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Marguerite Duras

on Television

"For Marguerite Duras, the television was always cette foutue télévision (“that bloody television”).

 Though she loathed it, she watched it religiously, especially as she teetered at the edge of old age and stopped going out. “Watching [the television] is like sleeping upright,” she wrote in her essay “The Men of Tomorrow” from 1985."

Accompanied by an essay by Lili Owen Rowlands, the first part of 'Marguerite Duras on Television' presents six of Duras's interviews from Dim Dam Dom: a French television program intended for female audiences, produced by Daisy de Galard and Manette Bertin with Michel Polac, Marc Gilbert, Jean-Pierre Bastid and Peter Knapp from March 7, 1965 – at the same time as the second French television channel, on which it was broadcast – until March 1973.

 

The program, broadcast once a month on Sunday evenings, was aimed at women, but also sometimes dealt with questions of “male interest”. The program consisted of a series of short sequences presented by actresses or singers who had been reeled in as broadcasters for a day, including France Gall, Françoise Hardy, Jane Birkin and Romy Schneider.

 

Marguerite Duras appeared in eight episodes over the history of the program. 

*

The second part of the programme features the two-part Les lieux de Marguerite Duras (The Places of Marguerite Duras), a documentary interview made by journalist Michelle Porte and shown on French television in May 1976. This film is accompanied by an essay by Alice Blackhurst.

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Programmed by Daniella Shreir.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

Dim Dam Dom with Marguerite Duras

by Lili Owen Rowlands

For Marguerite Duras, the television was always cette foutue télévision (“that bloody television”).[1] Though she loathed it, she watched it religiously, especially as she teetered at the edge of old age and stopped going out. “Watching [the television] is like sleeping upright,” she wrote in her essay “The Men of Tomorrow” from 1985.[2] During bouts of depression, which were frequent and often came after a bad review, Duras would burrow herself away at her apartment in Paris or at her country house in Yvelines, drinking litres of wine, refusing visitors and watching the eight-o’-clock news every day. Laure Adler writes that as soon as the broadcast finished, Duras “would go over it with her friends over the phone as though she’d been in direct communication with the world’s heads of state”.[3] It was via the television that she formed percipient opinions on just about everything: the Berlin Wall, Ethiopia, what life might be like in the year 2000 (“man will be literally drowning in information”).[4]

 

Duras was captivating on the television too. With the fame that followed the Prix Goncourt, which she won for her novel L’Amant in 1984, “Duras” (itself a pen-name) became a character: her voice a serious, velvety growl; her oval face half-swallowed by a turtleneck; her conversation circling endlessly around her favourite topic – herself. In interviews, she brandished her intellect as she did her cigarettes, pricking silences with the same serpentine pronouncements that characterised her prose: “To write is to say nothing”;[5] “Woman is a proletariat”;[6] “One is on the left or one is not on the left.”[7] Duras was on the left, ensconced among Paris’s post-war intelligentsia. Yet hers were a more instinctive politics instilled by a childhood lived in destitution in French Indochina; formalised in 1944 when she joined the Communist Party; and intensified by the colonial war in Algeria and the uprisings of May 1968. Though Duras left the Party in 1950, the “communist hope” never left her, even as she grew quite rich. “Hope was my sickness, hope in the proletariat”, she told the director Benoît Jacquot in 1993, three years before her death.[8]

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A temperate insurgency laces the interviews Duras conducted for Dim Dam Dom, a magazine-style television show that ran from 1965 until 1970. Produced by Daisy de Galard, an editor at Elle, and broadcast on Sundays (“dimanche”), the programme was aimed at women (“les dames”) though it was hoped some men (“des hommes”) might find it interesting, too. And they did: Dim Dam Dom quickly gathered a cultish following for the promiscuity of its content (fashion, music, politics, interior design, cookery) and for the novelty of its format (de Galard gave the camera over to voguish, experimental filmmakers to create its playful cinematic segments). Agnès Varda and Claude Lanzmann were regular contributors, while Duras became the show’s popular correspondent. She interviewed celebrities but also ordinary people, including a seven-year-old boy, a stripper and a Trotskyist sixth-former (who now, in his sixties, is a friend of Macron).

