Author Marguerite Duras knew no boundaries when it came to genre. Born in 1914 in French Indochina's Gia Dinh, a suburb of Saigon, she later moved to her parents' native France to study math, politics, and law. But her desire to write eventually took over, and she mastered the craft in all forms: journalism, theater, fiction, and film. Her creative career had its stops and starts -- dictated in part by the events of World War II, during which she was a member of a French Resistance group -- but when it finally got rolling, Duras became unstoppable. She died in 1996, leaving behind an impressive body of work, some of which is coming to our local big screens. San Francisco Cinematheque presents three nights of rarely seen films in a program called "To Murder the Cinema: Visions of Marguerite Duras. " (One of her supremely quotable statements inspired the title: "I approach cinema with the intention to murder it.")
A Portrait of the Artist as a Grown Woman: Marguerite
Begins Thursday, May 26, at 7:30 p.m.
(and continues June 2 and June 9)
Duras (who was born Marguerite Donnadieu, but later took the name of her adopted town) began to establish herself as a filmmaker in the late 1950s, but "Murder" picks up two decades later with her picturesque 1972 movie about everyday life, Nathalie Granger. It's a story about two women and a child, Nathalie, who becomes worrisome to the women when she abandons her piano lessons and garners a rep as a violent presence at her school. Nathalie also offers an unexpected bonus: It includes a young Gérard Depardieu playing an amusingly ineffective washing machine salesman.
Next up is Duras' 1975 India Song, a more accomplished film known for, among other things, its experimental employment of third-person, off-screen narration. Set in the 1930s during monsoon season in India, the movie begins by recounting the story of a Laotian-born beggar girl along the Ganges River, but then it abruptly changes gears, dropping us into a searing love story that takes place amid the luxurious life of the colonial elite in India. In Duras' tradition of commingling political and romantic aching, a diplomat's wife complaining of "colonial sickness" wrestles uncomfortably with her wealthy woman's conscience.
Also shown are Duras' last feature, Les Enfants (1982), in which a 7-year-old boy -- played by an adult -- questions what he's being taught; her short Cesarée, from 1979, which shifts from the streets of Palestine to the monuments of Paris; and 1981's L'Homme Atlantique, which explores darkness via a collage of existing cinematic material. The Duras fest offers an opportunity to get inside the brazen artist's head, too -- the hourlong Marguerite, A Reflection of Herself is a 2002 biographical sojourn that begins during the filmmaker's French-Asian childhood and recounts her long life of passion, war, and art.