Bilkish Vahed

Rebellion & Romance

Tag: love (page 1 of 2)

The Prosaic & the Wild

Loving is easy. In my day-to-day exchanges with strangers and people I don’t know well, often I feel a clear, warm feeling coursing through me. My heart swells as I listen to their stories, or simple comments, observations about this or that. Our common humanity sparks my love which pours forth with no effort. It’s simple and I’m gratified.

Relationships, even though anchored in love, are different.  Repositories of so much stuff – of the individuals and the partnership – accumulated over time, make a relationship a complex animal, full of moodiness, varying flavours, intense whirling swoops and dark heavy dips. But in this very tactility lies its preciousness. 

Egon Schiele, ‘Self Portrait in Jerkin with Right Elbow Raised’ 1914
Egon Schiele, ‘Seated Semi Nude with Hat and Purple Stockings’ 1910

Romantic relationship is much like performance art that requires the other. Only in this edgy relational playing field can one let the subtle bubbles of the deep erotic self rise to the surface. Egon Schiele had an uncanny way of penetrating this self. His art asks: Is there space in the relationship to express the diverse aspects of the self, even those less acceptable, not conventionally pretty parts that are none the less urgently real? Is there space to perform our hidden, under the skin desires?

Whilst we crave the anchoring sense of loving “home” with a romantic partner, still our internal antennae are in revolt at the first hint of stifling constraint. In revolt when we find ourselves having to suppress our desires. Cherishing the other is at the heart of relating, but safeguarding our erotic vivacity is paramount, as we grapple to make space for both the prosaic and the wild. 

Love in a Time of Silence


Le Silence de la Mer is a film about resistance. Silence as the only form of available resistance against German occupiers by French nationals in 1941. But its potency lies in what unfurls amidst the silence – a connection, an unheeding love that steals into the heart of a young French woman and a German officer.

During the summer of 1941 a novella was penned by Jean Bruller and published in 1942 under the pseudonym, “Vercors.” In German occupied France, the book became a symbol of resistance. French filmmaker Jean Pierre Melville’s classic 1949 adaptation of the novella, coloured by his “own experience of the sacrifices and the painful moral intransigence that resistance demands,” was avant-garde in the way it gave voice to characters who were mostly silent. Pierre Boutron’s  2004 adaptation is true to the original story, but sixty-three years on the historical moment – still vitally alive in Melville – has clearly changed.

“Une histoire d’amour qui ne resemble à aucune autre.”   — The Press

In a small French villiage, Wehrmacht captain, Werner von Ebrennac (Thomas Jouannet) is billeted with an elderly Frenchman (Michel Galabru) and his adult granddaughter Jeanne Larosière (Julie Delarme). Von Ebrennac, who was a composer before the war is unlike what his hosts expect. Polite, refined, idealistic, he treats them with utmost civility.

They, who have to tolerate him in their home, stoically go about their lives ignoring him, even as he stands talking intimately in their midst. And talk is what he does each evening.  Beginning with a polite greeting, he proceeds to tell night after night, his thoughts about literature and music; his great love for France and the French people; his dream of a new dawning over Europe.

The old man and his granddaughter maintain an attitude of indifference and silence, but inwardly gradually they begin to have new thoughts about this man, a German captain. Then there’s the music. Jeanne, a piano teacher, and Ebrennac the composer, share a love of Bach. Bach gives them the poetry to speak sensuously in a space beyond the silence. The old man watches his grandaughter. Beneath her resoluteness he sees her other swelling feelings.

One night after living with them for a few months, Von Ebrennac, suitcase in hand, announces that he is leaving. Stunned, they listen as he describes his disillusionment with his own government, the “propaganda” he calls it. He’s off to the Russian front, he explains, where German soldiers are freezing to death. Unruly emotions seize Jeanne. Tears streaming down her face she follows him to his car. For a moment they face each other as she speaks her first, only, and last word: Adieu.

A Chopin Waltz


Marguerite Duras was seventy when she published her autobiographical novel The Lover Moody, melancholic, deeply reflective –  Duras tells the story of a clandestine relationship between a French teenage girl and a twenty-seven year old Chinese man, in 1930’s  Saigon. A story about a relationship that she actually had whilst growing up in Vietnam. “It’s very simple,” she says in the documentary Worn Out With Desire To Write (1995). “It’s a true love story, the story of our affair.”

Marguerite Duras (1914-1996)

“Inside the limousine there’s a very elegant man looking at me. He’s not a white man. He’s wearing European clothes – the light tussore suit of the Saigon bankers. He’s looking at me.”   —  The Lover 

Devoid of sentimentality, the tale of love is entwined with an exploration of “otherness.” The otherness of a wealthy Chinese man in French colonial Indo-China, who becomes the sexual awakener of a white, French, fifteen and a half year old emerging woman. Duras probes the desire that sparks and takes form in the young woman.

Then there is the family of the girl, marked by deep despondency. The poverty and day to day struggle of living; the emotionally remote mother; the brutish elder brother; the younger brother whom the girl loves tenderly –  these threads wind and loop around the unraveling relationship with the Chinese man.

