Tuesday, April 24, 2007

It's Just An Illusion...

When I finally learned of French actress Anicée Alvina's untimely death at the age of 53, I also stumbled across this vital piece of information: the book upon which was based one of Miss Alvina's most stunning films (Le Rempart des Béguines) was translated into... The Illusionist!

The Illusionist
Francoise Mallet-Joris
ISBN: 1573442534 - Paperback - Cleis Press - £9.99
Book details

Bored and lonely, 15-year-old Helene decides to pay a visit to her father's mistress. Within days, she is captivated by Tamara, a Russian emigré whose arts of enchantment include lingering kisses, sudden dismissals, and savage, rapturous reunions. As long as she submits to Tamara, Helene is permitted to stay near her: reading forbidden novels, meeting Tamara's bohemian friends, and learning more "refinements of depravity" than the gossiping matrons of her provincial French town could imagine existed.
Flemish writer Françoise Mallet-Joris was 20 years old in 1951 when her first novel," Le Rempart des Beguines" -- published in English as "The Illusionist" -- created a sensation in France. This contemplative, beautifully written book, with its dark undercurrents of desire, has its origins in "Madame Bovary" and the novels of Colette, and was a precursor to Françoise Sagan's similarly themed "Bonjour Tristesse."

Add to that the fact that the author, Mallet-Joris, reached her personal zénith ((peak)) in the watermark year of 1969...
(As evidenced by the picture here, Mallet-Joris attained her most Jolie state right around then too! Photo Copyright - c. 1969 Marc Garanger/J.P. Ziolo)

Françoise not only influenced another great Françoise (basically France's answer to Mary Higgins Clark - minus the mystery element - and a renowned femme de lettres christened Françoise who is no more, since 2004; unlike Mallet-Joris who appears to be far more resilient; elle a la couenne dure, comme on dirait!) but she also got the distinct flattery and refined pleasure of seeing her breakthrough novel become a film in her prime - and she even got to participate in the entire adaptive process! She had the honor of seeing a distinguished actress like Nicole Courcel play a role that would have never been thought as worthy of her (were it not for the attributed literary merit of the source material), that of Tamara... Add to that the mere fact that Nicole Courcel was 24 years older than her co-star and mother to a daughter of the exact same age as that co-star, and one is actually astonished that she did take the role... Most of all for Mallet-Joris, she got what some lesbians would describe as a "prized tasty piece" in the neophyte with great promise, the late , delicate, great Anicée Alvina, to play the not-so-naive Hélène... Quite a feat for the modern-day Colette!
But the facts are there: "at age 19, Françoise Lilar (her maiden name, because she did marry - a man - once. Just like Colette, quoi!) won unanimous critical approval with her novel Le Rempart des béguines" - which would then be translated in 1951 as The Illusionist. Reports are conflicting as to whether she was 20 or just 19 when her book was published (proving that she was as precocious as her main protagonist, Hélène, or the actress who played the part, Anicée, both were...)
But then, the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA ONLINE sheds some light upon it all with its opening sentence on this revered author:

born July 6, 1930, Antwerp, Belgium
Belgian author, of French nationality by marriage, one of the leading contemporary exponents of the traditional French novel of psychological love analysis. Her father was a statesman and her mother, Suzanne Lilar, an author and a critic. At age 19 Françoise Lilar won unanimous critical approval with her novel Le Rempart des béguines (1951; The Illusionist, also published as Into the Labyrinth and The Loving and the Daring), the story of an affair between a girl and her father's mistress, described with clinical detachment in a sober, classical prose.

Mommy was a critic - well, everybody is one, of course... But, here, one can imagine that there is a good reason why the neophytical eventual exponent of "psychological love analysis" novels in France was so unanimously approved of... Not only was the subject matter daring and tantalizing at the same time (and summed up in ONE SINGLE sentence here: "une adolescente tombe amoureuse de la maîtresse de son père" (I am forced to add a copyright notice to THIS ONE SENTENCE I do believe: Copyright, 1995 CMC/Les Fiches Du Cinéma. I know - incroyable.)
But Daddy was an influencial man/un homme d'influence (certaine...!)
And Mommy was an author herself! (Again - shades of Mary Higgins Clark.)

