Don’t even think of touching ‘Untouchable’

Recommendation: don’t touch this film with a barge pole.

Warning: This review includes spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and for some inexplicable reason want to, DON’T read what follows.

In times of capitalist financial crisis there’s always a surplus of so-called ‘feel good movies’ and this one falls into that category. Hollywood produced these by the shedful during the post-Great Crash in the 1930s. Then the poor dreamt of becoming stars of the stage or screen and we have as a legacy films such as 42nd Street (1933) or the Gold Diggers series, (1933, 1935). Although the stories in these films were silly and slight they did provide some memorable songs, dance routines and the masterful, long tracking sequence in 42nd Street which has rarely been surpassed and is a master-class in film making.

If dreams on the stage weren’t enough some even became gangsters, thieves and killers, as was depicted in Arthur Penn’s 1967 film of the eponymous heroes Bonnie and Clyde.

On the screen some found fame and fortune, some found fulfilment, some found death, others didn’t. In reality most people paying to see their dreams played out were only taken out of poverty by the outbreak of World War II – a bit like out of the frying pan and into the fire.

In the post-Second World War crises we are treated to patronising, condescending and shallow depictions of people overcoming adversity due to some inspiring individual who was able to impart the impression that all problems could be overcome by the application of hard work and the Protestant ethic.

The favoured vehicle for this (in Hollywood) was a high school in a poor and deprived inner city district where a charismatic teacher would come from outside and transform the situation in the same way that Christ turned water into wine. The school room allowed for the racial tension, that can exist in such a hostile environment, to be resolved in an amicable manner due to the catalyst of the outsider. They might stop fighting each other but they never decided to get together and fight against the system that had caused the problems in the first place. That would be a step too far.

There have been a few films every decade since the 50s, one of the last Hollywood examples being Dangerous Minds (1995), starring Michelle Pfeiffer as an ex-Marine (isn’t that ridiculous?). There was also an earlier, local grown version of To Sir, with Love (1969), which also played the racial card.

In the 21st century we have moved out of the classroom but the vital characteristics of the poor being ‘educated’, ‘given a second chance’, ‘being allowed to develop their true capabilities’ are still with us. However, in Untouchable (2012) escape comes thanks to the condescending, patronising and philanthropic millionaire.

Now, I can accept that quadriplegics can get angry, I would if I were in that situation. But at least he has the safety net of his money and seems to spend most of his time interviewing candidates for a carer to replace the one that had only lasted a matter of days.

Come the wise-cracking Eddie Murphy/Richard Prior lookalike/soundalike from the banlieue. He only attends the interview process (how did he get past the initial selection procedure?) to get a signature for the dole so that he can prove he’s looking for work. In the process he steals a Fabergé egg (why items of such sentimental value – we learn later – apart from financial value are left out in a semi-public place was beyond me). To illustrate how stupid the working class are this is later referred to as a ‘Kinder’ egg, the ubiquitous chocolate and toy combination that has come to dominate the continent.

Despite his lack of interest in the job, lack of any experience and lack of any social skills out of his own peer group he is given the job as carer because ‘he doesn’t have any pity’ for the millionaire.

This lack of pity is admirably demonstrated when he ‘discovers’, for the first time it seems, that a quadriplegic has no sensation of pain in his legs. The ‘carer’ accidentally touches the bare leg of his client with a hot tea-pot and is surprised there is no reaction. So surprised indeed that he then proceeds to pour the boiling liquid over the legs of the patient. I don’t know what was worse in this scene, the fact that he did it, the fact that the millionaire was totally oblivious to what was happening or the reaction of one of the other employees when she saw what was happening. Here, I assume, we are supposed to realise that the poor are so ignorant that they have no concept of paralysis.

We are given a depiction of his poverty by the sharing of the bathroom and the lack of privacy in the flat in the high-rise block in the Berlioz banlieue (it actually exists to the north of Paris). So in the mansion he has to be provided with a bathroom the size of the whole of his family’s flat. What does he do there but perform to stereotype, put on headphones and sing loudly (and badly) to the music from the ‘hood’, ignoring the intercom that he is supposed to be monitoring.

