Sans relâche: Histoires d’une vie

Translated by Sally Shafto

Excerpt from: Antoine Bourseiller, Sans relâche: Histoires d’une vie (Actes Sud, 2008): pp. 227-245. Reprinted in English translation with the permission of Antoine Bourseiller and Actes Sud.

The years 1963-4 are a wheat field, the colour of gold, like you see in Soviet films, years of happy encounters with the icons of French cinema of that time. I was the director of the Studio des Champs-Elysées, a theatre of 250 seats, located at 15 Avenue Montaigne. I chose the plays I liked; I staged them; and I had a faithful following. We were happy and soon, Marie, Balkis would be pregnant with you.

My office was at the end on the sixth floor. Today in 2006, there is an elevator, but there wasn’t one back then. Near my office, there was a large, whitewashed room; this was our canteen. A farmhouse table that had been bought at the Saint-Ouen flea market by our friend Ariane Zographos dominated the room. It was an ancestral table in walnut, heavy and welcoming, around which we gathered for mealtimes and the “work at the table”, the preliminary, meticulous study of the text that we would later rehearse on stage. Those who knew how to cook would take turns doing the shopping in the neighbourhood. Often I did the shopping at the grocer on the rue du Bocador. Sometimes I would run into Marlene Dietrich there. She lived just opposite at 20 Avenue Montaigne. By dint of seeing each other on a regular basis, we would say hello. In the end, the grocer told her that I was the theatre director of the Studio. She smiled her sad smile, known to the entire world, when she asked me, her mind clearly elsewhere, if the play that we were then performing was a success. There was a weariness in her gait, even though she was only 61; she still triumphed in her song recitals for which she received standing ovations around the world. After singing, when she was about to leave the stage, she would be mobbed by all the madwomen from the posh neighbourhoods who rushed up. Ecstatic, they crowded in front of her in order to touch her glittering dress that was, it was rumoured, sewn to her naked body. On the rue du Bocador, she always wore a hat; that is perhaps why strangely no one ever seemed to recognize her. A few years before, I also saw Greta Garbo several times on the Boulevard Raspail. She wore glasses so that no one would recognize her. Far from Hollywood, these two idols walked incognito in the streets of Paris, both with the same sad smile, and the same slow gait, as if they were a million miles away. People would cross their paths without seeing them and yet their attitude was distinctive: it was as if they walked on the Dead Sea with the cautiousness of the blind.

One day, in the winter of 1962, a man the same age as me, thirty-two, entered my office. He was dressed in a grey overcoat, wore big glasses framed in black and had a childish smile. He spoke haltingly and had a rapid way of thinking that threw off sparks and metaphors. Then, suddenly he broke off speaking, coming to a full stop in mid-sentence, and a kind of astonishment took over the office. This man was suddenly elsewhere and had left the world, abandoning me with no forewarning. He took off his glasses and wiped them with his immaculate white handkerchief. Staring off into the distance, he lit a Gitane wrapped in yellow corn paper, and put his glasses back on.

“This is why I came to see you.”

He had a friend, Jacques Rivette, who had written a script after Diderot’s La Religieuse. Georges de Beauregard wanted to produce the film, which, he was told, the Ministry of the Interior, responsible for religious worship, was likely to ban.

“Here is what I would like to propose to you. We will stage this script like a play here in your theatre. Jacques Rivette himself will direct and Anna Karina will play the title role on stage as well as in the film. If the performances go off without any problems, then there will be no reason to abandon the film. It’s understood that I will produce the play.”

The man who was speaking was Jean-Luc Godard, famous since À bout de souffle [1959], the film that had laid down the gauntlet for the new generation.

This man would turn our lives, mine and Balkis’, upside down. He would offer us his generosity, his creative fury, his mal de vivre, his drollness, his disdain for proprieties, his disenchantment and his delight in provocation.

Within a few weeks, between Anna Karina, Jean-Luc Godard, Balkis and me, between these two couples, was born a warlike friendship. Like amour fou, it was a crazy friendship that united us for several years and propelled us to be the best we could be. We were certain that death alone could separate the four of us from then on. Balkis and I were astonished and delighted to discover how film people lived – provocative of everything in life – how they loved each other with mockery, how they acted carefree and stubbornly, while we, Marie, your mother and I, behaved anxiously and superstitiously with regard to theatrical creation. For their part, they learned the way of working and living in a little Parisian theatre that, because of the limited number of seats, didn’t manage to balance its books, even if its successes outweighed its failures. They understood that, if the cinema was industrial, the theatre was really artisanal. They decided to help us, to encourage us and to sympathize with our disillusions. Feverishly, they set themselves to resolving, morally and financially, our professional and domestic problems.

