February 2008



By Craig Sherborne

Study for Portrait of Peter Beard, by Francis Bacon. Oil on canvas, 1975. © Christie's Images - Corbis.

To be unforgiven is no great shame. A cramp of nausea your bowels can’t clear. Sweat itches your hairline, stains your pillow.

Take heart - you’re not going to wither in your bed. Your eyes soon open on a blue, breathing day. Your taste for food returns. Music offers its melodies.

You iron a shirt. You shave and there’s your face again, clean, even a glaze of week-old tan. You’ve had a bad night, but no demons carved their initials in your soul.

That said, there is remembering to do. It’s what unforgiveness believes is your burden. It’s what unforgiveness has the bitter power to do.

I am 22 years old. It is 1985. I live in London - hear St Paul’s bells practising their scales! They wake me to work on Sundays. I’m a lackey in a backpacker hostel between the cathedral and Blackfriars Station.

My room is so small it’s called “the box” on the key. My coffees are too weak, wince the Italians. I smile “Shove it,” and they nod “Prego.” The Scots complain because we don’t take Scottish money. The Spanish want credit. The Irish want to go home. We are banned from using the word ‘Negro’ to Americans. If we sleep with guests they still must pay their fee.

This Sunday - though I don’t know it yet - I am about to meet my future. I set up cups and saucers, foils of butter, plops of jam. I crack coin stacks into the dining-room till, nick a coin or two when I can. I pretend to speak no English to the English speakers. My nationality is Muteness to everyone else.

I swagger like you see in the movies - a little skip in each step as if swinging a flash cane. I’ve practised a smile where my lips turn down, half smile and half sneer. My long hair can curtain off my eyes for aloofness, or be flicked to fake a bored and shunning stare.

I am ten minutes away from that meeting. I am ten minutes away from her. If only the now-me had been there to help me. It could have said, ‘Keep your eyes behind that sulky curtain. Keep your sneer going longer. You are about to fall in love, and fall and fall.’ It could have said, ‘Don’t look at that identification photo Michael the manager has put aside to file.’

Not like other photographs, the passport-like that uglify us all. This one’s woman has her head tilted to one side, yellow hair pulled back tight. It makes her ears stick out wide like a proud imperfection, a trick to set her apart from other beauties.

She is from Melbourne. Her name like a boy’s: Alexandra. The ‘x’ crackles and fizzes on my tongue.

The falling has begun. My shift ends in ten minutes. I had planned to see a play - three quid in the gods. I too could write them, plays, if I studied them closely: Stoppard’s word-juggles, Berkoff’s monologues so cruel to toffs. Instead I look up.

She wears a flowery blouse, green and blue. She is taller than other women; her black boots add at least an inch of heel. She smokes. A grey breath licks upward from her mouth to her nostrils. She raises her chin as if to drain each puff like a drink.

She is talking to someone, a male, veined biceps and swish French accent. I decide I need not panic. He’s flinging his hands about. He’s harmless, just a queer.

I step from the counter, too nervous to swing my imaginary cane. By the time I reach her, her head is bowed, reading London maps. “Can I help you with directions?” My legs are water-weak.

“Yes - what’s the best way I can make it to the Tate?”

An artist. She shows me her sketchbook, inks of fashionable New York streets. By six o’clock she has drawn me. I’m fatter than I thought. By ten we have kissed in the Samuel Pepys tavern. Blouses are like men’s shirts: they unbutton and button right-side over.

She hates her breasts, is loathe to show them during sex. They slide off to the side when she’s prostrate, are like two stumpy arms swinging down when on her knees. She prefers to be on top and raise her arms, make her breasts hang higher. She was married until last year but there were no children to blame for their slack state: “Just horrible bags of skin now I’m 31.” Not to me, I say. To me they’re delicate, beautiful, fine.

“How long were you married?”

“I was just a kid.”

“What happened?”

“I became like his sister. Him like my brother. I needed to be more than just mates. I got very, very bored.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s such a sweet question. You’re so innocent.”

“I’m not a child.”

“Bored, baby. Other men. An electrician who fixed the lights in my studio. Several others. Fleeting others. Once you start dressing up and going out to sleep with electricians, it’s all over red rover.”

