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Friday, April 19, 2024

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly picks for music, movies and more


By Adhithi Anjali — arts@theaggie.org


Book: “Vita Nostra: A Novel” by Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko, trans. Julia Meitov Hersey (2007)

The Dyachenkos, a pair of married authors from Ukraine, warp conceptions of time and space by sending readers through the unsettling study at the Institute of Special Technologies, which remains a mystery until you are enlisted to go. The protagonist, Sasha, is tested by a looming patron, a man whose ethics and power remain shrouded in secrecy while pushing the limits of body and mind to achieve success in her college. “Vita Nostra,” a title which references the Latin phrase “Vita nostra brevis est, Brevi finietur” (“Our life is brief, it will shortly end”), envelops you in an academic slaughterhouse — a place of uncanny horror. Sasha and her peers enter with no indication of what they are studying, only that they must pore over impossible geometric scenarios and unintelligible grammar until they make sense. The Dyachenkos and Hersey craft a wondrously abstract yet visceral mystery of language and perception that questions the place of audience and character. (Content warning: body horror) 


Song: “DOWNTOWN” by Deva Rani (2022)

The only constant in my life so far has been that I discover the most fun songs through friends. Playing Deva Rani’s 2022 single on a night drive across long stretches of dark road really heightened the electronic bounce of the song, and through the car speakers, it feels like the song even moves around you. Rani departs from the more blissful, summery sound heard in her 2018 single “Blue Raspberry,” and crafts a soundboard portrait of a city night with sparse lyrics and popping synths. “DOWNTOWN” sounds like a fishbowl has been placed over your head; as if you can feel your steps rhythmically reverberate through your body, but the world outside of you is bouncing off the glass walls. It’s a strange yet exciting experiment for a new artist that promises much to come should she decide to release an album.


Movie: “Plague Dogs” dir. by Martin Rosen (1982)

There was a tiny era, between the 1954 release of the animated adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and the 90s, that saw the creation of 2D animated solemn and tragic films about small animals. Examples include “Felidae” (1994), “Watership Down” (1978), “The Animals of Farthing Wood” (1993-1995) and “Plague Dogs” (1982). Rosen’s film truly takes advantage of the medium, allowing the low budget and awkward 2D stills to make you feel anxious and unsettled. The premise is a little unstable, following two dogs, Rowf and Snitter (Did I mention this is a British film?), who are being hunted down by all forms of government agencies, from local police to the military. They escape from a research and testing facility which housed the Black Plague and, still suffering from the trauma inflicted on them, they try to navigate a new, wild life as the human world encroaches on them. Adams’ novel is firmly meant to be read as an condemnation of animal testing in all forms, truly accentuating its most extreme possibilities, but the film appears very invested in concepts of helplessness and imprisonment through the use of animals. You can make your own judgment on the matter, but Rosen’s adaptation applies a signature take on dystopia through the eyes of animals. (Content warning: animal cruelty)


TV Show: “The Bear” (2022)

A perfect show for the folks who loved “Catcher in the Rye,” this Hulu original brings us to a struggling Chicago deli, left to Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto after the death of his brother. Through performances by a stellar cast, we see their world inhabited by noise and action, bodies moving, eating, yelling and leaving. Left with debt and grief, Carmy’s world is saturated with a rainbow of repressed emotion, incredible creativity and community. When we aren’t focused on Carmy, we see the other chefs break down under pressure, yet cement their place at “The Original Beef of Chicagoland” (Chicagoans, right?). Though, be warned: The Atlantic and Rolling Stone both label it firstly as an exercise in stress-inducing television — even I had to pause to cool off while watching. 


Written by: Adhithi Anjali — arts@theaggie.org