Learning that we were expecting a baby, Anna left a baby carriage of the latest style in front of our apartment; it was the same baby carriage that the Prince of Monaco’s children had.

Later, when we had to throw in the towel and abandon the Studio that had become the rallying point of a young, vibrant theatre, despite the back-to-back successes of Pirandello’s As You Desire Me with Danièle Delorme, Brecht’s In the Jungle of Cities with Sami Frey, [François] Billetdoux’s Va donc chez Törpe and Villiers de L’Isle-Adam’s Axël, it was again Jean-Luc who helped me find a place and take over the management of the Théâtre de Poche-Montparnasse by taking on the financial consequences of this move.

“I only ask one thing, Antoine. That you allow me to come sit in the last row during rehearsals or performances. Do you know why? To sleep. It is very pleasant to sleep in the theatre. It’s soothing: the actors’ voices, the laughter or the silence when the public is captivated, the surrounding warmth. It’s a real cocoon!”

Two or three years later, Marie, your mother and I were again flat broke. We rented a beautiful apartment, the one on the rue de Miromesnil. Oskar Gustin (1) had designed and fabricated the furniture in our bedroom, in brass: an imposing bed, in the Biedermeier style, the dressing table and its chair, and a mirror. Often unable to pay the monthly rent, Danièle Delorme would give us enough to pay half of it. When shooting one of his films, Jean-Luc would include the rental of a brass bed in the overall budget, which represented an efficient financial help, and he used our car, the make of which I no longer remember, in Bande à part in 1964. That car ended up one day in the Loire …

Chantal Darget (aka Balkis) in Masculin Féminin

Antoine Bourseiller with Brigitte Bardot in Masculin Féminin

From time to time, he called on Balkis, on you Marie, and on your brother Christophe; both of you in 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle in August 1966 [released in 1967], and on Balkis and me in 1965 in Masculin Féminin[: 15 faits précis, 1966]. In the subway after hours, Balkis performed a scene from LeRoi Jones’ The Dutchman and the Slave [1964] that she was playing in the theatre at that time, while I replied to Brigitte Bardot.

When I was appointed to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille and the family joined me in the South of France, our apartment happened to be free for a few months. Jean-Luc took advantage of its availability to sublet it from us and shoot his prescient and luminous film, La Chinoise in March and April 1967.

I mention all this so that it is understood how much this man who became famous throughout the world, considered the heir of French genius all over the planet, whose films soon would be studied in minute detail on the five continents, how much this man was a brother to Balkis and me, and Anna, his muse, a sister.

To return to La Religieuse, the play was performed thirty times from 6 February to 5 March 1963, and was a real curiosity. There was no mention of censorship from the Ministry of the Interior. At that time, there was a man I liked, Monsieur Hugon, from police headquarters. He was in charge of the department of spectacles, and was also part of the General Information bureau (2). He paid a visit to almost all the theatre directors of Paris, once or twice a year. With a smiling curiosity, he would ask them how things were, what their projects or disappointments were. He was affable, and seemed to enjoy paying me a visit because I was the youngest theatre director in Paris, and I was courageous, so he said. At the end of the run of La Religieuse, he came to see me.

“Monsieur Hugon, how do you explain that this play was presented with no problem, while the film – even before being shot from the same adaptation, with the same star – cannot avoid being banned?”

“Antoine, I’ll tell you. Let’s say you had a full house every evening, that represents two hundred fifty spectators per show and in total seven thousand five hundred spectators for thirty shows. That doesn’t bother anyone. If, on the other hand, the film is a success, there will be thousands of men and women in France who will be affected by it and that is very disturbing. Some associations will be indignant and will demonstrate, while others will demand that the film go into national release. In short, no need to panic, simply because this provocative film won’t be made.”

As a result, the film was shot only later, in 1966. Religious morality was slow to evolve, as I noticed in 1963 when I staged the play Le Vicaire at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris (3).