 

The Duras we have here is not yet “Duras”. She is self-effacing and taciturn, her questions ingenuous. “What do you dream about?” she asks the little boy, François; to a man who has made millions selling second-hand cars: “Do you ever have political thoughts?” The austerity of this approach works to produce a series of short character sketches drawn using the subject’s own voice. Such was Duras’s technique: her writing attached itself to speech, however unnatural and fragmented. In her novels and screenplays, dialogue took precedence over narrative for the way it both conveyed and countered despair, sweeping characters into a shared scene of feeling, even if only momentarily. For underneath all the strangeness of Duras’s syntax, was a faith in language’s capacity to testify to the thudding brutality of the world and provide the raw material for its creative destruction.

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In an episode from 1966, entitled “Marguerite Duras chez les fauves”, Duras interviews a big-cat keeper at a Parisian zoo. The 16-minute segment opens with an incantatory monologue in which she muses about the animals: “Born in Paris. Their youth, here. Love and death, here. In Vincennes.” It would almost be funny – a parody of Durassian gloom and cadence – if the accompanying images weren’t equally melancholic: the lions pacing in their cage, the bars casting shadows over their fur. The episode is filmed with the dismembering intensity of surrealist photography and the light is so sparse that at moments we see little more than the brilliant flash of a black panther’s fang.[9] Duras is appalled, convinced the animals are unhappy, and the film concludes with an abstract inversion: the camera now paces back and forth, agitated, tracking the zookeepers at work from inside the enclosure. With this sudden surfeit of pathos, the sharp edges of torment, yearning and exclusion that cut through all of Duras’s work are thrown into relief.

 

In form, these short, essayistic documentaries assume the ethnographic grammar of the cinema verité. The use of voice-over also anticipates Duras’s more active involvement in filmmaking in the 1970s, where she experimented with desynchronisation – a technique she used in films like La Femme du Gange (1974) and Aurélia Steiner (1979) to reverse the subordination of sound to image. But in content, these interviews are informed by Duras’s journalism, which she threw herself into in the late 1950s. Her articles, most of them published in the leftist weekly France Observateur, were written with characteristic economy. They took as their subject the marginalised and criminalised: a septuagenarian shoplifter; a group of slaughterhouse workers; an illiterate single-mother; and a waitress accosted by the police for walking home with her Algerian colleague (who was promptly arrested for no reason). Duras refused to erase herself, and thus her politics, from her writing; there could be “no such thing as objective journalism or an objective journalist”.[10]

 

Outrage imprints itself quite forcibly on the episode entitled “Marguerite Duras à la petite Roquette” (1967) in which Duras meets France’s only prison governess. Duras asks her if she ever thinks about setting the prisoners free. “Are there suicides?” “What are the punishments?” The atmosphere is taut. The governess turns a letter opener over in her manicured hands, somewhat menacingly. She refuses to give herself over to Duras, who bristles at the evasions. They talk over one another until the governess brings the interview to an abrupt close – “I’m proud of what I do.” That we never see the women prisoners, only their empty cells, hardly matters: Duras has spoken on their behalf.


In Lolo Pigalle, a young stripper, Duras encounters a more affecting subject. The camera, wedged between the eaves of an attic apartment, tracks Pigalle’s movements as Duras narrates her biography. Many of its details resemble Duras’s own: Pigalle grew up in poverty with a mother who struggled to mother; decisions had to be made so that she and her siblings could survive.[11] Pigalle doesn’t love her job, but she takes it seriously: we watch her perform in a gold lamé dress, moving artfully, her face is captivating, like a Nouvelle Vague heroine. Duras takes Pigalle seriously too, listening attentively as she explains the nature of sex work (it is work, she thinks: the cabaret is the same as “an office”) and what stripping reveals about desire (“a good face is more important than a beautiful body”). If there is a despair to stripping, Pigalle says it is because of the working conditions, the way it leaves so little time for being one’s “true self”. The scene ripples with feeling yet stops short of patronising sentimentality. In Pigalle, Duras finds what she was always looking for: the melodrama of everyday anguish.


