1961-1970ArthouseFranceMarguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras – Détruire dit-elle AKA Destroy, She Said (1969)


“Marguerite Duras’ Destroy, She Said seems to be a film out of time and out of space, but could only have been made after May, 1968 … Significantly, it is only this year that she has felt able to write and direct her own film-without any compromises … It explodes into life, and one is hypnotically captive until the end. The dramatic power of the film, and its way of haunting one for days, are not surprising; what is, however, is the degree of visual virtuosity that Mme. Duras achieves. In short, here is a ‘difficult’ film which more than compensates for the demands it makes on the viewer.”-Richard Roud, The Guardian (Manchester)
” …Destroy. She Said is a triumph … In my estimation its glum enchantments constitute a masterpiece.”-Elliott Stein, The Financial Times (London)

” … It works primarily as a great mystery, a sort of ritual power game in which even the players do not know the rules and only dimly perceive the overall pattern. The way the film is made is quite extraordinary– especially considering that it is the first film Mme. Duras has directed alone …Destroy, She Said has been the great revelation of the (London Film) Festival, and that if Mme. Duras has felt overshadowed in the past few years by the reputation of her first original film work, the script of Hiroshima, Mon Amour, she can now breathe a sigh of relief: that is one shadow she has left behind for ever.”John Russell Taylor, The Times (London)

“I’m not sure that I can reasonably explain the pleasure I take in Marguerite Duras’ Destroy, She Said . .. it gives the impression finally of precision, eloquence, and considerable wit … I find that I also accept a good deal, not only in the film’s genuinely brilliant scenes … She apparently means her film to portend revolution, holocaust. and rebirth (thus, the film’s title), but she maintains her own sense of order and decorum to the end … ” -Roger Greenspun, The New York Times

This initial directorial effort by writer Marguerite Duras (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), from her novel of the same title, demonstrates an enormous talent. The film is the almost perfect visual recreation of a story in which nothing much happens in the conventional dramatic sense, but within which she is able to realize on at least two levels the profound human implications of a political world become obsolete. Her central characters are in a state of moral suspension, having discarded the strictures of the past in order to survive, and having begun to realize the operative values of a new community of relationships. This important film is cinematic but, like many fine works of art, demands much from its audience. Miss Duras refuses to employ the flashy techniques of style without substance that many modern, television trained directors and their television conditioned viewers so often mistake for visual sophistication. Her use of long static shots is combined with an intuitive judgment that cuts a scene or moves the camera always at the right moment. Until the final scene she even works without the aid of a musical score. The effectiveness of this “minimal” style is apparent only after the fact. Her style is never obtrusive or self-conscious. It is integral to her personal vision. If most of the usual accouterments that flesh out the average film are absent it is because this is no average film. Destroy, She Said will have a strong impact on those who respond to its intellectual content….

The events of the story occur during a week in a vacation hotel situated near a forbidding forest. The hotel is more a retreat than a resort and the forest represents an area into which only those who have begun to transcend the older forms of existence dare venture. A professor (Henri Garcin) who teaches the history of the future, “I have nothing to say and my students sleep in class,” encounters a German Jew (Michel Lonsdale) – his identification keys to the slogan “We are all German Jews” current during the May 1968 events in France – who is about to become a writer. The professor, who is also on the threshold of “becoming a writer,” is joined by his wife (Nicole Hiss) who was formerly his student and is many years his junior.

These three, common in their inability to survive in the “outside” world, begin to merge in identity. By the end of the film their very words and sexual pairings have no personal connection with their separate selves. Each speaks for the others, dialogue originating from one is completely interchangeable with the other two. A fourth guest, Elisabeth (Catherine Sellers) , afflicted with the same moral void and at the “hotel” to “recover” is drawn into their company. Yet, while the other three are preparing to move beyond their former existence, Elisabeth is unable to completely extricate herself. The film concludes with the arrival of her industrialist husband (Daniel Gelin) who senses that she is not recovered, but that remaining will not provide a “cure.” He leads her away, back to the corporeal world.

Miss Duras’ direction fully realizes the political, indeed the philosophical, meaning of her story. The relationship between these people and the world in which they exist progresses via both the external action and the internal transformation. Two fine scenes particularly, one a card game played without rules and another between the professor’s wife and Elisabeth using the mirror reflection of their images, are supremely evocative of the film’s conceptual thesis.

The composition within scenes, the framing of individual shots, the lighting and camera angles are all integral to the film’s dramatic substance. All the technical values, especially Jean Penzer’s camera work and Luc Perini’s sound, are excellent. Henri Colpi’s editing is absolutely first rate. But this is Miss Duras’ film and, in one form or another, it will be around for a long time.



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