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Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert

Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert (1976) -

You may or may not know Marguerite Duras as the screenwriter of Hiroshima mon amour. Exactly 20 years later she directed India Song, which to this day remains her greatest monument. An autobiographical arthouse movie about the wife of a French diplomat and her unhappy and tedious life. Constantly in travel, taking part in many senseless banquets that only confirm the emptiness of her life. One could say that Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert is a sequel to India Song, but if you know the nature of these films, the very word sequel not only does not do them justice, but does not even fit them. Well, at least these two films are related thematically by Duras' alter ego Anne-Marie Stretter and have quite a lot in common when it comes to residual plots, demanding forms and peculiar orientalism.

In his infamous manifesto Venom and Eternity Isidore Isou postulated the end of cinema comparing its then contemporary condition to a 'fat pig that will explode'. He proposed far-reaching changes including, among others, a complete disjunction of sound and image. Although Venise/Calcutta maintains a slight connection between these two, the link is pretty distant and not so apparent. Most of the time the camera slowly floats through desolate houses and edifices, sometimes taking a walk outside portraying some trees, or a sea. There are no people in the movie except for about ten minutes towards the end when some familiar faces from India Song appear. However, it's very hard to tell whether it is some footage of them sitting motionlessly, or just a bunch of photos. Either way, it is very safe to say that, just like Chantal Akerman's Hôtel Monterey, Venise/Calcutta is a peopleless film. There's that constant voice-over as the viewer hears various people talking, but it is very hard to say if these are tangible human beings, or just phantoms of the past living in abandoned buildings that Duras is so eager to portray.

There are some beautiful poetic words in the narration. What really stuck in my mind was the voice-over talking about the shooting of Shalimar lepers and concluding the short story with the expression of 'leprosy of the heart', which probably refers to the people who commenced the shooting. In some other scene somebody asks 'what is this scent of flowers?' and gets the answer: 'leprosy'. Somebody else talks about leper bodies being burned on ghats. There's a long scene with the camera pulling back the corridor and the sun shining through the windows resulting in some breath-taking images. Then there's that scene of a sunset sky with India Song playing to it. The India Song's India Song is reused here, but not as excessively as in India Song. It's a beautiful composition that really adds a lot to the atmopshere of the film.

Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert requires some patience and imagination as the viewer has to believe a lot to open his mind and therefore get into the mood of the movie. The film has to offer quite a lot both inside its structure as well as outside of it as it creates the second front in viewer's mind. Ultimately, Venise/Calcutta, just like India Song, seems to be a bittersweet remembrance of the past that might've as well been just a dream, if not for the India Song that may be the only evidence of yore.