The producer suddenly found himself temporarily short of cash. In any case, Jacques Rivette, with the script under his arm, set about to convince the boss of pre-censorship (4) in the Ministry of the Interior that the script conserved the spirit, but not the letter of Diderot’s masterpiece. Having gone over the script with a fine-toothed comb, this government official didn’t see any grave offense to morality. Strangely, for a year, despite everything, the situation remained at a standstill. A rumour – unverifiable like all rumours – held sway over Parisian salons. It was claimed that Yvonne de Gaulle allowed herself to be cowed and almost bribed by a group of nuns who imagined that the film undermined the reputation of the convents. Maître Kiejman, legal counsel to the artistic world, took the matter in hand, but it was another year before the situation was unblocked. To make a long story short, it was only in 1966 that Rivette presented the film at the Cannes Film Festival.

At the beginning of the 1963-4 season, I staged the French première of Bertolt Brecht’s play, In the Jungle of Cities, with Sami Frey, who was already recognized as a film actor and sensitive theatrical actor. Sami and Brigitte Bardot were then tenderly in love. She had met him on the set of the film La Vérité (The Truth) (5). She trusted this young man, enamoured of justice and tolerance, who was already an experienced theatrical actor. They were almost the same age, and yet she found in him both a young father and a passionate lover.

During one of the performances of La Religieuse, they came together, holding hands. Several months later, she came alone one evening to see Sami in the Brecht play. Even before this young woman became the supreme incarnation of beauty and sensuality, of sexual freedom and women’s lib, even before her image spread as far as Russian isbas, North African mechtas, […], places of ill repute and palaces, and was to be found even on the windshields of trucks, there was a natural luminescence that excluded her from the common.

On those two occasions, when I saw her in her theatre, I watched her from the wings. This rebellious actress radiated with an inner light that overawed in both the proper and figurative sense. Her neighbours, and even those performing on stage, were overwhelmed by the inhuman aura of this lost soul among mankind.

In December 1963, I performed every evening at the Théâtre de l’Athénée under terrible circumstances […]; I didn’t have enough money to support my family and mop up the Studio’s debts, even though we had a full house every Friday and Saturday. A depression took hold of us.

At the end of the afternoon on 24 December, Brigitte had delivered a kind of big boiler for washing the laundry, filled with dishes and table settings; with cans of food and with chocolates; with wonderful vegetables pulled from the earth that very day; with different kinds of cheeses and with butter; and some stuffed toys for you, Marie – you were only six months old – and for Christophe.

Today retired from the world of the stars, she is forgotten and disparaged. This is what I wanted to say about her, even if it does not excuse her rude remarks that arrogantly express her aversion to the human race, in the name of the defence of the animal world.

La Religieuse

In the summer following the performances of La Religieuse, we were invited to attend the Festival of the Chateau of Guingamp. I suggested that we stage Jean Giraudoux’s Pour Lucrèce. Anna Karina was to play Lucrèce, and I invited Jean-Luc to play a small part too, that of the court clerk so that he wouldn’t remain alone in Paris. We had a wild, incredible poster: Anna and Jean-Luc reunited on stage, a kind of hoax. We didn’t speak to anyone about it and above all not to Giraudoux’s son who had the gift for gab. Anna was surrounded by extravagant actresses: Claire Duhamel, more of a redhead than ever; Luisa Colpeyn, the mother of the writer Patrick Modiano; Balkis, imperial; and a completely eccentric person who went by the name of [Patricia] Finaly. Finaly worked as a secretary for François Truffaut, for Jean-Luc and sometimes for me too at the Studio. It was she who prevented [Eugène] Ionesco from drinking and she typed his texts as he dictated. She had had a difficult adolescence; her parents never returned after being deported to Buchenwald. To survive, she took part in the Tichadel tours (6), as a nude dancer. She had agreed to appear completely naked in a cloud of red smoke at the end of Giraudoux’s play, to the great displeasure of the author’s son, who choked with anger at each performance. He wasn’t wrong. At the time and for the Guingamp audience, it was a malicious and perhaps pointless provocation. But we doubled up with laughter, since Finaly took her appearance very seriously.

