Archive for the 'Duras' Category

Duras film: Moderato Cantabile

Dec 01 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Moderato cantabile, a film written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Peter Brook in 1960

— I should not have drunk so much wine.

— Since yesterday evening, you see, I have been thinking about it more and more. Since the piano lesson.
I could not stop myself from coming today.

— So what?
You are Madame Desbaresdes, the wife of the director of the factories on the coast. You live on Sea Boulevard.

— Yes, Sir.

And to conclude this series of Duras films, Peter Brook’s adaptation of Moderato Cantabile, the novel that inspired the situation in Bientôt l’été.

We see the factory worker Chauvin, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, meet with the wife of his employer, Anne Desbaresdes, played by Jeanne Moreau, at a café table in a seaside town. This is the first time they meet. There had been a crime passionnel the day before in this café, and curiosity drove the woman to interrupt her daily walks here.

In the novel, many more conversations like this follow, whereas in the film, they meet in all sorts of places. The end result is the same, they fall in love but then decide this love is impossible.

I chose this extract to show the poverty and banality of the situation. There is nothing fancy about this workman’s café. And yet we are drawn to such places in search of some human warmth, away from the wind and the noise outside. We find comfort in the proximity of others, even if we have nothing in common with them.

As long as, perhaps, the conversation doesn’t make too much sense.

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Duras film: Nuit noire, Calcutta

Nov 30 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Nuit noire, Calcutta, a film written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Marin Karmitz in 1964

Wasting one’s time, one’s youth. Naive expressions she must be using. I wanted to talk about her despair. A great swelling wave smoothly flooding through her. It is the day before yesterday that her lover must have left. His name is Jean, as I heard.

The woman in Calcutta is blond. I will invent her tomorrow.

And that concludes the films directed by Duras herself. Nuit noire, Calcutta was directed by Marin Karmitz. It’s much more conventional than Duras’ own films (as are many of the adaptations of her writing). But it still retains dome of the atmosphere and themes of her work. And the discrepancy between the text and the images (the man is thinking about a novel he wants to write).

Spying on someone in a hotel room through the window, for instance, is a recurring theme in Duras’ work. And of course, the way the sound of the sea flows in when that window is opened is lovely. The almost full moon behind the man. Walking on the boardwalk in Trouville-sur-Mer -already! And the images of lone wanderers on the beach, reminiscent of the avatar’s roaming on the holodeck in Bientôt l’été.

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Duras film: Détruire dit-elle

Nov 29 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Détruire dit-elle, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1969

— Is it the word “happy” that you said?
— Yes.
— Happy in this hotel? Happy? That’s peculiar, no?
— I am a little bit surprised myself.
— Why is that woman crying?
— How do you know? That happens often when there’s visits.
— You are tired.
— I don’t sleep.
— Certain times, the silence can prevent sleeping? The forest? The silence?
— Maybe.
— The hotel room.
— Also, yes.
— What do you do all day long?
— Nothing.
— Sometimes I speak with that Stein.
— You don’t read?
— I pretend to.
— You seem happy. It’s a good idea to stay a few days.

This film is almost as old as I am.

After this fragment it is mentioned that the woman is insane. But that is far from apparent compared to how everybody else speaks, in this film, or others, by other directors, even. Art tends to be a bit weird, sometimes. But one has to have the courage to see the humor in it. And not let the strangeness put one off.

Even when the subject matter is grave and the author is sincere, there is room for humor. If only because we recognize our own often silly behavior in some of the things we see on the screen.

I chose this fragment because it features two people sitting at a table. And while their conversation is fairly logical —as opposed to sometimes in Bientôt l’été— there is a strange feeling of things not being said. This conversation is about much more than the words that are exchanged.

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Duras film: Nathalie Granger

Nov 28 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Nathalie Granger, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1972

– You are not a salesman.
– What? The 008… Yes, I am. The 008 features three possible selections. One instead of 2 if you remember the 007. The 007: two selections.
— But you are not a salesman.
— But I am, Ma’am. I am. I have my license here. Yes. I have my license.
— No.
— A license given by the police. I am not…
— No.
— Yes, Ma’am. Yes. Here.
— No.
— Yes.
— No.

This clip illustrates an aspect of Duras’ work, and indeed a lot of art, that is often forgotten: humor. In this scene a young Gerard Depardieu meets a young Jeanne Moreau. He is a trying to sell her a new washing machine. Moreau and her friend suddenly start claiming he is not a salesman. He insists that he is. In the end he mentions that his company would take their old washing machine if they buy a new one. When he checks, it turns out that they already own a machine like the one he is trying to sell.

