For the final 16 years of her life, the celebrated French writer Marguerite Duras lived with a man nearly 40 years her junior, Yann Andrea, who adored her and hung on her every word. Duras was a woman of many words, authoring dozens of books and screenplays. As brought to life by France’s beloved Jeanne Moreau in Cet Amour-La, Duras speaks enough to write a dozen more volumes. Whether or not her words as expressed here are worth listening to is another story.
Based on Andrea’s account of his years with Duras (who wrote her own tale, Yann Andrea Steiner: A Memoir, 13 years into the relationship), Cet Amour-La unspools like a one-woman stage show more than a complete film.
Duras and Yann (Aymeric Demarigny) are the only characters of note, and she gets 90 percent of the script’s lines. Yann’s job is to take dictation and type her books — two-fingered, no less — and to feed her raging alcoholism with bottle upon bottle of red wine.
Half of what pours out of Duras’ mouth is indecipherable babble. The rest is an impenetrable stream of consciousness marred by alcohol and aging, and Yann does nothing to filter the verbiage into something entertaining.
The film is less a re-enactment of the pair’s relationship than an overlong musing on the nature of writing. As the two characters often grow tired of each other before rekindling their love, so does Cet Amour-La go too long without reconnecting with its audience.
This is not Moreau’s first venture into the world of Duras. Aside from being friends, Moreau starred in two movies based on Duras’ works, narrated another and appeared in Duras’ own directorial effort, Nathalie Grainger.
In Cet Amour-La, Moreau never wavers from a freight-train portrayal of her literary pal. Even when Duras is meant to be confused and vulnerable, Moreau cannot hide her own inner strength and will, and it often comes across as unintended comedy. The actress is older now, but still strangely beautiful, like a distant cousin of the inimitable Moreau who played Catherine in the French New Wave bible Jules et Jim. Oddly enough, the only contact Yann initiates with the outside world is a pair of phone calls to a friend named Catherine — I couldn’t say whether this is a bit of tomfoolery from director Josee Dayan or an actual part of the real Yann’s life.
Crushes on writers are often embarrassing things, and, having nursed a few myself over the years, Duras and Yann’s relationship is all the more impressive. Yann was a university student who wrote Duras every day for five years. Once he entered her Normandy coast apartment, he never left. As Duras’ youthful, acquiescing muse and lover, his role in the writer’s later material cannot be discounted. But the fictionalized Yann we see in Cet Amour-La is barely there, a sketch of a man bowled over by his crush.
Yann seems more dream than reality, although Duras is portrayed as such a madwoman that she may very well be his dream, his other personality, rather than vice versa. If Yann didn’t really exist, Cet Amour-La might have been an interesting exercise in schizophrenia, or varying perspectives on reality. But he does exist, and while the possible imaginary status of Yann and Duras makes food for viewing thought, the fact that they’re both real in the end robs the audience of a truly satisfactory meal.
Duras’ Yann Andrea Steiner: A Memoir included several fictional stories that mirrored her ongoing affair with her young lover. Cet Amour-La is Yann’s version of his life with Duras — something that Duras obliquely warns him against writing, as she again and again claims complete ownership of him and his thoughts — and there is no story-within-a-story. Instead, we are stuck with a cantankerous Duras and a silent, blank Yann. There is no relief for us — or for them.
Showing exclusively at the Madstone Theatre (462 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor). Call 734-994-1000.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.
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