The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1172): Two Films by Marguerite Duras -- Experimental Cinema Lovers Rejoice!
By Sean Boelman
French filmmaker Marguerite Duras’s filmography has been a mainstay on The Criterion Channel for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before her films were added to the physical collection. Two Films by Marguerite Duras is a two-disc set that collectors will want to add to their shelves, as it combines two important works of woman-helmed experimental cinema.
For those unfamiliar with Duras’s style, it’s known for being very experimental — with gorgeous visuals, interesting uses of sound, and lots of poeticism in its dialogue. She is arguably better known for her literature and for writing the French New Wave classic Hiroshima Mon Amour, but cinephiles are certainly familiar with her directorial efforts.
The set is primarily defined by its inclusion of Duras’s visually splendid period piece, India Song, following the wife of a French diplomat in 1930s India as she drifts through her unsatisfying life. It’s long and talky — and perhaps even outstays its welcome — but it’s an impressive feature nonetheless.
As the “Side B,” if you will, the Two Films by Marguerite Duras set includes Baxter, Vera Baxter, which is arguably the superior of the duo despite getting second billing. Like India Song, this film is quite visually stunning despite its restrained use of setting. The use of music in this one also stands out, with a catchy island tune recurring throughout.
It makes sense why these were the two films picked for the set — beyond being Duras’s two most recognizable films behind the camera: they feel very thematically connected. Both are about women stuck in unhappy marriages and having affairs, but the approach that Duras takes is quietly internalistic rather than the melodramatic love triangles we are used to seeing in the genre.
Both films also boast impressive leading performances. Delphine Seyrig — whom cinephiles may know as the eponymous protagonist from Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles — is just tremendous as the discontent diplomat’s wife in India Song. She also has a supporting turn in Baxter, Vera Baxter, but the more inspiring performance in that film is from Claudine Gabay as the eponymous character.
This set has what might be one of the most interesting bonus features on any Criterion Collection edition to date: a newly-discovered alternate English-language audio track to India Song that was directed by Duras herself. Although dubbing is usually something to stay away from, it’s interesting to see that option on a set like this and may be worth considering checking out.
The work of Marguerite Duras is an acquired and very particular taste, but Two Films by Marguerite Duras is a worthy addition to the collection. Both films mean a lot to the world of experimental cinema, and it’s nice to see them getting their time in the spotlight.
The Criterion Collection edition of Two Films by Marguerite Duras is now available.
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