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Definition: Duras, Marguérite from Philip's Encyclopedia

French novelist and playwright, b. Indochina. Novels include The Sea Wall (1950), The Sailor from Gibraltar (1952), Destroy, She Said (1969), The Lover (1984) and Summer Rain (1990). Her best-known screenplay is Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959).

Summary Article: Duras, Marguerite
from Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia

Marguerite Duras is widely known in France as a prolific screenwriter, director, novelist, and playwright. In the United States, however, despite an interested critical reception for her novels among feminist academics, the numerous films that she both wrote and directed are not well known. Instead, her cinematic reputation rests primarily on two films: Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), for which she wrote the screenplay, and The Lover (1992), directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, which is based on her “autobiographical” novel L'Amant.

Duras's early life experiences in the colonial world of French Indochina serve as the raw material for much of her literary and cinematic work. She was born Marguerite Donnadieu on April 4, 1914, in Gia-Dinh, a suburb of Saigon. Her parents, Henri and Marie Donnadieu, had immigrated as part of France's “Colonial Army,” and were employed there as schoolteachers; following Marguerite's father's death in 1918, her mother raised Duras and her two older brothers alone. Apart from a short trip to France during her childhood, she lived in or near Saigon until she was 18. In her teens, she had an affair with an older, married Chinese man, an experience she would return to in many variations in her work. At 18, she left Indochina to travel with her family to France, where she studied philosophy, law, mathematics, and political science at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris. In 1937, while working as a secretary at the Ministry of Colonies, she began to read extensively in French and American literature and to attend performances at the Théatre des Mathurins, seeing this as a kind of apprenticeship in the theater. During this time she also joined the Resistance, and formed a friendship with François Mitterand that lasted until his death. Her first novel, Les impudents, was published in 1943, and it was at this time that she took the surname Duras, after the district in France were her father had owned a house. She began writing for the screen in1959, when she authored the classic film treatment for Hiroshima, mon amour, directed by Alain Resnais.

Hiroshima, mon amour immediately established Duras's international reputation as a screenwriter, and has remained widely popular with both critics and moviegoers. Her script for the film, which has been published in book form, is seen by many as a work of art in its own right. In this film, which tells the story of a brief affair between a French actress and a Japanese man, both married, both nameless, Duras explores many of the themes that have characterized her body of work as a whole. These include the role of memory and forgetting; the links between violence and sexuality, domination and desire; and the process of mourning as a way of working through but never completely healing from the traumas of the past. Duras's commitment to the primacy of the literary over the visual can be seen in this film in the form of a discontinuity between the soundtrack and the images, a technique that serves to disrupt narrative coherence, leaving the viewer out of sync with the moment of the film in much the same way that the protagonists seem caught between past and present. Duras would later use this technique to great effect in her own films, most notably India Song (1975). In addition to this auditory discontinuity, Hiroshima, mon amour undermines its own narrative development by means of jump cutting to and from multiple flashbacks—some brief, some longer—thereby foregrounding the significance of memories that insist upon erupting into the present.

During the years from 1959 to 1984, Duras wrote numerous novels, including several that were adapted to the screen by directors such as Peter Brooks (Moderato cantabile, 1960), Jules Dassin (10:30 PM Summer, 1963), and Tony Richardson (Le marin de Gibraltar, 1966). She also wrote and directed 19 films of her own. Nevertheless, it was not until the 1984 publication of her novel L'Amant—almost immediately published in English translation as The Lover—that she found a wide readership in the United States. This novel, which won the 1984 Prix Goncourt, served as the basis for the 1992 film by the same title, directed in English by Jean-Jacques Annaud. It is this film that has secured Duras's reputation among English-speaking audiences, in spite of the fact that she was so outraged by Annaud's treatment of her story that she broke with him during production and subsequently wrote L'Amant du Chine du nord (translated into English as The North China Lover) as a literary attempt to reclaim her own story from Annaud's filmic version. The Lover tells the story of Duras's teenage relationship with her older Chinese lover, and has received a mixed critical response, owing in part to its strange blend of eroticism and emotional distance. Reviewers have commented on the dynamics of colonialism that haunt the film (between a young woman, who nevertheless represents the colonial power of Europe, and an older man, who nevertheless represents the oppressed, colonized Other) and on the undercurrents of masochism that characterize the girl's sexuality—themes that are prominent in many of Duras's films and novels. The Lover was nominated in 1993 for an Academy Award for cinematography.

Duras died in her Left Bank apartment in Paris on March 3, 1996.

Selected Filmography
  • The Children (1984);.
  • Il dialogo di Roma (1982);.
  • L'homme atlantique (1981);.
  • Agatha et les lectures illimitées (1981);.
  • Le navire Night (1979);.
  • Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne) (1979);.
  • Cesarée (1978);.
  • Les mains négatives (1978);.
  • Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977);.
  • Le camion (1977);.
  • Entire Days in the Trees (1976);.
  • India Song (1975);.
  • Woman of the Ganges (1974);.
  • Nathalie Granger (1972);.
  • Jaune le soleil (1972);.
  • Détruire dit-elle (1969);.
  • La musica (1967);.
  • Mademoiselle (1966);.
  • Hiroshima mon amour (1959).
  • References
  • Adler, Laure. Marguerite Duras: A Life. Trans. by Glasheen., Anne-Marie University of Chicago Press Chicago, 2000.
  • Glassman, Deborah. Marguerite Duras: Fascinating Vision and Narrative Cure. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Rutherford, NJ, 1991.
  • Harvey, Robert, and Hélène Volat. Marguerite Duras: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Westport, CT, 1997.
  • Hofmann, Carol. Forgetting and Marguerite Duras. University Press of Colorado Niwot, 1991.
  • Poxon, Judith L.
    Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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