Desert Island DVDs – Alex Gray

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Scottish author Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. The city provides the backdrop to her crime novels. Recipient of the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her writing, she is the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland international crime writing festival.

Previously a civil servant and a teacher, she has been writing professionally since 1992.

Her debut novel, Never Somewhere Else, won the Constable prize. She has published thirteen novels featuring DCI Lorimer and psychological profiler Solomon Brightman. Praised as ‘the new master of Scottish crime writing’ by the Scottish Daily Express. The Daily Mail recognised that she ‘Brings Glasgow to life in the same way Ian Rankin evokes Edinburgh.’ Her most recent book is The Darkest Goodbye.

Ahead of her appearance at Iceland Noir, Alex Gray talked about the European films that have left a lasting impression on her.

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‘The five European films that would comprise my desert island DVDs are mostly from the sixties when I was an avid teenage cinema buff.’

‘One of my favourites, and one whose music still makes me feel warm and happy, is the 1966 French film, A Man and a Woman. It is a love story with a poignancy, the man and woman having both lost their partners; one to suicide and the other to a tragic accident. Meeting through their children’s school, they fall in love but it takes time for both to leave their pasts behind and wholly embrace a future together. The tentative beginnings of this new relationship are beautifully portrayed and one of the memorable lines occurs after their first dinner date together when Jean Louis is asked by the patron if there is anything else he would like and he looks across the table at the woman he is beginning to adore then replies, “Une chambre.”

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‘From love and adoration to sex, pure and simple. Or perhaps not so simple as Catherine Deneuve’s portrayal of Belle de Jour, the 1967 film that has become a classic., is complex to say the least. The story of a young, bored housewife who finds no sexual satisfaction from her husband and turns to high class prostitution is well known. But how many recall that strange ending when the wife seems to be happy once more with her healthy and sexually adept husband, having seen him shot and crippled? Was it all a fantasy or is there a human metaphor here? It really doesn’t matter as Deneuve is such a brilliant actress and the entire film had its bizarre moments that French films of that era thrived upon.’

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‘1969 saw the release of Pier Paolo Paolini’s Pigsty, a film that had such a profound effect on me that I went home and wrote a poem that was highly commended in a University competition.’

‘There are two parallel stories in the film; one in a past time where a young man turns cannibal, his memorable line being, “I killed my father, I ate human flesh and I trembled for joy.” ‘

‘The second storyline concerns the Third Reich and 1960’s Germany where a young man prefers his relationship with pigs to that of his fiancée but he is eaten by them.’

‘The dramatic cinematography shows the human capacity for destruction and the choices people make in society, harking back to the Nazi persecution of the Jews in a symbolic fashion.’

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‘The final two are sequels, Jean de Florette, (1986) and Manon de Sources starring the iconic Gerard Depardieu as the hopeful farmer whose life is destroyed by his ambitious neighbours as they stop up the spring that waters his land in spite at having failed to obtain it for themselves. Emmanuelle Beart plays Jean’s daughter in the second film and her revenge upon the two schemers is all the sweeter as the younger one has fallen in love with her.’

‘There is something rather beautiful about the character of Jean and his downfall at the hands of his enemies and the disregard of the townsfolk who never step in to help him is heart breaking.’

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‘If I were to count the last two films as one then my other choice would be the 1997 Italian film, Life is Beautiful, directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. The story of the Jewish Italian bookshop owner who saves his son from the horrors of a German concentration camp is completely moving but the beginning of the film that shows his love for Dora and how he wins her heart prevents this being a film that is sheer misery. Because it is not that at all; it is a moving account of just how life can be beautiful and brave and free even against colossal odds.’

‘If I am stranded on a desert island these films would keep me company, entertain me and make me glad to be alive.’

Thanks to Alex Gray, Little Brown Group, and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Alex Gray is published by Sphere.

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