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Just like in the movies, from Drôle de temps

Just like in the movies

(from Drôle de temps, 1997)

Enclosed in the invitation was a photocopied plan indicating the different routes to Mass, then to dinner. Lionel excused himself saying he could ouly attend dinner. When the day arrived, he took the train to the nearest station, jumped into a cab, followed a winding roud along a river, then entered a forest. Exiting the woods, the driver pointed to a château dominating the valley: a middle-class 19th century folly, converted into a restaurant-hotel for family receptions and company seminars.

The entrance to the estate opened on to a paved alley decorated with woodworm-riddltd statues, maintaining the illusion of a park. The rest of the gardens were converted into a parking lot. Lionel paid the taxi. Around him, men in suits and women with hats got out of their big expensive cars ? injection models, in dark colors, with flashing warning lights. They walked with the spring wind, in the euphoria of the wedding ceremouy. The conversation revolved around business, children, studies, and holidays. At the château's entrance, the newlywed couple, dressed in coattails and a white dress, welcomed guests. Lionel kissed his uncle and annt, the bridegroom's parents, disguised as the Lord and his Lady. Wearing a formal top hat, Uncle Jean was smoking a cigar, assuming the airs of country gentry.

Cocktails were served before dinner. The guests gathered in the living room which had sliding doors opening out above the river. Lionel greeted several cousins who found him in top form, which reassured him. At 31 years of age, his late bloomer bohemian attire, a ratty pair of jeans and a T-shirt with a slogan in big letters that said: "Never Work," bothered some people; but tonight, everyLody was amused by it. Words rang out in discussions revolving around golf, skiing, cars, eelevision, family, and politics. A District Member of Parliament, a friend of the family, was talking with an industrialist. Lionel was thinking that this regionally important person, whom he knew since childhood, must be well versed culturally and must have read the important article on his short film published a month before in the local press. He made it a point to pass back and forth in front of him hoping for a compliment and perhaps reccive an offer to do business together. Turning his head towards Lionel, the M.P. started towards him mockingly and said:

"Hey you, the artist! Is everything OK? Still in music?" and turned again towards the industrialist.

Lionel was offended. Hurt, he poured himself another drink. Yesterday, Paris praised him. He had just won the Monoprix Prize for the best short film, a professional competition financed by this chain of department stores. Today, the province did not even know him: "The artist!" What would France be without artists? Do we talk like this about Renoir, Rivette, Resnais? Lionel, low-spirited, went to a humbler uncle, an ex-priest, who had been converted into a militant for the working class. Together, they had champagne.

For dinner, a marriageable girl was placed to his left. Around the table were other people of his age, in different professions. Fabrice, a distant cousin of the same age was to his right. They started a conversation. As a middle manager of a computer firm, Fabrice expounded on his job before discussing Lionel's.

"You're still in films?"

Why, "still"? Lionel interpreted this word to be a conscious wish for that to cease; an involuntary appeal expressed by his family. His pride hurt a second time, he forced himself to explain that not only was he still in movies, but to top it all, he was a man seen around Paris, a friend of several stars, whose names he dropped. He had even recently won the Monoprix prize. Fabrice smiled:

"Great! How much did it bring you?"

Lionel multiplied the real amount several times and announced the sum of eighty thousand francs. To confuse Fabrice, he embarked on a long account of the production's financial mechanisms, the advance payment schemes and the millions at stake on his next project. He added that he paid too much in taxes and perceived a feeling of solidarity in Fabrice's eyes. The negative impression evaporated. Fabrice believed in Lionel's tax burden; hence in his success.

In truth, Lionel earned his living respectably, thanks to his photography for public schools in Paris. Every year, in the preparatory and primary grades, he would take portraits of several thousand children but he hardly spoke about it and cultivated an image as a promising director.

Going deeper into the conversation, he addressed Fabrice's wife, already a mother of two who was interestod in the movies. Lionel felt she would soon invite him to dinner. The courses followed slowly one after another. Salmon. Beef with sauce. The marriageable lady to his left silently chowed her food with shy smiles. Facing him was the young priest who had officiated at the wedding. On the other side were a couple of young doctors. The newlyweds made a point of setting a table for 30-year-olds. However, Lionel found his age immaterial. As far from true youth as from the nobility of old age. They were just at the main course. Some guests were for Europe, while others were against. He tried to come up with original ideas that ended up as shallow as the opposing theories. The doctor belonged to the left; the others sympathized with the right. The topics included the recession, the crisis, unemployment, Chirac, Rocard, Jospin, Juppé . . .

Between the salad and the cheese, the young priest asked Lionel what he thougEt about the (Cannes festiva} and French films in general. Talking in an informed professional tone, the young director felt tired inside. He sudenly excused himself, stood up and left the dining room to walk outside. He needed to be alone, to do something meaningful: get some fresh air and light a cigarette.

