Monsieur Claudel

Grey soulsPhilippe Claudel is a French novelist whose novel “Les ames grises” was published in English as Grey souls. He’s written a number of other books, including children’s fiction and he’s recently scripted and directed a film called “Il ya longtemps que je t’aime.” which was shown successfuly at a European festival and is going into release soon .

I’d seen him at an earlier session on book into film so there were some overlaps in that we saw once again the opening bit from the earlier movie. There were a lot of French people in the audience and my ear was out to their conversation but I’m afraid my franglais can’t comprehend their francais. Interestingly he started with a reading en francais from his novel with a translation up on the big screen for the rest of us.

When he spoke about the novel, he reverted to English and this was of course much slower than his reading in French! He’s a very interesting and thoughtful character and his novel, which is a sort of mix of crime fiction and literary novel, is an attempt to make what he called a parallel between “big history” and “small history.” (i.e. the big events and the ordinary people whose everyday lives are shaped by things bigger). This was, I felt, one session where having read the book first would have been an advantage.

He seems to be a man with a strong social conscience and he talked of “the others” – the people who can’t necessarily speak for themselves. He’d taught writing in prisons and he learned from this that the people locked away from the everyday world are not necessarily monsters and devils but ordinary people just like ourselves. This might sound like a banal observation but he put it a lot better than that! His prison work gave rise to the new film which is about two sisters (played by Elsa Zylberstein and a deglamourised and de-snootified Kristin Scott Thomas – he didn’t say that, I did), the oldest of whom has been in jail for the killing of her terminally ill child.He wanted to show in the film the destruction of a woman by the prison experience and also the parental nightmare of losing a child.

He was asked some questions by the chair which I felt were quite long and hard enough for we fluent Kiwis to comprehend let alone someone who has difficulties with the English language. He was able to answer pretty well and I thought it was quite funny when he was asked if he was a regional novelist (he lives in the North of France with his wife and daughter) and all he could say was “Eef you like.”

A question from the floor came from someone who is going off to France to visit the war grave of a family member who wanted to know what he thought of the war sites becoming tourist destinations. He talked of growing up playing in the places where the great battles had taken place and sometimes finding relics from the time so the interest is not strange for the people of the area given they are living where battles took places with enormous loss of life.

A shame the session couldn’t have been longer as there was so much he could have talked about and he was a very sympathetic unshowy character, a long way from my idea of anyone working in the egomaniacal world of the film industry.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s