“Let’s not talk about it any more.”

The thought of men other than me pressed as I press against her, chest to breasts. Their butting cocks, their loose stomach hairs sticking to her. Semen leaking from her when she stands. I want to kill them, purge those men from the world. If they don’t exist, the past, her past, would surely die with them. I am ill with this logic, this sweet disease of lovesickness.

Alex stays with me in my box for two weeks, her right leg and right arm crooked across me to fit us into the single bed.

I work my hostel shifts; every moment spare I spend with her. It is the routine. Love so pitiless we must fuse to the core, not two humans but one. Obsessed, smothering. We have 11 years together ahead of us. We are preparing for it well.

We will quit London and go home to Australia. We will always be together. We pledge there will be no other love.

She is bloated like a period, but this month’s period hasn’t come. She is pregnant.

“What shall we do?” I wring my hands.

“We have it. It will be our baby. It’s what grown-ups do.”

“I’m not a grown-up.”

“You’re 22. A grown man.”

“I thought I was. But I don’t feel ready.”

“You should have said something. The time is right for me. My body clock. My timing.”

“You’ve got plenty of years.”

“I should have known. You boy! A little voice should have told me, ‘The age difference.’”

“I’m sorry.”

“You want to murder our child? You swore you loved me.”

“And I do. But I’ve got no money.”

“I’m getting money from my divorce.”

“I’m 22.”

“I’m going to keep it. I’m going home to Melbourne and I’m going to keep it.”

“Keep it then. For the next 20 years you’ll bleed every cent from me.”

“The flight home will probably miscarry it anyway. Lifting my heavy bag.”

“Put bricks in it then, just to make certain.”

“Bastard. I couldn’t stand to carry a piece of you inside me.”

“I’m sorry. Please. I’m sorry. Yes, let’s keep it.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Don’t talk to me any more. I already love this baby more than I love you.”

I phone her three weeks later. She says they are simple things, abortions. By the time the doctor did the deed Alex had come to hate it, the poor stupid foetus. Imagine wanting to be born to parents like us. All the cigarettes smoked. All the days and nights of drinking. It would have been retarded, had hideous buckled limbs.

I tell her I dreamt it had red-brown hair like mine. A boy we called Richard who cried Daddy with a pretty pout inherited from her. She says had it been a girl, she’d have called it Caitlin. She dreamt its cot was a shoebox-sized black coffin.

They’re just dreams, we agree. Not voodoo guilt or grief. Boy or girl, it’s probably floating somewhere down in Melbourne’s sewers and all the shoebox dreaming in the world won’t bring it back.

“Funny, but you’re the only one I can talk about it to,” she says. “I don’t want to tell family. Don’t even want to tell friends.”

“Same here. It’s our secret.”

“An abortion that keeps us talking together as if we’re parents of a living thing.”

“When’s the best time to call you? Night or morning your time?”

“Just before bed. That way I can carry your voice with me into sleep.”

I arrive in Melbourne four weeks later. We drive into the country, sleeping in Alex’s green Escort van. That way we’ll save money for the house she’ll buy in some quaint Victorian town. A house with a studio for her painting.

And what about me? Do I live there too? What more proof does she need that I love her than my having flown all this way? London is the capital city of humanity; Victoria a mere outstation of suburbs, dust and wrought-iron towns. I have abandoned London and any glories I might have lucked upon. I have followed her because the lovesickness is in me. The very act of breathing is meaningless unless I always have her near.

She touches my cheek. “I do love you. In time I’ll be able to really trust you again. Will you want a Richard or Caitlin one day with me?”

“I will.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.” Alex’s “one day” makes the promising easy, a vow consigned to far off in the future.

For five weeks we drive. We shower in caravan parks, eat in truckie diners. Then we find it. For $30,000, an old bank building in the Wimmera. Roof rusted the colour of fallowed fields. Chalky wall plaster flaked, streaked brown with dried rains. Chimney soot spattering on the evening flames. Rotten window sashes that wake us with their knocking when winds rage. But what a home! Two storeys - a room for every stage of the day’s winter sun, or to escape into summer shade.

Alex’s paintings are abstract landscapes. She sells a few to her city friends. I write plays the ABC buys for radio. I write court reports for the town newspaper: features on folk considered ‘town identities’ - old women who survived husbands, farm tedium, mice plagues, snakes.

