Director: Marguerite Duras
Production: Sunchild, Les Films Armorial, S. Damiani and A. Cavaglione; color, 35mm. Released 1975.
Producer: Stephane Tchalgaldjeff; screenplay: Marguerite Duras; photography: Bruno Nuytten; editor: Solange Leprince; sound: Michel Vionnet; original music: Carlos D'Alessio, recording at the ORTF: Gaston Sylvestre, Beethoven selection: Gerard Fremy, "India Song Blues" interpreted by: Raoul Verez.
Cast: Delphine Seyrig ( Anne-Marie Stretter ); Michel Lonsdale ( Vice-Counsel of France ); Matthieu Carriere ( Young attaché to the Ambassador ); Didier Flamand ( Young escort to Stretter ); Claude Mann ( Michael Richardson ); Vernon Dobtcheff ( Georges Crawn ); Claude Juan ( A guest ); Satasinh Manila ( Voice of the beggar ); Nicole Hiss, Monique Simonet, Viviane Forrester, Dionys Mascolo, and Marguerite Duras ( Voices of Time ); François Lebrun, Benoit Jacquot, Nicole-Lise Bernheim, Kevork Kutudjan, Daniel Dobbels, Jean-Claude Biette, Marie-Odile Briot, and Pascal Kane ( Voices from the reception ).
Duras, Marguerite, India Song: Texte—theatre—filme , Paris, 1973; translated as India Song , New York, 1976.
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* * *
India Song is radical in both form and content. Like Alain Resnais's L'année dernière à Marienbad , Duras's film offers an ambiguity of narrative—a type of enigma which paradoxically calls for a reading and yet makes any reading tentative. The film asks, who is Anne-Marie Stretter, the protagonist? What is her relation to men? To India? Or to a beggar woman whose destiny somehow parallels her own? In answering these questions or, more precisely, in eluding any definitive answer, the film expresses some important feminist perspectives while making innovations in film narrative.
Duras, in this film, finally puts into full practice what Sergei Eisenstein posed in theory 45 years earlier—non-synchronous sound. She separates the verbal track of the film from the visual track in such a way that either the narrator or the dialogue is over-voiced with images that do not correspond on a simple story level. Both the verbal and visual tracks offer us fragmented and disparate pieces of the puzzle of Anne-Marie Stretter that the viewer must reassemble.
Duras has structured the plot in layers. Madame Stretter, wife of the French Ambassador to colonial India, has a doppelgänger in an insane beggar woman who haunts the embassy gardens. While we never see the woman, we hear her distant off-camera cries. Often these cries are juxtaposed with the restrained stance and expression of Madame Stretter. It is as if these cries spring from Madame Stretter's inner self, which has no outlet in the oppressive society she inhabits. The beggar woman, whom we learn has followed Madame Stretter from French Indo-China, perhaps is emblematic of India or other lands burdened by European imperialism; her cries may also be theirs.
A sense of the oppressive lends unity to the film. While we never see colonial India beyond the embassy walls, Duras conveys, through actors' movements and details in the mise-en-scène, the oppressively humid atmosphere. Colonialism is shown oppressing not only the Indians but the Europeans who seem in power. There is a double meaning in Madame Stretter's sexual enslavement of the men around her—all members of the apparent ruling-class. She and India are ineluctable forces that elude and, even to some degree, control the male hierarchy which only seems to oppress them.
Duras explores stasis in all of its forms and ramifications. The characters often remain immobile under the influence of both the sultry atmosphere and class-imposed decorum. India Song treats death and life at once, or more precisely, death in life; for Madame Stretter lives a death amid a mise-en-scène filled with funeral objects and flowers. Further, since sound and visuals do not match in a realistic sense, narration and dialogue seem something vaguely heard from beyond the tomb.
Interlacing the destiny of one woman with another and then comparing their situation to nations occupied by foreigners suggests that India Song be read as a film about political oppression on all levels—from personal to national. While some might find Duras's view—that women and, by extension, nations are able to transcend oppression—somewhat naive, the innovative techniques she uses gives this work a haunting quality beyond mere polemics.