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Let Cinema Go To Its Ruin:
The Cinema of Marguerite Duras
Institute of Contemporary Arts
18 July - 25 August 2024

Cinema is being trapped in the dark with an image. Nothing more. No matter the image. A car going at 100 miles per hour or a face saying ‘no’. A concert that has been filmed is cinema, too: there is music and then there is an image. The rest is nonsense. There is no theory that can support it. —M.D., 1966

If there is such a thing as good avant garde cinema, this is it. Even though I believe pretension is the ultimate sin, Marguerite Duras has taken pretension one level ahead of itself and turned it into a style. She is the ultimate eccentric.—John Waters

In 1966, Marguerite Duras, already a prolific writer of novels, plays and screenplays, turned to filmmaking, co-directing the first of her nineteen films. In collaboration with Another Gaze Editions – whose recent publication of Duras’s My Cinema encourages an engagement with this body of work in the filmmaker’s own words – the ICA presents a full retrospective of her shorts, features and televisual work, alongside several works in literal or theoretical conversation with hers.

As a filmmaker, Duras didn’t consider herself to have any contemporaries. In fact, one of the reasons she embarked on her own practice was to supersede adaptations by (male) directors who had “misread” her writing: rendering it too literally, or watering it down for mass appeal (an appeal that many of her novels – bestsellers and prize-winners – had). Throughout her three-decade spanning filmmaking career, Duras – often adapting her own work, and then readapting these adaptations when they (still) failed to satisfy her – advocated for a “poor cinema”, railing against commercial productions, which she considered to be “chewed over, pre-digested, and served up for the consumption of a public whose intellectual faculties are made to work at twenty percent of their capacity”. 

Duras’s films challenge and complicate any conventional relationship between the audio and the visual: often, that which is described never manifests on-screen, when, indeed, there is an easily decipherable image at all. The majority of her films are anti-narrative, and the backgrounds and motivations of her characters (in so far as they can be described as such, given that characterisation is often deliberately lacking) are absent. As in her writing, Duras’s scripts are full of language games: sentences are twisted beyond recognisable syntax, and repetition of elements of speech and music is used to hypnotic and sometimes maddening effect.

Duras’s filmic experiments are deeply sensual: many of them concern the most extreme – sometimes taboo, often deadly – limits of desire, and their soundtracks, containing rumbas and tangos, conjure the tropics in which the filmmaker came of age. Her unconventional relationship to form reflects a complicated relationship with representation. Nonetheless, the defining preoccupations of the writer-filmmaker’s life move in and out of the frame: the French colonies, Jewishness after the Shoah, the domestic lives of women, the proletariat and the Communist Party…
— Daniella Shreir, Another Gaze co-founder

This comprehensive retrospective will include new restorations alongside imported prints of rarely seen works, as well as special guests, invited speakers and newly commissioned essays contextualising Duras’s work.
With special thanks to TIFF.

Marguerite Duras was born in 1914 in Gia Định, French Indochina (now Vietnam), and died in Paris in 1996. She was a prolific novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and filmmaker. In the words of Rachel Kushner: ‘A lot of things happened to Marguerite Duras […] Her first husband, Robert Antelme, was deported to Dachau and came back, but weighing eighty pounds. Duras worked for the Occupation, and later joined the Resistance, then the Communist Party. Was expelled from the Communist Party but remained a Marxist. Did television interviews with both President François Mitterrand and the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Aspects of her life are legends, like the destitute poverty of her childhood, in Indochina. In some writings, her mother’s ailment is madness. In others, menopause. Or financial ruin. Sometimes, the mother’s madness is her strength. Maybe these are not contradictions. The erotic charge between her and the older Chinese lover in Saigon seems like art, scenes that bloomed on paper. Things happened to Duras “that she never experienced,” as she put it. The story of her life did not exist, she said.’

Another Gaze was founded in 2016 as a “journal of film and feminisms”. Since then, they have published several printed issues, launched a free streaming platform, Another Screen, and, most recently, a small press. My Cinema by Marguerite Duras was published in January.

Full programme to be announced.

Priority booking for members opens on 6 June.
Booking opens for the general public on 13 June.

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