11 July 2005 | frankgaipa
Am I Weakening?
I'm not sure there's a translation yet, so how available it may be to other English speakers, but I've made a point of reading Péju's "La Petite Chartreuse" before commenting the film based on it.
The read, two months and a half after seeing the film, was a bizarre experience. Despite myself, I entered the novel with expectations. I entered it anticipating its conclusion. It begins in what I think of as L'Etranger mode. Not just Camus' one, but three self-absorbed-yet-reacting-to-their-environs charactersEva, her mother, and memory-savant Vollardgravitate toward the accident that will irrevocably change each. This wasn't so different. Denis and his cinematographer had attempted something like it. I read on.
Pieces fell in: the mother's psychological and physical absence, her incompetence, prompting Vollard's reluctant yet ever-increasing movement toward Eva. The film's mother had been so much easier to forgive, even while blaming her. Is it harder to deny face, voice, and eyes than their more rational representation in prose? In prose as on screen, Vollard versus Eva and her ailment amounts to "mutisme contra mutisme" (p. 253, Gallimard, 2002). Other things challenged my memory. What's this 1968 strikes stuff? Who's this narrator who becomes an "I" for a single chapter, then recuses himself in favor of all too omniscient third-person? Did the film's bookshop burn? I don't think so, but
Was there bungee jumping? Maybe. As the novel closed, I grew panicky. How can what-has-to-happen happen in the eighth an inch of pages left?! In a sixteeth?!!
The answer is that Péju's prose didn't allow to happen my film-born what-has-to-happen. The filmmakers, while keeping and using nearly all Péju's dark elements, wrested from them a better feeling, even a heroic finish. Maybe it's just that I'm a smalltime climber, so felt almost as if I knew the snowy col the film's Vollard crosses at last, but as I traversed the whole novel I felt I was climbing to a sort of redemption.
The novel closes darkly against the light of the film that succeeds it. I tend to hate bogus film endings, movie endings. Why not this time, this one? Am I weakening?