In my memory, Marie, on the first evening of our arrival, we were relegated to the chateau’s large kitchen. We were happy because we were treated like Molière’s actors at the Versailles chateau (7). Forty-five years later, Claire Duhamel, the most sensible of the troupe, suggests to me that we had been sent to the kitchen because we finished the first performance late in the evening – it’s possible, but at the time we laughed about it, and Jean-Luc, in front of the female cook, took advantage to launch into droll and offensive diatribes against our hosts, the Marquis and the Marquise. He was in top form and was only too happy to get up on stage. He had just a few lines as the court clerk in the middle and at the end of the play: “The principal element in the Thomasse affair has disappeared from our cupboard, Madame! The flask of poison. I put it there last night.” In the rapid rehearsals, before the thousand-year-old wall of the chateau, Jean-Luc had grown in self-confidence. Taking inspiration from Groucho Marx, he repeated, twice in a row, this last line. He crossed the stage with his back bent over, with his hands on his buttocks; he had discovered his talent as a clown and was in seventh heaven.

The first performance took place under a temperamental rain in front of an audience prudently armed with umbrellas and warmed up by bottles of Touraine rosé. On stage, the actresses’ coiffures rapidly collapsed in a not very amusing tangle. The fine drizzle excited the troupe that somehow continued, scene after scene, to play this bourgeois tragedy that was supposed to take place in sunny Province …

Twice we performed the play when it rained, before a somewhat flabbergasted audience. In reality, this festival was an agricultural congress for the region. For many of them, the theatre was a complete enigma.

One fine morning, after our return to Paris, the Marquis telephoned me:

“Monsieur Bourseiller, M. Godard forgot some personal things in his room. I am taking the liberty of sending them to you to pass on to him.”

At that time, journalists pursued Jean-Luc. No matter what newspaper or magazine you’d open, there would invariably be an article on him almost every day. Time flew by at full speed for him. Some days, in order to lose less time when he deemed that a shirt, a pair of boxer shorts, or even a pair of pants were dirty, he didn’t take the time to have them cleaned; he would just toss them in a wastebasket. After taking care to buy something new to wear, without any special effort, he would slip into whatever came to hand, paying no attention to the colour. He really didn’t take an interest in his appearance. I feared the worst and I was right. I opened the package, where the Marquise had hastily thrown three dirty pairs of boxer shorts, and a rumpled pair of pants that he had worn during his stay at the chateau. I then understood the Marquis’ tone of consternation on the phone.

We lived merrily with no thought for tomorrow and, although we sometimes had no money, the certainty of a better future never left us. On 27 December 1963, Le Mépris was released; it is a masterpiece by Jean-Luc and Brigitte’s best film, since finally a script and a particular spatial æsthetic allowed her to express herself without fear, in liberty and in gravity.

But this film is also the forewarning of Anna’s renunciation of the violent life of a couple little by little torn apart, after break-ups, reconciliations, passionate escapades, one without the other, sometimes even made-up trips. It is true that even in the best of times it was not easy to accept Jean-Luc’s commotion. The final separation wasn’t long off.

“‘You know, Antoine’, he would say to me, ‘I am going down to get some cigarettes, and he would disappear for several days. He would return, a little contrite, with a present. I would know in what country or city he had been just by the gift he brought back for me. I only had him in the world, and he hurt me. He loved me and yet he hurt me. I remember, during the shoot of Une Femme est une femme [1961], he received a post card from an ex-girlfriend. Her name was Anne Colette; she wrote on the card that she loved him and she signed her name. Do you know what he did? He passed this card around to all the crew, even to [Raoul] Coutard and the others. In the film, he forced me to give this card to [Jean-Claude] Brialy. Do you get it? I only had him in the world, and I had to say: ‘What a pretty card!’ It was cruel, you see?”

The Godard years continued with less fervour and more reason; we were moving in on forty. Jean-Luc found himself on his own, undecided about his short-lived love affairs, but always tied in spirit to Anna. He made another five films with her (8), including his ultimate masterpiece, Pierrot le fou [1965]. He was painfully imprisoned in his romanticism that he concealed with rage, as if he were ashamed, as if it were a cancer. When I left to work abroad, he didn’t leave the family. He often took Balkis to dinner at the Falstaff in Montparnasse.

Not long before, on the pretext that Anna must have a familial refuge, he rented for her and for us the Chateau Bleu in Tremblay-lès-Gonesse, whose white-haired caretaker was called Camélia Sauvage. Sheep went by in the field in front of the rooms on the ground floor. Anna came only rarely. It seems to me that Jean-Luc came to visit us on certain weekends. It was in the chateau’s kitchen, Marie, that you walked for the first time.

