It would seem logical to characterize Marguerite Duras’ organic, elliptical anti-melodrama Nathalie Granger as a precursor of sorts to the implosive isolation and domestic violence of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Both films depict a silent ritualism to the performance of domestic chores through stationary shots and disembodied framing, and intimated acts of violence that surface within the perturbation of these rituals (in Duras’ film, the stoking of a bonfire in the backyard and the tearing of contractual papers that are then thrown into the burning fireplace correlate to Jeanne Dielman’s disorientation after accidentally burning potatoes on the stovetop). An early sequence of a radio news broadcast playing in the background that chronicles the manhunt for a pair of escaped convicts similarly establishes a sense of disquiet and foreboding in the quotidian ritual, as the two women, Isabelle Granger (Lucia Bosé) and an unnamed (and perhaps representationally identified) “other woman” (Jeanne Moreau) clear the breakfast table, wash dishes, and replace the dinnerware into the cupboards in silence. However, a subsequent telephone call to local authorities – an inquiry into the immigration status of their unexpectedly deported housekeeper – suggests that, unlike Jeanne Dielman who performs her tasks with a seemingly catatonic disarticulation from reality, their actions are borne of ennui, a self-created distraction to fill the empty hours of their domestic prison (note the repeated image of the window bars that overlook the street, a theme that is also aurally represented by the recurring sound of the radio broadcast on the escaped prisoners as well as the variations of a set of rudimentary notes played on a piano). Meanwhile, another domestic crisis plays out in the background as Isabelle petitions to get her young daughter Nathalie (Valerie Mascolo), already on the verge of expulsion for a pattern of misbehavior in school, admitted into another school in the resolute (if not over-magnified) belief that her daughter’s entire life prospect would somehow be irrevocably “finished” if she cannot gain admission and continue with her piano lessons. A final dynamic is added in the comical appearance of an ineffective door-to-door washing machine salesman (Gérard Depardieu) who misconstrues the women’s bored indifference as an open invitation to continue to insinuate himself into their company. In creating a tone of languid texturality, Nathalie Granger can also be seen a prefiguration to the cinema of Claire Denis, a visual convergence that is particularly evident in the tracking shot of Isabelle’s reflection in a pond that is reversed (and figuratively wiped away) in the subsequent match cut to Nathalie’s playmate, Laurence (Nathalie Bourgeois) trawling plankton as the rowboat slowly drifts away from the camera. This countervalent intertextuality of entropy and inertia, melody and dissonance, physical presence and mirror image (a metaphoric device that is also incorporated in Duras’ subsequent film, India Song) inevitably define the idiosyncratic affectation of the women in the Granger household – the internalized psychological warfare and violent revolution between identity and erasure.
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