One of the stars of the ’50s New Novel, Marguerite Duras scripted Alain Resnais’ first feature, 1959’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour, and subsequently became a filmmaker herself. By 1980, she was living in seclusion in a Normandy resort town, drinking a lot and writing little. That’s when a young fan, Yann Andréa, came to visit her. Andréa had written Duras thousands of letters, beginning in 1975. According to Josée Dayan’s small but absorbing Cet Amour-Là, which is based on Andréa’s book about the relationship, he planned simply to talk to her before committing suicide. Instead, he stayed for 16 years, taking dictation as well as abuse until the novelist died, in 1996. Andréa facilitated the writing of Duras’ best-known (if not necessarily best) work, including the bestselling The Lover. The suitably iconic Jeanne Moreau, who narrated Jean-Jacques Annaud’s un-Duras-ian adaptation of that book, plays the novelist in this film, written and directed by Dayan. Although the movie is essentially a duet, and Dayan is a veteran of French TV dramas, Cet Amour-Là is not a succession of talking-head shots. Shot in widescreen and featuring an Angelo Badalamenti score, the film resists docudrama conventions. Most notably, Duras and Andréa (Aymeric Demarigny) don’t age, so that they seem locked in a timeless mentor-student dynamic. Andréa, 38 years younger than Duras, never switches roles with the novelist, even when she goes into her final decline. Moreau’s Duras is charmingly irascible and fascinatingly capricious, delivering authoritative dictums on everyday life (“People who don’t like leeks mystify me”) and modest observations on literature (“If you’ve written all your life, it only teaches you how to write, nothing more”). Dayan compares her film to an “impressionist painting,” but it also resembles a Now Novel: obsessive, intimate, and anti-chronological. The form never attracted a big U.S. audience, of course, and Cet Amour-Là’s over-65 romance isn’t as sultry as The Lover’s under-18 one. Still, this smart little film does offer two larger-than-life Frenchwomen for the price of one. —Mark Jenkins

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