Le camion / The Truck (1977)

29 04 2014

There is an impulse in watching Le camion to conclude that  filmmaker and writer Marguerite Duras is simply phoning it in – giving us less than the minimum of what is accepted as a narrative film, something so slight that it should be comical or maybe it’s just thoroughly postmodern? On the other hand, does that justify a film that merely teases us with glimpses of what we would consider to be “real cinema” and even then, we’re really only treated to shots of cars on a rural, empty highway. One could call Duras’ film an experiment but doing so would suggest that the filmmaker herself doesn’t have an absolute confidence in the way her images and words interact.


Following the opening credits, which are projected over shots of the French countryside, the camera frames Duras herself sitting at a table with Gerard Depardieu. The two are looking over a piece of a paper, Depardieu looks up at Duras and asks her “Is this a film?” and almost immediately we have an obvious self-reflexive moment. The film is centered on the conversation the two have regarding the script, but the camera occasionally cuts away and fixes it attention towards a truck briefly described in the script. The script being read hints towards a love story, one meditating on memories (as one might expect from Duras) but we’re never given an image, beyond the truck, to further contextualize the words of script.


For as self-indulgent and tiring as the film itself sounds, the experience of watching it can actually be, well, fun. That sounds strange, especially since I’ll be the first to admit that it’s slight nature does make one feel like Duras is stretching her thin material. However, there is a sensation felt there that is entirely unique: because Duras asks us only to imagine this film, we not only begin to think of it in our own heads but we also begin to crave images from this film. It’s almost as though the absence of the scenes described in the script grants some “lost film” mythos here. When we are granted images from outside of their conversation, they seem revolutionary, even though they offer us nothing but the figure of a truck.


Thinking “what could have been” is not the end of Duras’ intentions, though. If Casual Relations (which I just reviewed, hence why it’s fresh on my mind) asks us to relate art and popular culture with characters to give us a context, then Duras is asking us to provide the context all on our own here. Sure, she fleshes her characters out by talking about them, but the lack of their image kind of argues how necessary it is. Again, the impetus is on us, the viewer to care enough to work our brains enough to see the clever way Duras has left us to determine the meanings. In a way, that’s always the task of the viewer, but we’re given less things to consider and weigh here. The experiment is a success, Duras has simultaneously constructed and deconstructed a movie that we’ll never see, but we may think of it with the belief that we experienced it all the same.