Search Results for "In Duras' footsteps"

Sep 23 2012

Not done with Duras.

Published by under aesthetics

While Bientôt l’été contains many elements that refer to Marguerite Duras, there still remains something in her work that it doesn’t capture. It’s normal for a game design to deviate from its basic premises. I feel one has to let the design go where it wants to go. Stubbornly clinging to one’s initial ambitions is not only frustrating but it often brings unsatisfactory results.

Not that this particular aspect of Duras’ work was ever really on the agenda. It’s just something I notice when I read her work now. It’s simply inspiring for some other interactive piece.

Duras has a way of describing situations that has great emotional impact on me when I read it. And situations is exactly what I want to create with this technology (not stories, not causal chains, not moral choices). She never describes an entire scene for the purpose of imagining it visually. She mentions only certain elements. But each of them feels somewhat like a metaphor. Not a metaphor that clearly expresses or demonstrates a thought or feeling, more like an emotional trigger that remains more or less meaningless.

There is always a character involved. Although the descriptions may not be observations by the character. Maybe the character is just another element in the scene. But one we feel great empathy with. We are there with her.

I love the muteness of these situations. Not silence, as I feel a lot of ambient sound. But muteness, in the sense that something is palpably not being said. Something that cannot be said. Something that is either too horrible or too fragile to be spoken.

I want to create such a situation in the realtime medium. I’m not sure how to go about it. Maybe I should literally follow a passage in one of the books. And simply build in 3D whatever is described (and leave the gaps open?). Or maybe I should just aim for the atmosphere created by such passages and invent the situation (which is how we usually work).

Temps couvert.
Les baies sont fermées.
Du côté de la salle à manger où il se trouve, on ne peut pas voir le parc.
Elle, oui, elle voit, elle regarde. Sa table touche le rebord des baies.
A cause de la lumière gênante, elle plisse les yeux. Son regard va et vient. D’autres clients regardent aussi ces parties de tennis que lui ne voit pas.
Il n’a pas demandé de changer de table.
Elle ignore qu’on la regarde.
Il a plu ce matin vers cinq heures.

I love how Duras gradually introduces descriptions of the scenery or the situation, precisely at the moment when they feel metaphoric (even if their precise meaning is unclear).

Aujourd’hui c’est dans un temps mou et lourd que frappent les balles. Elle porte une robe d’été.

These quotes are from the first page of “Détruire dit-elle”. Maybe that’s what I should do. Just take this first page and make a videogame out of it.

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Sep 22 2012

In Duras’ footsteps. Walking. And drinking.

Published by under features

Taking long walks is the main activity in Bientôt l’été. As it is in many of the novels by Marguerite Duras. Her protagonists roam beaches, the cities they dwell in, in one case they cross an entire country on foot. They walk and walk and walk. Tirelessly. Daily. For months, for years. With no purpose, no goal. Sometimes it seems like they are only half conscious of the act. As if the walking is a kind of physical ritual necessary to engage in a certain mental activity. If only forgetting.

And of course, inevitably, one day the walking is interrupted. An event happens and as of then, the ritual loses its pointlessness. The body of Anne Desbaresdes cannot resist moving towards the seaside café to encounter the body of Chauvin, in Moderato Cantabile. The embarrassed waitress turns up the volume of the radio (also in the game!) while Desbaresdes and Chauvin order one glass of wine after the other.

Alcohol. Another recurring theme. Duras writes about what she knows. Long walks, love and drinking. She was an alcoholic. Probably for most of her life, judging by the frequency of heavy drinking in her novels. She died at age 82 and continued to write highly lucidly to the very end. So she far from drank herself to death.

Drinking, like walking, must have been a kind of ritual -only far less healthy. A way to order thoughts, control the mind. For the Great Work that she was engaged in. Or as Anne Debaresdes wonders in Moderato Cantabile.

Si on ne buvait pas tant, ce ne serait pas possible?

If we would not drink as much, this would not be possible?