 

 

[1] Laure Adler, Marguerite Duras: A Life, translated by Anne-Marie Glasheen, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 305.

[2] Marguerite Duras, “The Men of Tomorrow”, Me & Other Writing, translated by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan, St Louis: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2019, pp. 82-87.

[3] Laure Adler, Marguerite Duras: A Life, translated by Anne-Marie Glasheen, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 305.

[4] Marguerite Duras in ‘Marguerite Duras à propos de l'an 2000’, INA.fr, 25 sept. 1985 <https://m.ina.fr/video/I04275518/marguerite-duras-a-propos-de-l-an-2000-video.html>

[5] Marguerite Duras in Écrire, dir. by Yann Andéa and Benoît Jacquot, 1993.

[6] Marguerite Duras in Les lieux de Marguerite Duras, dir. by Michelle Porte, 1976.

[7] Marguerite Duras in Jean-Marc Turine (ed.), Marguerite Duras. Le Ravissement de la parole, INA/Radio France, 1997.

[8] Marguerite Duras in Adler, Marguerite Duras: A Life: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 173

[9] The episode’s director, Paul Seban, an Algerian filmmaker, would later co-direct Duras’s film La Musica (1967), starring Delphine Seyrig.

[10] Marguerite Duras, Outside, Paris: P.O.L., 1984, p. 11, my translation.

[11] When Duras was fifteen, her mother tried to get her to marry an older, rich, Sa Đéc merchant to save the family. This incident provided the plot for L’Amant, and L'Amant de la Chine du Nord.

Lili Owen Rowlands is doing a Phd in French at Cambridge.

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Marguerite Duras

and Stripper Lolo Pigalle

Lolo Pigalle Strip-teaseuse

Broadcast on 28 Oct. 1965 

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In this episode of Dim Dam Dom, Duras interviews the stripper Lolo Pigalle. A clip of Lolo dancing in a golden dress is followed by an intense and intimate conversation in which Lolo discusses the definition of work, the splitting of the self, and acting vs. sex work.

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“I had a friend involved in the feminist movement. I talked to her about it and she introduced me to Lolo Pigalle. Lolo had already been filmed by Marguerite Duras some fifteen years ago and was thirsty for an outlet for her self-expression. In 1965, she had told Marguerite Duras she wanted to do something else in life. In the late 1970’s, she was Pigalle’s oldest striper and continued touring clubs. She accepted right away to be photographed, and  for her to be my Trojan horse in this world, she helped me dive into this secret and obscure world  when the neon lights are turned on. I never knew her real name and I never asked… “

“Lolo was a complex woman, a self-made woman. She had feminist convictions, she was cultured, she danced, she wanted to talk. She supervised the younger strippers, and she regularly visited the prisoners of Fresnes. She had a morality, an honesty and a form of purity."
– Photographer Gilles Elie Cohen

Lolo Pigalle in 1979

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Marguerite Duras

and Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau par

Marguerite Duras

Broadcast on 28 July 1965

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Duras interviews an exhausted Jeanne Moreau, addressing her friend as vous, despite the fact "the two were close friends for many years, living in neighbouring houses and cooking for each other from the early ‘60s. Moreau was a Durassian actress long before the pair’s first collaboration on Nathalie Granger (1972): she leapt at the chance to participate in anything Duras had touched, from the adaptation of the novel Moderato Cantabile (Seven Days, Seven Nights (Peter Brook, 1960), to Mademoiselle (Tony Richardson, 1966), a film for which Duras wrote the screenplay." Read more about the collaboration between Duras and Moreau, in a piece by Katie Pleming on Another Gaze here

