Marguerite Duras called “preposterous, self-obsessed, eloquent, unstoppable” (New York Times Review of Books), was one of the most widely read French writers of the postwar era. She authored 34 novels from 1943–1993, including her autobiographical L’Amant (The Lover), winner of France’s distinguished literary Prix Goncourt. She also penned the celebrated film Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Disliking others’ adaptations of her work, in the 1960s she began to direct—16 films in all. Her work is characterized by its self-reflexive nature; she often moved one story, or elements of a story, through genres: novel, film, play—even film to film. In her obituary, the New York Times lauded “her simple, terse writing style, as if language itself were merely a vehicle for conveying passion and desire, pain and despair.”
I speak of Madame Duras because quite recently I watched the film The Lover (L'Amant) with my hubby. Surprisingly he had neither seen or heard of the film or the book which I had read salaciously in Portugal by the hotel pool - my summer reading and my summer romance with the mind of Marguerite Duras was born then and continues to this day. The same as any young girl, exploring sensuality and sexuality I was greedy for the context of the pages and the words which all but spilled themes of forbidden love, longing, sex in foreign lands with strange men, strange scents and even stranger customs. L'Amant is a heart breaking novel and frankly one of the best romance books I have ever read. Of course, I am not an avid reader of romance novels so this in itself is no great compliment but still, this detail should not detract from the point that the book is damned good and should be read at least once in a life time.
The film version which aired in 1992 was scandalous. I remember watching it back then and listening to the furor it caused. It was a sensation. I read in some newspaper that Princess Diana, after having watched it at the cinema said something along the lines of feeling uncomfortable as though she were actually spying on two lovers in full throttle. The scandal centred around Jane March who played the Young Girl because people were speculating whether or not the two actors actually did have real intercourse on screen, it was therefore quite a back lash for March who at 18 having just made her first film debut, found herself the recipient of nasty name calling. One of those names stuck and unfortunately remains to this day - The Sinner from Pinner. For those who are confused, Pinner a suburb in the London Borough of Harrow in Greater London, England was the town in which she lived with her family. However, with all the dirt flinging that was going on, it is remarkable that none of it touched the pristine white suit of the films lead man Tony Leung Ka Fai. The film director Jean-Jacques Annaud did nothing at all to quash the rumours and March suffered a nervous breakdown. She did not speak to Annaud for ten years until he issued an apology. I believe she could have grown to be a good actress if the scandal had been addressed, if she had been better protected by those who readily used her innocence, youth and beauty for their own gain.
Today I wore my own version of the "hat". A pale antique fedora, the colour of washed tan with a broad grosgrain black ribbon. It is in fact near identical to the one worn in the film and is still one of my most prized vintage shop finds. I don't wear it as often as I used to, but whenever I do I cannot help but smile, remembering the youthful summer spent in Portugal so many years ago.
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