Nationality: French. Born: Lyon, 3 December 1948, to Russian-Jewish immigrants. Education: Lycée Jules Ferry, Paris. Family: Partner of director-producer Alexandre Arcady since the mid-1960s; one son, Yasha. Career: Joined Jean-Louis Barrault's theatre group,
Films as Director and Scriptwriter:
Diabolo Menthe ( Peppermint Soda )
Cocktail Molotov ( Molotov Cocktail )
Coup de foudre ( Entre Nous ; Between Us ; At First Sight )
A Man in Love ( Un homme amoureux ) (+ pr)
La Baule-les-Pins ( C'est la vie ) (+ pr)
Après l'amour ( Love after Love )
À la folie ( Alice and Elsa ; Six Days, Six Nights )
Les Enfants du siècle ( Children of the Century )
Poil de carotte ( Carrot Top ) (Graziani) (ro as Agathe); Elle court, elle court la banlieue (Pirès) (ro)
By KURYS: article—
"Come Hither—But Slowly: Dessert with Diane Kurys," interview with M. Palley, in The Village Voice (New York), 31 January 1984.
On KURYS: books—
Quart, Barbara Koenig, Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema , Westport, Connecticut, 1988.
Austin, Guy, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction , Man-chester, 1996.
Straayer, Chris, Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-orientations in Film and Video , New York, 1996.
Powrie, Phil, French Cinema in the 1980s: Nostalgia and the Crisis of Masculinity , Oxford, 1997.
Tarr, Carrie, Diane Kurys , Manchester, 1999.
On KURYS: articles—
Holmund, Christine, "When Is a Lesbian Not a Lesbian?: The Lesbian Continuum and the Mainstream Femme Film," in Camera Obscura (Rochester, New York), January/May 1991.
Lipman, Amanda, " Après l'amour ," in Sight and Sound (London), September 1993.
* * *
It is not unusual for young independent filmmakers to create an autobiographical first or second feature: perhaps a tale of struggling adolescence on the model of Truffaut's Les Quatres cents coups. But Diabolo menthe , Diane Kurys' first film, a resounding critical and box-office success in France, was highly unusual in 1977 for having a female perspective on teenage rites of passage. It also initiated a remarkable group of films—one that does not follow the same characters through a series of sequels, à la Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle, but focuses upon essentially the same family (with slightly different names and played by different actors), rather the way some novelists and playwrights have circled around the same traumatic event, catching it from different angles, different characters' viewpoints, in work after work. Though her recent films have been more occupied with adult family struggles, Kurys' most enduring works may turn out to be those directly linked to a divorce in a French-Jewish family and the children who witness the breakup.
The title of that first film refers to the "grown up" drink young Anne Weber orders in a café—until Frédèrique, her older sister and sometime confederate, humiliatingly sends her home. This and many other painful moments of budding youth are presented—sometimes with heartfelt intensity, sometimes with a cool comic edge—in vignettes that take us into the sisters' Paris lycée (schoolyard secrets, wretched teachers) and their lives outside it (mother-daughter conflicts, reluctant encounters with the divorced father, and most disturbingly, Frédèrique's near-seduction by a school friend's father). Politics intersect with private life (the year is 1963, marked by Kennedy's assassination): a girl tells of witnessing a police riot, and Frédèrique's antifascist student group is disparaged by her principal as well as attacked by neo-Nazi thugs. Quiet observations of character, sudden explosions of emotion, unexpected turns of plot, touches of ironic humor: such hallmarks of Kurys' later work are already evident in this first feature.
Cocktail Molotov is marked as a sequel of sorts by the title's ironic echo of the first film's less potent concoction, and by the name Anne, though now applied to the older of two sisters (whose boyfriend is named Frederic!). We are now in May 1968, but Anne seems completely apolitical, as do her boyfriend and his best friend; she is exclusively concerned with discovering her own sexuality and running away from her hated mother and stepfather, while the other two follow along. Her notion of joining a kibbutz takes them as far as Venice, but when Bruno's car and most of their money is "appropriated" by an anarchist girlfriend, the trio are forced to hitchhike back to Paris, hearing about the explosive turmoil in the capital via radio and conversations—more often monologues, since the youths don't talk to older people much. Considering that Kurys herself was an activist in 1968, and did get to a kibbutz, Cocktail Molotov is fascinating in its detached viewpoint: though she seems to have an affectionate eye for the three young people's energy and misery in their voyage of discovery, she also shows them having no idea of what is going on politically; and while she satirizes a few bourgeois types, she doesn't seem to mark any of the more opinionated characters as the director's mouthpiece. Anne is more concerned with getting her father to help her get an abortion than interested in his views, and when Bruno comes across a real Molotov cocktail he just lights and tosses it off the side of a country road for kicks as the three run off like little kids.
