To claim that Marguerite Duras is the director of some of the most demanding films I’d ever seen, would be an understatement. You will need patience, a reasonable intellect, and be fully tuned to the characters on-screen to truly appreciate her films – for that’s what they are – conversation-pieces. But if you can sit through the first hour, you’re more likely to be rewarded with the same pleasure you might derive from a well-written novel. Watching her films are like reading a beautiful essay aided by one’s own imagination, where you can see a character’s pain without physical evidence, and you can deduce their unhappiness even if they claim otherwise, because it is not always about what the characters say. It’s a language of cinema that harks back to literature.
Her film “Baxter, Vera Baxter” is particularly preoccupied with deception and lies – every character is contradicted by someone else at one point. Duras purposefully shatters the traditional narrative structure, and keeps you informed only as much as any newly introduced guest at a gathering might – and we’re after all her guests. It is for you to draw your own conclusions as to what is the truth, or decide whether to even care. All we can say with certainty, is that Vera Baxter (Claudine Gabay) is in a strained relationship with husband Jean, and has decided to momentarily move away from him by renting a villa in the north east of France. Her husband, whom we never get to see, can certainly afford to pay towards the property’s high rent, if that is all he’s allowed to do.
We’re led to deduce the relationship Vera and Jean might have had, through conversations between Vera and two women who visit her villa during the course of a single day – a time and space connoted by an exotic music track playing in the background, apparently by newly moved-in neighbours having a party. We don’t see them either, but their music has an all-pervading presence through the entire village, and acts as a backdrop to all the conversations with Vera – a sign that life goes on, perhaps. The first of the visitors is a former mistress of Jean, intrigued to meet in person the woman he’d often talk about. The second is an anonymous stranger who overhears her name mentioned at the local bar, and is curious to learn more about its owner – Vera Baxter. But the air of mystery surrounding Vera will linger even after the end credits start rolling…
An elegant woman, a house with a view, and the sea-front are recurring icons in Duras’ films – there is often a correlation between the woman and the other two, and this one is no different. But there is another intrusive participant in the conversations here – the music, which will ebb and flow in accordance with the protagonist’s revelations and state of mind. The film is served with beautiful cinematography, and thoughtful direction. But it is definitely not for the casual viewer – there are several layers within this film, including the significance of its title that I haven’t even touched upon, but for those who’re adventurous and into exploring cinema, this is Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon 2-DVD Set [PAL]
(The second DVD is ‘India Song’, an equally challenging film from Marguerite Duras)
The Nudity: Claudine Gabay
Nudity is presented as frozen moments from flashbacks, and the first of the two instances appear at the beginning of the film, in a pose reminiscent of Goya’s famous (or infamous) Maja Desnuda. The second is obviously post-coital, during which time Vera overhears an argument over phone between her lover and his ‘regular’ companion.