AND it is highly possible (since the word "psychological" is thrown in here) that the mother lived vicariously through the daughter - seeing her little Françoise write about these things and eventually fully assume her lesbian identity was likely what Suzanne Lilar, wife to a stuffy aristocrat/diplomat, had always wanted to do herself...! (Further psychological analysis could lead us to theorize whether the Tamara/Hélène relationship is not a metaphor, an allegory and even a fantasy cast upon the relationship Suzanne and Françoise themselves had - but that would be going astray, I am sure... Maybe all "Le Rempart..." is, is truly some sort of diary about Françoise's torrid encounter with her father's -Mr. Lilar's- mistress... A statesman could easily meet a Russian courtesan - or any other foreign courtesan who'd swing both ways upon meeting her lover's daughter, even if she's underage, for that matter... ANYTHING is possible in the world of depravity we live in! But I am digressing...)

What brought me to even write about all this, is truly the fact that THE ILLUSIONIST is a title I have been considering for a novel project of my own.
Seeing it pop up on the big screen (on a totally unrelated American film production) and quite recently too, was one thing.
Seeing it in this medium - literature - and realizing it has been taken since 1951 at least - is quite another! Not that two books of the same title is such a rarity either, and yet...
But it had to be THIS book - which begat a film I have heard so many things about, without ever having seen it! Hence, it only contributes in elevating it further more into legendary cult classic status...! (This even though the book and the film have both had more than one alternate titles: it was either “The Illusionist”, or “Into the Labyrinth”, or “Le Rempart des béguines”, or “The Loving and the Daring” (as far as the work by Mallet-Joris goes - and there was a sequel to it, apparently; Anicée could not be in it) and it was also alternatively known as Le Rempart des Béguines upon its 1972 release in France... Gli Amori Impossibili later on, in Italy... Rampart of Desire in 1974, in the USA and simply The Beguines in the UK.)
A film that stars two delectable ladies, which is certainly an undeniable fact -Courcel and Alvina were at their respective peak- and to have them act as a couple... It could only become classic fare; that or a curiosity!
But to learn of this title coincidence after the youngest of the two actresses has died so prematurely - a tragic death I wasn't even aware of either until months after the fact...
Do you think Anicée whispered this to me, while I was surfing the net?
I do need to know, before I finalize that book of mine...!
Do you believe in ghosts - in the machine?
Anicée was so angelic in her demeanor - could she be acting like one, now?
All I know is that the Illusionist's cover is pretty much... well, anonymous.
That happens to be yet another thing that I wanted for my book (not having famous actors to "represent" my tome and give its main characters a face forevermore, I have no other choice!) 

For I am not one for the perpetrating of illusions - no, not my style!

The fact is that Nicole and Alvina were such a great coupling that they have embodied the novel ever since (even though 1972 is prehistoric times to some; it is not so for Russian hockey fans -ironically, since Tamara is Russian- or, more specifically Boston Bruins fans, for instance - but that is another story) - and the lingering souvenir of Nicole & Anicée is evidenced by the cover of the original version of this book, in French; on a recent LIVRE DE POCHE edition, that is. You can see it for yourselves right here:

I guess it is unforgettable to see a classy lady passionately kiss a younger woman half her age - whose age is that of her real-life daughter incidentally. (In fact, when shooting began, Anicée was just 19 years of age - the same age as Nicole Courcel's daughter but also the same as Françoise when her book got published AND the same age the other Françoise (Sagan) penned her very own first novel too... Coincidence? Maybe not...! Note though that the character of Hélène is supposed to be only 15 years-old - making Tamara/Nicole Courcel the sexiest female pedophile ever... A dubious distinction that sophisticated actress could have done without - no? Nicole can thank her agent for that one, we can suppose.)

I guess that Françoise Mallet-Joris is mighty proud that these two angelic ladies embody forevermore her fantasies/perversions and "dream lifestyle"... as it continues to inspire others, too...
Anicée and Nicole continue to be the faces of this illicit affair; they are Hélène and Tamara forevermore.

And that they will continue to be, even beyond the grave now.
In the film - and on the covers of her book's umpteenth reprintings. 

It is their likenesses - not hers.  Quelle vile imposture...! 
And it is all such an utterly empty illusion indeed...
Is this what being a Literati is all about, in the end - really?

