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October 08, 2021

Suzanna Andler


Benoit Jacquot - 2020
Icarus Films

Now into his Seventies, Suzanna Andler represents Benoit Jacquot returning to his roots as a filmmaker. This is a filmed version of a play by Marguerite Duras written in 1968. Jacquot's early career as an assistant director included work on Duras' Nathalie Granger, Woman of the Ganges and India Song (1972 - 1975). With the exception of one briefly imagined moment, there is no attempt to disguise the theatrical source. Jacquot's previous films, with screenplays written or co-written by the filmmaker, are all dialogue heavy. Those familiar with Duras' works, whether on film or in literature, will note the difference in the use of spoken language, more pared down and direct.

Most of the film takes place in the very large living room of a palatial villa on the French Mediterranean coast. The title character, Suzanna, is the wife of a millionaire. She is considering renting the villa. Left alone by the rental agent, her lover, Michel, meets her at the villa to discuss the future of their relationship. What I assume attracted Jacquot to adapting this play is his continued exploration of the fragility of relationships between men and women. In several of Jacquot's films, the main characters will find themselves isolated either by choice or circumstance.

Even though the film takes place during the time it was written, the late 1960s, it could well have been a contemporary story. The only signifiers of the past are the Yves Saint Laurent mini dress worn by Charlotte Gainsbourg, references to the villa rental cost in francs, and conversations on a landline phone. Not to be intentionally flippant, but for Duras, the past is always present, which is to say that memories always have a way of dictating the actions of her protagonists' actions. The same can be said even if the past is imagined or misremembered.

Unlike Jacquot's previous films which explored relationships between older men and much younger women, Suzanna is noted as being 40, while Michel appears to be approximately ten years younger. But was is also striking in thinking about when the play was written is that not only is Suzanna presented as alone and possibly adrift, but that she, Michel, and the two other peripheral characters seem untouched by the social turmoil that was taking place in France in 1968. The New York Times review of the play, staged in 1984, indicates that there were some political references, topical of the time the play was written, that are not in the film. This in turn brings up questions about the importance of the social context of the play. The small revisions to make the story thoroughly contemporary might not have made a difference.

In spite of his productivity, the films of Benoit Jacquot have received inconsistent release in the U.S. One reason could well be the mixed reviews of his work following the relatively commercial and critical success of Farewell, My Queen. I have done a bit of catching up with a surprising number of Jacquot's films available for streaming. Suzanna Andler is more cerebral than Jacquot's other films, though for some critics and audience members, it is enough as a showcase for the formidable acting talents of Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 8, 2021 08:18 AM