Kurys' third film, Coup de foudre ( Entre Nous in the United States), is a kind of prequel to Diabolo menthe , but centered upon the girls' mother and her intense friendship with another woman, with the subsequent breakups of both their marriages. The film became Kurys' greatest international success to date and certainly remains her most controversial film. It has been admired by some as a superbly powerful and subtle drama, gorgeously realized, while others have dismissed it as too vague in its sexual politics, too chic, too conservative in its filmmaking style. Much of the debate over the film centered upon the question of whether it should be categorized as a "lesbian film." The original title ("stroke of lightning" is an idiom for love at first sight) may suggest as much, and several scenes between Lena and Madeleine certainly have an erotic charge, though the women are never shown to make love. Lena's husband accuses her of leaving him for a "dyke," but his outrage is colored by Madeleine's earlier rejection of his sexual advances.
A sympathetic reading of the film—or more, an argument that it is a major achievement in French cinema of the last two decades—might stress its refusal to reduce love relationships to the binary "sexual/nonsexual," or to make characters simply likable or unlikable. Lena's husband is heroic in rescuing her from probable death in a concentration camp, tender with his daughters, and quite vicious with Madeleine. The women, memorably played by Isabelle Huppert and Miou-Miou, are seen as both admirable in their quest for independence and selfish—or curiously absent-minded—in their consideration of others; sometimes the viewer's sympathies seem intended to shift not just from scene to scene but from shot to shot. (Consider the episode of Lena losing little Sophie on the bus, or her encounter with the soldiers on the train and later confession to Madeleine.) The dramatic canvas is broad, with its wartime prologue, crosscutting between Michel's rescue of Lena (which has its comic moments) and the violent death of Madeleine's first husband; the women's first meeting in the 1950s and ultimate decision to move to Paris; and the startling shift to an autobiographical mode (Lena's daughter's point of view) in the film's last moments. Kurys' consistently brilliant use of widescreen Panavision, whether in the epic views of a Pyranees prison camp or the languid reclinings of the two women, is essential to the film's overall effect, as is the attention to period detail, particularly fashions and music, as a way of dramatizing the 1950s context (the war years seemingly long past, but the possibilities for women's independence largely in the future) and underlining the women's interest in fashion as a career. Perhaps most striking, though difficult to pinpoint, is the film's ability to present scenes with a full sense of immediacy and yet as if we were watching a reenactment of family legends from a distance.
This story is told once again in La Baules-les-Pins , named after the seaside resort where the entire film takes place. This time, the daughters are again the central characters; the mother is still named Lena, but she is having an affair with another man, while Madeleine has metamorphosed into a stepsister (whose husband is played by the same actor as in Coup de foudre , the one carryover). The film records the usual lazy amusements of a long summer at the beach, but also the girls' growing anxiety over their parents' impending separation. Lena is cruelly distant (literally and figuratively) at some times, warmly affectionate at others. The eruption of violence in this film, when Michel attacks his wife, is truly shocking in its suddenness and brutality (i.e., in the staging of the scene, the editing, the performances); yet the placidities of beach life continue for the children, for some weeks/scenes to come, as they might indeed in life.
A Man in Love , made in between Coup de foudre and Les Baulesles-Pins , is equally interested in passion at first sight, adultery, and flares of temper, and has a similar eye for widescreen compositions, but this international co-production has quite a different setting: the glamourous world of international filmmaking, where an American movie star, hired to play Cesare Pavese in an Italian biopic, has a steamy affair with his co-star, who abandons her French lover though the American will not give up his wife. The film has a great many fine moments which, however, do not add up to a coherent whole, and the American actor remains uninterestingly egocentric, thanks to some combination of the screenwriting (including an almost complete shift in focus toward the actress and away from the title character) and Peter Coyote's wooden performance. A more successful, though certainly peculiar, tale of people involved in ludicrously neurotic love relationships is Après l'amour , in which a cluster of affluent Parisians make themselves miserable by oscillating between their old and new lovers. One can only assume the tone is one of detached amusement. Again parental neglect and affection are an important concern of the drama, and the director has not hesitated to say that the Isabelle Huppert character, a writer, is modeled after herself in certain ways.
À la folie returns us to the relationship of sisters, but now a pair of adults in an extremely dysfunctional relationship, with implied sadomasochistic and lesbian elements. The tale is strongly reminiscent of Strindberg plays in which a meticulously realistic portrayal of characters at odds with one another, with an underlying sexual current, becomes gradually more expressionistic, reaching toward nightmare violence. Here an older sister, Elsa, leaves her husband and children and essentially takes over the apartment of Anne, a successful Parisian artist (successful because she has broken away from her manipulative family, the film implies) who is already having to adjust to a new life with a live-in boyfriend (whom Elsa will eventually try to seduce). The performances of Béatrice Dalle as the vampirish Elsa and Anne Parillaud as the near-fatally unassertive Alice are harrowing to watch, though the film's shift from subtle observations of psychological cruelty to diabolical scheming—the territory of thrillers like Barbet Schroeder's 1992 Single White Female —is problematic, as is the conventional ending.
Kurys' Les Enfants du siècle is a considerable departure in being a biography of George Sand and Frederic Chopin, though obviously Sand, as an independent woman artist who defied a number of gender conventions, should be a subject suited to Kurys' interests. But whatever her future choices, Kurys has already created a half dozen important films, of which Diabolo menthe and Coup de foudre remain among the very significant contributions to French women's filmmaking.