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Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

More data.

According to some, Mallet-Joris is unquestionably heterosexual (by the simple fact that she was married...?) and neither homosexual nor (even) bisexual...

AND, get this, she got her idea for this rather sordid love story
NOT from a wet dream
NOT from some secret fantasy she carried deep within herself

Ah, of course...
Ça explique tout...!

Another example of a work by a heterosexual writer to feature gay or lesbian subjects is Françoise Mallet-Joris's Le rempart des béguines ([1951]; trans. as The Illusionist, 1952), an account of the fifteen-year-old protagonist Hélène's affair with her father's mistress Tamara, based, it was claimed, on a story told to Mallet-Joris (the pseudonym of Françoise Lilar, b. 1930) by a schoolfriend. The novel was made into a film directed by Guy Casaril in 1972.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Despite the apparent gullibility of the author of the preceding quoted analysis (in italics) the same author does not hesitate one second to expose both the indiscretions and the illusions (about not being bisexual...] of a far greater author - Simone de Beauvoir!

There is also a strong female homoerotic element in the work of Marguerite Duras (b. 1914). In L'amant ([1984]; trans. as The Lover, 1985), for example, the autobiographical first-person narrator writes "My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women," echoing Virginia Woolf's much-quoted "women alone stir my imagination." The narrator of The Lover proceeds to offer an erotic meditation on the body of her fellow schoolgirl Hélène Lagonelle.

A significant trend in gay and lesbian studies has been the recovery of work by writers who, for whatever reason, kept their sexual identity hidden.

The recent publication of the diaries and letters of Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), for example, reveals that although her relationship with Sartre remained primary throughout her life, she also had several affairs with women, including her students Natalie (Natasha) Sorokine and Bianca Bienenfeld.

(Referred to in Beauvoir's autobiographical works by the pseudonym "Louise Védrine," Bianca Lamblin, née Bienenfeld, published her own memoirs of Sartre and Beauvoir entitled Mémoires d'une jeune fille dérangée in 1983.)

It is clear, however, that Beauvoir did not identify as a bisexual writer, either publicly or privately. How to evaluate such cases remains a lively topic of debate since it involves questions of identity politics, the social construction of sexuality as a heterosexual-homosexual binary, and the problem of defining and interpreting sexual behavior.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Good old (and ever reliable - sic) Wikipedia (...) reveals the following too:

Mallet-Joris began her literary career early with the publication of Le rempart des Béguines in 1951. It was translated as The Illusionist. It is set in a town that resembles Mallet-Joris' native Antwerp and treats the themes of social class and lesbianism. She followed her first work with a sequel in 1955 named La chambre rouge, in English The Red Room. In it, she continued her treatment of social class and mores in Belgium.

And the article on "La Françoise" leaves it clear also that "Mallet-Joris" is just a penname - not irrefutable proof that she is still (happily) married, proud of having a spouse and being a "Mrs" or even categorically heterosexual either...


8:48 AM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Hence, the sequel to The Illusionist was The Red Room... La Chambre Rouge

And, four years after cavorting and frolicking with the elegant Nicole Courcel, Anicée Alvina would shoot a film titled... L'Affiche Rouge!

It is as close as it would get to shooting a sequel though - besides, Mme. Courcel was not in the second film!

Affiche Rouge, L’
1976, France, 90 mins, Colour

Frank Cassenti

Pierre Clémenti
Anicée Alvina
Maya Wodeska
Laszlo Szabo

Review -
Blood-red posters featuring portraits of wanted 'terrorists' decorated every street wall in occupied France during World War II, and this account of how 23 foreigners working for the Resistance were caught and executed dramatises one of the heroic myths of the Occupation. But Cassenti adopts a radically different perspective from the humanist 'honesty' of L'Armée des Ombres or even Lacombe Lucien, and instead attempts a Marxist analysis of the myth and what it means, historically, to re-enact it. As it moves from one level of representation to another with a Brechtian approach to performance, the film occasionally obscures its aims but never fails to challenge the way we receive history in the cinema. MA

Source : Time Out Film Guide 13


9:14 AM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

According to IMDB though, Anicée's role in L'Affiche Rouge was less than eponymous indeed - as it is listed as nothing more than "l'amie de Rayman" (Rayman being the role played by Pierre Clémenti)

Why Rayman and not Lacombe himself?
Maybe because the would-be resistant turned enforcer Lucien Lacombe had already been adequately portrayed on celluloid by Louis Malle's treatment two years earlier in Lacombe, Lucien indeed!

