Avant-garde classic The Truck takes minimalism to extremes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 8:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 8:22pm

It is one of the cinema gods' most mischievous designs that Marguerite Duras' The Truck and George Lucas' Star Wars — two titles which couldn't be more different if they tried — should both open in the US on May 25, 1977.

Also known for its French title of Le camion, Duras' little-seen art house classic is an antithesis not only to mainstream entertainment, but also conventional storytelling tactics as a whole.

Although it clocks in at a measly 76 minutes, this formally daring film by the renowned novelist, essayist and playwright feels much longer as a consequence of her indifference to audience responses. It sees Duras and Gerard Depardieu — then fresh off his leading roles in films directed by Barbet Schroeder and Bernardo Bertolucci — sit down for a reading, with the latter chiming in or clarifying her sentences.

The stack of paper they go through — a shooting script for a hypothetical film, as Duras teasingly claims it to be — tells a simple story: a truck driver picks up an older woman hitchhiker who keeps talking during the ride, wistfully casting doubts on concepts such as "revolution" and "working class". Against Beethoven's Diabelli Variations on the soundtrack, meanwhile, Duras and Depardieu appear to be longing for a cigarette break — as a joke, probably.

While these reading scenes never leave their intimate, minimalist setting — around a dining-room table in Duras' real-life residence, to be precise — the narration is interspersed with open, exterior shots of a blue truck aimlessly traversing the Parisian suburbs that were populated by marginalised immigrants.

It's a backdrop that distantly echoes the estrangement Duras felt both from her childhood in Vietnam and her departure, in 1950, from the French Communist Party.

Duras' legacy as a filmmaker was cemented with avant-garde efforts like The Truck, which has been proclaimed by the New Yorker critic Richard Brody as "one of the most awesome challenges a filmmaker ever laid down to her era, to her medium itself".

Or, as the cult director John Waters declared: "Miss Duras makes the kind of films that get you punched in the mouth for recommending them to even your closest friends." He meant that as a compliment.

The Truck, July 4 and 12, 2.30pm, Hong Kong Film Archive, 50 Lei King Road, Sai Wan Ho. Part of Critics' Choice 2015 — On the Road programme