Wednesday. 28/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

OPINION / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Smoke screen

It isn’t an easy time to be a smoker (spoiler alert: I’m not one myself). Even Jacek Olczak, the international chief executive of tobacco firm Philip Morris, has seen the writing on the wall and this week called for a ban on cigarettes within the next 10 years – perhaps tempted along by the potential profits from alternatives. But there is one holdout: French cinema. A study earlier this year found that more than 90 per cent of films produced in France still feature cigarettes. The findings are easily backed up by looking at the programme of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month: 20 out of the 24 films submitted featured the main characters lighting up.

Let’s be clear: given the health risks, discouraging smoking is undoubtedly a good thing – but I have a secret. If the cigarette disappears entirely from the big screen, I will miss it dearly. First, because I find any imposed restrictions on what characters can do on film to be an affront to artistic expression. And second, because I’m sceptical that just because you’re watching people puff away on film, you will suddenly embrace the habit yourself. Cigarettes have been glamorised in my life, especially by my lovely and chic grandmother, who smokes regularly to this day. But I was never tempted to pick up the practice myself.

From Brigitte Bardot (pictured) and the stars of the French New Wave to Sharon Stone’s femme fatale in Basic Instinct or the journalists in All The President’s Men, cigarettes and cinema go back a long way together. The world is shifting away from smoking today and while concern over children’s films is understandable, cigarettes are often an essential part of the cinematic atmosphere and narrative. What do we want characters to do: vape? As the Cannes line-up this year shows, cinema could lose a lot without blowing a little smoke on screen.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Asia

Edge of allegiance

It’s a busy week for US diplomacy in Asia. Fresh from Monday’s high-level US-China talks in Tianjin – a meeting that did little to reduce tensions between the world’s two biggest economic powers – US secretary of state Antony Blinken is in New Delhi today to meet Indian officials including prime minister Narendra Modi and Blinken’s counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (pictured, on left, with Blinken). Washington views India, the world’s largest democracy, as a bulwark against China’s regional clout and even wants its help in stabilising Afghanistan. But the State Department insists that it won’t shy away from raising India’s own poor record on human rights and religious discrimination under Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi. It’s an awkward balancing act: China’s vice-foreign minister this week accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy” to detract from its own self-made problems. Should Blinken dismiss India’s rights violations while building an alliance to counter the growing threat from China, it could wind up playing into Beijing’s hands.

Image: Shutterstock

Space / USA

Giant leap

Boeing will be launching a second test flight of its new Starliner capsule to the International Space Station after a failed first attempt in 2019. The Starliner was developed as part of a competition by Nasa to find a private, US-built alternative to both Russia’s Soyuz and the US shuttle programme, which was decommissioned in 2011. There is a lot riding on the new test for Boeing, especially after more than 80 significant faults were discovered following its initial mission, shocking the aerospace community.

Boeing also faces fierce competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has already carved out its own successes in orbital flight. While space tourism of the Virgin and Amazon kind has grabbed headlines recently, the race to build the next generation of deeper-space flyers is “more dramatic and fundamental”, space scientist and author David Whitehouse told Monocle 24. According to Whitehouse, Boeing should keep in mind that “heritage counts for a lot but it’s not everything”.

Hear more from David Whitehouse on Boeing’s ‘Starliner’ capsule on ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Panama

Underlying confidence

Panama’s government is considering a proposal by Japan to build the first tunnel under the Panama Canal. The massive infrastructure project would expand on existing plans for a new metro line for Panama City, which are also partly funded by Japan. It underlines the importance that Tokyo attaches to the two countries’ smooth and stable commercial relationship. About 70 per cent of Japan’s commercial fleet uses the canal to transport goods, meaning that Japan has an interest in contributing “to the sustainable growth of Panama”, foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on a visit to the Central American nation earlier this month. The tunnel would also be a more practical and less disruptive alternative to a new bridge, which was initially planned but discarded due to logistical difficulties. “Building work could start as early as 2023,” Monocle’s Latin America affairs correspondent Lucinda Elliott told The Briefing. “There is a strong economic interest here on behalf of the Japanese to help out their partners.”

Image: Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological

Culture / Lebanon & UK

Breaking news

The British Museum is set to restore a number of ancient glass artefacts that were damaged in the Beirut port explosion. Once housed in the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut, the items are among 74 glass objects that were shattered in last year’s blast. Only 15 were deemed salvageable from the wreckage and just eight were robust enough to be transported to London, including a perfume flask, a beaker from the imperial Roman period and an Islamic lustre flask. Thanks in part to a €25,000 grant from the European Fine Art Foundation’s annual museum restoration fund, they will be pieced back together. “The international response to Beirut’s cultural heritage has been vital in helping the city recover from the blast,” Jamie Fraser, curator for the Ancient Levant and Anatolia at the British Museum, tells The Monocle Minute. “The glass project is one small part of a much larger story involving the restoration and reconstruction of downtown Beirut.”

Hear more about the British Museum’s restoration efforts on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Lump: Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay

Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay together make up musical duo Lump. As they release their second album, Animal, they chat to Robert Bound about making their record in Margate and channelling their music through the character of Lump, whoever that might be.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, this book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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