Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 17, 2018

Memoir of War

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:28 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 17, 2018

“Memoir of War” is an adaptation of Marguerite Duras’s La Douleur (The Pain, published in English as The War), a 1985 semi-fictional memoir about her experiences living in Vichy France in 1945 and during the immediate post-liberation period. Her husband Robert Antelme was a member of the Resistance and a Communist like her. With Antelme a prisoner in a slave labor camp in Germany, she tries to prevent him from being transferred to an even more lethal camp like Dachau by forming ties to a Vichy collaborator who has a double agenda: to extract information about the Resistance and to seduce her. She walks a tightrope, trying to exploit her relationship with him to keep her husband alive while avoiding a Harvey Weinstein moment.

The film is among the best I have seen about living under fascism and a reminder of how great a writer Marguerite Duras was. “Memoir of War” relies on her character’s (played brilliantly by Mélanie Thierry) voiceover drawn from the text of La Douleur. I generally find such a device intrusive but in this instance it worked perfectly since the literary text meshed so well with the cinematic texture. Setting the tone for the remainder of the film, we hear Duras’s words before the credits role as she sits alone in her apartment smoking a cigarette while pacing the floor:

I found this diary in the blue cupboards at Neaulphe. I don’t remember writing it. I know I did though. I know it was me. I recognize the handwriting and the details of what happened. I can picture the place. The Gare D’Orsay. My itineraries. But not myself writing. What I found was evenly filled pages, the letters tiny, unbelievably placid and regular. What I found was a phenomenal chaos of thought and feeling that I dare not amend, besides which literary polish strikes me as shameful. One thing is sure, obvious. It is unthinkable that these words were written whilst waiting for Robert.

Of course, the claim that she didn’t “remember writing it” has to be taken with a grain of salt. To understand why she would double-reflexively write, “I don’t remember writing it”, you have to place her in the context of French postwar culture. Now obscure to most young people except maybe those who major in French literature at your better universities, Duras was among France’s leading literary figures in the 1950s. She worked in many genres, including fiction, theater, essays, and screenwriting. In 1959, she was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay for “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”, an antiwar film that relies heavily on the interior monologues of the two main characters. (This classic film can be seen here.)

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2 Comments »

  1. French Communism = Scientology + woolen worker caps.

    Comment by HH — August 17, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

  2. Brilliant memoir from which the movie is a slice. Art and history and politics.

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — August 17, 2018 @ 5:51 pm


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