love on the edge
One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place, a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said: "I've known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you're more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged." (p.3)
These are the famous opening lines to Marguerite Duras' The Lover (L'Amant). I finally finished reading this book last week, around the same time that I saw the Korean movie Late Autumn. Both novel and film left me with the same feeling of ambiguity that I felt compelled to write about them.
The Lover is a story about a 15 year-old French girl and her forbidden affair with a much older and wealthy Chinese businessman, set in the French Indochina during the 30s. It is autobiographical, told in a non-linear way, as if the narrator is trying to make sense of those hazy pieces of memory while she is telling her story. And as you can probably tell from its opening paragraph, the writing is exquisite -- very simple and yet laden with heavy emotional undertones which caught me unaware sometimes, and I had to pause for awhile to let the beauty of her words sink in.
Late Autumn is a remake of the 1966 film directed by Lee Man-hee, a tale of two strangers who met on a bus ride to Seattle and the unlikely relationship that ensued. She is a prisoner on a 72-hour parole for her mother's funeral, he is a gigolo on the run from a former lover's husband. She is Chinese and he is Korean, they speak to each other in accented English, and theirs is one of those intense connection made urgent by time (or lack thereof). The cinematography is gorgeous and foggy Seattle provides the perfect backdrop for these two as they wander around the city and navigate their growing attraction towards each other.
Although the two stories are very different, their emotional tone and mood are similar. The storytelling are both subdued and I was constantly trying to guess the characters' feelings at any given moment. And in both novel and film, I asked the same questions: How does she feel about him? What happened to him later? Does it even matter?
"... and suddenly she wasn’t sure she hadn’t loved him with a love she hadn’t seen because it had lost itself in the affair like water in the sand and she rediscovered it only now, through this moment of music." (p.114)
It is exactly this kind of bittersweet ambiguity that pulled me into their narratives. I'm not sure how to explain it, except maybe that if you are someone who loves the shades of gray, then you will also love both novel and film. I, for one, could not stop thinking about them.
Have a look at the movie trailer for Late Autumn here. Has anyone else seen this film? Or read The Lover? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
(Excerpts taken from The Lover by Marguerite Duras)