September 19, 2021

“With Duras, I went from aversion to passion”

Benoît Jacquot has chosen to adapt Suzanna Andler, a little-known work by Marguerite Duras for, he explains, the tension and the mystery it conceals.

What are your earliest memories of Marguerite Duras?

I first discovered her as a reader of Little Horses of Tarquinia or Gibraltar sailor (Gallimard) in the 1960s. I hated it. It seemed to me the height of chic and mannered literature, worshiped by a sort of village of intellectuals with which I had no connection. There was no doubt in this revulsion a sort of adolescent misogyny as well. It was when she became a filmmaker with The music (1967) that I reconsidered it. Rivette and the people of Cinema Notebooks had defended the film which encountered a certain commercial and critical adversity. I went to see him backwards and was caught. I returned to books after this detour through the cinema. And I went from aversion to passion.

And then you met her …

I was then a young assistant director. Among my comrades, as we said at the time, one of them, who had worked with Duras and was preparing to do it again for his film Nathalie Granger (1972), offered to replace him, knowing that I envied him for having assisted her. I went to rue Saint-Benoît, where she lived, in Paris, and I rang at her door. Quickly we became friends. So I did not only Nathalie Granger, but then The Woman of the Ganges (1974) and India Song (1975). When preparingIndia Song, I started to write my first feature film, The musician assassin (1975), in his country house in Neauphle-le-Château [Yvelines].

You said that she “delegated the cinema” to you. What does that mean ?

On the set, she was there. She looked. I translated for her, into Durassian language, the language of cinema, this technical language that she hated. I made him some suggestions. She had a real appetite for surprise… She waited to be amazed or bewildered by what she could see the next day during the screening of the rushes. If he didn’t like it, we would start all over again, as it happened for The Night Ship (1979). She called me her right arm.

Why did you choose precisely “Suzanna Andler”, a little-performed play that she didn’t like?

She wanted to give me the gift of a text so that I could make a film of it. No doubt she implicitly reproached me for not having already done so. She was a little upset. She didn’t think she was the tail of a pear. She suggested that I adapt Half past ten at night in summer, a text from 1960 that Jules Dassin had directed in 1966 with Melina Mercouri and Romy Schneider. But that didn’t appeal to me very much. I said to her: “Me, what I would like to film is Suzanna. She replied, “If you promise me you’ll do it, go ahead, take it.” It was a year before his death, in 1996.

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