Gallic avant-gardists make great zombie movies. Rivette saw the screwball comedy of the bourgeois morts vivant in Celine and Julie Go Boating, Marguerite Duras sees a slow, aching valse in which the soundtrack goes its own way. A vanishing sun like a blood drop, tennis courts, chandeliers, silk and lace, an imperial clock. "What is that scent of flowers?" "Leprosy." The camera prowls the embassy villa, down staircases and past lush foliage while soft murmurs drift from elsewhere: "Can’t bear it? No, can’t bear it. India, can’t bear it." People finally materialize, swells in Thirties gowns and tuxes, vice-consuls, ambassadors, attachés and servants, Duras’s ghosts. Delphine Seyrig in a shimmering crimson frock holds court, sort of, taking languid waltzing turns with Claude Mann, Mathieu Carrière, Vernon Dobtcheff and Didier Flamand. Do they still exist when the camera is not on them? The eye-watering abstraction is from Last Year at Marienbad, the horror of memory, of muted passion and muted suffering -- "rien" is a horrifying word, "The only remedy: Immobility." One of the atrophied ghouls (Michael Lonsdale) rebels with emotion and the soundtrack synchronizes long enough for him to be ousted, screaming, while his object of desire stands before a wall-sized mirror. (Ophüls originally envisioned Madame de... as a story enacted by reflections on polished glass.) In this bifurcated journey, images are pinned in place while sounds travel to Rangoon, the Gangues, Lahore, Savannakhet and Ceylon, wherever displaced longing and colonial guilt are needed. An archaic foxtrot swoons over and over, "a sort of pain is linked to music..." Duras composes tableaux in which drifting incense smoke or a ceiling fan become the most dynamic players, yet her glossy, rarefied screen seems to gradually accumulate humidity and odors. A mysteriously sensory picture, not existentialism but hypnotism. Cinematography by Bruno Nuytten.
--- Fernando F. Croce