Levan Akin (of Georgian stock, but based in Sweden), handles this profoundly sad story beautifully and it is given added depth by its non-sensationalised depiction of the poverty of many people’s lives in post-Soviet Georgia; Merab and his brother wait tables in a restaurant at night to help support their mother and grandmother, yet still the electricity in the family’s little flat sometimes gets cut off. There is the camaraderie of the corps de ballet to help sustain the youngsters’ morale, until some of the male dancers hear the rumour that Merab is a fag and his position becomes untenable. And Then We Danced is thus a trailblazer in the Georgian context, but perhaps one that was only possible because its director effectively lives in exile.

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Rejoining the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th December, 2019

88CE557C-2E8C-4BAF-A831-47E346D55744The Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, has kindly said that Britain will be welcome to rejoin the EU at some stage in the future. He is an unashamed Anglophile, but the sentiment is shared across a wide spectrum of continental politicians. Of course, the UK has not actually left yet, but short of an Act of God, Brexit will happen on 31 January, after which we will enter 11 months of transition (though don’t be surprised if the timetable slips a bit on that, whatever Prime Minister Boris Johnson says. You literally cannot believe a word he says, even in Ancient Greek. And he hasn’t even sat in a ditch, let alone died in it, as he promised. Nor indeed lain down in front of bulldozers preparing for the expansion of Heathrow Airport, though that is another story). To return to the issue of the UK’s rejoining the EU, pro-Europeans (not least the Liberal Democrats), need to handle things carefully. Immediately campaigning for a referendum on EU membership would be likely to backfire, being decried as “undemocratic”. Instead, we will need to make the realities of life after Brexit obvious and bide our time. Let the people say, “We realise now it was a mistake.” The call for rejoining must come from them. And I have some hope it will happen in my lifetime.

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Parasite *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd December, 2019

889B2E3E-B203-408B-9B8A-543D86629447The Kims, a poor South Korean family living in a dank and smelly basement, dream of extracting themselves from their misery. Clearly, folding cardboard pizza boxes isn’t going to make them rich. Then, through a friend, the son — who learnt English during his military service — is offered the chance to be English-language tutor to the daughter of a rich industrialist, Mr Park. When he turns up at their extensive, ultra-modern home he soon captures their affection and trust with his cute looks and gracious manner. But he quickly realises the golden opportunity to get his father, mother and sister (supposedly strangers) employed in the household, even it means using increasingly extreme measures to displace those who currently have those jobs. With each deception and strategy the lies get more difficult to sustain and the Parks’ house begins to reveal its own unexpected secrets. As things escalate in a mixture of tragedy and farce, young Mr Kim realises that the only way to avoid things going wrong is not to have any plan at all. But events have taken on a terrifying momentum of their own, meaning no-one knows how things will end.

Full of surprises, Bong Joon-ho’s increasingly black comedy is also a striking social commentary on the gap between the rich and poor, with neither knowing or understanding how the other half lives. The spoilt children of the Parks are nonetheless deprived of the love and everyday support that binds the Kims together, but the young boy’s psychological problems prove not to be as inexplicable as the mother believes. There are some exquisite sub-plots and diversions — including a beautiful parody of a North Korean TV announcer — but Bong keeps his hand firmly on the tiller as mayhem ensues. Visually, the film is unforgettable, not least in the stark contrast of the two families’ homes, but it is the acting that seals the movie’s place as one of this year’s most unforgettable cinema experiences. No matter how surreal the action becomes one believes utterly in their characterisation.

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Britain Casts Itself Adrift

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2019

03ED2EAA-8A9B-4ADE-B461-49A127C5F5BEHot on the heels of the Conservative election win last week, guaranteeing that Brexit will happen on 31 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear that after leaving the EU, the UK will cease to be subject to EU rules and regulations. The government must know full well that this determination, if followed through, will mean that there can be no frictionless trade agreement with the EU27, either at the end of the projected transition period — arbitrarily set and enshrined in law by Mr Johnson’s Hard Brexiteers as 31 December 2020 — or ever. There is no way that the EU is going to compromise on its standards (from which British consumers have benefitted for nearly half a century) just to please London. So inevitably the UK economy will pivot towards the United States, the land of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. US pharmaceutical companies are already salivating at the thought of the killing they may make by foisting higher-priced drugs on the NHS. Of course, trade with the US will not in the foreseeable future make up for the inevitable shortfall in trade with the Continent and the Republic of Ireland. But Brexiteers argue that the UK will now be “free” to look elsewhere for trading partners (ignoring the fact that it always was). These presumably would include the Big Four BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, one should note that those four emerging powers do not share our values, let alone our standards, unlike the EU. I am not saying that Messrs. Bolsonaro, Putin, Modi and Xi are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but I would not fancy being stuck alone on a desert island with any one of them.