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Marguerite Duras

in the Lions' Den

Marguerite Duras

chez les fauves

Broadcast in 1966 (no date found)

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Duras, ever the challenging interviewer, forensically questions a Parisian zookeeper regarding the happiness of the animals in his charge. Intercut with her questions is  stark black-and-white footage of the animals themselves behind bars, as they pace the length of their small concrete enclosures. Duras is very much on the side of the big cats. “Are you ever careless?” she asks the zookeeper. When he replies in the negative, Duras says smilingly: “In your position I’d be tempted to be careless”.

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Marguerite Duras

and the Prison Governess

Marguerite Duras à la petite Roquette

Broadcast on 12 Nov. 1967 

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During this strange and confrontational interview, Duras takes on France’s only female prison warden. In the women’s verbal wrangling we find reflected many contemporary concerns surrounding the ongoing moral disaster of the prison industrial complex.

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Marguerite Duras

and the '68ers

Les lycéens ont la parole 

Broadcast on 10 March 1968

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Here Duras assumes a more distant role, less an interviewer than an invested documentarian. Her questions precede footage of her main subject, the sixteen-year-old Romain Goupil, recently excluded from the lycée, among his peers and fellow student revolutonaries. After we see them discuss the complexities of their position and deal with internal dissent, Duras asks Romain if he ever forgets how young he is. Romain replies with a grin: “Totally.”

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Marguerite Duras

and Little François

Marguerite Duras et le

petit François

Broadcast on 30 April 1965

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In this episode, Marguerite Duras interviews a child, eight-year-old François. The premise of this set-up would be fluffy if it weren't for the fact that he – like all children – says the weirdest things.

Bizarrely, this is one of the most self-conscious episodes of the whole series, as Duras and François deep dive into the troubling ontology of televisual “reality”, the nature of the interview format itself and Duras's own preoccupations regarding writing versus the audiovisual.

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by Alice Blackhurst

Going Nowhere with The Places of Marguerite Duras

1

In Les lieux de Marguerite Duras (The Places of Marguerite Duras), a documentary interview made by the journalist Michelle Porte and shown in two parts on French television in May 1976, Marguerite Duras carries off a leather gilet with the languid ease of someone lounging in a dressing gown. Less arrestingly, she also wears a black leather wristwatch; chunky square-lensed eyeglasses; brown calf-length boots; a black polo neck top, and a skirt that cuts off at the knees. A simple jade bracelet circles her left wrist and on her left index finger there is a thick silver ring flecked with a crisp diamond. The contrast in jewellery book-ends the extraordinary arc of her cinematic life, beginning in poverty in Vietnam, where her French schoolteacher parents emigrated before she was born before her father’s early death left her melancholic mother to raise three children abroad alone (We came from mud, Duras voices here), and ending in almost-inconceivable literary stardom in France, where she died an icon in her eighties. In the final minutes of the second episode, in expansive shots of the coast at Trouville-sur-Mer, where she kept a second flat, Duras burrows into a plush camel coat with a fur-lined collar, tensing against fierce Normandy wind. At one point she pauses, bends down, and picks up a shell from the austere shingle beach. She pockets the shell. She quickly resumes walking. 

 

2

 

I first came across Les lieux in Spring 2020, when it was illegal to go anywhere except the kitchen or across the street to steep in the pink glow of trees newly in blossom. I found a glitchy link somewhere, or a friend sent me a file, I can’t remember exactly. In that dense, narrow time, I binged on the information the film offers up on Duras, who is sometimes glacially reserved and sometimes disarmingly unguarded in her answers to Porte, who remains strictly off-camera.  The feature – cut throughout with excerpts from the two films Duras authored in the 1970s (Nathalie Granger; India Song), and slow, circular pans of her country home in Neauphle-le-Château, where Les lieux and both of the aforementioned features were filmed – mainly consists of Marguerite opining on a vast portfolio of subjects in her typically prismatic, aphoristic style. Emboldened by my favourite quarantine activity of peering into other people’s enclosed living rooms during my daily walks, I pored over how Duras furnished her interiors, and how she projected herself as a public intellectual. I indexed her surprisingly baroque décor. And yes, I made notes on her clothes. 