Then we left. We rented an apartment on the rue de Miromesnil, where we stayed more than twenty years, until Balkis’ death. Jean-Luc never slept at our place but he was at home. We had a gentle way of life there, amputated as all three of us were from Anna who was living her life elsewhere. Often when he came, he took you in his arms, Marie. He would remain like that standing in the doorway; from a distance, he […] showed you sheep in the sky and told you their lives and you saw these sheep – you absolutely saw them. Jean-Luc was capable of remaining standing, for a long, long time. The two of you formed a Romanesque sculpture (9). Meanwhile, life continued in the apartment. Mme Darget (10) went down to do the shopping, Balkis was constantly on the phone with Danièle, and the sky delivered the secrets of the white sheep, whispered by this man who made other men tremble.

Anne Wiazemsky and Jean-Pierre Léaud in the Bourseillers’ apartment in La Chinoise

In March and April 1967, he shot La Chinoise with Anne Wiazemsky, whom he married three months after his divorce with Anna (11). The page had been turned. The young newlyweds came down to join us at the Avignon Festival, where Jean Vilar entrusted me with the inauguration of the cloister of Carmes, “the smallest of theatrical spaces, favourable for research that Antoine Bourseiller would immediately demonstrate with the creations of three authors, Billetdoux, Philippe Adrien and the American LeRoi Jones.” (12)

It was the Centre dramatique national de Marseille that under the appellation of Action culturelle du Sud-Est (13) financed these spectacles and took charge of the first world screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s prescient film, La Chinoise, in the large courtyard of the Palais des Papes. We had difficulty convincing Jean Vilar to risk such an adventure. He was both sceptical and anxious regarding the technical realization of such a screening.

In the penumbra of the nascent night, the dazzling whiteness of the immense screen made the film come alive and the stone wall became the phantom sailboat of the Theatre in the open sea. When in the middle of the film the mistral swelled up, you could have thought that the images arose from eternity and that they would return there when the sun rose.

Jean-Luc and Anne’s presence excited the spectators’ curiosity, but, above all, it excited the journalists’ unremitting curiosity. The Avignon Festival was already one of the most famous in Europe, and opening it with a film created all kinds of controversies (14). On the place de l’Horloge as in the Verger, Jean-Luc, smiling and combative, would say outrageous things that were comical by their lack of sincerity and that destabilized even the most aggressive. The 1967 Festival greatly increased in attendance: 95,000 spectators in the big courtyard for thirty-one performances, 15,000 at the Cloister of Carmes for twenty-six performances, 15,000 in the Verger according to Jean Lacouture in Le Monde of 18 August 1967, without counting the admissions for La Chinoise. Jean Lacouture added: “Avignon is no longer a city with a festival, but a festival with a city.”

Fortunately, it is still like that today. But it is an ironic injustice when the current management boasts about nearing 100,000 spectators, when forty years ago there was already 125,000, and for virtually many years running …

Avignon 1967: I will always remember it because it was a lost paradise (15), rediscovered thanks to the theatre. A miracle of happiness, arrows of desire in every sense, fiery sun, cold nights, hot blood, scarlet soul trembling with love. We didn’t know that La Chinoise was opening the door on May ’68, on the overflowing of sprit and of hope for some, on the ordeal of being called into question by others. We were oblivious as well of the imminent break-up.

In November 1968, I organized film weekends at the Theatre of the Centre, on the Boulevard Sextius in Aix-en-Provence. The first weekend was programmed by the film and theatre critic, Michel Cournot. He presented his film, Les Gauloises bleues [1968]. There was a mad rush to get in. Here is an excerpt from one of Balkis’ letters to Danièle Delorme, November 1968. (Aix-en-Provence).

We have just finished the first film weekend in Aix with Michel Cournot. It was exciting. Films were screened non-stop from 11 am to 2 am for three days. I saw some wonderful films that are never shown and the discussions with Cournot were crazy and very moving, when all is said and done. For the next film weekend in December, it’s Jean-Luc. We had our first protesters, in the Avignon-style. Their spokesperson was a pretty pathetic big name who had (and still has) a lisp, which resulted in: “Culture is sit!” (16) that made the audience laugh. Still, Claire and I were afraid. Antoine spoke of solitude, and in this regard he evoked Jean Vilar, in laudatory terms. But the protesters tried to drown out his voice. You get the picture! You’d think they had nothing better to do than to insult Vilar (17). It’s distressing. Above all, because Philippe Adrien who was there (he plays the role of Jean-Pierre Léaud in the revival of La Baye) sided with them and practically treated us like fascists; we were all dumbfounded. I am telling you all this in disorder, so excuse me for doing so poorly but we will have all the time to talk about it when we are old, wearing ribbons around our necks (18). I am resuming this letter because I’m being called non-stop. I am going through agony because I hesitate between [Jean-Claude van Itallie’s] America Hurrah! in Aix or perhaps Paris, or [Sławomir] Mrozek’s new play at the TNP [Théâtre National Populaire]. What to do? Anyhow, both are with Antoine. Suzanne Flon whose understudy I am for the first rehearsal of La Baye has returned; the party is over and I return to the ranks […] I miss you terribly, when you leave I realize just how much I am attached to you. With love, kisses, and hope.

