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In “Memoir of War,” Marguerite Duras Suffers Through the Nazi Occupation

In adapting the wartime diaries of Marguerite Duras, Emmanuel Finkiel captures the author’s oblique style, which filters events though a thick layer of ennui, and centers on women who deal with inflicted trauma by torturing themselves. When Duras’s episodic memoir was released in 1985, her U.S. publisher changed the French title La Douleur (a/k/a Pain) to a more generic The War: A Memoir. Writer-director Finkiel (Voyages) deals with both aspects, using voiceover narration and subjective visuals to express Duras’s anguished emotional state, and also presents a clear-eyed vision of history as nerve-wracked Parisians anticipate the end of Nazi occupation.

Memoir of War works best when there’s tension between the inner thoughts of Marguerite (Mélanie Thierry) and outside forces that require her to take action. After she meets Rabier (Benoît Magimel), the eager collaborator who arrested her husband (like Duras, writer Robert Antelme was in the French Resistance), they commence an intellectual seduction that explores the iron grip and tenuous grasp of power. But the bulk of the 127 minutes involves Marguerite exquisitely suffering in a haze of cigarette smoke, fretting over the fate of Antelme (Emmanuel Bourdieu), whom she worships yet may no longer love.

Cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine uses long lenses to present Marguerite’s slippery state of mind, rendering solid buildings as expressive blurs and transforming robust men into Giacometti stick figures. It’s one of the effects Finkiel employs to convey the duality of her prose (Duras is simultaneously participant and observer), but his balance is off. He emphasizes Marguerite’s passivity — she waits, she worries — over her resolve. While clearly adoring Duras’s work, Finkiel doesn’t credit the strength it took for her to ruthlessly detail the experience.

Memoir of War
Directed by Emmanuel Finkiel
Music Box Films
Opens August 17, Film Forum and The Film Society of Lincoln Center

 

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The Future’s Stranger Than He Thought: An Interview with Zero Theorem Director Terry Gilliam

“I’ll always be anti-authoritarian, as long as I live,” says Terry Gilliam, the comic provocateur who’s been taking aim at the establishment for over four decades. The only thing that changes: his targets. In Life of Brian, it was religion. In Brazil, the government. And in his latest film, The Zero Theorem, it’s the biggest oppressor of all: big business. Says Gilliam, “Governments are second rate compared to corporations when it comes to power and influence on our lives.”

The Zero Theorem stars Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, a reclusive computer drone whose life is at the mercy of his employer, MANCORP. His boss, a godlike figure named Management (Matt Damon), and his underlings dictate everything from Qohen’s therapist (Tilda Swinton) to his sexual fantasies, thanks to a virtual-reality geisha (Mélanie Thierry) they’ve hired to keep him complacent. Like Sam in Brazil, Qohen is a ticking time bomb of frustration. The difference is that Gilliam’s realized that the future he envisioned 30 years ago was wildly off base. Instead of a monochromatic dystopia that drowns people in paper, he now predicts a sensory overload of colors and pixels and bleeps. “We’re going to drown in nice clothes and workplaces that are like playrooms,” he says with a giggle. “It’s fun!

“We are creating a giant brain that is all of humanity,” says Gilliam. He admits, “That you can access the information that you need is just fantastic, it’s extraordinary.” But it’s also loud, oppressive, and isolating. On the sidewalks of Zero Theorem, ads and information tickers stalk citizens down the street. At parties, people crowd together but socialize alone, isolated by their headphones and iPads. Only Qohen, with his bald pate and black robes, stands out like a burned-out bulb. He can’t take the chaos, hastily scurrying back to the old stone church where he lives, his literal sanctuary.

See also: Terry Gilliam’s Latest Sci-Fi Adventure The Zero Theorem Serves Up Wild and Wonderful Images

Gilliam is no digital monk. Now 73, he tweets. On Facebook, he has 383,424 friends. “But I don’t actually want to talk to those people,” he admits. Still, the lo-fi creative who once invented a new cartoon language from scissors and cut-out illustrations has succumbed to internet addiction. He spends whole days before his 32-inch computer monitor. “I sit there and I’m checking the news as if I’m going to find something interesting suddenly,” says Gilliam. “I have to physically pull myself away from it, go into another room and grab a bite — anything to escape the power of my computer.”

With film budgets shrinking by the year, he’s had to use social media to self-advertise. “Despite Sony’s best efforts at non-publicity, Zero Theorem is now available in the U.K. on DVD and BluRay!!” he dashed off in a recent self-deprecating post. “My advice is to watch the film sitting as closely as possible to your home screen to experience what you might have experienced had you seen it in the cinema.”

For years, he at least forbade himself from owning a smartphone. But last year, he gave in and took one home from The Zero Theorem set. Recently, the phone broke for a few days, and he panicked. “It’s black and it looks like the monolith from 2001 and I’m the ape there worshipping it.” (Not that he’s into worship. The former Minnesota seminary student managed to ditch religion and the U.S. government by reinventing himself as a British atheist: “America’s winning the war of bureaucracy,” he sighs).

Zero Theorem was supposed to be made for $20 million, but was slashed down post-handshake to $8.5 million. “It doesn’t look like an $8.5 million movie,” says Gilliam, “and I don’t seem to get any credit for that.” His reputation as a spendthrift has yet to recover from the financial disaster of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. (Maybe it will next year, when the ill-fated The Man Who Killed Don Quixote finally — hopefully — starts shooting in the Canary Islands.)

He’s aware that he’s become one of the plugged-in promoters his own film rails against, though he tries to keep it in check. “It’s the me-ness that drives me crazy,” says Gilliam. “It’s almost like people aren’t individuals, they’re just saying I am here, and then once that message goes out to the world, they can relax for a few seconds before they have to say I am here again. If Descartes was alive now, it would be, ‘Je tweet, donc je suis‘ — I tweet, therefore I am.”

No wonder, then, that his out-of-step Qohen Leth insists on referring to himself with the plural “we.” And Qohen is terrified of the youth of the future, in particular a scarily efficient post-post-post-millennial who insists on calling everyone “Bob” because he refuses to waste mental space by memorizing names.

Yet Gilliam, who has raised three kids in the internet age, celebrates rudeness. At least, it’s better than the inverse — that interconnectedness and insta-gossip will pressure people to guard their online reputations by being cautious and polite. “That’s the beginning of a really nice form of fascism,” warns the unflagging firebrand. “The right to offend is important.”