sábado, 30 de julio de 2011

Hiroshima mon amour

Hiroshima mon amour (Gallimard, 1997)
by Marguerite Duras
France, 1960

Having heard the 1959 Alain Resnais-directed film version of Hiroshima mon amour critiqued for being cold and/or impenetrable on multiple occasions over the years, I was pleased to discover that Duras' scénario, published the year after the motion picture's debut at Cannes, is poetic and affecting instead--not at all cold nor impenetrable to my way of thinking.  Set in Hiroshima in 1957 and focused on the adulterous fling between a French woman ("Elle") and a Japanese man ("Lui") who meet while la Française is there shooting a film about peace, the screenplay has a sweeping emotional and temporal arc that shifts back and forth between postwar Japan and wartime France and dares to compare the ravages of war with the romantic loss and oblivion of memory that often accompany us during war and peace.  Watching the emotionally shellshocked lovers seek to prolong a connection that they know will be impossible to maintain--unless another war breaks out, as one of them grumpily suggests near the end--one begins to sense that they are stand-ins not only for those who didn't survive the war but those who aren't able to connect with others in a lasting way even in times of peace.  While all I've said to this point might make it seem as if the work would have to be heavyhanded, Duras manages to avoid that somehow through a deft combination of visuals (both the shots from the film that accompany the script and the detailed cinematographic instructions that accompany--and interact with--the dialogue) and a sure hand in conveying the interiority of her characters' thought processes and memories.  And although my rusty French leaves me convinced that I would absolutely benefit from a reread of this work at a more leisurely pace, it doesn't exactly take a genius to appreciate Duras' many subtleties (e.g. three versions of proposed dialogue from Lui in a key exchange near the end of Partie III, versions that Resnais apparently chose to run in succession in the film), the appendix on the movie that adds another layer of complexity to what's to be found in the script (SUR LA PHRASE: "ET PUIS, IL EST MORT": "Riva ne parle plus elle-mème quand cette image apparait.  Donner un signe extérieur de sa douleur serait dégrader cette douleur" [ON THE SENTENCE: "AND THEN, HE DIED": "[Emmanuelle] Riva [the actress who plays Elle] herself doesn't speak any longer when this image appears.  To give an exterior sign of her anguish would be to debase this anguish"] (628), and the unexpected but touching Casablanca allusion amid the proliferation of images of mushroom clouds and parades protesting the wailing of the "100 000 cadavres envolés de HIROSHIMA" ["100,000 cadavers carried away at HIROSHIMA"] (584).  A fine intro for what I hope will be a satisfying long-term relationship between Marguerite Duras and me.  (www.gallimard.fr/ecoutezlire/quarto.htm)

Marguerite Duras

I read Hiroshima mon amour as part of the July stop for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong 2011.  See her blog here for other posts on the film and print versions of the title.  Oddly enough, I couldn't locate a standalone version of the usually easy-to-find screenplay at any of the three foreign language bookstores I checked in Cambridge and NYC during the last month.  Weird.  Luckily for me, my library had a copy of the deluxe 1,764 page Duras: Romans, cinéma, théâtre, un parcours 1943-1993 (Gallimard, 1997) in which Hiroshima appears on pages 533-643.

6 comentarios:

  1. I've seen the film, and I don't remember it being that cold and impenetrable. Certainly a lot less so that Last Year in Marienbad.

    I only seem to enjoy Duras novel when they chronicle East/West love relationships (which seems to be quite a few); others I've found rather boring.

  2. What a thoughtful review. I'm very glad you liked it. I have never heard that is was called "cold" and find this so suprising. Also impmenetrable strikes me as odd, although, maybe the movie is, if you watch it withouth having read the scénario first. There is a monotony in the voice in the beginning that could put off some viewers but it is done on purpose and will change later.
    Seeing atrocities can either numb you or make you go mad, people try to cope in different ways which are not always adequate. I guess the monotony of the voice in the beginning wants to show this.
    I find her writing very poetical, very beautiful. Sparse but opening up on a world of meaning.
    Thanks for your participation, Richard.

  3. I too had trouble locating the scénario in the US & was happy to pick it up in France. So glad you liked this; my appreciation of it only grows as I experience it from different angles (e.g., watching & re-watching the film, reading the screenplay). Poetic and affecting, for sure - I love how Duras's language shifts subtly from a more prose-like register to a more poetic one, even rhyming at times, but it never feels heavy-handed. She's pretty provocative as well. I'm troubled by the equation at the end of the film of character with their trauma, but it definitely makes you think.

  4. *Obooki: Good to hear that you've enjoyed other Duras novels--will have to keep your East/West criterion in mind as I extend my acquaintance with her work! Hope to see the Marienbad film some day, but I've already been warned that it's a little hard to follow for some folks. I'll be prepared or at least highly caffeinated as a result.

    *Caroline: I think by "cold," maybe people meant the point of view was overly formal or distant somehow. I guess I'll get to decide that for myself when I finally get around to checking out the DVD, but I certainly didn't feel that way about the script. In the meantime, thanks for the kind words and the invite to join the readalong--liked the Duras and started the Morante today (so far, so good). Cheers!

    *Emily: That's funny about the difficulty in finding that title--I didn't want to go online to buy it, but I thought it'd be one of the easier Durases to come by. Looking forward to reading your print review after partially rereading your DVD review over the weekend--I was also of a mixed mind about the ending for slightly different reasons, but I really like what you say here about the poetic and the prose-like registers. So true.

  5. I'm starting to realise that when an interesting artwork is discussed in the blogworld, you are in on it, Richard! I thought this was a fine and sensitive review and I am always delighted to find another Duras fan. One thing, though, Resnais is every bit as responsible as Duras for the success of this film - his editing and his vision were of paramount importance. Although afterwards, Duras did want to downplay the collaboration as much as possible. However, one interesting thing: Resnais had Duras tape the speeches and he made the actors say them to the same cadences - moderato cantabile - because he felt that the musicality of her language was so essential to its meaning. I liked that.

  6. *Litlove: Thanks for the kind words--there's been a number of very interesting events/discussions in the blog world hosted this year, and it's always fun to participate in the group discussions when time allows. Having not seen the film version of Hiroshima mon amour yet, I do appreciate your suggestions on what to look for comparatively (i.e. film vs. script) and I have no doubt that what you say about Resnais' equal contributions to the film's success is true. I particularly love that tidbit about him wanting to maintain Duras' "musicality" in the film, though--super interesting!