Written and directed by Marguerite Duras that is based on her unproduced play and the novel Le Vice-Consul, India Song is the story of a promiscuous wife of a French ambassador in 1930s India as she deals with its lack of emotional fulfillment as well as the appearance of an old lover. The film is an exploration of a woman’s unhappy life as she deals with the presence of a former lover as well as the chaos surrounding around her. Starring Delphine Seyrig, Michael Lonsdale, Matheiu Carriere, Claude Mann, Vernon Dobtcheff, Didier Flamand, and Claude Juan. India Song is a majestic yet unconventional film from Marguerite Duras.
Set in late 1930s Calcutta at the French embassy, the film follows the wife of a French ambassador as she goes through boredom as she surrounded by different lovers at the embassy while also dealing with the arrival of a former lover. It is a film that plays into the life of this woman who feels trapped by her surroundings as well as the voices that loom throughout the house as she juggles her many affairs as well as shielding herself from the outside world including India. Marguerite Duras’ screenplay is largely minimalist as much of the film is told through voice-over monologues and dialogues that would dominate the film as it play into the emotions of the characters that spend a lot of time at the embassy and its grounds. They also deal with the voices from outside of the embassy such as an old beggar woman where much of the time has these people having small parties and such as well as walking in the grounds at the embassy.
Duras’ direction is stylish for not just her unconventional approach to voiceovers but also in the fact that much of the film for its first two acts is set inside this house and the grounds outside of the home. Shot on location at the Chateau Rothschild in Boulogne, France with areas outside of the chateau include the Grand Trianon at Versailles and two interior shots at apartments in Paris. Duras does use the location as this world that is ever-changing with an abandoned tennis court, a pond, and other places as if it’s going into ruins as well as not being tended to due to the lack of interest of those living at the embassy. The sense of ennui that looms throughout the film including its main protagonist in Anne-Marie Stretter (Delphine Seyrig) as she wanders around the house either in a lavish dress or in a robe. Even as there’s a shot where she and two of her lovers are lying on the floor sleeping with her right breast exposed from her robe as her former lover in the Vice-Consul of Lahore (Michael Lonsdale) watches from afar.
Duras’ direction also has these unique compositions while there are very little close-ups she uses in favor of these striking compositions in the medium and wide shots of the rooms an exteriors of the embassy. Even as the way Duras would have the actors appear in a shot and at a certain place in the frame as there’s an intricacy and attention to detail she would put into these shots. Even as it plays into this sense of disconnect with what is happening outside of the embassy where they spend much of the time at the embassy with voices playing to what is happening outside of the world as it relates to the idea of colonialism and France’s decline in that world. The film’s third act has a moment where all of the characters take a break from being in the embassy to go to a hotel to eat lunch where everyone is wearing some form of white with the exception of one character who is wearing the same clothes throughout the entirety of the film. It all plays into this sense of reality that everyone is dealing with as well as Stetter who becomes aware that her time in India within the home that she’s been living is running out. Overall, Duras crafts a haunting yet ravishing film about an ambassador’s wife growing sense of ennui at the French embassy in late 1930s Calcutta.
Cinematographer Bruno Nuytten does brilliant work with the photography as it largely emphasizes on low-key lighting and other stylish lighting for many of the scenes in and out of the embassy as it plays into this sense of artificiality these people are living in while the third act would showcase elements of natural lighting for some of its exteriors. Editor Solange Leprince does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward by allowing shots to linger for more than a few minutes while the editing would be more abrupt in a few places for dramatic effect. The sound work of Antoine Bonfanti and Michel Vionnet is incredible for the mixing of the voice overs and the music as well as playing into this haunting atmosphere into the home that these characters are in. The film’s music by Carlos d’Alessio is wonderful for its low-key orchestral score while much of its music soundtrack features a lot of the music that was prevalent during those times.
The film’s superb ensemble cast as it features an array of voice actors including Marguerite Duras providing voices that would be prevalent during the film while other small roles include Claude Juan as the domestic who works at the embassy, Didier Flamand a young guest whom Stretter takes a liking to, and Vernon Dobtcheff as a government official in Georges Crawn who is also another lover of Stretter. Claude Mann and Matheiu Carriere are excellent in their respective roles as the official Michael Richardson and the embassy’s young attaché` as two of Stretter’s lovers with the former being a married official who could help her socially while the latter is someone who also spends time with Stretter and keep her attention at bay.
Michael Lonsdale is brilliant as the Vice-Consul of Lahore as a former lover of Stretter who had been exiled to India following an incident as he is someone eager to resume their old affair while being anguished over their break-up many years ago. Finally, there’s Delphine Seyrig in a phenomenal performance as Anne-Marie Stettler as the wife of India’s French ambassador as a woman who has many lovers but has become bored by her lifestyle while dealing with a world that is becoming chaotic. Even as she becomes unfulfilled by her many affairs while is clinging on to this lifestyle that is disconnected from the world including France’s own decline in their colonial powers as it is one of Seyrig’s finest performances.
India Song is an incredible film from Marguerite Duras that features a radiant leading performance from Delphine Seyrig. Along with its supporting cast, rapturous visuals, eerie sound design, and an exploration of a lifestyle that has gone past its due date during a tumultuous time in India and the rest of the world. It is a film that isn’t easy to watch in terms of its unconventional presentation yet it is rewarding for showcasing a woman and the world she couldn’t break away from. In the end, India Song is a sensational film from Marguerite Duras.
Marguerite Duras Films: (La Musica) – (Destroy, She Said) – (Jaune le soleil) – (Nathalie Granger) – (La Femme du Gange) – (Her Venetian Name in Deserted Calcutta) – (Entire Days in the Trees) – (The Lorry) – (Baxter, Vera Baxter) – (Les Mains negatives) – (Cesaree) – (Le Navire Night) – (Aurelia Steiner (Melbourne)) – (Aurelia Steiner (Vancouver)) – (Agatha et les lectures illimitees) – (L’Homme atlanique) – (Il dialogo di Roma) – (Les Enfants (1985 film))
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