Sat, Apr 19, 2014 - Page 12 News List

With a camera, she wrote

This year’s Taipei Literature Film Festival pays homage to Marguerite Duras, who wrote more radically onscreen than on the page

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

A Shape of Error, Abigail Child (2012).

Photo courtesy of Spot Taipei Film House

For three years, the Taipei Literature Film Festival (臺北文學‧閱影展) has sold well on a formula of seeking out hit titles like The Help and Merchant of Venice and projecting them onscreen. But this year, film as a medium could be coming out on its own.

“We thought that since cinematography truly is an independent means of creation, this time we could find some people who are using a camera to write literature,” said curator and film critic Yang Yuan-ling (楊元鈴).

So the spotlight has turned to Marguerite Duras (1914-1996), a French firebrand whose early novels were conservative and later cinematographic work were unusual and often disturbing.

Duras was born in Vietnam, then French Indochina, where she grew up in impoverished circumstances. After high school, she left to study law in France, and then went on to work as a government secretary and to write.

Her early novels were penned in a romantic style, with classic descriptive and linear technique. Later in life, Duras found she could accomplish more with a movie screen and developed a characteristic form of “filmic essays,” Yang said.

Detruire, Dit-Elle (1969) (“Destroy, She Said”), which plays on April 28 and May 2, was her directorial debut.

The film, which she wrote and directed, is about four people in a provincial French hotel. The scene opens with a man observing Elisabeth Alione, a possibly deranged woman who is convalescing from a stillbirth. As the movie unfolds, another man and woman arrive and they form a closed-off society, conversing and engaging in semi-erotic acts.

The plot depends greatly on sound. Audiences can hear, but not see, a tennis game being played. Dialogue is fractured, spare but vital, helping the mind create a blueprint of the hotel grounds, including a beautiful outdoor view that audiences never see.

Festival notes

What: 2014 Taipei Literature Film Festival (2014臺北文學‧閱影展 )

When: April 26 to May 4

Where: Spot Taipei Film House (台北光點), 18, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市中山北路二段18號)

Tickets: NT$150, available at the door, through NTCH ticketing and online at

Meanwhile, Duras uses the camera angle to shift viewers from one character’s perspective to the next. In an eerie scene that uses a mirror, the characters switch roles, subtly and for a few seconds at a time, to underscore their interchangeability.

“In the films, she uses a clever and complicated visual language and use of sound. Everything you see is literary and it creates a very different experience,” Yang said.

Duras also wrote and directed India Song (1975), which is about the promiscuous wife of a French official stationed in India.

Here, sound again plays an essential role: Beethoven’s Diabelli Variation and a blues melody by Carlos d’Alessio are broken down and reassembled throughout the film to suggest otherwise absent themes.


This year’s festival will also include a program about the lives of other literary figures.

Abigail Child’s A Shape of Error (2012) is an experimental feature on Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Set in Rome, the film uses a home movie aesthetic and a cast of amateur actors to reconstruct her childhood and her intense relationship with Percy Bysse Shelley, also a writer.

Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012) is about German author W.G. Sebald of The Rings of Saturn, a strange book with a cult following.

Gee goes to Suffolk, where The Rings of Saturn is based, and shoots landscapes in a murky monochrome. He adds interviews, pasting the subjects’ faces over the landscape to create a surreal vibe matching the book.

A third festival program, titled Famous Directors X Famous Authors (名導X名作), will screen five popular titles adapted for film by high-profile directors like Jonas Mekas (Sleepless Nights Stories, 2011) and Academy award-winner Michael Haneke.

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