Even though art can be weird and alienating, it is often humorous as well. All too often, art is approached with a seriousness that doesn’t help enjoyment. People seem to forget that art is play. It’s a form of play that can bring about very serious insights and surprising emotions. But it is not serious in and of itself. Not in the way that formal games are serious.

Formal games have sets of rules and goals, conditions for winning and rewards. They need to be approached with the sincerity of the accountant. At least if one desires to win —and winning is often required to get pleasure out of them. Art is far more playful and far less demanding. It is also far more personal. Art gives you an opportunity to be playful and you can choose for yourself how you want to play. Art is a game that you cannot lose. It is pure play.

This scene is also a lovely confrontation of genders. The mysterious females in all their silent power, together, and the scuttling man alone, functioning within some external system he has no control over. Not necessarily a deep eternal portrayal of something meaningful, but definitely a hilariously familiar situation.

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Duras film: India Song

Nov 27 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from India Song, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1975

— The other sleeping man?
— Someone passing through. A friend of the Stretter family. She belongs to whomever wants her. She gives to him who takes.

— Love.
— Yes. Splendor.

— “Anne-Marie Stretter” written on the grave?
— “Ana Maria Guardi”. Wiped away.

— Every night. Looks at her.
— Has never spoken to her?
— Never. Has never approached one.

— The virgin man of Lahore.
— Yes.

India Song is probably the central film in Duras’ oeuvre. In it, the story of Lol V. Stein and that of Anne-Marie Stretter come together with that of the Vice-Consul. And Stretter dies.

A lot of voices in this film. And actors. Who act. A little. But they don’t speak. The voices are already disconnected from the image. Even though, sometimes they are very close. Unlike in the later films, images that originated in the text are actually shown. A sumptuous drawing room, Stretter and her lovers, the vice-consul, people dancing, and the bicycle leaning against the deserted tennis court fence.

It’s a beautiful film that, much like the later ones, embraces the viewer in a sort of direct exchange of emotions, that surpasses any sort of story-telling. Again, the story is presumed known, and we simply dwell on it, slowly, melancholically, coming to insights in human nature and culture that we had not expected. Coming to understand ourselves, surprised by how much we are like somebody who is completely unlike us.

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Duras film: Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert

Nov 23 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1976

India Song. When going to the office, he whistled India Song. He said to the club director: “At home in Neuilly, in the drawing room, there’s a black piano. India Song is on the music-rest. My mother played India Song. The piece has been there since she died.”

— Day already. No one leaves.
— They seem to be waiting.

— The tennis courts were deserted. A bicycle was there.
— I noticed they were deserted, after her passage.
— The air was torn apart. Her skirt, against the trees. She looked at me.

— I didn’t know you existed. Calcutta has become a form of hope for me.

— I love Michael Richardson. I am not free of that love.
— I know. I love you like that, in your love for Michael Richardson. It doesn’t matter to me.

Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert is a long film. It deals with the central mythos of Marguerite Duras’ oeuvre, largely covering the story of her novel Le Vice-Consul. It is the name that Anne-Marie Stretter, the wife of the ambassador to France, went by in her youth in Venice that the title of the film refers to, as it was being shouted in the nightly streets of Calcutta by the fallen Vice-Consul of Lahore, who is madly in love with her.

Stretter has many lovers. She has no preference. It just happens to her. And in the end, she dies, on the beach, surrounded by them.

It is her bicycle that is seen near the deserted tennis court.

In this fragment, India Song is played. An piece of music, composed by Carlos d’Alessio, that recurs time and again in Duras’ work. Played on the black piano in the deserted villa. The same black piano as in Duras’ home, which I imagine standing there now, as she herself is dead, with the score to India Song on its rest.

In Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein Anne-Marie Stretter seduces the fiancée of the main character, leaving her in a decade long stupor. This fiancée is the Michael Richardson mentioned in the fragment above.

The joy I find in Duras’ work increases with my familiarity with the myriad elements that are referred to in what at first may appear to be a banal rather senseless piece of text. It reminds me of my enjoyment of renaissance religious painting, where my knowledge of Christian iconography enhances the game I can play with the art. It’s not so much an enjoyment of the actual knowledge, as the fact that I possess it and can play with it how I please.

Duras —possibly unlike the old masters— seems to be aware of this potential of art and she plays with it herself, as an author. She cannot possibly expect her audience to be so intimately acquainted with her work that they get every reference. Nor can she require that everybody does the scholarly effort to figure it all out. Instead she plays coyly with the mystery that only she fully comprehends.