They say it takes 20 years for new types to be deemed locals in the country. So far we have been here two. Our grotty bank is our own personal town. Let people call us loners, odd ones, snobs if they so choose.

I discover the lump during sex. One of those rough, gropey sessions less frequent when the heat of lust has burnt down. She holds her arms high, not self-conscious now, but for my clutching. A lump, egg sized, egg hard, below her right nipple. Too deep in to fill my fist. I gasp; my fingertips flick away in revulsion. A climax spasm, she complains. Too quick a finish for her liking. I keep rocking her, pretending excitement, and think, It’s not a lump, surely. Just a pop of muscle she’ll feel the pain of when she slumps and rolls away for sleep.

But there’s no pain when she spoons me. She sighs in floppy contentment.

“Nothing wrong?” I ask.

“No. Why?”

“No reason.”

She takes my wrist to cross my hand over her breasts. I resist and rest it on her hip. If I touch that lump again I will have to say something. We will be up all night fretting that it’s a death lump. It’s not a death lump, surely. A knob of chest bone from her lifting heavy canvas. Besides, tomorrow she drives to Melbourne for an old friend’s exhibition. She plans to see her doctor to check her woman’s bits and pieces are in working order. Her body is calling to her: it’s time to get pregnant before her juices dry and her chances are shot to hell. She says, “You promised, remember. You owe it to me.”

I hope her juices are dry. I don’t love her any longer in that lovesickness way. More like a sister. More like my very closest friend.

One large tumour. Two secondaries. All confined to one breast. That breast must be removed. The lymph nodes are also affected. Those too will have to go. If no cancer returns in the next 12 months, the chance is 50-50 it will not come back the following year. So the odds will go on through all years of her life.

For many patients death will come soon. But we must not lose hope: Alex may live a long life.

I should have brought a notepad to set down for later these hope-lines from a surgeon’s mouth. Alex’s face is too locked in grimace to receive hope. Her fist is clenched against the illness, fingers screwing into mine.

She asks, “Can I have a baby?”

The surgeon jerks his head back in alarm. “Are you pregnant?”

“No. But I want to be.”

The surgeon shakes his head: pregnancy might speed the cancer. As well, there are moral concerns. “Social issues,” he calls them. I have no idea what he means by this and am too exhausted to enquire.

That night we sleep at her parents’ place. Alex cries instead of sleep: “Why I am the one who has to get it? Why me? What have I done? Why me?” She has always hated “these horrible tits” of hers and now they are trying to kill her.

She laughs that she’ll be an Amazon woman, one-breasted for holding a bow. She drinks wine and slaps her thigh to assert she is not going to be defeatist. She goes to the mirror and imagines herself bald. “Very striking,” she giggles. “Very masculine and different.”

She spits that I’m a bastard for wanting to sleep. A bastard for the Richard or Caitlin we aborted. She steps close to me, touches my cheekbone to check for moisture. “You’re not crying enough. Why aren’t you crying?” She accuses me of loving her no more. Of wanting her to get it over with and just die.

A week out of hospital, she is ready to show me the scar. We are back home in the bank. She calls me into the bathroom after showering. She speaks brightly, proudly: “It’s a very good mastectomy. It’s like the breast is still there but without a nipple.”

I don’t say it’s like a breast because of so much swelling from the scalpel.

“Kiss it,” she flirts.

I do. Soft kisses she assures me can be harder before hurting.

“You’re wonderful,” she kisses back. “You still want me, don’t you? I mean, desire?”

“Yes,” I kiss.

She pulls my hair to lift my head. She wants a kiss to her face to prove I desire her. “Make love to me this second,” she whispers. “Right here, right now, against the bathroom wall.”

She begins to wear more make-up. She wears a silicone cup down her bra. She wears a beret as though she’s balding, yet the chemotherapy has not affected her hair. She demands I check her scalp for thinning. She squats in the shower and counts the strands. She records their number on a foolscap page. There are never more than 30.

She wonders whether, if I were an amputee, her head would be turned by other men on occasions. She asks if I imagine whole women’s breasts. I tell her I don’t, and for now that’s true.

