Cet Amour-là
review by Gregory Avery, 25 April 2003

The opening shot of Josée Dayan's film, Cet Amour-là, shows the young Yann Andréa, in summer whites, rising from behind and walking over the top of a sea wall -- appropriate, since sea walls figured the early works of the writer Marguerite Duras. Andréa was twenty-eight when he first met Duras (played by Jeanne Moreau in Dayan's film) in Trouville, on France's Normandy coast, at a time when she was in a fallow period as a novelist and writing commentary for the newspaper "Libération". During the next sixteen years, Duras would enter a prolific period, during which she worked not only as a novelist but also as a filmmaker, and during which she would write her 1984 novel, The Lover, which became an international success. Andréa would become Duras' companion, lover, and, oft-times, typist and secretary, and occasional object of abuse -- Duras was a genuine French sacré monstre, a gifted artist who was not all that great on other people. It is something of an accomplishment that Andréa stayed with her for sixteen years, until her death in 1986, and that Dayan's film does not turn into a shallow or one-sided treatment of their relationship, even though, by acknowledging both the finer and harsher aspects, it emerges as something believable and involving but also sad, a love story that has a pall cast at the end made up of emotions and experience that cannot easily be equivocated or erased.

What did they want from each other? Duras was sixty-five-years-old when she and Yann meet. Yann had become infatuated with Duras after reading her works; she was looking for a "voice" to put to the words in his letters to her (they had corresponded extensively before meeting in-person). As Yann, the young actor Aymeric Demarigny has a supple body and a face which recalls the looks of the young John Lennon. He also has a bit of an unformed quality to him, and at first it looks as if his performance may be a little soft and unformed, too, even mealy. That does not prove to be the case. His Yann feigns charmingly with Duras at first, indicating that he would like something more from her but not wanting to push it, wanting it to be spontaneous and mutual. She, not surprisingly, does not want to get mixed up with another acolyte who'll take what they want from her and then go. Duras has been living alone, and you can see how she does not want to let out emotions within her that are powerful and have the capacity to become hurtful. Which perhaps explains the many instances, during their first meeting, when she stands back and scrutinizes him: when she asks him to open a bottle of red wine that they'll sit down and share together, she looks at him with what seems like pitiless scrutiny, looking for any telltale indications that might reveal greater flaws in his character as he goes about uncorking the bottle.

During the time when Yann and Duras live together, first in Trouville, later in a house outside of Paris, he suffers her moods, such as when she says she wants him out because she does not know him (in the film, she doesn't ask all that much), that he drives her to drink (her choice); she tosses his suitcase out the window, and says, "Voila, ce fait." They laugh and listen to what amount to silly love songs -- "La Vie en Rose", "Capri, c'est Fini" -- and a combustion of strong emotion will suddenly well up inside of Duras, and we see her react -- oh, no, not this again -- to what's happening in her. Duras is shown saying cutting things about Yann to his face, to other people. She talks a great deal about herself. When he's had enough and tries to leave, she smiles a wicked smile and says, what's the point, 'cause he'll be back. (He is.) She wants him to stay by her side, do nothing (or, at least, not pursue his own interests outside of their relationship); he responds by saying that being with her is not all that easy all of the time.

However, artists are often self-obsessed -- the act of creating something can be arduous -- and the film gives us this sense of how hard it is for Duras to continue to work and what effect that has on her as a person. What's more, we get some idea of how Yann senses this, and how he develops the strength to stay with her -- not some penny-melodrama, self-sacrificing thing, but he makes his choice because he knows what will happen to her if he does leave her flat, and that the results could be terrible. It's this that balances the film during those moments such as when Duras tells Yann that he's a "big zero" (or, in French, zero double), because he's mostly there for her, even if it's by his choice.

And Aymeric Demarigny brings great tenderness to his scenes with Jeanne Moreau's Duras. The film conveys that Duras truly needed someone like Yann in her life at that time, and that Yann needed her -- he is certainly a sturdier person at the end than he was at the start -- even if it would ultimately leave him scorched in ways that would not be easily expunged or (to use a phrase Duras employs in the film) "exonerated" by writing (Yann Andréa would write two books about Duras; Duras, for her part, also wrote her own roman-à-clef about Yann, as well), and would last him the rest of his life.

Jeanne Moreau has previously acted in one of the films Marguerite Duras directed, "Nathalie Granger", in 1973, as well as delivering the narration for Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1992 film version of The Lover. Moreau gives us a Duras who is vulnerable, flawed, charming, excoriating, sometimes achingly sympathetic, and who looks straight at the world---straight at death, love, at being an egotist, at being a writer, at being a mote on the earth. It is a full-fledged, spirited performance, and a fairly brave one -- Duras had trouble with delirium at the end, caused by her drinking and an excessive intake of aspirin, so that she would wake Yann up in the middle of the night to root out "lamias" that were in her room. (And, yes, there is such a creature as a "lamia".) As much as it is a joy to see Moreau on the screen, again, she gets credit for playing a character who can infuriatingly treat the men in her life with such bruskness as, "I gotta get myself another mec, and fast!" Pleasantness all the time on the screen can be pretty boring, as well, but turning unpleasantness into art that is rewarding is something that is rare and most deserving of our attention.

Directed by:
Josée Dayan

Jeanne Moreau
Aymeric Demarigny

Written by:
Josée Dayan
Yann Andréa
Maren Sell
Gilles Taurand

NR - Not Rated.
This film has
not been rated.







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