 

 

 

 

3

 

A sartorial inventory is perhaps not the most Durassian of exercises. In La vie matérielle (Practicalities), a book she shruggingly dispatched one autumn in the 1980s to Jérôme Beaujour to “pass the time” (a statement that echoes the comments she made about her cinema that Porte reminds her of at the opening of Les lieux – “because I don’t have the strength to do nothing”), Duras outlines a strict daily uniform consisting of a straight wool skirt, white polo-neck top and comfortably clunky platform shoes, as a means of minimising choice fatigue and getting more time in at her desk. In the same collection, under the stark heading ‘La Maison’ (an ideal companion essay to Les lieux) she disdains the modern-day consumerist phenomenon of sales, and women who engage in “sartorial excesso”, senselessly amassing items they do not need. Women who neglect repairs around the home and don’t keep “steel wool,” fuses and “Scotch-Brite” high-up on their shopping lists are similarly levelled with the charge of unforgivable frivolity. “Some women can never manage it – they can’t handle their houses, they overload them, clutter them up, never create an opening towards the world outside,” she writes. 

 

 

4

Given the austerity of her adopted ‘uniform’ and her stance against exuberance in dressing, Duras’s leather gilet in Les lieux is even more eccentric. It simply doesn’t register as practical. And yet, though in our time a gilet – technically, a jacket without arms, rooted in the French term for ‘cardigan’ – might conjure images of would-be Sloaney types in quilted nylon, or early-Noughties faux-bohemians in matted faux-fur, originally the gilet was intended as a shooting jacket. They were in fact made out of leather, designed as armour against arrows. The gilet offers insulation and protection to the body, while also licensing a certain freedom of movement. It keeps the hands free. It lets in some air. In Duras’s case, we might extrapolate that sleevelessness would be a quality useful to a writer. It could help in freeing a book, in her own terms, from the “cage of writing.” It could help to “give it life, make it capable of circulating” further than the page.  In its earliest manifestation, conceived as a second skin to battle the elements, the gilet further conjures woodland trails, savage animals, or what Duras in Les lieux appoints “the violence of the forest”.  As a child in Indochina, both her and her brothers fearlessly ran unrestrained through such wild settings, often naked, often unprotected, often barefoot. In old age, Duras grew too scared to cross the forest’s threshold.  She had a policy of not straying into any woods alone. 

 

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5

 

The second episode of Les lieux forfeits shots of the interior of the house at Neauphle-le-Château for sensuous glosses of childhood photographs, some of which – showing Duras as a young girl in Sa Dec sitting on a throne-like chair in native dress, while a fatigued-looking Vietnamese girl stands over her – assume a coloniser’s gaze. After leaving Cambodia in the months before she turned eighteen, Duras never once returned to the continent of her birth. Yet her most commercially successful work of literature, L’Amant (The Lover), turns obsessively around a stated ‘absent image,’ or missing photograph, of her autofictional narrator crossing the Mékong river, via ferry, at fifteen years old, a passage which leads to the end of her childhood and the near-prostitution of herself (allegedly encouraged by her mother) in a fraught, lucrative liaison with a wealthy older Chinese man. There I am at sixteen, Duras’s voiceover, annotating a specific portrait image in black and white, says with a narcotic slur. The dress was green. 