When in September, trying to get everything set three months in advance, I solicited Jean-Luc for the second weekend, I addressed myself to the filmmaker of Le Mépris, Pierrot le fou and Bande à part. On the appointed day, Jean-Luc calls me to say he will be arriving at Marignane at 1:30 p.m. We went to pick him up. He wasn’t in the airplane. He had appointed as delegates two persons from the SG (19)

Without being completely in agreement with the SG on the exact form of future struggles, I am basically in agreement with the current struggles. You will give them the devalued francs that you promised me. My best wishes in the plural to you, kisses for Balkis and Marie, and Communist greetings to Christophe.”

Jean-Luc Godard thought that the cinema could not exist except as a revolutionary means. He therefore proposed that this film weekend be a militant weekend in the political sense of the term, according to the ideological determination of May ’68. But I didn’t consider myself a political activist and I refused his proposition. We refunded everyone then and there, and that evening we screened for free [Sergei M.] Eisenstein’s Stacha [The Strike, 1925]. I settled up with the two messengers.

One day in January 1969, place Beauvau (20), on the corner of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Avenue Marigny, Balkis and I listen to Jean-Luc Godard enumerating some good deeds of the Maoists before he announced to us point-blank:

“We will never see each again. I have chosen my camp. You, you will remain in yours, under cover. Under these conditions, how can we accept each other? I am leaving you, I am leaving all of you, and all those like you. I am fighting and I believe in the future. We will never see each other again.”

“Jean-Luc, what can we say?”

“Nothing, precisely. Farewell.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you anyway: there will always be soup for you if you knock on our door.”

“Farewell.”

The actors from La Chinoise in the Bourseillers’ apartment

He crossed the Avenue. It was more or less on these terms that our separation took place. In walking back up the rue de Miromesnil along the shop windows of the antique dealers and the galleries who exhibited a profusion of gleaming antiques and fantastic paintings by old masters, Balkis wept silently. Handing her bag to me, she covered her face with her delicate hands. She moved ahead not seeing anything. In front of our door at number 15, I held her back by the shoulders; we passed the entrance, took the elevator and entered the apartment. She went directly into the study, where she sat in front of the inscription above the radiator:

Strike
Evolution
Revolution

It was an inscription painted in red and black on the wall for La Chinoise. In the film, it suddenly invades the entire screen; we had left it like that. Balkis sat in front of it, looking at it a long time, until you came back from school, Marie, while I sat at my desk. It was as if we dug a big hole in the earth to bury all the joys that he had given us – the laughs, the extravagant generosities, the shared bedazzlements. That day we buried an illusion.

One day, a few years later, around 1970 or 1971, you were all alone in the apartment, Marie. Your grandmother, Madame Darget, had gone to buy some butter for the soup that was gently cooking. Balkis was rehearsing, and I was in Marseille. There was a ring at the door and you went to open it. It was Jean-Luc who asked you:

“Are your parents in? Is Christophe in?”

“No.”

“Your grandmother?”

“No, she’s gone out.”

“You’re all alone?”

“Yes.”

“Is there by chance any soup?”

“Yes, it’s on the stove.”

“Okay, let’s go into the kitchen. Can you give me some?”

You went back down the long, narrow corridor; he sat down at the round table, but kept his coat on.

Without a word, he took two big bowls of soup that he gobbled while blowing on his spoon; the soup was scalding. When he had finished, he wiped his mouth with a dish towel, returned into the corridor, opened the door and turned around to you, Marie:

“Thank you, it was very good.”

And he closed the door.

For more information on Antoine Bourseiller’s book, Sans relâche, please contact: Elisabeth Beyer, Foreign rights manager, Actes Sud [email protected]; Tel. 33 (0)4 90 49 56 66.