Duras was far too clever and sophisticated to draw any simplistic moralistic conclusions about human behavior. She was an observer. She did not judge. Human life in all its variety and with its different kinds of weaknesses. And she realized that it is not despite of these weaknesses that people could be beautiful. It was because of them. I will be forever indebted to her for that insight.

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Sep 21 2012

In Duras’ footsteps. Café music.

Published by under features

Someone playing the piano is a recurring theme in Duras’ work. Several of her novels have a particular song that keeps being heard. Either a classical tune, or a dance, or a mysterious droning and chanting.

There’s a virtual jukebox in the café in Bientôt l’été and one of the songs it plays is Hervé Vilard’s Capri c’est fini. This was apparently one of Duras’ favorite songs. She mentions it in her novel Yann Andréa Steiner.

Quelquefois c’est au bord de la mer. Quand la plage se vide, à la tombée de la nuit. Après le départ des colonies d’enfants. Sur toute l’étendue des sables tout à coup, ça hurle que Capri c’est fini. Que C’ÉTAIT LA VILLE DE NOTRE PREMIER AMOUR mais que maintenant c’est fini. FINI.
Que c’est terrible tout à coup. Terrible. Chaque fois à pleurer, à fuir, à mourir parce que Capri a tourné avec la terre, vers l’oubli de l’amour.

Other music that comes straight out of Duras’ work is India Song. It appears as an instrumental in several of her novels and films. But she also wrote lyrics for it, sung by Jeanne Moreau.

Chanson,
Toi qui ne veux rien dire
Toi qui me parles d’elle
Et toi qui me dis tout
Ô, toi,
Que nous dansions ensemble
Toi qui me parlais d’elle
D’elle qui te chantait
Toi qui me parlais d’elle
De son nom oublié
De son corps, de mon corps
De cet amour là
De cet amour mort

The remaining songs in the jukebox come in part from my own childhood memories of my parents’ fondness for French chanson. And from Bientôt l’été composer Walter Hus’ suggestion, whose idea it was to play this kind of music in this scene in the first place. They are just wonderfully sentimental songs. Sometimes I wonder what pop culture would have been like of not the Anglo-Saxon but the French had dominated it.

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Sep 20 2012

In Duras’ footsteps. The black in the white.

Published by under features

The piano in Bientôt l’été comes straight out of Marguerite Duras’ novel Moderato Cantabile in which the young son of the protagonist is learning how to play when the incident happens in the café. But there’s also a piano in Agatha. A black piano in an abandoned villa where the brother and sister make love.

One of the incarnations of the exterior of the café on the dike in Bientôt l’été is an abandoned building. The ruin of a colonial mansion refers to the many stories by Duras that take place in former Indochina, where she grew up, not as one of the idle rich she often describes but as a poor white person. The colonies are always a place of conflict in her work, romantic conflict, racial conflict, cultural conflict, class conflict.

The pile of coal in Bientôt l’été refers to the lower classes, back home, in Europe. The workmen in the factories. Working in the mine, digging for black gold. The rock is something else. It’s a symbol of pride, of majesty, of stubborn resistance, of faith, for me.

A black piano, blackened ruins, black coal, a black rock and a black lamppost. That calls for a rainbow, the ultimate symbol of naive hope.

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Sep 12 2012

In Duras’ footsteps. The idle rich.

Published by under features

Next to the tennis courts, several other elements that refer to the life of the wealthy recur in Marguerite Duras’ work. There’s always a villa somewhere. Often inhabited, as in Moderato Cantabile, by the unsatisfied wife of a more or less invisible rich husband.

So one of the incarnations of the café exterior in Bientôt l’été is a villa. And when somebody enters to start a twoplayer session, a window on the first floor opens and we can see light through the curtains. Referring to the sleepless nights of the mistress of the house, spent gazing out, observing young couples taking nightly strolls under the dark shadows of the flowering magnolia in the moonlight.

This magnolia tree also makes an appearance in Bientôt l’été. Its almost nauseatingly sensual scent penetrating the nostrils of the doctors and lawyers and politicians and entrepreneurs invited to the dinner with their glamorous wives. One night, the lady of the house takes one of the giant flowers and ornaments her cleavage with it. Then she drinks too much and vomits. She had already been having cheap wine in the café with a factory worker.

