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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Claire Simon • Director of I Want to Talk About Duras

“For women, who have been oppressed for centuries, it’s very difficult to speak out about their oppression”


- Cineuropa talks with the French director about the nature of love, society’s obssesion with fame, and the limits between fiction and documentary

Claire Simon • Director of I Want to Talk About Duras
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

French director Claire Simon is in the running for the Golden Shell at the San Sebastián Film Festival with her latest film, I Want to Talk About Duras [+see also:
film review
interview: Claire Simon
film profile
. It tells the story of Yann Andréa, Marguerite Duras’s lover for 16 years, a young homosexual man tortured by an abusive and extreme relationship but, also, a man proud of the love he felt for the mythical writer.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to recreate the very particular personality that is Yann Andréa’s?
Claire Simon:
I found the book extraordinary, the book which is the transcription of the two tapes. I found what was said in the text extraordinary.

The film questions the idea of the creative genius. Does this idea of the genius artist who can be a questionable human being make sense to you today?
I think the question is more about the idea of immortality in love. I think he loves Duras in order to be immortal. The question is, what is life if it's not about trying to be immortal in some way? That's the path he's found, to love a writer he thinks is great and to be part of her immortality.

In Yann, we find a bit of the fan figure. We find this today with pop stars or film stars, but not so much with intellectuals. Are you interested in the fan phenomenon?
Not really, but I think our society is completely obsessed with fame, that everybody wants to be famous. From that point of view, Yann does represent something that is still very active in our society. I think that a century ago or 50 years ago, we were not so obsessed with idols, with the impression that if you are not famous, you have not lived. We feel that he is in a more classical admiration, an admiration towards the master.

We have plenty of examples of famous men who treated their wives not well at all, but not too many the other way round. Why did you decide to show this darker side of Duras?
It's a love story. What's interesting for me as a woman and as a feminist is that since it's in reverse, we see a description of submission which is exemplary. Because what is very difficult for women, who have been oppressed for centuries, is to speak out about their oppression. Yann is a man who is in a very weakened situation, but since he has the culture of men, he manages to name very precisely what is happening to him. It's very interesting to have this description because it's from the other side.

Did you have access to the tapes, which are the original material of the book that you adapt very faithfully?
I had a very long telephone conversation with Yann Andréa's sister who transcribed them, she puts everything in the transcript, it's exceptional. I spoke a lot with her, she offered to listen to the tapes but I didn't want to. Because I didn't want to be influenced by Yann Andréa's interpretation. I wanted Swann [Arlaud] to have the freedom to find the truth of the words for himself, for his sensitivity, I wanted it to come out of him.

How did you work with Emmanuelle Devos on the way she expresses all these emotions with silence and facial gestures?
She listens, and it has to be true, and that's much more difficult than speaking. She was convinced that it was a very difficult job. There were a few things I would say to her, but it was mostly her job. And afterwards, it was up to me to decide whether to film her or not.

The music that closes the film made me feel like I was in a gay club.
It's perfect, that's what I wanted. I thought it was important to have this image of the gay club in the 80s because that's where Yann was running away. I chose to show the gay scene in the woods as well, because I really like the woods and the whole gay atmosphere that exists in the woods.

You are a very experienced documentary filmmaker and in this film, the two genres touch each other a lot. What do you think of the genres in cinema?
For me, cinema is necessarily documentary, otherwise there is no interest. If we think of Coppola and The Godfather, of course there were Mario Puzzo's novels, but there was a true reality behind them. And also, for example, I think that Cuarón's Gravity is like a documentary, if you like.

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(Translated from French)

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