Here I found myself asking a more general question about black comedy. In many depictions on the screen when black actors are funny their voices go into an extreme falsetto. This was the case with Eddie Murphy and in an even more extreme case with Richard Prior – whose falsetto was so infectious that Gene Wilder caught the disease and eventually made both of them annoying and impossible to watch. Even Lenny Henry does this. I was listening to an interview with him, on the radio, a week or so ago. He speaks normally but when he wants to say something funny up his voice goes a number of octaves. Why? I don’t understand.

But our tough, disenchanted and demoralised young man is not devoid of humanity. He eventually carries out acts of ‘kindness’ for the millionaire. The rich man obviously knew that there was humanity underneath the hard exterior. The carer watches, agonised, as his aunt works in a glass walled office as a night cleaner. He feels for her, but not enough to give her any of the money he’s been earning as a carer. (At the beginning the answer of one of the applicants for the job to the question why he wanted the post was the money, so we are to assume that the eventual successful carer was not on the minimum wage – but none of that gets back to the banlieue.)

The scene in the mountains is bounding on the surreal. Would a para-glider instructor really take on a novice who was screaming and reacting aggressively against taking part in the flight without the ability, and the permission, to pull a strap that would send the miscreant plummeting to the ground thousands of feet below? I don’t think so.

Towards the end he leaves the employ of the rich man to sort out the trouble his kin has with some nasty gangster types. Then we see our ‘hero’ talking to a thug in a big motor and, presumably, sorting out the matter. Are we supposed to believe that? At the beginning of the film he’s doing what he has to in order to get his dole and at the end he’s able to just talk to the hard men to get his wayward young relative off the hook. French gangsters must be pussy cats.

He returns for one act of kindness and gets the millionaire married off. He now owns a company – so say the words on the screen before the final credits. Everyone is happy! Not only has his humanity been revealed he now adopts the bourgeois lifestyle to escape from his poverty-stricken and deprived past.

This is the official French nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards next March. With all the publicity the producers had bought (surely not all the reviewers are that crass? – although I think I might know the answer to that question before even asking it) pre-release there is a strong likelihood of success. Having, not yet, been able to see all the possible films in that category it would be a tragedy if Untouchable was called up on any stage to receive any award.

Based on a true story? A feel good movie? Pass the sick bag.

Corfu to Saranda ferry – a travellers’ view

Hydrofoil Kristi - Saranda port

Hydrofoil Kristi – Saranda port

More on Albania ……

Corfu to Saranda ferry – a travellers’ view

One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.

I’ve been to Albania three times now, so far, and each time via Corfu. The first time I arrived late at night and was expecting to leave on the ferry the next morning. That was thwarted due to an annual safety check on the hydrofoil (so I was told though I heard a different story in Saranda) which meant there was no departure for three days. The second time everything went as it should and the journey was made much easier due to my previous experience. What surprised me the most was there was no way I could find detailed information about the logistics of getting across a relatively narrow stretch of water. This posting is an attempt to give an as up to date and accurate step by step approach to getting from one country to another as is possible.

Where you buy your tickets depends upon the time of year. During the high season, when there is more than one sailing a day, there is a kiosk just inside the main New Port entrance, to the left backing on to the main road. However, outside of the months of June to September tickets are only sold in the company’s office.

This is the head office of Ionian Cruises. That’s a grand title but it’s based in small shop facing the Domestic Terminal building, which also houses the biggest café in the area (as well as a left luggage office) on the road that runs parallel to the sea. There is a small sign indicating that they sell tickets to Albania (in English).

All the details I’ve been able to collect are as follows:

Ionian Cruises – Petrakis Lines, 4, Ethnikis Antistaseos, 49100 Corfu, Hellas.

(The website has improved significantly since I first published this post. Any additional information will more than likely be found there, e.g., vehicle tariffs.) 

Tel. : +0030 26610 38690, 31649, 25155

Fax : +0030 26610 38787, 26555

The office is open from 08.00 and the people who work in there speak English, which makes life easier for some of us non-Greek speakers.

