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Das Geheimnis der Annie Ernaux

This woman definitely needs a room to herself.

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Das Geheimnis der Annie Ernaux

This woman definitely needs a room to herself. Virginia Woolf coined this expression as a metaphor par excellence for the intellectually creative, writing woman: Without a room of her own, nothing will come of it.

And that was precisely the problem with the younger colleague of the great English novelist and essayist, Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Such a place of retreat was missing for a long time.

She came to writing late and, as a working wife and mother, felt guilty that she felt this irrepressible urge to dedicate her life to literature.

As if she wanted to certify this torn between family commitments and poetic inclination once and for all through private documents, the 82-year-old has now put together a one-hour film documentation of her family life in the 1970s together with her son. It bears Annie Ernaux's typical laconic title "The Super 8 Years".

In fact, the film permanently shows a woman who does not seem to feel well. You can always see her on the fringes of the action, smiling tormented, blinking tensely. In her few relaxed moments she can look like the then world-famous pop singer Francoise Hardy with her beautiful long straight hair!

By the way, there is never a loving gesture towards her children here either. Her husband, who usually holds the camera, can hardly be seen in these amateur recordings.

Incidentally, the husband is only mentioned without emotion in Annie Ernaux's books and is never described sensitively. She separated from him after 15 years of marriage in the early 1980s. In contrast to Annie Ernaux, he came from a middle-class family, became a lawyer, but apparently died of cancer relatively early.

He seems to have been responsible for the young couple's style of furnishing, because the camera often glides lovingly over the mahogany chests of drawers and the Louis Philippe sofa upholstered in thick velor. Of course, that wasn't to the author's liking either.

Apparently, however, it has prevailed in the choice of travel destinations. For the most part, these Super 8 films document the vacations of the young Ernaux family. The classic domestic destinations of the French bourgeoisie of those years hardly ever exist.

After all, one goes to the Ardèche, above all to experience the simple life in the bosom of nature, in a deserted mountain village without electricity and running water. At that time, many wanted to get out of the “consumption compulsion”. Traveling out of political curiosity was also typical of the era.

The world behind the "Iron Curtain" became interesting at the time, not least because of the global policy of detente. The Ernaux' choose the most unknown country in the entire Eastern bloc and travel to Albania in 1975!

The images are of the expected desolation. Their last trip together as a foursome, with their two sons, even took them to Moscow in the fall of 1981. There is not the slightest trace of perestroika there, but it is probably more the fascination with the socialist reality that drew leftists to the Soviet Union at the time.

Of course, there is not the slightest trace of the wave of disillusionment that set in at least among French intellectuals at the time in the mute and yet very private series of images.

The author's comments, which underlie him, are also silent on politics. As eloquently as Annie Ernaux evoked the sense of departure from 1981 in her books, the year Mitterrand came to power on May 10, “this was our 1936, our parents’ popular front, our liberation from German occupation,” they say in "The Years" - the author remains silent here as far as this caesura is concerned, which swept away Giscard d' Estaing, who was notorious for being arrogant and corrupt.

Yes, "The Super 8 Years" remain strictly private. They are probably aimed primarily at the fans of the Nobel Prize in Literature. And listening to her melancholy, ingratiating, already a little broken-sounding voice for sixty minutes has its own not inconsiderable charm.

But what does the documentation contribute to the understanding of your work? The magna mater of that reckoning literature with its own precarious origin, which lives on in the accusations of Didier Eribon or Edouard Louis (albeit in a far less polished French), this magna mater actually seems just as unhappy in this private setting as in their books.

How about speaking with Gottfried Keller's "Green Heinrich" with a "praise of tradition" for a try? Currently not in business. But it would be nice for a change.

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