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Hypnotic Incantations: A Marguerite Duras Focus

MUBI Special

A major figure in modern French literature, Marguerite Duras’ involvement with cinema is lesser known, and usually associated with her celebrated script for Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour, which was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar! Yet the experimental approach she lent to her literary work was further explored in her filmmaking. To discover her cinema is to be bewitched by an innovative, transformative style, both sensuous and reflective, in which spellbinding voices echo within the stillness of her images.

Although considered overly intellectual by some, Duras’ cinematic work scintillates with sensorial expression: the heat of India or the smell of incense imbue the screen to mesmeric effect in India Song, conveying the torpor of an absurd colonialism. Her disruptive techniques also relay an attempt to explore female subjectivity and the inner lives of her characters, like when revealing the despair of a married woman in Baxter, Vera Baxter, and to contradict commercial cinema’s conventions: the love and solitude of a couple only heard, while actors, deprived of their original purpose, wait in Le navire Night. A trademark of her filmmaking lies in her radical dissociation between image and sound—from the non-synchronous voices that resonate like incantations to the hypnotic music diffused throughout her films, such as India Song’s unforgettable score by Carlos d’Alessio. Although still rarely screened and relatively underknown, Duras’ awe-inspiring cinema never stopped influencing others—among them Claire Denis and Chantal Akerman—and we only hope this focus will spark further enchantment.

Baxter, Vera Baxter

Marguerite Duras France, 1977

Opening our focus on Marguerite Duras’ hypnotic cinema is her radical, enclosed melodrama with Delphine Seyrig and Gérard Depardieu. Fixating on one heartbreaking conversation—as an outdoor music permeates the room—Duras creates a one-of-a-kind, visceral experience about the anguish of love.

Le navire Night

Marguerite Duras France, 1979

Marguerite Duras further subverts and reimagines cinematic form with her fervid letter to anonymous love and desire. A film is in the making while another unravels: two voices (Duras and Benoît Jacquot), lost in contemporary solitude, resonate while a camera wanders the empty streets of Paris.

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