Fast Ferry – Hydrofoil

You need your passport and you MUST buy a ticket before going to the boat. As of April 2018 the adult cost is  €19 each way in the low season. The cost increases to €23.80 from mid-June to mid-September. Children go for half price. Departure Times (all year) are at 09.00, but with 2 or 3 extra sailings from the middle of June to the middle of September. Check the website for times when you want to travel. The latest sailing from Corfu is 18.30. Apart from possible disruption due to the weather or mechanical issues the ferry should run every day of the year. There is now a facility to book and pay online

The hydrofoil leaves from the top end of the new port. This means that after buying your ticket in the office you have to get to the main entrance to the Port of Corfu which is about 400m along the road, heading northwards out of Corfu town. Once through the main gates turn left and head to the New Passenger Terminal, the sandy coloured building about a 100m away. Here you will get your passport and ticket checked. There is also a small Duty Free shop but few other facilities.

Duration of journey: 30 minutes.

Once on board leave your bag at your seat (or at the luggage store by the entrance) and go right to the back of the boat and get a sensation of speed without being blinded by the spray that obscures any sightseeing from the cabin. The boats are Kristi, Santa and Santa III, Komet class hydrofoils, not that young any more but still up to the task in hand.

Remember to put your watches/time pieces forward one hour when landing on Albanian soil (you effectively arrive before you have left!).

Car Ferry

A ferry taking vehicles is also now an option. From 16th May till 25th October there’s a departure from Corfu at 19.00. There’s an extra ferry between 1st July until 25th October at 13.00. From Saranda the departures during the same dates are 10.30 and 16.00 (local time). Costs are too complex to list here but all are on the website.

Duration of journey: 70 minutes.

These times and prices are valid for 2019.

There are no visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, citizens of other countries should check first. Passport formalities are remarkably innocuous on entering (or leaving) Albania. The passport will be scanned and recorded on the immigration service computer. You normally get a stamp in your passport if arriving or leaving by boat but this is not always the case at land borders. The lack of a stamp took me by surprise the first time I entered by land, from Greece, but later learnt that this is common and you shouldn’t be concerned if there is no entry stamp.

Once you leave passport/customs control you might well be approached by Tomi. He’s an English-speaking Albanian who runs a basic hostel less than 100m from the port entrance. If you are new to the country, want to meet other foreign visitors to pick their brains about what/when/where the hostel is a good place for all of this. Tomi also is a mine of information and if he doesn’t know the answers will almost certainly know someone who does. If you miss him you can call his mobile, +355694345426.

Another good place to check out is the Dolphin Hostel, located at 168, Rruga Lefter Talo. This is just above the street Rruga Flamurit, which is effectively Saranda’s interurban bus station.

The ticket office to get tickets to Corfu is in the building on the main road, directly above the dock. The name over the office is Finikas Lines. Sailings from Saranda vary depending upon time of year. There’s always at least one a day but there are extra sailings in the peak season. Check the link above for exact sailing details.

More on Albania …..


A walk around the Jewish Quarter of Segovia

Corpus Christi Church/Synagogue Segovia

Corpus Christi Church as part of the Segovia City Walls

A short walk, peaceful and crowd free, which explores Segovia’s Jewish past providing a perspective on the ancient town missed by most visitors.

In Segovia it is impossible to miss the Roman aqueduct but most of the thousands of visitors to the city are totally unaware of an area of narrow, medieval streets which bore the brunt of one of the most traumatic episodes in Spain’s history.

In Granada, on March 31st 1492, just a few months after the final defeat of the Moors, the ‘Catholic Monarchs’, Isabel and Ferdinand, promulgated The Edict of Expulsion, decreeing that the Jews in all of Spain had four months to either convert to Christianity or leave the country. This ended almost 300 years of Jewish presence in Segovia.

However, now there’s a growing movement to recognise the role of the Jewish community in the development of the city and visitors have the opportunity to re-discover something of the past.

A Jewish community can be traced back to 1215 and for almost 200 years there were few restrictions on their place of residence. That changed in 1412 when they were restricted to the area, more or less, around the present Cathedral but things worsened in 1481 when they were forced into much more of a ‘ghetto’, the area of this walking tour.

The start is in the small square of Corpus at the top end of Calle de Juan Bravo. Here there is a fork in the road and the entrance to the Judería Vieja is the one to the left – the quieter of the two, this is not a walk that will be hampered by crowds of people!

