Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977)

An endlessly looping piece of cheerful island music envelopes and provides a counterpoint to Duras’ melancholic conversational piece between two women as they reflect on a marriage in tatters.   

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,567

Dir. Marguerite Duras
1977 | France | Drama/Mystery | 91 min | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be M18 for nudity and some sexual references

Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Noelle Chatelet, Claudine Gabay, Gerard Depardieu
Plot: In an empty villa, Vera Baxter sits and contemplates her life, as she recounts to a woman who was drawn to the villa when she heard the name Vera Baxter pronounced. Vera tells her about her no-good husband, who has been using her to keep his failing business afloat, up to her present love affair.
Source: Tamasa Distribution

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Marriage Crisis; Women in Conversation
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Best known, at least in cine-circles, for her screenplay for Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Marguerite Duras was also quite the filmmaker in her own right, albeit a more experimental one.  In Baxter, Vera Baxter, she fashions a melancholic conversational piece between two women as they reflect on a marriage in tatters. 

They are in a villa near the sea, as cheerful island music from nearby envelopes the space.  This piece, composed by Carlos D’Alessio, would loop endlessly throughout the entire film, but more importantly, provides a seemingly liberating aural counterpoint to the solemnity of a serious conversation. 

Vera Baxter (Claudine Gabay) recounts her failing marriage to a stranger (Delphine Seyrig), who lends a listening ear but not without being inquisitive.  Duras keeps them in a single location, confined within a physical space, and by extension, the interiority of their minds. 

“My own affairs are short.  I don’t know what happens between people over a long time.”

The looping music, however, occasionally grows louder or softer, suggesting that Vera’s mental state isn’t necessarily always in a ‘fixed position’ and is hoping to be liberated from material concerns.  It’s a wonderful psychological device masquerading as film language that Duras pulls off rather ingeniously.   

She also gives her actresses time to feel the weight of their recited words, which are somewhat sparse and never interrupted by the other party. 

All the signs are there for Baxter, Vera Baxter to be a monotonous work of pretentious art, yet it seems to possess some kind of inner magic, a calm Zen-like tone that makes it an effective work of female introspection.  Some men cheat on their wives, but Duras provides an avant-garde antidote. 

Grade: B+



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