New Yorker Films // 2001 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jesse Ataide (Retired) // June 1st, 2006
Jeanne Moreau as the legendary Marguerite Duras.
Sometimes I honestly wonder why I still watch movies.
And I think this film is a good demonstration of why I do -- to discover films like this one. The DVD cover art seems to promise a rather banal and trite intergenerational romance, but the film inside is magical, haunting -- the kind of film that wraps around you like a blanket while you're not paying attention. I was drawn in by the premise: a look at the tender, tortured relationship between Marguerite Duras, one of greatest writers of the 20th centuries and a great favorite of mine, and Yann Andrea Steiner, a young man with whose support during the last 16 years of her life she wrote many of her most famous novels, including her most important contribution to literature: the lyrical L'Amant (The Lover).
On its surface, Cet Amour-La (This Love) falls into that category I call "barely a wisp of a film" -- a film so delicate, muted and intentionally limited in scope that it seems capable of dissolving into nothingness at any given moment. But hidden beneath this seemingly ephemeral surface is a sea of raw emotions brewing, capable of unexpectedly exploding. The film intentionally avoids these moments -- in fact, most of the major events of the story are implied, expressed by the narrator in a brief, enigmatic phrase. To the uninitiated, that's Duras's distinctive way of relating a narrative: events aren't meant to written as if to be re-experienced, they are something to be looked back on in reflection, leading to a deeper awareness of both the senses and the self. Rebelling against the oft-cited writer's ultimatum "show, don't tell," in Duras's work, everything is told, and the "showing" becomes indistinguishable from the "telling."
And that's what this film attempts to do -- to try and relate a story not by what it is or what it was, but by what it means. This approach is tremendously risky and almost impossible to translate into visual terms (Duras herself may have been the only one to successfully pull this off in the cinematic medium through her own highly experimental films, including her masterpieces India Song and La Navire Night). As unexceptional as it might seem on the surface, Cet Amour-La is an incredibly brave film that dares to tell Duras's story in a manner in which she would have wanted it to be told.
For many viewers, Jeanne Moreau (Jules And Jim), who plays Duras, will be the main draw of the film. And she's exceptional. She's the perfect actress for this role -- or rather, her face is perfect for the role. It embodies one of the first lines L'Amant, Duras's semi-autobiographical novella:
"Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you're more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged."
But more than possessing the ideal exterior, Moreau is able to become Duras from the inside out, conveying the unspoken pleasure a ravaged woman takes in a life that hasn't always been easy or pretty, but of which she is undeniably proud of. The ravaged face, the ravaged voice; Moreau is a living, breathing embodiment of the ravages of time, and she couldn't be better suited for this role.
The New Yorker DVD of this film is adequate more than exceptional: the muted greens and grays of the image can at times look a tad muddy but is never distracting; the audio is more than capable of capturing Moreau's gravel-voiced utterances. Extras include a featurette with interviews with Moreau, director José Dayan and star Aymeric Demarigny, as well as the film's theatrical trailer. Optional English subtitles are also included.
I still find it impossible to exactly what exactly it was about Cet Amour-La that impressed me so much, and moved me deeper than I had initially expected. It might be a "little wisp of a film," but sometimes a feather-touch can yield more impact than a direct blow to the head. Or sometimes, as in this situation, a feather-touch is a blow to the head.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Making of Cet-Amour La" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Wikipedia: Marguerite Duras