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Monolingual Britain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th December, 2019

58DC58EB-7D28-4043-8AE7-028ED9620E22It has often been said — not always in jest — that Brits are bad at learning foreign languages. But for many Brits the truth may be that they don’t see the point in making the effort, “as everyone else speaks English, don’t they?” That latter assumption is of course incorrect and to be honest it is a feeble excuse. And with Brexit looming, when the UK government wants to promote the idea of a Global Britain the population will be largely unprepared to engage with foreigners in other languages. According to, using figures from the EU statistics agency, Eurostat, the UK has the highest number of monolingual inhabitants of any of the 28 EU member states: 65.4%. Yes, almost two thirds. This is despite the fact that so many Brits travel abroad for their holidays. Moreover, by not speaking other languages monolingual Brits miss out on so much of Europe’s cultural richness. Compare our poor national linguistic performance with that of the most multilingual, the Swedes, of whom only 3.4% say they speak no other language. Part of the problem is that language teaching in British schools has dropped off in recent years. However, not all is lost. According to google searches hundreds of thousands of Brits have been searching online about learning another language, Spanish being the most popular: 112,000 in the past month alone. This individual initiative is to be applauded. But if the government wants to prevent the country becoming more isolationist after Brexit it needs to be encouraging more citizens to learn other languages as well.


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A Vida Invisivel *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th December, 2019

D6468D38-3CE8-425A-978F-14A6137D0103Just a few years after the Second World War two sisters in Rio de Janeiro rebel against the strict domestic regime of their humourless Portuguese baker father and his cowed wife. One, a talented pianist, dreams of going to study at the conservatoire in Vienna while the other takes the plunge and runs off to Europe with a handsome Greek sailor, which will see her banished from the family home when she returns, pregnant but with her marriage in ruins. The other sister meanwhile has married a man who despairs that she seems to care more for music than for him. Austria remains an unrealised dream. In reality, the greatest love the two young women have is for each other, but they will be kept apart by a wicked lie, each believing the other is on the other side of the Atlantic. The grief of separation is almost unbearable for the sensitive pianist. Karim Ainouz’s family drama could all too easily been schmalzy whereas in fact his delicate direction and the brilliant acting of Carol Duarte and Julia Stockler as the two sisters make this an unforgettable, lyrical portrayal of sibling love and loss. The physical settings of Rio in the 1950s and 1960s, often in rain or under low cloud, greatly add to the atmosphere. There are moments of humour as well as some unflinching sex, but the dominant key is minor, not major. The expression of growing helplessness on the face of the pianist as the years go by leaves an indelible impression.

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Say No to Visas for EU Citizens

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd December, 2019

Priti Patel 1In their latest move to cut Britain off from mainland Europe the Conservatives are proposing introducing electronic visas for EU and Commonwealth citizens making short-term visits to the UK. If that goes ahead, the EU would doubtless feel obliged to reciprocate by imposing visas for British citizens wishing to visit the Continent. This is ending Freedom of Movement with a vengeance. Home Secretary Priti Patel believes that this will make Britain more “secure” — a concern that last week’s terror attack in London has heightened. But the London Bridge attacker, Usman Khan, like the other terrorists who have carried out incidents in Great Britain, was British. The problem lies within, not over the Channel. But this government has become ideologically obsessed with breaking our close relationship with our current EU and EEA neighbours, turning us into an isolated entity like the United States. But whereas the US is a whale and can survive with tough border controls, intent on keeping people out, Britain will be a minnow once it leaves the EU. Not only will imposing visas for EU citizens further antagonise our European neighbours, it will also do incalculable damage to major sectors of the British economy, not least the creative industries (where mobility is often crucial) and tourism. This really is a crazy idea and provides one more glaring reason why electors in Britain should not vote Conservative on 12 December.

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AIDS: Not Gone but Forgotten?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st December, 2019

World AIDS DayToday is World AIDS Day, but you are unlikely to see as many people wearing the related red ribbon symbol as was the case some years ago. Because effective drugs now mean that the HIV virus can be suppressed, though not yet eliminated, there is a tendency not to take the matter so seriously any more. In Britain, there are around 100,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS but it is no longer the guaranteed killer that it was in the 1980s and 1990s. However, some people are still getting infected by not taking to heart the warnings about unprotected sex, in particular. Surveys show that there is rising nonchalance among some high risk groups, notably promiscuous gay or bisexual men, so some of them are now benefitting from wisely using PrEP — HIV prevention pills that substantially reduce the risk of infection. In Britain, the NHS does regard combatting HIV/AIDS as a top priority and most doctors, hospitals and STD clinics deal with sufferers with sensitivity. Yet there is still quite a high level of public stigma attached to HIV status which can put great psychological pressure on people who are HIV+, especially those who have no-one in whom they feel they can confide. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, of course, the situation remains much worse, with AIDS decimating the populations of many countries, notably among heterosexuals. The rate of infections has recently slowed, thanks to better health education and the availability of free or cheap drug treatment. But much still needs to be done. That is why on World AIDS Day people must acknowledge that the problem has not yet gone away, and should not be forgotten. Richer countries, including Britain, must continue helping the global fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as providing the necessary education, treatment and support at home.

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