It is truly a tale of tales: a story about a story. She writes from the position that the tale of Anne-Marie Stretter and the events that lead to the vice consul’s downfall are widely known. And she talks about these facts, around this story. That these facts may not all be known by the viewer doesn’t matter. We are sucked into the mystery and the poetry as we are made witness to deeply private feelings and concerns of characters who seem to have nothing to lose, who are on the edge of life, who have maximized the potential of existence and have now become public property. Almost like the saints and Madonnas depicted in the ancient paintings.

Only without god. But in the knowledge that what has replaced him is even more grand, more terrifying and infinitely elusive. We are grains of sand on an endless beach, governed by emotional gulf streams that sweep through the universe and affect all of us, will-less subjects, in the exact same way. And somehow, this is intensely comforting.

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Duras film: Le camion

Nov 22 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Le camion, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1977

It was there that she started talking again. Talking about what she sees, outside. She says: “So many things to see. Really. We are overwhelmed. Don’t you think?” He does not answer. She closes her eyes. She still speaks. She says: “Don’t believe that I’m sleeping. It’s the opposite.”

Filming would have to be fast. You see? To not stretch over time at all, drag. It would have to not cost much. Its very nature would recall this poverty of means. I imagine it in black and white.

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Duras film: Baxter, Vera Baxter

Nov 21 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Baxter, Vera Baxter, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1977

Images of the seaside again at the beginning of the film, when Carlos d’Alessio’s music starts playing. This song will continue to play the entire 90 minutes of the film. It’s maddening! It’s exhilarating. Especially given the contrast between the catchy nature of the relentless music and the lethargy of the main character, a woman deciding whether to rent a very expensive villa with her cheating husband’s money. It’s supposedly the neighbours who are playing the music. But we never see them.

A troubled testament to the eternity of love. Whatever happens, however many times we end affairs, we leave each other, we cheat, we lie, we abuse, love never ends. Part of us can never stop loving. Even if the rest of us is ill equipped to deal with it. And it is ultimately this discrepancy that causes us to hurt each other. Not the lack of love. But its eternal presence.

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Duras film: Les mains négatives

Nov 20 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Les mains négatives, a film by Marguerite Duras from 1978

The man alone in the cave looked into the noise, into the noise of the sea, the immensity of things.

And he screamed.

You who are named, who are gifted with identity, I love you.

Les mains négatives is a short film. The entire piece can be seen here.

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Duras film: Aurelia Steiner (Melbourne)

Nov 19 2012 Published by under Duras

Extract from Aurelia Steiner (Melbourne), a film by Marguerite Duras from 1979

It is three o’clock in the afternoon. Behind the trees, there is sun. It is cool.

I am in this big room where I stay in summer, facing the garden. On the other side of the window there is this forest of roses and, since three days, there is this cat, skinny, white, who comes to look at me through the window, his eyes in my eyes.

He frightens me. He cries. He is lost. He wants to belong. And I, I don’t want to any more.

Many of Duras’ later films are made in this way. Voices reading over images that show no direct connection with the text. Images of landscapes, of empty places. Stills or slow panning shots. But while a link in terms of content seems to be missing, there is a strong correlation in rhythm that happens almost unnoticed at first -while we are recovering from the alienation caused by not being able to make sense of the images in connection with the text. There’s a rhythm, the juxtaposition of images and text form a sort of choreography. The images lead your mind in the understanding and appreciation of the text. And the objects in the images become props that stand for objects in the text, and your mind plays with them that way.

This is a very tricky conceit. Many contemporary artists use a similar language and fail to connect with the viewer. I imagine for many Duras fails as well. I remember seeing a film of hers for the first time in a gallery and being somewhat disgusted with what seemed to me as modernist pedantry, being weird for the sake of being weird. But a gallery is a bad place for appreciating this work —the internet is much better.

When I concentrate on the text —not just the words and their meaning but also the flow of the reading, the rhythm of speaking and silence— I feel the film lifting me up and carrying me. There is something immensely soothing about this work, despite of the sometimes painful subject matter. And by the end, I feel like a child being read a bed time story by mother Duras, ignoring the blood on my knee caused by falling off my bike.

To some extent, this soothing quality that I deeply enjoy, reduces my capacity to understand what the writer is talking about. I am lulled into an aesthetic bliss where I don’t care about meaning. It may take me several viewings to realize what the story is about.

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