The Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA) has made its collection available to students at Paris Diderot University to create an original exhibition called Marguerite Duras and the Television.It combines work from students, video footage of Duras and examples of her personal effects, including her bedroom, typewriter and even clothes.
We know Duras principally as the writer of L’Amant, La Douleur and other books, and although she is often described as a melancholy figure, her appearance on television reveals other sides to her character.
“She was a funny person, someone who was capable of saying provocative things,” says Valérie Alias, the teacher in charge of the exhibition at the Bétonsalon. “Things that were funny, tender, sweet.”
Alias says Duras was a revolutionary figure in television, because when she is on screen there is never any question that it is anyone but her. She emerges as an amusing interviewer as well as interviewee. For instance she tells Bernard Pivot, the French literary critic, why she’s come on his show - because she finds him sweet.
She reflects with prescience on the future. For example, she says that in the year 2000 people will be drowning in information. In another interview, in the same thoughtful tone of voice, she discusses the future with a seven-year-old boy.
“Francois, do you think that when you’re a grown up, children will go on holiday to the moon? Do you think horses will talk?”
Even when Duras is at her most playful, she maintains a meditative, almost wistful, tone of voice, happy to let a pause interrupt her flow while she considers things.
One student has taken photographs of the places Duras incorporated into her work. A picture of the beach she used to go to is attached to a tree in a forest. The beach appears once again over a sewing machine and a gravestone. The final products have a sort of abstract melancholy.
At one end of the room is a reproduction of Duras’s bedroom. Her typewriter, with loose pages resting on it, her bed, her carpet and her clothes lying on a chair.
“I just want to sit and read a book and then go somewhere and listen to a video and look at Duras,” said one visitor to the gallery, Emmanuel Guy, a university literature teacher.
Luckily, all of this was possible - copies of Duras’s books hang from strings with a convenient chair underneath.
Joëlle Olivier, a lecturer on Duras, who is in charge of cultural development at INA, said the students had captured the spirit of Duras.
“The richness of her creative life is very important,” she said. “An event like this one allows us to show this to the new generation. I hope that thanks to this exhibition there will be many people who will want to read her, and re-read her, because we have never finished with Duras.”
In fact, Marguerite Duras seems to be capable of provoking a sense of patriotism even in people who have not read her books or watched her films. Several people at the opening of the exhibition concluded eulogies of Duras with the caveat that they were not really familiar with her work. It looks like INA got its archives out in the nick of time.