Monday, 28 June 2010

Paris memories

Summer has me thinking about Paris, and had me reading the latest book by Paul Auster, Invisible, which is partly set there. What caught me back for a moment is that the main character, student Adam Walker, settles into the streets I've always seen as my favourite in the city, from when I too was a student.

Walker books himself into a decrepit, crumbling hotel 'on the rue Mazarine in the sixth arrondissement, not far from the Odéon metro station on the Boulevard Saint-Germain'. The Hôtel du Sud is 'a historic structure, erected in the seventeenth century, he thinks ,' much like the place I love to stay when I visit. Another Invisible character lives in a chambre de bonne, as a friend did overlooking the Danton on carrefour de l'Odéon.

Soon, Walker is to be found 'sitting at an outdoor café on the place Saint-André des Arts, nursing a glass of beer and writing in a small notebook. It is six o'clock in the evening, the end of another workday and now that Walker has begun to settle into the rhythms of Paris, he understands that this is probably the city's most inspiriting hour...'

I'm not sure about this word 'inspiriting' - however, as is typical with Auster, it turns out that some of the narrative is a fiction, within fiction, 'but Paris is Paris. Paris alone is real.'

Sunday, 20 June 2010

By Georges! Simenon on film

This blog takes its name from a 1934 Georges Simenon novel, which was made into a film by Béla Tarr a few years ago. (It was published by Penguin in Britain under the mundane title Newhaven-Dieppe.) A famously prolific author for four decades from the early 1930s, Simenon's work is still a favourite for adaptation to the big and small screens, not least thanks to his magnificent Maigret books.

Bertrand Tavernier chose to take his first film, The Watchmaker of St Paul, from a Simenon novel and is still a fan: 'I love Simenon, I think he's one of the greatest writers.' And Tavernier is someone you listen to on such matters. 'What I love in his books are things that go beyond the superficial: the mood, the fog, the wet cobblestones, dealing with what he calls the "naked man," this feeling of a man under the clothes of civilisation and society.'

This could almost be a description of Hungarian Tarr's The Man from London, which starred Tilda Swinton among a multi-accented cast. A version of one of Simenon's most famous novels, Stain in the Snow, is said to be in production. A couple of recent adaptations I'd like to see are a French TV version of The Little Man from Archangel (whose Jewish central character is replaced by an Algerian bookseller), and Mexican film La habitación azul (2002). The 1963 book it's based on (The Blue Room) begins with the image of a man contemplating his mistress, 'naked still on the ravaged bed, her legs apart, a few drops of semen clinging to the dark hair, shadowy between her thighs.'

One of my favourite adaptations from a Simenon book of the last generation is 1989's Monsieur Hire, starring a typically mournful Michel Blanc alongside the beautiful Sandrine Bonnaire. Though Simenon boasted he'd boiled his vocabulary down to 2,000 words he's surprisingly difficult to read (for the non-native French fan) in the original as he's all about atmosphere, and Patrice Leconte's stylish film reflects that.

That's one reason I'd love to see Nuri Bilge Ceylan tackle a Simenon novel. In my mind, Béla Tarr's foggy, claustrophobic The Man from London made a good pairing with his Turkish counterpart's Three Monkeys (2008). Having scripted all six of his tremendous films thus far, Ceylan is open to taking on an adapted script. 'I would like to make adaptations but it's not easy, sometimes writing yourself is easier,' he told me at the time of his previous film, Climates (2006). 'I have many novels or stories that I like but sometimes when you begin to work on it, it turns out to be more difficult. I couldn't make an adaptation yet but I want to do it some day.'

He could do worse than looking at the work of someone with whom he shares many concerns and conceits. A tasty early novel, The Window over the Way (1933), features a Turkish diplomat caught in a possible honeytrap in the Black Sea port of Batumi. Feeling under the weather, Adil Bey demands to see a doctor. 'What exactly is wrong?' he asks the physician. 'Nothing,' comes the lugubrious reply, 'and to some extent everything.'

Thursday, 17 June 2010