Another open window is in a hotel, also present in Bientôt l’été. Through this hotel window, in several of Duras’ novels, a woman observes a man making love with his mistress. She does this hidden, lying down in a wheat field that grows next to the hotel, as in Bientôt l’été. The man knows she is there but he cannot see her.

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Sep 10 2012

In Duras’ footsteps. Still at the seaside.

Published by under features

Other Marguerite Duras-related seaside features in Bientôt l’été include the pier and the tennis court. The pier is modeled after one of the twin piers in Trouville-sur-Mer, the coastal French town where Duras spent the last decade of her life. Impressive wooden constructions with a small metal lighthouse at the end.

I don’t have any recollection of a pier in the Duras novels I have read. But tennis courts occur often, especially abandoned tennis courts. There’s a fenced off tennis court on the beach not far from her home in Trouville. But I’m sure they appeared in novels from before she lived there. A lot of her work refers in some way to class distinctions (Duras had been a member of the communist party in France). And in her book, tennis is a sport for the idle rich, more specifically for the embassy personnel in the colonies.

I remember a trance-inducing repetition of references in Le Vice-Consul to Anne-Marie Stretter’s lone bicycle leaning against the fence of the abandoned tennis courts in the park of the French embassy in Calcutta. I don’t believe anyone ever actually plays in her novels. The purpose of the tennis courts is to be abandoned. As I’m sure they are in Trouville, most time of the year, when there’s no tourists.

There’s something beautifully melancholic about out of season tourist towns. Especially at the seaside where the cold wind continuously tugs at the closed off attractions while the gulls shriek there terrifying cries.

Gulls. Dead. After a storm. On the beach. Another recurring element in her novels. Also a dog. Also dead. As in L’Amour, where the man had gone to utter an inhuman scream after frustrating encounters with the woman.

The black rock on the beach refers to the Vaches Noires cliffs, a remarkable rock formation on the beach of Villers-sur-Mer, neighboring Trouville, and possibly what gave Duras’ residence its name.

The harbor crane is not necessarily a seaside feature. But it refers to the industrial harbor town in which Moderato Cantabile takes place, the novel that forms the basis of Bientôt l’été. Another class symbol, if you will, contrasting with the tennis court.

The row boat refers to the harbor as well. But a gigantic cruise ship was added because I was very impressed with them in Venice, surreally towering over the delicate stilt constructions. A cruise ship takes the elder brother, and later the rest of the family, back to France at the end of L’Amant de la Chine du Nord. So there’s still a link with Duras.

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Sep 09 2012

In Duras’ footsteps. The seaside.

Published by under features

The seaside scene in Bientôt l’été is based on a mix of influences. The dike is a typical element from the Belgian coast line that I’m very familiar with. But Trouville-sur-Mer, the French coastal home town of the writer whose work inspired the game, Marguerite Duras, doesn’t have a dike. Instead, a row of buildings is planted straight on the beach, including Duras’ residence, the majestic former hotel, Les Roches Noires.

This building was the direct inspiration for one of the exteriors of the café on the dike in Bientôt l’été. In front of Les Roches Noires is a boardwalk, referred to on several occasions in Duras’ novels and also present in the game.

Another building typical of the Belle Epoque coastal towns is the casino. There’s a casino in Trouville and one of the buildings in Bientôt l’été was inspired by it.

A coastal casino is a recurring feature in Duras’ novels. It hosts the ball room where Anne-Marie Stretter breaks Lol V. Stein’s spirit by seducing her financé. And the café in Bientôt l’été, sometimes.

As a seaside resident, Duras often refers to the ocean in her novels. Seldom as the typical romantic environment, though. And having spent two nights in Trouville, I understand. The sea is a violent monster, as mysterious as it is indifferent.

One of her novels, L’amour takes place almost entirely on the beach. It’s about a confused love triangle. And of course there’s Moderato Cantabile, written long before Duras lived at the seaside -it’s one of her early successes- that takes place in a small industrial harbor town at the Atlantic coast. The character design and the entire talking at a café table come straight out of that book.

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