Light shed on fact, fiction of Duras and her lover

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CAEN, France, Nov 24, 2006 (AFP) - A decade after her death, one of France's most celebrated authors, Marguerite Duras, is making her presence felt at an isolated, medieval monastery in the northern region of Normandy.

CAEN, France, Nov 24, 2006 (AFP) - A decade after her death, one of France's most celebrated authors, Marguerite Duras, is making her presence felt at an isolated, medieval monastery in the northern region of Normandy.

*sidebar1*In a cavernous grange at Ardenne abbey outside Caen, the largest ever exhibition dedicated to the author of the award-winning autobiographical novel 'L'Amant' ('The Lover') has been luring the curious with a multi-media display of Duras lore.

The man behind the event, fellow French writer Dominique Noguez, even joked that the ghost of the writer herself had visited.

The show explores Duras' treatment of love — from erotic obsession to platonic devotion — via a melange of text, sound and moving images, several of which give a nod to her colonial girlhood in Vietnam, then French Indochina, where she was born in 1914.

Noguez, once a close friend of Duras, said the show "indulged a long-held temptation to create a mise-en-scene in the manner of a visual artist or a theater director or a filmmaker," in an e-mail to AFP.

Indeed, entering the hushed, dimly-lit space seems like stumbling onto a giant Duras-themed film set — or a particularly elaborate wake.

Scenes from the film 'India Song', a 1975 romantic drama written and directed by Duras, are beamed onto one wall, while an immense print of photographer Helene Bamberger's famous image of the writer gazing from her balcony at the Normandy coastline dominates another.

At one point, screams suddenly slice through the quiet, rattling visitors before they realize it is not some errant madman but the anguished voice of the spurned vice consul, played by Michel Lonsdale in "India Song".
That Duras' oeuvre extends beyond literature into theater and film — she also wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for Alain Resnais' powerful 1959 new wave film, 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' — inspired the format for the exhibition, which has attracted up to 500 visitors in a single day.
"It was a matter of addressing both those who know her work very well, and the larger public who aren't as familiar with her," Noguez wrote.
"People will discover both the work and the author herself."

The exhibition follows last month's publication of a series of long-forgotten diaries Duras kept between 1943 and 1949, then stashed in a blue cupboard in her home in Neauphle-le-Chateau outside Paris.

The Institute of Contemporary Publishing Archives (IMEC), which organized the exhibition, acquired the journals in 1995 and has published them under the title "Cahiers de la Guerre" (War Notebooks).

They offer an intimate look at the writer's often-tumultuous early life in French Indochina and Paris — from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and older brother, to her encounter with the man who inspired the title character in "The Lover", to her days as a member of the French Resistance.

The journals also shed light onto Duras' enigmatic 'lover', whose fictional alter ego was the handsome Chinese man who seduced the very willing French teenager in 'The Lover'.

In real life, the young Duras was physically repelled by this "ugly" man "scarred by smallpox" who was not Chinese but Vietnamese.

"The revulsion I felt was indescribable," Duras wrote, recalling the couple's first kiss. "I wanted to jump out of the car."

"That is what I found the most surprising," said IMEC's Sophie Bogaert, a principal editor of the journals. "In the novel, the lover is the embodiment of perfection, but here we have her literally spitting after they kiss."

Despite her first impression, Duras went on to have a full-blown affair with Thuy-Le, whose photograph at the exhibition is appropriately nestled near a marked-up manuscript of 'The Lover'.

Duras was awarded France's most prestigious literary award, the Goncourt, for 'The Lover' in 1984, the year it was published. She died aged 81 in 1996.

"I grew up with Marguerite Duras; she was a cult author to me," said one elderly visitor, Eliane Deschamps. "I came here to immerse myself in the atmosphere."

IMEC, whose headquarters are at the abbey, hosted a public reading of 'Cahiers de la Guerre' at the abbey shortly after the show opened earlier this month.

"We heard someone walking on the roof of the abbey," said Noguez. "I think Marguerite had come to listen..."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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