Saturday Night Spotlight #12: Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) is best remembered for her career as a novelist, playwright and essayist, which spanned half a century, but she also worked in the film industry for over twenty years. Her first cinematic success came after penning the original screenplay for Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), for which Duras received an Academy Award nomination. Her directorial debut came in 1967 with La Musica, co-directed by Paul Seban and starring Delphine Seyrig, with whom Duras would collaborate for years to come. Duras’ first solo filmmaking venture was Destroy, She Said (1969), a minimalist effort which bears a resemblance to another film by Resnais, Last Year at Marienbad (1961), as well as to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966). Over the next two decades Duras would come into her own as an auteur, exploring themes as experimental as those in her novels. Her filmography has recently been honored with a retrospective by New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, proof of her influence and acclaim.

Nathalie Granger (1972) – This drama of familial and existential strife stars Lucia Bosé, Jeanne Moreau and, in one of his earliest roles, Gérard Depardieu. Surreal touches mark the film, which is a rumination on violence in the world at large and the potential violence in the title character, Bosé’s young daughter, played by Valerie Mascolo (Duras’s niece). The film was edited by Nicole Lubtchansky, who did most of her work with director Jacques Rivette. The look of the black-and-white cinematography was achieved by Ghislain Cloquet, who had previously worked with Robert Bresson, Jacques Becker, Claude Sautet, Louis Malle, Arthur Penn, Jacques Demy and Claude Berri, and who would later work with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski (with the latter on Tess, for which Cloquet would win an Oscar in conjunction with Geoffrey Unsworth). Cloquet would also work with Duras again on the experimental project Woman of the Ganges (1974), in which each shot is a single film still and there is no camera movement.

India Song (1975) – Delphine Seyrig plays the wife of a French ambassador to India, often left alone and given to alleviating her boredom with affairs. Duras considered Seyrig “the greatest actress in France and possibly in the entire world,” giving her a showcase here to depict the unraveling of this anguished character’s life. The film received three César Award nominations (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards), for Best Actress (Seyrig), Best Music (Carlos D’Alessio) and Best Sound (Michel Vionnet). Furthermore, the film was edited by a woman, Solange Leprince.

The Truck (1977) – Nominated for the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, this romantic drama stars Duras herself and Gérard Depardieu as a nameless hitchhiker and truck driver, respectively, referred to only as “Elle” and “Lui” (“her” and “him”). The catch: they’re not actually in a truck. Duras and Depardieu are seated at a table, reading the script. Duras had not been able to cast an actress that she wanted, so the film ended up being a minimalist reading of the screenplay intercut with shots of trucks traversing the French countryside, a unique deconstruction of the typical filmmaking and storytelling process.

The Children (1985) – Duras’ final film won a number of awards from the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, including the Silver Berlin Bear. This comedy tells the tale of a precocious boy, played by Axel Bogousslavsky (who was an adult), and his interactions with actual adult characters, played by renowned actors like Daniel Gélin, André Dussollier and Pierre Arditi. Again Duras worked with a female film editor, Françoise Belleville, as well as with the cinematographer Bruno Nuytten, who also photographed India Song, The Truck, part of the aforementioned Woman of the Ganges and who would go on to direct the biopic Camille Claudel (1988) starring Isabelle Adjani.

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