Translator’s Notes

  1. An artisan who also frequently designed sets for the theatre and collaborated with Antoine Bourseiller. Around 1970, he did the sets for Molière’s Don Juan that Bourseiller staged with the Comédie Française in New York.
  2. The General Information Bureau is a division of the police department, responsible for keeping files on potentially suspect individuals having to do with politics, trade unions, or sexual and drug activities.
  3. By religious morality, Bourseiller refers here specifically to Catholics mores, which at that time were extremely conservative, and caused an outcry over Diderot’s La Religieuse, and over the contemporary German play by Rolf Hochhuth, Der Stellvertreter (Le Vicaire; The Deputy). The latter was a charge against Pope Pius XII’s inaction on behalf of the Jews during World War II. Costa-Gavras’ recent film, Amen (2002), is based on this same play. The play was first staged in Germany in Berlin in February 1963, and later that year Bourseiller brought it to Paris. Bourseiller recalls that of the one hundred performances of this play that he staged, not one was without incident. In 1964, the historian Saul Friedländer published in France his historical study, Pius XII and the Third Reich: a Documentation. Source: French Wikipedia and telephone conversation with Antoine Bourseiller, 2 June 2008.
  4. At that time, films had to be approved in a two-step process. First, the film had to be approved in the form of a script by the pre-censorship bureau. If it made it past this stage and the film was made, the film then had to be approved by the Board of Censors.
  5. Film directed by Henri Georges Clouzot, 1960.
  6. Itinerant theatrical troupe.
  7. When Molière’s troupe performed for nobility, they ate with the servants.
  8. After their break, Karina made four, not five, more films with Godard: Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965), Pierrot le fou (1965), Made in U.S.A. (1966), and the sketch film, “Anticipation, ou: l’amour en l’an 2000,” in Le Plus vieux métier du monde (1967).
  9. Bourseiller refers to the image of a standing Virgin Mary with child, a common iconographic motif in Romanesque sculpture.
  10. Balkis’ mother.
  11. According to Colin MacCabe’s biography, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70, Godard and Anna Karina divorced earlier.
  12. Quote from the Lyonnaise journalist Jean-Jacques Lerrant.
  13. Bourseiller was nominated to this position by Emile Biasini, at the time a collaborator of André Malraux in his policy of Action culturelle.
  14. For more on the Avignon Festival, see, Philippa Wehle, “A History of the Avignon Festival”, The Drama Review: TDR, 28, No. 1 (Spring 1984), pp. 52-61.
  15. A year later, Julien Beck and Judith Malina’s play, Paradise Now, would be performed in Avignon.
  16. In the original French: “La culture c’est de la siotte!”, “siotte” for “chiotte.”
  17. A doyen of French theatre, Jean Vilar founded the Avignon Theatre Festival in 1946, which he directed until his death in 1971. Godard and Anne Wiazemsky married in the summer of 1967, and spent their honeymoon in Avignon.
  18. Elderly French women used to have the habit of wearing a silk ribbon as a choker, like a necklace.
  19. The States General or États généraux signified under the Ancien Régime exceptional assemblies composed of the clergy, the aristocracy, and the Third Estate (the people), convened by the king to treat a crisis, usually a war or a diplomatic question. Today, such issues are handled by the French congress (senators and deputies) and the States General refers to professional meetings. [Source: French Wikipedia.] In the spring of 1968, after film professionals and students succeeded in re-instating Henri Langlois in the Cinémathèque Française, there was widespread sympathy for the student revolt. Towards the end of May, a States General was convened by persons working in film to discuss the future of the French film industry. What resulted from the meetings was a series of utopic demands, including making the cinema free and doing away with the professional identity cards, thereby making it possible for anyone to make movies. None of these measures was ultimately retained. Source: Conversation with Charles Bitsch, 10 July 2008.
  20. In French, Place Beauveau is often used metonymically to refer to the Ministry of the Interior that is located there. Place Beauveau is located in the 8th arrondisement, at the intersection between the Faubourg Saint Honoré, the Avenue de Marigny and the rue de Miromesnil. Thus, ironically, Godard shot his incendiary film, La Chinoise, just around the corner from the Ministry of the Interior.

About The Author

Antoine Bourseiller is one of France’s most significant theatre directors and the author of Sans relâche: Histoires d’une vie, his memoirs on his life in the theatre and his encounters with the film world, and in particular Jean-Luc Godard.