We watched a 2 hour long film by Marguerite Duras yesterday -Sunday is the holy day for living room passivities around here. Now I finally know that its title, “Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert”, is the answer to the question “What is Vice-Consul of France shouting?”
The entire film consists of several people talking in a neutral voice -often in pairs, often in the form of questions and answers- over slow camera pans of an abandoned and empty baroque mansion. Only at the very end do we see two women, sitting, for a few moments.
The story, however, is populated with multiple remarkable characters, many of whom recur in several of Duras’ novels. It’s the story of the ball. The ball where a heart is broken such that it renders a person mad. The woman who breaks the heart is, as always, Anne-Marie Stretter, who was called Ana Maria Guardi when she lived in Venice.
The events take place in Asia, among French diplomatic circles. But the images we see, are of a Western building, abandoned. Probably somewhere in Europe, not Asia. The neo-classical style creates a connection between colonies and motherland. But it’s a vague one.
Despite the recipe of this film being one for utter bore-fest, I experienced it as a fascinating journey that I wanted to absorb every drop of. It’s strange how, once you have stepped towards the film and allowed it to capture you, you never want to leave. The few times that I nodded off -as one does in front of art films- I cursed myself for missing a few sentences. That’s how intensely desirable the text had become.
And the strangest thing happened with the images. Even though the scenery depicted nothing of the story, and even though it was set in a different place and the light was wrong, at some point, the images began to fuse with the story. And the rooms and grounds of the abandoned mansion started to refer to the events and places in the story. Even though no connection exists, and none is actively suggested, after seeing both simultaneously for an extended period of time, one became absorbed by the other, as I was absorbed by the film.