Monday. 20/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: ZARA

Opinion / Carolina Abbott Galvão

Season’s streamings

I don’t always love to admit it but every year I rediscover that I’m unequivocally and wholeheartedly into Christmas films. And I’m certainly not alone: research shows that a record high of more than 200 holiday flicks were made in 2021, with everyone from Netflix to Lifetime trying to cash in on the annual craze.

Last week a rather surprising contender threw its hat into the ring: retailer Zara released a Christmas-inspired short film O Night Divine (pictured), directed by Luca Guadagnino. Taking place over a single day, it sees the auteur trade in the balmy summer landscapes of northern Italy for a Swiss ski resort, where drama and mischief ensue. Within the first 10 minutes we meet a glamorous hotel manager who proceeds to ruthlessly crush her bellboy’s homemade cookie; John C Reilly plays a weathered Santa and Alex Wolff a lovelorn musician.

The plot is undeniably kooky but then Christmas movies don’t really have to make any sense; Netflix has made a huge success of The Princess Switch, its trilogy of films about a Chicago baker finding a royal doppelganger in a made-up country. And it’s a smart move for Zara from an advertising perspective: people are getting tired of formulaic commercials and having a prestigious director on board no doubt helps.

Still, whether all of these new films will actually stand the test of time is another question. Part of the appeal of Christmas flicks is their enduring nostalgia. If Netflix or Zara want their contributions to be more than just the (lucrative) flavour of the year they’ll have to do a better job of appealing to my sensibilities. As great as cosying up with a new and strange plot sounds, when push comes to shove I’ll probably end up reaching for The Holiday instead.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Iran

Meeting in the middle

Iran and world powers held a final round of pre-holiday talks in Vienna on Friday (pictured) but diplomats are expected to resume negotiations between Christmas and the new year. That suggests that some progress is being made in the bid to reignite the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But will representatives really be able to get both Iran and the US to rejoin the accord in 2022? “It is hugely positive that talks are continuing and that negotiators look set to reconvene straight after Christmas,” Holly Dagres, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and curator of The Iranist newsletter, tells The Monocle Minute. Still, it’s an uphill battle: there are questions over whether the US Congress will accept any deal, while a new government in Tehran is demanding additional concessions. “The international community’s patience with Iran is running thin,” adds Dagres. “Tehran has set preconditions and we are starting to reach a critical point of the talks.”

Image: Getty Images

Health / EU

Bloc purchase

The EU’s 27 national governments are taking no chances and have already agreed to exercise their option to buy 180 million doses of the Pfizer-Biontech coronavirus vaccine that has been adapted for Omicron, the variant that is wreaking havoc across the continent. As part of its contract with the pharmaceutical company, the bloc has been allocated up to 1.8 billion vaccine doses until the end of 2023, half of which have already been ordered.

Pfizer-Biontech began developing the new Omicron-targeted vaccine in late November, with a spokesperson claiming they will have it ready in March. While the European Medicines Agency has been put on standby to approve any new vaccine as quickly as possible, it has also said that there is as yet inconclusive evidence as to whether such an adaptation is required. With any luck, getting your garden variety booster before the end of the year will still do the trick.

Aviation / Iceland

Closer to home

Low-cost Icelandic airline Play has announced that it will extend its service to the US in spring, with flights from Baltimore and Boston to London beginning in April and May respectively, starting from just £139 (€163) one-way. The airline launched in 2019 and has successfully pushed into Europe despite the pandemic but some are concerned about its similarities to Wow, another Icelandic budget airline that went bust in March 2019. Many of Wow’s former management team sit at the helm of Play, including CEO Birgir Jónsson who was previously deputy CEO of the defunct airline. Jónsson has said that Wow’s downfall came because the airline got greedy and pushed on with flights to the US west coast, India and Israel. Play will stick to shorter flights from North America’s east coast and Europe, via Iceland’s Keflavík airport. “We can take the lessons learned and build on them,” Jónsson told The Boston Globe.

Image: DPH-2021/Wadler Séjour/Unesco

Culture / Haiti

Soup of the day

The announcement that Haiti’s joumou soup (pictured) has been awarded protected status by Unesco was some much-needed good news for the Caribbean nation. A symbol of independence and liberation from slavery, the squash soup was added to the UN cultural agency’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage last week. Joumou soup was originally cooked by enslaved people for their owners and it has since become traditional to eat the dish on 1 January, which is also Haiti’s Independence Day. Traditional Palestinian embroidery was also a new addition to the cultural heritage list. Tatreez is passed down through generations and involves hand-stitching patterns onto clothing in brightly coloured thread. One intangible item that’s been left off the list: Berlin’s ravers are pushing for the city’s techno scene to be recognised. Campaigners warn that the city’s dance culture, which became a symbol of east-west reunification in the German capital, is threatened by gentrification and the coronavirus pandemic. One for Unesco to think about in the new year.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Global Countdown

South Korea

Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco looks at the top songs in South Korea this week.

Monocle Films / Global

Japanese gift-wrapping: Lesson 6

If you wish for a steady stride to navigate the challenges of the coming year, the Bally curling boot might help to get the message across. This heritage footwear design comes in an equally elegant box. Affirm your gratitude by wrapping it in a beautiful fabric square, known as furoshiki. Find your perfect gift at The Monocle Shop.

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