 

 

6

To some extent, Porte’s film is playfully aware of its complicity in ‘diva worship.’   Yet Porte’s own presence – shy, early in her journalist’s career and so minimal in the wisps of questions she puts forth to Duras – is so self-effacing to be almost truant. In contrast, there are many shots of the peerless Delphine Seyrig, (who Duras once anointed in Vogue Paris as having the ‘best gait in all of France’) as the ambassador’s wife in India Song, and of Jeanne Moreau, brooding darkly in 1972’s Nathalie Granger. In 2001, the latter actress played Duras in a biopic – Cet-amour-là – detailing the author’s asymmetrical relationship, in later life, with the much younger gay man, Yann Andréa. (Andréa had written her a string of infatuated fan letters and then got invited to her home in Trouville, where the pair became inseparable, even if Andréa didn’t desire Duras, for the next sixteen years). In an interview given in 2002 for Télérama, Moreau describes Marguerite’s approach to style: 

Marguerite was always in a skirt, she was very proud of her dainty knees and ankles.  She loved roll-necks. She had a jacket she was very attached to, and as I liked the idea of her being so attached to an item of clothing, I accepted the notion of wearing a gilet without sleeves. And then Yann gifted me, during the filming, a jade bracelet like the one she wore.  She also owned a little diamond – miniscule, really – but one of enormous symbolic importance for her, as she had known grave poverty in childhood. 


7

 

“J'ai  accepté  de  porter  un  gilet  sans  manches.” 
 

Moreau’s phrasing here is interesting, almost tautological.  It suggests that the idea of a sleeveless leather gilet might be better than the reality.  The identity of the leather gilet is elusive. It does not belong to the official ‘M.D uniform’ or to the ‘Duras look’ which the author used, in La vie matérielle, as shorthand for her mode of dress.  The only other testimony that exists of it is from Yann Andréa, who suggests that it was brown, not black, (really?) and a gift from Nicole Stéphane, the producer of her film Détruire dit-elle (Destroy, She Said, 1969).

 

"That leather gilet she would make me wear, so marvellous, so supple; that gilet she would lend to me," he says. 

 

 

 

 

8

As well as the piercingly beautiful aerial shots of Duras walking on the beach at Trouville in the winter, some of my preferred tableaux from Les lieux are the ones which frame her smoking by the window of the salon at Neauphle-le-Château, thronged by plants and doing something, by today’s sanitised standards, of hazy prohibition. These are shots in which she is silent and says nothing (silence, she says to Porte, is a sacred, feminine drive, in contrast to the masculine impulse to broadcast at high pitch). On my third watch, it strikes me that the pleasures of Les lieux are like the pleasures of smoking, ruminative, compulsive, repetitive. Wearing the same thing every day. Tracing the same steps of the same house. Combing the sea front. Combing her childhood. A constant, forensic combing. The dress was green

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Alice Blackhurst is a writer living in Cambridge.

The Places of 

Marguerite Duras

Les lieux de

Marguerite Duras

1976

ENGLISH SUBTITLES BY DANIELLA SHREIR

COM LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUÊS DE MARTHA ELISA

CON SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL DE LUCIA DE LA TORRE

CON SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO DI MIRKO CERULLO

최모니카의 한국어 자막으로.

日本語字幕は近日中に公開します

In the course of these two interviews, one filmed in her home in Yvelines, the other in the former Hôtel des Roches Noires in Trouville, Marguerite Duras looks back on the importance of place in her writing, especially in her films. She describes the crucial presence of women in these places, the same women who move from books to films. In the first interview, Duras talks of this house in Neauphle-le-Château, “the place in the world she has lived the longest”; she recalls the female characters in her work and their own relationships with the house; she talks of the garden, the forest, of witches and music, Goya and Bach. The second interview begins as a photo album. She talks about Indochina where she was born and grew up, about the house in “The Sea Wall”, the bane of her mother’s life. She talks about her fascination with Anne-Marie Stretter, a character from her novel “The Vice-Consul”, played by Delphine Seyrig in “India Song”. “For several years, my films and books have been love affairs with her”.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

Programmed by Daniella Shreir

Texts edited by Daniella Shreir and Missouri Williams

Thank you to Léna Lewis-King for her help with subtitling.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.