A superfan dates his idol in Claire Simon’s I Want To Talk About Duras (Vous Ne Désirez Que Moi), premiering in the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Official Competition before screening at the New York Film Festival. Based on the transcript of an audio interview, the French language drama stars Swann Arlaud as Yann Andréa, a man 38 years younger than his novelist partner Marguerite Duras, whose screenplay for Hiroshima Mon Amour won her an Oscar nomination in 1959.
In 1980, the pair stirred the literary world by getting together, and two years into their relationship, Andréa confided in Michèle Manceaux (Emmanuelle Devos) over several taped sessions. The results were turned into a book after his death, no doubt a compelling read but a cinematic challenge. As Simon herself has said, “This is completely unsuited to cinema,” although the book did inspire a more conventional drama, Cet Amour-Là, in 2001. But if you accept this as an inherently talky, theatrical piece, it offers rewarding insights into both characters, as well as a complex relationship that could be labelled both toxic and abusive.
The interview takes place in 1982, when Duras is approaching 70. Sitting upstairs in the home he shares with her, Andréa is keen to articulate his feelings to Manceaux. An avid fan of Duras’ work, he describes how he met her at an event and wrote letters to her for years before turning up at her door one day, stalker style. She responded by inviting him to move in, to be her lover and to submit to her whims, which he did.
As Andréa details her controlling behavior, the story becomes more troubling: is he a willing submissive or has he been manipulated? Is the truth somewhere in between? It’s a tricky, often uncomfortable reflection on obsession and control with no easy answers — Andréa is trying to make sense of it himself, somewhat repetitively.
Simon occasionally breaks for brief flashbacks, location changes, illustrations and, most revealingly, footage of the real Duras herself. Every glimpse of this indomitable woman gives more context to the film, and while Arlaud handles the material well, you’re left longing for more from the character he describes.
Devos is terrific, her slightly nervous mannerisms convincing without distracting, and although she’s remarkably quiet for a journalist, one assumes the transcript to be faithful to Manceaux’s restrained line of questioning. There are parallels here with Arnaud Desplechin’s Cannes title Deception — in which Devos also appeared — another conversation-driven French drama preoccupied with sex and love. But this is done from a notably female perspective, with a subject who, despite his love for Duras, mostly identified as gay. The result is a fitfully fascinating two-hander, with the ghost of the other star looming tantalizingly in the background. If nothing else, this will make you want to read Duras.
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