Eating Duras

Everybody who’s done the long-haul film festival thing will have experienced screenings where they suddenly realise they’re too tired to take in what’s happening on the screen. I got tired just a few days into the E.I.F.F. but now I seem to be floating along on a cloud of cinema, still exhausted (I fell asleep this morning and was nearly late for Jeanne Moreau’s L’ADOLESCENTE) but unable to really feel it.

At the screening of Marguerite Duras’ NATHALIE GRANGER yesterday, I had a different problem. It was noon, and I hadn’t eaten that morning, and suddenly I found myself famished. The film is, on the surface, extremely uneventful, following Lucia Bosé and Jeanne Moreau as they float around Duras’ house in capes, do housework, listen to the news, and talk on the phone (but not so much to each other, face to face). As with many “avant garde” films, one is able to think one’s own thoughts, influenced by the film, rather than being completely wrapped up in an unfolding narrative and thinking only the movie’s thoughts.

This led to an unusual viewing experience for me, since what I was thinking about desperately was food. How I would never go anywhere without a snack again. And how I would like to climb up on the screen like Buster Keaton in SHERLOCK JNR and eat the food on it. That apple is the size of a refrigerator! It’s grey, this being a b&w film, but what the hell. People in b&w movies live on grey food and it doesn’t seem to do them any harm. I guess the skin of the apple would be pretty thick, hard to break through, and the surface curves too gently for a person to bit into it. But I could throw my arms around the apples and smell it and maybe cut a piece off with a knife, if I could find one small enough to lift. Or wait until a longshot appears, and the apples are a more normal size.

A baguette the size of a couch! I could break through the crust and crawl inside, tearing at the soft flesh of the bread and cramming it into my mouth, entering the bread and curling up inside, protected by the brittle carapace of the crust and pillowed by fluffy loaf-matter.

Anyhow, that’s what the film made me think of.

EXCEPT for the sudden burst of — what? comedy? – as a painfully young Gerard Depardieu shambles in, and attempts to sell the ladies a washing machine. The youthful Depardieu is always a startling sight for those who know the beefy lummox of today. That impossibly long, strange face, apparently assembled in armature form out of leg-bones, then covered in a translucent coating of unborn calf skin and decorated with a mop. Yet it speaks! And attempts to sell a Vedetta-Tabard washing machine. The ladies stare coolly at Mr. D., giving nothing back as he sweats and stutters his way through a prolonged, incoherent sales pitch. Finally, utterly defeated, he goes to look at their present washing machine. He staggers back, somehow EVEN MORE defeated. “It’s a Vedetta-Tabard,” he mutters, aghast at the cruelty.

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8 Responses to “Eating Duras”

  1. Be sure to see Duras’ Le Camion, starring Duras herself and (wait for it) Gerard Depardieu. They sit at a table in her house and she describes a film in which he might appear. Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations occasionally pops up as musical accompaniment. Mezmerizing.

    But eat first!

  2. It’s a good job I wasn’t seeing Salo.

  3. I can hardly claim to be knowledgeable about “Nathalie Granger,” having only seen the YouTube bits, but I will say that when I saw of Moreau and Bose lounging and being glamorously enigmatic reminded be of one of my favorite episodes of the old “Outer Limits” — “The Forms of Things Unknown” (director: Gerd Oswald; writer: Joseph Stefano), where Vera Miles and Barbara Rush lounge with similarly enigmatic intent.

    As for the Depardieu spiel … I posted a clip at my site, talking about how strange it was. A friend of mine, someone I trust, talked about how in the “Natalie Granger” period the French took their vacuum-cleaners very, *very* seriously. He cited “Le Petit Theatre de Jean Renoir” as an example of this. So, despite the oddness of the scene, their mustive been a lot of emotional investment in the topic …

  4. Make that “what I saw of Moreau (etc.),” please.

    One of the comments at IMDb about “Forms of Things Unknown” quotes a line describing Miles as “a sleek sack of sin.” Applicable, perhaps, to one or more of the Duras characters?

  5. “A sleek sack of sin” sounds like. . .Ann Savage!

    (and me in my youth.)

    Depardieu had only appeared in one minor film prior to Nathalie Granger so it kind of counts as a debut. I love the weird hysterical walk he does at the film’s close when he’s resigned himself to failure as a washing machine salesman.

  6. Apparently Duras regarded Moreau as the better actress, because “You can tell that she does her own washing up, whereas when Bose does the dishes you can tell she has no real experience of it.”

    Bose seems depressed in the film, Moreau just cool and collected. Of course Bose is worried about her “terribly violent” little girl, the title character, whom we never see being anything but sweet. One sequence has her attempting to put the household cats into her doll’s pram, but she’s never less than gentle with them. They just won’r stay in.

    I think you can find a good pic on Vera Miles on this very site, with a superb expression of silent evil. If it’s not there, I’ll post it soon.

  7. That’s the kind of stuff I like to watch in Godard, though he usually has the bright idea of having the soundtrack rise up to drown out the character’s banal dialogue and add an extra comment to the proceedings!

  8. It’s quite a quiet film, Nathalie Granger. It does play about with time and space in a slightly Godardian way, but it’s mostly rather restful.

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