She buys a frilly white negligee for wearing around the house. I tell her it’s her I love, not a negligee.

I need to get back to work, make some money and fill my days. Alex threatens to smash my typewriter with a hammer. She yells, “It’s all right for you to work. I can’t work with this elephant limb.”

Lymphedema in her right arm. Elephantiasis. It has worsened through the year. Her wrist is puffed to twice its normal size, her fingers fat and red with fluid because the nodes aren’t there to drain it. I must massage her twice a day, squeeze the fluid towards the armpit. She does it herself in between my goes. She wears a beige elastic sleeve and glove to prevent the fluid building. She binds her finger ends with narrow bandages like wounds. She unbinds them, measures their width with a tape measure. Some days she performs this ritual every ten minutes.

My massaging makes a dry static sound from our skins. Each session I stroke more quickly to be done with it or else nausea begins in me, as if my palm rubs away invisible scabs of her sickness and I absorb a dark quantity.

She says if I embrace her every hour on the hour, she might believe that I care for her. It too becomes a ritual. I begin to dread the touch of her. Her complaining voice sets my teeth grating. I feel a cold crawling sensation along my limbs. Sometimes she smiles when the embrace is done. Sometimes she screams that I am faking it for the sake of duty.

When I walk from my study she’ll be there to ask, “How’s work going?” Or she’ll thump her fists against her cup and weep a wish that it was me with cancer. Then I’d know what it feels like. I deserve cancer because I am scum compared to her. I am the reason she has the disease to start with. She has read about it in the paper. It’s a well-known fact that abortions give you breast cancer.

“I’ll leave if you keep that up,” I bellow. She vows to kill herself if I ever do. She’ll kill herself and curse me to kill myself too.

I pack a bag. Three times I’ve done this now. It’s becoming another ritual, the next stage of which is her begging me to stay. She grips my leg like an opera diva or blocks the door with her stick-body. “Kiss me,” she cries. “Fuck me.”

She pleads me to tell her what she can do to make me stay. “I’ll do anything,” she bawls.

“That’s what you always say. I’m going mad being the punching bag of a neurotic cancer patient.”

“I’m not neurotic. I’m dying.”

“It’s been 18 months and look at you. You’re still alive.”

“I will not look at me. My body’s mutilated.”

“You’re still a beautiful woman.”

“You say that, and here you are leaving me.”

“I’m not leaving you.”



“You’re not staying because you’d feel too guilty to go?”

“No,” I lie. It’s not all lie. There is also the fear of starting life over. Such fear for a man, still a young man, 27. A coward of a man whose only power is threatening to leave a sick woman.

One night the ritual’s wording changes.

“You’re not staying because you feel too guilty leaving a sick wife?”

“You’re not my wife. We’re not married.”

“You don’t think of me that way? You don’t want me?”

“I never said that.”

“Baby, it goes through my head how lovely that would be. A ceremony, after all we’ve been through. A wedding, as if everything was normal. A normal couple. Optimistic. Please let’s do it. I have no child. I have only you. I might not live more than a year, two years, three. What other chance will I ever have to say, ‘I’m normal,’ to shout, ‘Hip-hip-hooray’?”

21 April 1990. A little stone church on the outskirts of town. Men shake my hand as if I’m an important person, respectable now married. One who can wear a suit handsomely, albeit hired. They congratulate me as if I’ve achieved something. This ring on my finger a trophy, the bride on my arm a prize.

Alex’s new lacy dress does what she hoped it would, disguising her arm’s mottled puffiness.

When she thinks of that day she kisses me and smiles. Two years pass. When she’s feeling low she thinks of that day and calls me in to view that dress kept in cellophane in the wardrobe. “I am one of the lucky ones,” she says. “I beat death by a nose.”

She takes up smoking again. And drinking. There is nothing like them while you inspect a day’s serious work on a canvas, she says. Though her canvases are not going well. “Why are they not brilliant?” she slurs drunkenly.

“Lack of talent?” I slur back, grinning to diffuse the insult.

She is bored with landscapes. Perhaps portraits would inspire her. If only she could find inspirational faces. “If you were famous I might paint you for the Archibald,” she says after five o’clock wines. “But you are not anyone. I mean, you are to me. But I’m afraid that doesn’t count.”