Before entering the narrow street go through a Gothic arch, on the left, taking you to the entrance of the Corpus Christi church, which used to be the Principal Synagogue, but only for a few decades. This building has had a troubled past. It was a synagogue by 1373 but was expropriated by the Catholic Church after a supposed and unproven act of profanation around 1419 – a painting in the church depicts the alleged sacrilege. A disastrous fire in 1899 destroyed virtually all remnants of the old synagogue and it was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century. Further work has attempted to recapture much of the old Synagogue with its horseshoe arches, the capitals decorated with vegetable and geometric designs and the beautiful, wooden ceiling.

On returning to the street turn left into the Judería Vieja and in a few steps go down left through the archway (the Puerta del Sol). From here you have a view of the other side of the church, forming part of the city walls.

Return to the Judería Vieja and continue along to number 12, the Didactic Centre of the Jewish Quarter (Centro Didáctico de la Judería). This Education Centre is based in a building that was part of the property of Abraham Seneor. Very rich and powerful he had enemies in both the Jewish and Christian communities and by the time of his death in 1493 had probably attained more influence in the Spanish court than any Jew ever before – quite amazing when you remember that this was at the time of Isabel and Ferdinand, under whose reign the Inquisition was initiated and who decreed the expulsion of the Jews.

Established in 2004 by the Segovia City Council, the Centre houses a small exhibition space which tells of the history of the Jews in Segovia and Spain. The information boards and the two video presentations (one in 3D) are in both Spanish and English and are very much directed to those who know little about Jewish history or culture. The centre also stages discussions and conferences which address Spain’s Jewish past.

Turn left on leaving the centre, reach the corner of the Cathedral and then follow the road as it goes quite steeply downhill (Calle de Martinez Campos) towards the Puerta de San Andrés. Here there is a museum that gives the history of the city wall. The narrow, stepped street that goes up hill to the right is the Judería Nueva, a street that is virtually unchanged from the time of the Jewish presence more than 500 years ago.

From the gate continue along the lower road to what is now the Museum of Segovia, housed in a building that was originally the Jewish slaughterhouse.

Return to the Puerta de San Andrés but this time go through the gate and outside the wall. Take the path immediately on the right hand side and within seconds you get a fine view of the abattoir, standing on a rocky outcrop over on the right. From here it is easy to understand the reason for its location, the blood and offal would be just thrown down into the gully.

Follow the wide path downhill and then, in less than a minute, the narrow path, indicated by a stone pillar with a carved menorah (the seven-branched candle holder), that goes down to the left. Cross the small bridge and then straight ahead as the path climbs, go through a tunnel beneath the road to come out to the old Jewish cemetery. This has been excavated a number of times but not a lot of information has been gained from these investigations – the gravestones having been looted soon after the remaining Jews had converted to Christianity.

However, it’s possible to see the different methods of burial used, the limestone being carved in the shape of a human body or a cave-like room being created for multiple burials. What can be seen is that all the identifiable graves point in the direction of Jerusalem, with the heads orientated to the west and the feet towards the east.

Another poignant feature of the cemetery is that it was here that those who refused to convert spent their last days in the area, before leaving both Segovia, and then Spain, forever. Their last view of the place they had called home being one of the sun shining on the magnificent, golden, medieval walls.

After a relatively short walk in distance, but one that is full of interest, together with the walk down to the dry river bed and up to the cemetery (that has to be done twice!) when you return to within the city walls you will be looking for a good place to eat and drink.

This can be a bit tricky in a town whose culinary speciality is roast, suckling pig but there are a number of restaurants that are now offering Sephardic menus and this gets extended every September, for a weekend, when many restaurants provide a Jewish orientated menu – some even offering kosher wine.

Useful Information:

The Corpus Christi Church/Synagogue, Puerta de San Andrés and the Segovia Museum are all closed on Mondays.

A recent book, in English, about the history of the Jews in Segovia providing more information than I have been able to give here is the ‘Jewry Guide to Segovia’ by Bonifacio Bartolomé Herrero, available in the Centro Didáctico, priced €16.

Segovia City Tourism

Segovia City Map


Segovia City Map




Segovia City Wall


Segovia’s City Wall and San Andrés Gate



Centro Didáctico de la Judería


Centro Didáctico de la Judería – in Spanish



Segovia, World Heritage Site


Segovia, World Heritage Site