Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Chantal Bernheim
Directed by Dominique Auvray
VHS, color and b&, 61 min.
College - Adult
Biography, Drama, Film Studies, Journalism, Literature, Writing
Reviewed by Ramona Islam, DiMenna-Nyselius Library, Fairfield University
Date Entered: 4/19/2004
Few documentary filmmakers are able to create the sense of intimacy between subject and viewer that Dominique Auvray has with Marguerite: a Reflection of Herself. This portrait of prolific French author, playwright, journalist and director, Marguerite Duras, opens to a montage of photographs - memories lovingly arranged from a life lived fully. Leaving these artifacts, the audience is introduced to an aged Marguerite who is being interviewed. Her responses are poetic. Asked to talk about maternal love, she says it is the “only calamity in the world.” We see old home movies of her playing with her toddler son, of her bicycling and playing the piano. She muses that she always wished to capture her son’s laughter.
As a friend of and film editor for Duras, Dominique Auvray had access to a treasure trove of documents, television footage and still images, many of which she incorporated into this biography. Old black and white photographs reveal Duras as a child, growing up in Indochina (now Vietnam) with Vietnamese friends. Meanwhile, Duras relates events from her past that inspired the short story Des Journées Entières dans les Arbres (Whole Days in the Trees) and the novel Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique (The Sea Wall). The story of a wild and unsupervised childhood, days spent hanging from mango trees, and the tragic flooding of the family homestead seem almost palpable, brought to life by fluid camera work and well-chosen passages, read aloud. We are so immersed in Marguerite’s world that when she leaves for the Sorbonne, we are almost as homesick for her mother and Vietnam as she is.
It was in Paris that Marguerite blossomed as a writer and intellectual. In her house at 5 rue Saint-Benoit, she shared many a meal and conversation with friends, philosophers and fellow members of the French Resistance movement, working against the Nazis. We are invited in to view that worn but warm interior, depicted in color photographs. According to Duras, the simple harmony of that existence gave her “a glimpse of what Communism would be like.” She tells the interviewer that Communism never did and never will succeed, yet in her heart of hearts, she always dreamed of a world that had realized Marx’s idealistic vision.
The most striking undercurrent throughout the documentary, and perhaps throughout Duras’ writings, is her approach to revenge as motivation to write and to right past wrongs. Students viewing the film may be challenged to grasp her passion for justice, because Auvray does not give the audience a chance to hear Duras elaborate. This will tempt the viewer to seek greater understanding of the woman through her best known works, perhaps by reading The Lover or by watching Hiroshima, Mon Amour, for which she wrote the screenplay.
Auvray’s editorial skill shines through this documentary. She leaves the audience curious and fascinated with Duras, but does not leave out important details, like captions for photographs and titles identifying film clips. The result is a masterful introduction to a woman of great depth and consequence.