Jeanne Moreau in Nathalie Granger (1972)


(director/writer: Marguerite Duras; cinematographer: Ghislain Cloquet; editor: Nicole Lubtchansky; cast: Jeanne Moreau (Other Woman), Lucía Bosé (Isabelle Granger), Luce Garcia Ville (Teacher), Gérard Depardieu (Salesman), Dionys Mascolo, Nathalie Bourgeois (Laurence), Valérie Mascolo (Nathalie Granger), Dionys Mascolo (Youngest Granger girl); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Luc Moullet; Facets; 1972-France-in French with English subtitles)

“A delightfully strange film, that smacks of an uncanny intelligence.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marguerite Duras (“Cesarée”/”India Song”/”Woman of the Ganges”) in 1959 wrote the screenplay for Hiroshima mon amour. Here she directs and writes this overlooked gem, an idiosyncratic minimalist to the nth degree women’s pic done almost without dialogue, long pauses of stillness and with no discernible storyline. The anti-drama, a precursor to both Chantal Akerman and Claire Denis, has the comfy feeling of its elliptical, elusive story being filmed in Duras’s own house outside Paris.

An unnamed expressionless woman (Jeanne Moreau) lives with her equally expressionless friend Isabelle Granger (Lucía Bosé) and her troubled elementary school-aged daughter Nathalie Granger (Valérie Mascolo) and younger no problem child. The women are concerned that Nathalie is reported by her teacher to have behaved exceedingly violent, and the seemingly well-heeled Isabelle decides to transfer her daughter to the more progressive school, Datkin, but is upset to learn that they will not force Nathalie to take piano lessons–even if mommy insists she continue with her lessons, as the concerned parent seems to think that stopping the lessons would ruin her daughter’s life. At home, Nathalie appears to be a docile child who seems content just playing with her frisky cat or seems serene when playing with her playmate Laurence (Nathalie Bourgeois) by the nearby pond.

The radio broadcasts there are two brutal juvenile killers nearby and of a manhunt for them in the Dreux Forest. This gets the attention of the women, but doesn’t unduly upset them. Their day is spent doing housework and yardwork, chatting briefly about their foreign housekeeper being deported as an illegal and unexpectedly receiving the visit by a youthful nervous inept green door-to-door salesman (Gérard Depardieu) trying to sell them a washing machine and mistaken their lack of resistance and reticence as an invitation for him to return and try to sell himself to them.

Their seemingly uneventful life can be contrasted to living in a gilded cage, where their ennui and lack of pep is as overwhelming as is their absurdist take on life. It’s hard to say for sure what it all means (if it means anything much at all), but it’s safe to say it’s not painting a pretty picture of domestic bliss. But it’s filled with droll humor (admittedly an acquired taste) that made me laugh at how oddly they handled themselves in such a detached away over all the mundane events but got hung up over piano lessons, which might be one of their least important things to get so worked up over. A delightfully strange film, that smacks of an uncanny intelligence.