“Never a hello, a good evening, a happy New Year. Never a thank you. Never any talk. Never any need to talk. Everything always silent, distant. It’s a family of stone, petrified so deeply it’s impenetrable. Every day we try to kill one another, to kill.”  — The Lover

Darting backwards and forwards in time, in spare prose the writer wrestles with the circumstances of her life. Throughout the reader remains tentative about the true nature of this relationship between the girl and her lover, unsure of it’s real depth. Then suddenly, at the end of the slim volume, in the midst of a dark ocean, we feel with potency the shifting understanding that filters into the woman’s heart and mind, in the notes of a Chopin waltz.

“On the main deck there was a sudden burst of music, a Chopin waltz… the burst of Chopin under a sky lit up with brilliancies. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the music spread all over the dark boat, like a heavenly injunction whose import was unknown, like an order from God whose meaning was inscrutable. And the girl stared up as if to go and kill herself in her turn, throw herself in her turn into the sea, and afterwards she wept because she thought of the man from Cholon and suddenly she wasn’t sure she hadn’t loved him with a love she hadn’t seen because it had lost itself in the affair like water in sand and she rediscovered it only now, through this moment of music flung across the sea.”     — The Lover

Years later, “after marriages, children, divorces, books, he came to Paris with his wife.” Even then, even after having received the “heavenly injunction,” having been swept up in the realisation of love, still the woman feels his otherness. He tells her that he still loves her, “that he’d love her until death.” We don’t hear her response, don’t know if she remains silent. But the Chopin waltz continues to play softly in the distance, filling the mind of the reader.

The Ways of the Heart

My daughter looked out through the passenger window, at me. Standing on the opposite pavement, I looked back. We’d just bundled her many bags into the Uber, as she set off on her long journey back to the US. 

The driver started the engine and she raised her hand to wave. I waved back, and all at once found myself hurtled into a time warp. The moment froze, the years melded – there was my little girl, my little girl of yesterday and the strong young woman of today, looking out the window at me. It’s weird what the heart can do, swelling in my breast, altering my perception in an uncanny but real way.

I’m happy to see her go on her own way, I said. I’ll miss her, I thought. In moments of heightened emotion, love hurts, I felt. 

François Sagan, 1954


In  Sagan, Paris 1954  Anne Berest delicately weaves multiple narrative threads. The events of early 1954  that led up to the publication of Bonjour Tristesse, and the reflections of a woman who is going through “one of the most painful periods of her life” since being separated from the father of her daughter – Berest herself.

What emerges is an exposition that criss- crosses genres: the novel, biography, fictionalised autobiography. Events are imagined – Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is placed on the night table of the young Sagan, only to be tossed in the air later after a conversation with Sagan’s best friend, Florence Malraux. “Do you think that in 1954 Françoise might have had A Room of One’s Own on her bedside table?” Berest asks Florence. “I don’t think people read Virginia Woolf until quite a bit later. In 1954 we were reading Proust, Dostoyevsky… but Woolf, I don’t think so.”

Writer Françoise Sagan

Françoise Sagan

Anne Berest had been immersed in the writing of her third novel when Denis Westhoff, the only son of Françoise Sagan, approached her. In his “soft, staccato tone,” he asked her to write a book about his mother. “We will soon be marking the tenth anniversary of her death… and I would like people to remember just what the publication of Bonjour Tristesse represented for society back in 1954.”

Chapitre Premier  – Bonjour Tristesse

“Sur ce sentiment inconnu don’t l’ennui, la douceur m’obsèdent, j’hésite à apposer le nom, le beau nom grave de tristesse. C’est un sentiment si complet, si égoiste que j’en ai presque honte alors que la tristesse m’a toujours paru honourable. Je ne la connaissais pas, elle, mais l’ennui, le regret, plus rarement le remords. Aujourd’hui, quelque chose se replie sur moi comme une soie, énervante et douce, et me sépare des autres.

Cet été-là, j’avais dix-sept ans…”

Bonjour Tristesse written in six weeks and published almost immediately was a literary triumph. It is a refined story told by a young sophisticate about boredom and love. What is arresting is the tone, the voice.  The cool, clear eyed, sure footedness of the young woman narrator. Her steady nonchalance.

It is probably Sagan’s abiding fearlessness, intimately wound up with her recklessness and voraciousness that pulses through her text and her life, catching her public’s attention. Hers is the glamour of both a Paris Match style combined with a real love of books. “My mother was never afraid,” Denis Westhof tells Berest. “No, she wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone… It was one of the things she taught me. Not to be afraid.”

In the end, this is not a book primarily about a debut novel. It is an encounter between two women, both French writers. Berest creates a kind of mystical space for this when she makes an appointment to see a clairvoyant, overlaying Sagan’s own visit to a fortune teller.

“Yes, I can see that you’re writing a book on someone’s life,” the clairvoyant says. “It’s the life of a woman who lived as a man would…. She was a woman who had experienced everything. She did whatever she wanted to do.”

Then with certainty she says, “I am seeing Françoise Sagan – that’s correct, isn’t it?”

The clairvoyant alerts Berest: “You are sometimes going to want to do certain things that you are not used to doing….. go ahead…. You have nothing to fear, she is watching over you.”

Berest encounters Sagan. Sagan moves through Berest, altering her.

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