She doesn’t sleep soundly. It’s the drink, I tell her. She should take a sleeping pill. But no, she wants to be awake, not sleep away her life. She has lost years, cancer years, to make up for.

No ideas come for all she smokes and drinks. I sleep in the guest room now. Let her toss and turn alone. If we have sex we do it to ourselves, separately. I know she does it because I hear her finishing moans.

 Is this all there will be to life for me - a nobody sleeping single in a nondescript farm town?

I take up running in the evening. Time to myself in the warm wheat-smelling air. My route is the forest route, through spindly gum trees, snakes for my hurdles. No human company to have to nod ‘How are you?’ to. Loneliness seeks more loneliness for its companion.

A year of running. I’m so fit I barely pant when sprinting. I can do a hundred push-ups, ten on one arm. My chest is two hard muscles. My arms have stone above the elbow. What a waste I am, I say to the mirror. Alex is eight years older, though the gap could be 18. Those pout-lips have become clenched in wrinkles.

There are no true beauties in St Arnaud. If I were a more approachable man I might attract a few flirting stares. I might even return them.

Philip is well-known enough: a poet with leukaemia who lives an hour’s drive east in Maryborough. He’s close to dying but agrees to sit for Alex. The series goes well. Not prize-winning work but fresh to the point of spurring her on.

Come August, Philip dies. His wife invites us to the funeral. Her name is Janet. Alex calls her “rare”. She says, “What an exemplary widow. So dignified and strong. To be 37 years old, to have two small children and be suddenly alone.”

A few months later Janet visits to view the paintings. “The widow approves,” Alex whispers, relieved.

Through the next year Janet makes the trip to us for lunch. Sometimes we go to her.

Janet. I practise the name on my mind’s tongue as we eat. A crisp jab of a name that suits her good-school English, her preferred reading - Dickens, Anthony Powell. But too plain to be the world’s word for her.

If Alex were to paint her she would need her lushest reds for the pigments of her lips. The sharpest pallet knife to scrape in that perfect jaw without a jowl. That curve of hip; that bust, a complete bust without unevenness or sagging. The earth’s deepest browns for her eyes.

Alex would need to use her good arm to bring down the brush in blows for Janet’s wild twists of hair. Hair black as red wines come in full green bottles. For skin, three measures of white to whatever constitutes olive. Translucent white and veiny blue at the bottom of her spine where the singlet rides up with bending.

But Alex would never paint Janet. Alex has begun to “tire” of Janet. “You two get along too well for my liking,” she says, lighting a cigarette and spitting out the match flame. “I’ve seen you smile on cue with her smile. When she laughs you lean forward, and if eyes could kiss, you would be kissing her big, fuck-me mouth.”

She demands to know if there have been secret phone calls. Have I moved on Janet? Has Janet moved on me? When I run in the forest am I running to meet her?

I scoff, “Ridiculous.”

Alex sighs. “Sorry. I’m becoming a jealous wife.”

I know I’ll be found out sooner or later, but I’ll take the risk for now.

“Do you love her, that woman?”

I am sitting under the apricot tree, stretching after my hundred push-ups.

“Who?” I shrug. “What woman?”

Alex flicks angrily at my cheek with her good hand. “You know who I mean. That bitch. That fucking widow bitch. Who else are you moping around because of?”

“No one.”

“I can’t even bring myself to say her name.”

“Yes. It’s her.”

Alex crumples to the lawn as if her legs have gone.

“Does she love you?”


Alex groans. “Get out. Get the fuck out now.”

I grab her wrists and shake. “The neighbours. Keep your voice down. You’re a fucking embarrassment.”

Alex runs to the house, still screaming “Get out!” She flings my socks and underwear from the drawers, my trousers from the wardrobe.

I pack a bag. I smell smoke in the hall. Alex has rifled through my notebooks and found three poems written for Janet, an un-posted letter. Ash flakes sift up from the candle between her knees.

I tell her to burn them all; I’ve got copies.

She refuses to let me through the back door. Our old ritual again, but I am determined. No, I will not kiss her. No, I will not make love. She can threaten to kill herself all she likes; I’m bored with her bluffing. Stop bluffing and actually do it.

I drive.