Also, most certainly, because the character of Rayman is not written as the meeting point between innocence and immorality...?

Anicée Alvina's roles were, almost always, written like that, though...

From her first breakthough role that set the mark for her entire career - 1971's Friends, with Sean Bury - on to Le Rempart... And then a return to the arms of Sean Bury, in the sequel "Paul et Michèle" in 1974... Onwards to "Isabelle Devant Le Désir" and "Le Jeu Avec Le Feu" (erotic fare in which she shared the screen and nude scenes quotient with the likes of Sophie Barjac, Agostina Belli, Joëlle Coeur, Christine Boisson and even Sylvia Kristel... Emmanuelle herself!) - in the latter film, she was playing the daughter of Philippe Noiret - who also died in 2006.

Innocence meeting immorality - full throttle.

That sums up the roles that were written for her, all right - alas.


9:44 AM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

The capper is something else though...

For the sequel to Le Rempart des Béguines -La Chambre Rouge- was made into a film in the same year as the first book - 1972!

No, the same two actresses were not employed; and even if they had been, there would have been no amorous reunions whatsoever as the screenplay for this unofficial sequel chose not to emphasize at all the unique relationship that linked Tamara and Hélène - at all.
Instead, they brought in the male love interest, here portrayed by the execrable Maurice Ronet!

Anicée Alvina was not-so aptly replaced by Sharon Gurney, who had been seen in 1969's 'Women In Love', the Glenda Jackson/Oliver Reed vehicle... Gurney has an extremely short film career, compared to even the typecasted Anicée - and, here, she had to endure the amorous attentions of Maurice instead of those of her Tamara, who was no longer Nicole Courcel but Françoise Brion (an almost as accomplished thespian as Nicole Courcel is - but not quite so!)

In the sequel, Mallet-Joris has Tamara now MARRIED to Hélène's father - thus complicating greatly the already unorthodox love story between the two women...
Even one as debauched and avant-gardiste as Tamara could not be written as willing to jeopardize her marriage for a flight of fancy - and an aberrant sexual attraction towards her husband's daughter! Besides, this was no longer lesbianism - it was incest, and Mallet-Joris decided to thread carefully in that territory...

After all, her original book, Le Rempart..., had been about the coming of age (and then some!) of a teenaged girl - in unusual fashion, granted, but still it was no more than that, basically...

So that teenaged girl chose to come of age in the arms of an older woman - who just so happened to have been her father's mistress.

She was not her mother...
Nor her step-mother... yet.


8:16 PM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Thus, Françoise Mallet-Joris has already had the supreme honor that, to my knowledge, no LIVING AUTHOR has ever had: to see not one but TWO consecutive books (actual tome ONE and TWO) be adapted to silver screen treatment on the very same year too!

When one remembers that so many contemporary authors of PURE LITERARY GEMS never got to see their masterpieces made into films during their lifetime - Tolkien never saw his Lord of the Rings splendidly done... Ian Fleming didn't get to see all that Bond could be on the big screen... Then again, R.E. Howard was spared witnessing what Conan became once Ah-nold embodied him! But I digress...

Mallet-Joris can be proud of her achievement - as proud as "lesbian pride" is reputed to be...!

Two novels made into films - in 1972!

Two for '72!

So, only one was made "right" (as in "faithful to the spirit -quite perverse at times- that permeated the book that inspired the film adaptation") - Le Rempart, in case you're in doubt which one it is - but still...


8:28 PM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Of course, Françoise has since been toppled -and considerably so- by another allegedly exclusively heterosexual female author (also allegedly - the latter, not the gender!) and we are talking about... JKR, evidently!

Rowling has achieved so much more than Mallet-Joris: due to the simple fact that her perversions could so easily be disguised as fairy tale material...!

There must be a lesson to be learned there, for all would-be literatis out there, published or not published!


8:18 PM  

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