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Marguerite Duras embarked on a second career as a film director in the late 1960s; by then was already a well-known and highly acclaimed novelist and playwright. Bearing in mind this dual influence, this book presents an outline of Duras's early life and of her later political preoccupations, highlighting the relationship between these two dimensions and her films. Duras's aim was to transcend the limitations of both literature and cinema by creating an écriture filmique. Working within the 1970s French avant-garde, Marguerite Duras set out to dismantle the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, progressively undermining conventional representation and narrative and replacing them with her own innovative technique. The making of Nathalie Granger in 1972 coincided with the period of intense political activity and lively theoretical debates, which marked the early years of the post-1968 French feminist movement. India Song questions the categories of gender and sexuality constructed by the patriarchal Symbolic order by foregrounding the Imaginary. Agatha mirrors transgressive relationship and quasi-incestuous adolescent relationship, as the film resonates with the off-screen voices of Duras and Yann Andréa who also appears on the image-track where he represents Agatha's anonymous brother. Her work, both in literature and in film, distinguishes itself by its oblique, elusive quality which evokes her protagonists' inner landscape instead of dwelling on the appearances of the external world.

When she embarked on a second career as a film director in the late 1960s, Marguerite Duras was already a well-known and highly acclaimed novelist and playwright. If Duras's creative enterprise was shaped to a large extent by memories of her childhood and adolescence, her involvement in the political history of France since the Second World War played an equally important role, particularly in her cinema. Bearing in mind this dual influence, this chapter presents an outline of Duras's early life and of her later political preoccupations, highlighting the relationship between these two dimensions and her films. If her political activities had previously revolved around her opposition to the authoritarian structures of Gaullist France, her involvement in May '68 reflects her disillusionment with all ideologies, whether on the left or on the right of the political spectrum.

in Marguerite Duras
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Filming desire

Marguerite Duras's aim was to transcend the limitations of both literature and cinema by creating what M. Borgomano has called an écriture filmique. The most innovative and enduring of Duras's techniques in the cinema is desynchronisation and, in particular, her use of the voix off. She employed it in several of her films such as India Song, Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta desert, Césarée and Le Navire Night. Perhaps the most fundamental impulse which underscores Duras's writing and her films is precisely the desire to overcome divisions and oppositions. Through her reading of the texts, she lends her voice to the protagonists' stories or even to the protagonists themselves. Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne) and its sequel Aurélia Steiner (Vancouver), both made in 1979, trace a young Jewish woman's search for her identity and her origins, as she attempts to reconnect with her parents who died in a concentration camp.

in Marguerite Duras
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in Marguerite Duras

Working within the 1970s French avant-garde, Marguerite Duras set out to dismantle the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, progressively undermining conventional representation and narrative and replacing them with her own innovative technique. However, the experimental impetus of her cinema was not motivated solely by artistic or aesthetic considerations, but also had important political implications. While all films by Duras can be described as 'political' or 'oppositional', in the sense that they subvert dominant modes of representation, Nathalie Granger, Le Camion and Les Mains négatives differ from the rest of her work. This is because they combine this formal challenge with overtly political themes relating to feminism, communism and postcolonialism. The making of Nathalie Granger in 1972 coincided with the period of intense political activity and lively theoretical debates which marked the early years of the post-1968 French feminist movement.

in Marguerite Duras

The preoccupation in Marguerite Duras with questions of gender and sexuality may be usefully theorised by drawing on ideas central to feminist psychoanalysis. While the creation of a female counter-cinema in Nathalie Granger enabled Duras to question dominant structures of representation, ultimately her films went beyond the dichotomies of gender and sexuality. Although, Nathalie Granger implicitly reproduces the conventional constructions of gender by creating separate 'masculine' and 'feminine' spheres, it can be seen that Duras was beginning to question and deconstruct all gender categories. In terms of feminist psychoanalytical theory, India Song questions the categories of gender and sexuality constructed by the patriarchal Symbolic order by foregrounding the Imaginary. Agatha mirrors transgressive relationship and quasi-incestuous adolescent relationship, as the film resonates with the off-screen voices of Duras and Yann Andréa who also appears on the image-track where he represents Agatha's anonymous brother.

in Marguerite Duras
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This final chapter of this book presents some closing thoughts on the key concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of the book. The work of Marguerite Duras, both in literature and in film, distinguishes itself by its oblique, elusive quality which evokes her protagonists' inner landscape instead of dwelling on the appearances of the external world. While Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Lover presumably owes its popularity partly to the fact that it conforms to the dominant codes of representation, it undermines the cinematographic writing of Duras's own films and their emphasis on verbal and vocal as well as visual forms of expression. Her other films, however, have retained their magical timeless quality as the breathtaking beauty of the images in Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne) or in Le Navire Night merge with the haunting echoes of her voices and her music to create an unusually powerful viewing experience.

in Marguerite Duras