I return the next day. Too much guilt. Too much fear of no longer having a home. Alex punches me awake in the middle of the night, “How could you do this to me? How could you?”

Three more door rituals before I finally leave for good. I never see her again; we never even speak.

Now it is 16 April 2007. I live in Prahran, Melbourne. I work on a daily newspaper. At the moment I’m on leave to write a book. It is a perfect peaceful day to concentrate. Janet and her two kids are out of the house till evening. The glass walls of our study let in cloudy morning sun.

My mobile starts ringing. There is always the worry - an accident or emergency - so I answer it.

It’s a friend, Katherine. “Hi. Just wanted to see how you’re going. I was sorry to hear the news.”

“What news?” It occurred to me she might have dialled the wrong number.

“About Alex.”


“You know she died last Wednesday?”

“No. Died. Alex.”

I go silent a moment to let it sink in. I think of that egg lump and I shudder and want to wash my fingers.

Katherine has known Alex and me since the Wimmera years. Closer to me than Alex after the split. We had more in common: she an acclaimed author, me an up-and-comer whose work she liked. She says she’s astonished I hadn’t got the word from Alex’s family.

I’m not. I’ve been off the scene a long time. In 2003 Katherine passed on the news that the cancer had recurred, but I didn’t ring Alex, a simple courtesy to express sorrow and encouragement. One letter was all it would have taken. I postponed it and postponed it. It would upset her too much, I convinced myself. She had a new man in her life, according to Katherine. If so, he wouldn’t want me bothering her.

Besides, I’d expect something from her in return: a blessing that the past is past and she wishes me well in life. Recriminations are more likely. Which I would have to respond to, and there I am, trading grudges with a dying woman.

I hang up the phone and fish out the wedding photos. Nothing in these images of the story that led us two to be standing so formally there. Just another pretty wedding; a bride with yellow ponytail, cream dress, frilly flower-shapes for long sleeves. A smile that looks pained from holding it so long.

When my father died, an animal wail spurted from me. I was kneeling beside his bed and answered his death rattle with that wailing grief.

With Alex, these photos are her deathbed. I wait for grief to come. Regret, remorse, tears. I imagine her touching my cheekbones for moisture. “You’re not crying? How could you not cry? How could you not sob with grief?”

“You can’t tell someone to cry. It’s too fake.”

“Don’t you feel something?”

“I feel kind of blank.”

“Is that all I meant to you?”

“No. I seem so distant from you. You must be too packed away deep down in my memory. Let me keep looking at these photos. Let me see what memories come.”

The phone rings again. Again it’s Katherine.

“Something weird has just happened,” she says.

Alex’s funeral: Katherine had rung Alex’s new man to find out where and when it would be. He told her she wouldn’t be welcome to attend, nor to send flowers. It was Alex’s decree. Katherine had publicly praised one of my books. This had enraged Alex as an act of disloyalty.

“I don’t get it. I was never a close friend of hers. We lost touch years ago. What’s this meant to be, some kind of curse from the grave?”


“I’ve never been hated from the grave before. I don’t like being dragged into all this.”

Last wills and testaments can be blunt weapons from the grave. You wrong a loved one; they take revenge by the act of not gifting money.

True unforgiveness needs no wills, no official papers. It will hate your friends as much as you. It will hope to turn them on you.

“I’m sorry, Katherine.” I say. “The curse is really for me.”

My head shakes with a little laugh. I turn the photos face down for Alex’s sake during the laughing.

“I’m going to send flowers,” says Katherine. “Whether they like it or not, I’m going to send flowers. It’s the right and decent thing to do.”

“Me too.”

She hangs up. I turn the photos back to their faces. I ask the photo-Alex what flowers she would like.

Sunflowers. Of course. Her favourites. Yes. If my memory serves me right, they were sunflowers.

Craig Sherborne

Craig Sherborne is the author of the highly acclaimed memoir Hoi Polloi, and its sequel Muck, which won the Queensland Literary Award for Non-Fiction. He has written two volumes of poetry, Bullion and Necessary Evil, and two novels, The Amateur Science of Love and Tree Palace.

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How systemic misconceptions around women’s guilt led to a 20-year miscarriage of justice for Kathleen Folbigg

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Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality