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Marguerite Duras 1914–

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French director, screenwriter, playwright, and author.

Duras began filmmaking after a successful career as a novelist and scriptwriter. Prior to making her own films, she was best known for her screenplay of Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour. Duras's filmic technique is based on her literary style. Her films are characterized by long silences, dialogue which conveys inner emotions, and an abstract conception of time. Her abilities as a writer enable her to, in her own words, "understand the import, the power of a word."

Raised in Indochina, Duras emigrated to Paris at age seventeen, where she studied law and physical science. In 1941, she began writing novels, many of which have been filmed by other directors. Duras now prefers not to film her own literature, feeling that the audience is otherwise more concerned with the transition to the screen than with the film itself.

Détruire, dit-elle (Destroy, She Said) established her reputation as an "anti-art" artist. In this film, Duras creates a world of interchangeable personalities and reduces life to a vacuum. The characters's blandness is intentional; Duras encourages the audience to interpret the film in a variety of ways. Like her other works, India Song is cold, austere, and ambiguously symbolic. Its plot is minimal, developing instead an interior conflict that is felt rather than seen.

Perhaps Duras's most controversial work is Le camion (The Truck). While earlier works frustrate and alienate viewers because of their unusual structure, many critics feel that Le camion antagonizes the audience. Lacking a plot, the work is a description of a hypothetical film. When Le camion was shown at Cannes, the audience shouted insults which, several critics noted, was most likely the reaction Duras desired.

Duras's films are not intended as entertainment. They are meant to be mulled over scene by scene. While some critics admire her adeptness in transferring verbal narrative to the screen, others have labeled her work boring and pretentious. It is generally agreed, however, that the formal structure of her films makes initial enjoyment difficult, since her techniques are intentionally anti-cinematic. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 6, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Roger Greenspun

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I'm not sure that I can reasonably explain the pleasure I take in Marguerite Duras's "Destroy, She Said," much of which I find unendurable, but an explanation on some level is worth trying….

Although "Destroy, She Said" avoids most of the vulgar conventional ties to place and character, and although it says very little once that it does not also say twice, it gives the impression finally of precision, eloquence and considerable wit.

The setting … might do for a low-budget remake of [Resnais's] "Last Year at Marienbad."…

Thor and Stein are "about to become" writers, a professional status that the movie accepts without comment.

I find that I also accept a good deal, not only in the film's genuinely brilliant scenes (a phony card game in which Elisabeth is entrapped by the others; a superbly poised mirror scene in which Elisabeth and Alissa more or less exchange personalities), but in its many less than brilliantly stylized dialogues and indirect confrontations.

The movies made from Miss Duras's novels, even "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," have in large measure depended upon an evocation of mood, a sense of dense and strange beauty foreign to the lucidity and simplicity of her own directorial decisions. She apparently means her film to portend revolution, holocaust, and rebirth (thus, the film's title), but she maintains her own sense of order and decorum to the end.

Roger Greenspun, "'Destroy, She Said'," in The New York Times (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 26, 1969 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1969–1970, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1971, p. 79.)

John Simon

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[Marguerite Duras's Destroy, She Said is an abomination.] Hitherto the author was content to write bad novels or bad scripts for other directors; here for the second time she combined writing and directing, and the result seems not so much bad doubled as bad cubed.

Two men and two women, in weirdly posed, arbitrary groupings, make endless, arcanely opaque statements past one another. It is supposed to take place in a hotel, but it is obviously someone's country house and backyard. You never see anyone else (though you hear the sounds of a ghost tennis game—Son of Blow Up?), except for the husband of one of the women who shows up at the end of the film to be pounced on by the other four; there is no action, minimal movement, and only that somnambulistic dialogue which, Mlle Duras proudly affirms, is interchangeable. In the end, there is the obligatory Bach fugue, by now indispensable to true avant-garde films, which is heard in a huge crescendo signifying, according to the author, the coming of the Revolution. It could as easily signify the rising birth rate or the devaluation of the franc. (pp. 386-87)

John Simon, "The Festival and Awards Game: Unmagnificent Seventh" (originally published as "Unmagnificent Seventh," in The New Leader, Vol. LII, No. 19, October 19, 1969), in his Movies into Film: Film Criticism 1967–1970 (copyright © 1971 by John Simon; reprinted with permission of The Dial Press), Dial, 1971, pp. 382-98.∗

John Russell Taylor

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Like scènes à faire that should absolutely not be faites, there are inescapable questions which just should not be asked. With Détruire, Dit-Elle [Destroy, She Said], the fatal question is 'What's it all about?' It is reasonably easy to say what happens, up to a certain point…. In an extraordinary final scene [three characters] … plan a little visit, and listen to sounds and music, signalling the approach of some great, but welcome, perhaps even necessary, destructive force through the surrounding forest. Legitimate, obviously, to wonder who or what they are, what, if anything, they represent, what the forest, the famous view no one can ever find, the sounds in the final sequence, may signify. But fatal to expect any clear, unequivocal answer, and to make 'understanding' on this level a condition of accepting the film. It works—and powerfully, hauntingly—in quite another way: as a series of obscure rituals played out with the greatest seriousness by people who perhaps themselves do not even half grasp their significance, like the rather funny, rather sinister card game with no rules in which the three engage their victim (patient? initiate?). Very severely made, mostly in long-held, almost static shots, and impeccably acted, the film transfers to the screen with uncanny precision the special world of Marguerite Duras the writer: as in her novels, the outer form may be prose, but the inner life is pure poetry.

John Russell Taylor, "Festivals 69: London," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1970 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 39, No. 1, Winter, 1969–70, p. 11.∗

Vincent Canby

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Because Miss Duras writes so elliptically, there is no special sense that she has padded [the original play of "La Musica"] until the confrontation in the hotel lobby. At that point, however, one realizes that all that has gone before has been rather superior but ultimately superfluous vamping…. (p. 215)

"La Musica" is intellectually chic moviemaking of the sort that is quite entertaining while it is going on but practically ceases to exist, even as a memory, when it's over. (p. 216)

Vincent Canby, "'La Musica'," in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 15, 1970 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1969–1970, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1971, pp. 215-16).

Vincent Canby

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The most insidious thing about the nouveau movie, which is a polite way of describing Marguerite Duras's newest, most minimal film, "Nathalie Granger," is that it traps you in its own time, unlike the nouveau roman, which can be skipped through or read at leisure in an afternoon or a year.

You can't skip through "Nathalie Granger." To see it you are forced to watch it for as long as it lasts, while, in turn, it watches its characters, rather as if the camera were a Siamese cat whose feelings had been hurt.

Without betraying the slightest interest, the camera records the physical appearance of two expressionless women [Isabelle and The Other Woman]….

The camera paces through the house, looking into mirrors, down hallways, through windows. There is a report on the radio about a murder and a police manhunt. The telephone rings. Wrong number. "There is no telephone here, madame," [The Other Woman] says into the receiver. Funny? Not really. It's too pretty and solemn. A salesman calls. He tries desperately to sell a Vedetta Tambour 008 washing machine that comes in three colors. For a brief moment, the ghost of Pinter's wit walks over the grave of the film. [Isabelle] goes into the garden, again. [The Other Woman] falls asleep. A cat saunters through. The camera just stares. When a person or a cat leaves a room, Miss Duras seems to say, that room is empty. Such are the discoveries of "Nathalie Granger," a dead-end movie that, I confidently hope, few of us are ready for.

Vincent Canby, "'Nathalie Granger'," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 7, 1972 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1971–1972, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1973, p. 313).

Nora Sayre

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Stiff as uncooked asparagus, the figures who stalk through Marguerite Duras's "Woman of the Ganges" don't have to act, since the movie is narrated in English by two invisible women with lush French accents. "Soch loff, soch dee-sire!" they repeat, as they warble away….

[It] becomes quite difficult to tell who's alive or dead in this movie. (All of the performers behave like zombies, but some are probably supposed to be ghosts.) It's also very hard to know who did what to whom in the past.

Amid all the pacing through corridors, there's little spoken dialogue and barely any action. So it's an event when two characters bid each other good evening, when sand dribbles between someone's fingers, or when a muslin curtain stirs in the wind. There's some pretension to significant imagery here, but the result makes you want to yell or weep with boredom.

Meanwhile, the narrators sluggishly state their passion for one another—"You're so yonk, and I loff you ssso moch"—and some of the others say that they've lost their memories. Since Marguerite Duras neglected to give them any perceptible emotions the response seems healthy.

Nora Sayre, "'La femme du gange'," in The New York Times (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 7, 1974 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1973–1974, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1975, p. 220).

Michael Tarantino

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[Woman of the Ganges] is a deliberate journey through a self-endowed world, in which cinema itself, as a means of expression, is alternately questioned, denied, and finally affirmed….

It is explanation itself which functions as the principal theme of Woman of the Ganges. The plot is ostensibly concerned with a group of people who have returned to a scene from their past. Entering into this void, they try to re-establish the relationships which had originally failed. What the film presents us with, however, is a series of "plot elements", as it attempts to recreate the past through the characters' present….

Duras builds images of painful simplicity, which resemble paintings set into motion—but not emotionalized—in the far regions of the frame. Characters, in trying to re-create or reevaluate the past, emerge as still-life objects….

For its characters, the space of Woman of the Ganges is a utopian wasteland. It is a feeling more than an area, which Duras illuminates through a negation of cinema as a formal property….

In this decidedly static atmosphere, the characters's movement is slow and deliberate. No one runs. No one yells. They are presented to us on the same plane as the revolving door, which leads into and out of the hotel standing at the center of the (non) narrative. The camera, in attempting to deal directly with time and space, utimately gives the impression of flattening out the subjects through its gaze, and extending the objects from within by treating them "equally"….

Woman of the Ganges is a fascinating achievement whose success ultimately lies in the mind of the viewer—a mind which must be cleared of nodding affirmations or denials.

In Pour Un Nouveau Roman, Robbe-Grillet talks of the artist's need for the reader's co-operation—one which would be active, conscious, and creative. The reader must "invent" the work and the world in which it is situated. Duras extends this plea to the cinema…. The space is deep but the action is shallow. The viewer must fill in the blanks. We occupy the off-screen space.

Michael Tarantino, "'Woman of the Ganges'," in Take One (copyright © 1974 by Unicorn Publishing Corp.), Vol. 4, No. 6, November 4, 1974, p. 28.

DEAN McWILLIAMS

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Rather than attempting a detailed realistic evocation of a resort hotel such as those in Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad or Visconti's Death in Venice, Duras' setting is reduced to bare essentials [in Destroy, She Said]: a building with plain white interiors, a broad lawn surrounded by trees and a tennis court, no bell-boys, desk clerk or elaborate interiors or exteriors…. The building is obviously a private chateau rather than a hotel and the women wear black dresses despite the references to summer heat. The result is a disconcerting feeling of subtle disparity.

The concern for abstraction is also reflected in the emphasis on simplicity, order and balance in the composition of the shots. Figures are carefully posed within the frame, often at oblique angles to each other and to the camera, suggesting their inability to communicate. (p. 267)

The few references to specific times, either days or hours, which occur in [Duras'] novel have been removed from the film. The temporal experience of viewing the film is thus both more abstract and more durational: time does not mount or ascend towards any resolution or goal but merely accumulates oppressively. Duras has exploited the unprecedented control that a filmmaker can impose on the viewer's sense of durée. Unlike the reader of a novel who can read fast or slow, skip or reread pages or even put the book down and take a break, the filmgoer moves through the narrative at the exact pace determined by the film's editor. Add to this the camera's power of focussing our attention exclusively on one or more characters and we see how the film artist can merge the time experience of the viewer outside the narrative with that of the characters within the film. (p. 268)

Dean McWilliams, "The Novelist as Filmmaker: Marguerite Duras' 'Destroy, She Said'," in Literature/Film Quarterly (© copyright 1975 Salisbury State College), Vol. III, No. 3, Summer, 1975, pp. 264-69.

Molly Haskell

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[In "India Song," Marguerite Duras's] most perfectly realized film, the present is in a constant state of deliquescence. As in her previous films, the voices function as an echo chamber whereby the past is imprinted and repeated to infinity….

The fact that it is possible to enjoy [the] characters, to come under the film's spell, and not see it as a parable about the imminent demise of the bourgeoisie is perhaps as much a function of Duras's ambivalence as the audience's, and a triumph of style and an instinctive woman's empathy over strict ideology….

"India Song" is the most feminine film I have ever seen. This is not just in the obvious details of decor, the gauzy, languid atmosphere, the feeling for textures and color and romantic lighting, but in the overwhelming sensual importance granted such things in the way life-and-love is remembered, the crucial importance of setting, of mise-en-scene, in the female memory. As women look for "total" experiences, so experiences remembered become total, decor merges with the romantic songs and suicidal sadness of a living for love that is at once destitute, debilitating, and intense, There is in the whole a pervasive sensuality, a kind of active, or enveloping, passivity that is feminine in feeling, being at odds with the masculine need to "make something happen."

The techniques and concerns of Duras's previous films are fused into a rarefied work of lyricism, despair, and passion….

What raises this Duras above the others for me is not a sudden quickening of narrative pace: it is fully as static as "La Femme du Gange" ["Woman of the Ganges"]. Silence remains the dominant figure of speech, emptiness the controlling figure of style, boredom the essential mood. Together they are the coordinates of a vacuum that, like the impinging revolution in "Destroy She Said," threatens to envelop and silence forever this threadbare civilization. Yet how elegant are these last few threads, and how exquisitely, how seductively Duras has rendered them…. It is [an] eruption of passion along with the score … that gives "India Song" an emotional immediacy Duras's other films have lacked. However ironically the song (which would fall under Noel Coward's heading of 'cheap music') was intended, it imbues the film with a kind of primitive emotional hunger that is all the more moving for its austere setting.

I am sure that Duras's apologists will manage to defend the film on structural or political grounds that ignore (in embarrassment?) the emotional pull, and the importance of the stars themselves. But Duras is not an abstract avant-garde filmmaker, she falls somewhere between narrative and non-narrative film…. (p. 134)

Molly Haskell, "The Most Feminine Film I've Ever Seen" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1975), in The Village Voice, Vol. XX, No. 42, October 20, 1975, pp. 136, 134.

Michael Tarantino

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India Song is a film which simultaneously represents a departure from, and a codification of, Marguerite Duras' oeuvre. The narration introduces characters who have appeared frequently in Duras' films and novels…. However, their position as protagonists is extremely tenuous. They do not develop in the traditional sense from work to work. Rather, they remain elusive, representing a constant flux of just "being". The acts they encompass pale in relationship to their reactions to same….

The narrative employed in India Song is common to Duras' work. However, the manner in which the film unfolds stylistically represents a significant variation. The past is witnessed through the unfolding of the present. The narrative's structural foundations are re-examined from the advantageous position afforded by the present. There are no flashbacks. Time is not segmented. It is a continuum. A murder, a love affair, a suicide—each act is alluded to by the inquisitive off-screen voices. In Nathalie Granger and La Femme du Gange this technique functioned as a complement to the dialogue taking place between the characters on screen. India Song extends this formula one step further….

India Song is a film of reverberations: the aural textures of the spoken word, the hypnotic strains of the period-inducing tango music, the blank stare of an actor, a river, a beggarwoman, India itself. To talk extensively of plot is to distort the central experience, which is somewhat akin to discovering the framework. Connotative in nature, it suggests the general through the specific. When Duras cuts from the mansion at the end of the film to a map of India, it is not merely an act of spatiotemporal disjunction or a facile attempt to link the sociological with the intimate. Like the movement of the camera, the advance from shot to shot is perfectly controlled. Logic permeates each and every emotion, defining it beyond the signification of the image.

The character of the beggarwoman presents an excellent example of how Duras pieces together a work—whether it be film or novel. First mentioned in the novel The Vice-Consul, this woman never appears on screen in India Song—yet she remains a central presence. Like the interweavings of the past, the fact that she is mentioned is enough to testify to her existence outside of the frame and to the social conditions beyond the enclosed space of the mansion….

In writing dialogue for her novels, Duras calls attention to the silences existing in conversation. Destroy, She Said is a startling testament of unuttered phrases. In her films, this pre-occupation with silence takes on an added dimension. The author now has complete control over the length of the breaks, while the audience must "see" them in time. They confront the viewer and demand acknowledgment. (p. 42)

Michael Tarantino, "Review & Interview: 'India Song'," in Take One (copyright © 1976 by Unicorn Publishing Corp.), Vol. 5, No. 4, October, 1976, pp. 42-3.

Richard Roud

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The ostensible subject of Le Camion is a film-maker (played by Mme. Duras herself) going over the script of a film she wants to make with the other leading player….

[The] device of discussing an unmade film is only a device; it is not the real subject of the film. True enough, for much of the time we do get Duras reading lines to [Gérard] Depardieu, and the actor asking questions about the characters each would be playing (this is a film in the conditional tense). Who would she be, asks Depardieu of the woman he, as truck-driver, would give a lift to. Declassée, says Duras; that's all one can say about her. But of course there is much more to be said, because this woman is a number of women. To begin with, she is the heroine of Hiroshima, mon Amour grown old…. Depardieu is made to suggest that the woman has perhaps escaped from a local lunatic asylum. Duras neither confirms nor denies the accusation. Perhaps she is on the way to the christening of her nephew Abraham, whose family lives in an impossible spot to which there is only one bus a day. She talks once or twice about her childhood—far, far away from France. 'There was a river.' The Mekong, perhaps? We are never told, but the woman could be the young heroine of [René Clément's] Barrage contre le Pacifique, she could also be Anne-Marie Stretter, Lol V. Stein. She is almost certainly the Asian beggar woman from India Song. But she is probably also Jewish.

In short, she is Marguerite Duras in all her fictional and non-fictional roles—all the women she was, all the women she imagined herself to be. And, like Duras, this woman is someone who has lost faith in politics, lost faith in the proletariat….

[Much] of the action of the film is on the road; for the lorry itself, a magnificent five-axle, blue Fruehauf, is the third character of the film. Its movements through the countryside and the roundabouts are as rhythmical as what Penelope Gilliatt once called Duras' back-stitching dialogue. I must confess that I don't really know what back-stitching is, but it sounds right for Duras' style. And the truck goes in for some back-stitching too; its movements are all the more premonitory because we never see its driver, nor do we hear the sound of the engine….

'So that's how it ends?' asks Depardieu. Yes, it's over. That is all we ever find out about the two people. The camera then moves forward towards the table where they are sitting and moves past them to a bright source of light: a white-curtained window with what seems to be some mystical light glowing from behind. Then the camera angle changes, and we see past the two actors and their table to an open window: her lips are moving, but the dialogue track has gone dead. All we hear (as we have heard at various moments throughout the film) is one of Beethoven's 'Diabelli Variations'. And then we see through an open window on to a terrace with a tall oak waving in the wind—and, next to it, a single klieg light. So that is what provided the 'mystical' brightness behind the curtain, one could say. Or, the light is there to show us that while pretending to talk about making a film, a film has actually been made: the one we have just seen. One could say both these things, and say them dismissively. But Le Camion is not an exercise de style; it is not just about a woman talking about making a film. Its real subject is Marguerite Duras in 1977, just as the real subject of Providence, David Mercer or not, is Alain Resnais in 1977.

Much as I liked India Song, I prefer Le Camion. India Song had many obvious attractions: its gorgeous interiors, its exoticism, its seductive tango music, its even more seductive Delphine Seyrig. Le Camion has nothing: nothing but Marguerite Duras and Gérard Depardieu; that room and that truck, that landscape and Beethoven. And with these meagre materials, Duras has made her most achieved film. It is also her shortest: one hour and eighteen minutes. But a film of this intensity, of this spareness, couldn't be borne for much longer. And also of this degree of pessimism: 'Let the world go to wrack and ruin,' says Duras the Woman. And yet, however pessimistic her intentions, the sheer nerve of a film like this, plus its physical beauty …, gave me a sense of exaltation that was anything but a 'downer'. (p. 145)

Richard Roud, "The Left Bank Revisited," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1977 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer, 1977, pp. 143-45.∗

John Coleman

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I have slumped through India Song twice. It does not improve on closer acquaintance. To be fair to Mlle Duras, she is quotably her worst enemy: 'I make films to kill time. If I had the courage to do nothing, I'd do nothing … That's the most sincere thing I can say about my activities.' At this rare moment in time, reviewer and film-maker join hands. A more killing way with time—I talk about mine—it would be hard to conjure. Calcutta (maybe), 1937 (perhaps), a doomy love-affair (who knows?). That is the plot. But against whom is it engineered?… To relieve the visual tedium (it looks as if it were shot in an aquarium in need of dusting), many voices say hinting, dislocated things over. Leprosy, heat and famines recur verbally, as well as a really successful non-sequitur about an Indian female who spent ten years trekking to the Ganges, losing a dozen children en route. The happening can only be there to tickle the mind if you believe in nothing. I think Marguerite Duras thinks, when she does, that all art has to start from scratch. I refuse to allow that she has done anything important, significant or new: the tiny, residual impression left by India Song is of a sad, stale odour attempting to pass itself off as a fresh scent. This may be enough for habitués of the Portobello Road and other Flea Markets, who will find meaning in the fall of a stuffed sparrow: and buy the thing.

John Coleman, "Killing Time," in New Statesman (© 1977 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 94, No. 2427, September 23, 1977, p. 421.∗

Pauline Kael

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[The control in Duras's] new film, Le Camion—The Truck—suggests that she has become a master. But there's a joker in her mastery: though her moods and cadences, her rhythmic phrasing, with its emotional undertow, might seem ideally suited to the medium, they don't fulfill moviegoers' expectations. Conditioned from childhood, people go to the movies wanting the basic gratification of a story acted out. Many directors have tried to alter this conditioning, breaking away from the simplest narrative traditions, and they've failed to take the largest audience with them. Duras doesn't even get near the mass of moviegoers, though somehow—God knows how—she manages to make her own pictures, her own way. Hers is possibly the most sadomasochistic of all director relationships with the audience: she drives people out of the theatre, while, no doubt, scorning them for their childish obtuseness. At the same time, she must be suffering from her lack of popularity. Her battle with the audience reaches a new stage in The Truck, in which the split between her artistry and what the public wants is pointed up and turned against the audience. She brings if off, but she's doing herself in, too. And so it isn't a simple prank. (p. 292)

The Truck is a spiritual autobiography, a life's-journey, end-of-the-world road movie; it's a summing up, an endgame. The hitchhiker travels in a winter desert; she's from anywhere and going nowhere, in motion to stay alive. (pp. 292-93)

The film alternates between sequences in the room and sequences of the rolling truck, always at a distance. Each time she cuts to the outdoors, you're drawn into the hypnotic flow of the road imagery, and though you know perfectly well there will be nothing but the truck in the landscape, you half dream your way into a "real" movie. And each time you find yourself back with Duras, you're aware of being treated like a chump, your childishness exposed. (p. 293)

The audience reacts at first with highly vocal disbelief and then with outbursts of anger, and walkouts. Even those of us who are charmed by her harmonious, lulling use of the film medium and in awe of her composure as a performer are conscious that we have, buried under a few layers, the rebellious instincts that others are giving loud voice to. They're furious in a way they never are at a merely bad, boring movie, and this anger is perfectly understandable. But it's high comedy, too: their feelings have been violated by purely aesthetic means—an affront to their conditioning. (pp. 293-94)

The Truck is a class-act monkeyshine made with absolutely confident artistry. She knows how easy it would be to give people the simple pleasures that they want. Her pride in not making concessions is heroic; it shows in that gleam of placid perversity which makes her such a commanding camera presence.

She can take the insults without flinching because she's completely serious in the story of the despairing hitchhiker. In her method in The Truck, she's a minimalist, like Beckett, stripping her drama down to the bones of monodrama, and her subject is the same as his: going through the last meaningless rites…. [Her] spoken text is attitudinizing—desultory self-preoccupation, mystification. Not pinning anything down, she leaves everything floating allusively in midair. This is, God help us, a vice women artists have been particularly prone to. Who is this hitchhiker on the road of life? Ah, we are not to know…. The hitchhiker's declaration that she no longer believes in the possibility of political salvation is meant to have shock value; the world—i.e., Paris—is being told what Marguerite Duras's latest stand is. (p. 294)

There's something of the punitive disciplinarian in her conception of film art; "The Truck" is a position paper made into a movie. It's accessible, but it's accessible to a piece of yourself that you never think to take to the movies. Let's put it this way: if you were studying for a college exam and knocked off to go see "The Truck," you wouldn't feel you were playing hooky. Duras makes us aware of our own mechanisms of response, and it's tonic and funny to feel the tensions she provokes. Her picture has been thought out with such supple discrimination between the values of sound and image that one could almost say it's perfectly made: an ornery, glimmering achievement. (p. 295)

Pauline Kael, "Contrasts" (originally published in The New Yorker, Vol. LIII, No. 32, September 26, 1977), in her When the Lights Go Down (copyright © 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 by Pauline Kael; reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Publishers), Holt, 1980, pp. 291-98.∗

Janet Maslin

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In "The Truck," the director and novelist Marguerite Duras plays a woman whose lips curl into a joyless, knowing half-smile every time she makes mention of despair. Her film should appeal most strongly to those viewers who are similarly attuned to the romantic possibilities of gloom. However, even those who have little patience for Miss Duras's preciousness may find her work as haunting and determinedly self-possessed as it is quietly infuriating….

"The Truck" is full of exasperatingly banal interchanges, which are in no way improved or illuminated by Miss Duras's admission of her character's banality. It is also rather coyly self-pitying, because Miss Duras and her character seem to overlap, and the character is at times made to seem pathetic.

But the scenes of the truck take on an eerie grandeur after a while, and Miss Duras's disdain for her audience's expectations becomes perversely transfixing. It's a pity that her script is not as stern and unrelenting as the film's visual style.

Janet Maslin, "Film Festival: 'The Truck' Talks and Talks but It Says Very Little," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 27, 1977 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1977–1978, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1979, p. 110).

Terry Curtis Fox

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364

The last thing I felt like doing that Tuesday was see a film by Marguerite Duras. I'd been exhausted by festivaling all day. The rigors of The Truck were, I feared, more than I could take. By film's end, I found myself exhilarated, ready to dance, party, take the long walk home. Not that The Truck is any less rigorous than Duras's usual fare. Just that The Truck is such a joyous expression of rigor it leaves you energized, heady from the motion of the rolling beast….

For all her devotion to cinema, Duras has always been a novelist who makes films. The closer she is to novelistic form, the more successful her films. India Song, in which images and dialogue have no inherent one-to-one relationship, works precisely as a cinematic novel, the dissociation serving the function of an omniscient narrator commenting through style on everything which is seen/heard. The Truck at once invites us to see the writer at work and to see this vision as an artistic device.

That device—the story that is not precisely the one of the film—works as narrative in almost pure form. We are, after all, being told a story. We are even given a chance to hear questions about why elements of the story are given and others left out. And, as we watch the truck on the road, we are offered the opportunity to envision the emotional landscape which caused the story to take place. None of this detracts from the story itself. It merely gives the tale added dimension, added weight.

Between Duras and Depardieu there is a perfect balance of intellect and intuition. She refines and he reacts. Together they force the narrative back to its emotional base. Through their dialogue, we understand that for Duras, the passion of intellect and the passion of love are interchangeable. It is an extraordinary conceit. More extraordinary still, she has made a film in which this conceit is so organically and voluptuously expressed.

Terry Curtis Fox, "Two for the Road" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXII, No. 42, October 17, 1977, p. 54.∗

William F. Van Wert

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 690

Marguerite Duras has pioneered what she calls the "multiple work of art," a text which is simultaneously a novel, a play, a dance, a film, an opera. Duras has broken the "rules," the long-standing codes which separated the various art forms, in order to provide a bridge from one to the other…. Duras's sense of the multiple work of art stems from her growing disillusionment with writing and reading as obsolete forms. She writes, she says, from compulsion, maintaining a love-hate relationship with phrases, reading very little herself, acknowledging that others don't read anymore. The solution seems to be a mass art form, a form which blends into each medium, an answer to mass reproduction, a multiproductive text. That text often operates as a cross between ritual and play, between sleep-walking and future-fantasy, with an aesthetic that could appropriately be termed creative destruction….

Her rejuvenating sense of the multiproductive text has been at the root of the apparently anti-cinematic narratives of her recent films…. Duras has refined her cinematic form, gradually eliminating concrete references for symbolic ones, restricting the camera's movement and the editor's arbitrary eclipse-cuts for long, repetitive takes and for fixed frames that are both boring and fascinating, flattened out and trance-inducing. Her narrative, then, operates within a neutralized comic strip and acting gives way to complex sound-image relationships: the "voices" are freed of their speakers, sometimes functioning as pure sounds. Bouncing off the figurative walls of the closed-room frame, sound and voice move in a dialectic between meditation and interview….

Such formal concerns are usually associated with the most self-conscious of the experimental films in this country, not with commercially viable feature films. That Duras has incorporated this formalism successfully within a narrative tradition is largely a testament to the strength of feminist film criticism and Lacanian film criticism in France, both of which have championed Duras's films in recent years. But what of the primary film viewing experience? Why are her films so difficult, so boring, yet so important and so rewarding?… [They] are a learning experience through confrontation, not through pleasure and identification. Duras is a committed artist who disdains works of art and who has minimal confidence in the impact of an art work upon an audience: thus, her formalism. And for someone who is a novelist with a poet's ear for music, she is incredibly silent. Unlike Hiroshima mon amour and [Henri Colpi's] Une aussi longue absence, Duras's own films contain no poetic camera movements nor do they fill up the static camera shots with interesting or beautiful spoken text. Her films have forced me to confront film as a potential non-seeing process, one in which split-screen is replaced by split sound tracks. And as her visual sense becomes more assured, more pro forma or perfunctory, Duras's experiments in sound become more audacious, more subtle and, yes, more formal. Her experiments in language have precisely to do with separating the visual track from the sound track and with breaking down the sound track into autonomous parts of music or spoken text—as audible statement, as memory recall, or simply as the whisperings of longing and desire. (pp. 22-3)

Duras's structure seems often to "deaden" what is visually present in the frame to evoke what is visually absent but present on the sound track. (p. 24)

[With the film frame of India Song] so compressed, with actors moving as though they were statues and reciting as though they were reading from an old hymnal, and with the proliferation of unidentified voices and the plethora of symbolic sounds on the sound track, the wonder is that Marguerite Duras has been able to continue making films and acquire any following at all. One thing is certain: her recent successes will not induce a lapse into formula. It seems a safe prediction that she will expand the possibilities of sound in film even further. (p. 29)

William F. Van Wert, "The Cinema of Marguerite Duras: Sound and Voice in a Closed Room," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1979 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, Fall, 1979, pp. 22-9.

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