He left the château while a Strauss waltz began playing inside. The guests began dancing. Seated on a low wall, Lionel felt he finally found a moment of peace when he saw a shadow approaching from the parking lot. It was Uncle Jean with a movie camera. The groom's father wore his formal top hat askew and his eyes were shining. Drunk, he advanced in his coat and tails wearing a wide grin on his face. He scrutinized Lionel almost tenderly with the complicity of an old unclefriend. Approaching the low wall, he lifted the camera and began filming his nephew, saying:

"Here is our dear Lionel; a director-nephew . . ."

Lionel was embarrassed. The uncle continued filming, loudly citing Hitchcock, Fellini, while aiming the video on his victim whom he questioned live:

"Your mother just told us you won the Monoprix prize. Can you tell us what that consists of?"

This interview was grotesque. Uneasy before the amateur cameraman, Lionel maskod his face with his hand. Since his uncle insisted, he gave a nervous smile to the camera, scarched for a phrase but couldn't find any. So as not to look stupid, he felt obliged to respond and, after stammering, seriously said:

"It's a prize given to a professional director; a prize that is quite famous in the profession."

Silence. Uncle Jean continued:

"Tell us about your life. Is it always the odd jobs that earn you a living?"

Lionel could no longer articulate a word. He searched for some pleasantry but could not find any while his uncle concluded:

"Thank you, Lionel."

The director was trapped, alone, an idiot, distressed by his lack of a repartee. He stood up pathetically to return to the dining room. The Strauss waltz was heard coming from the open windows accompanied by a music box. In the middle of the deserted dance floor, the bridegroom in tails attempted to waltz with his mother. Ramrod straight, they stomped around clumsily, waddling around the beautiful Blue Daoube before the guests. The music continued on in four-time measure. People ate, drank, talked, laughed and shouted. A11 that was happening in an ersatz château one hundred fifty kilometers from Paris.

Lionel had ouly one idea in mind: leuving and finding a car that would take him home. He informed the bridegroom that if somebody were leaving in his direction tonight, it would be best for him. There was not much hope for this. Lionel wanted to go home, vvatch a movie, drag himself to a seedy nightclub, or wait by a metro platform, no matter where . . . To pass the time, he had more champagne. While the guests moved from rock to forming a conga line behind each other, the bride approached him and asked:

"Was it you, looking for a ride home? I have two friends from work who are going back to Paris. They can take you if you want."

Her finger pointed towards the middle of the perspiring crowd at two young ladies in their thirties, swinging their hips and shouting in the midlle of an Antillian song. The taller one kad a dress with a low neckline surrounded by multi-colored ribbons that bounced to the rhythm of her breasts. The smaller one was in a tight skirt. Her blouse was full of perspiration rings and her face was soaking vvet. They were having a great time jumping up and down making obscene gestures in front of other potbellied thirty-year old men in ties moaning in ecstasy. Lionel hesitated but it was getting late. A car to Paris could not be brushed aside. Taking advantage of a pause between two songs, he slid over to the young ladies who were catching their breaths. He introduced himself as the cousin-of-the-groom-looking-for-a-ride-to-Paris . . . The taller one gave him a smile but the smaller one scowled. He did not have a car? Lionel felt pathetic. The eyes of the young women appraised him, looking distastefully at his attire. She began:

"I'll tell you when we're leaving. Be ready because I won't wait."

It was clear she gave the orders. The music started again and the two friends continued to gyrate before the bachelors in heat and the old men looking for titillation. Fabrice and his wife tapped their fingers on their hips to the rhythm of the mtsic while the old mothers contemplated their offspring with tender smiles. Lionel admitted to himself that his artists' soirces were no better. Seeing the hour approaching, he even started to think this was an enloyable wedding reception. While waiting for his ride, he took another glass of champagne and began taking his leave of the guests, suddenly filled with gnod humor.

Fifteen minutes later, the two ladies left the dance floor, disheveled, faces soaked in sweat, clothes totally rumpled, dragging themselves. They went towards the château's exit and the alley at the park where the young director followed them discreetly but resolutely.

On the way to their car - a cornpact late model for 30year old yuppies - Lionel realized worriedly that the girls were completely drunk. Weaving between the bushes, far from the loudspeakers, they were singing the refrain that came from the château windows while propping one another up from the shoulders. The small one cried out to the humid air, then suddenly changed her mind and began to look for the car keys in her bag. She took a while to find them and started losing her ternper. Suddenly, in the cool air of the park, she turned towurds her passenger, stared intently at him anew, and rudely said:

"Ah, you're there. I had forgotten."

Lionel excused himself and said they should not worry about him. She said she nceded a change of clothes before leaving as it was impossible to drive with her tight skirt and that she would put on a pair of pants. With eyes shining, she ordered the man:

"Don't look. Turn around."

Lionel had no intention of viewing the spectacle but the girl's wurning made it scem obscene. Obeying, he turned to face the embankment. The driver removed her skirt in the middle of the parking lot and donned her pants repeatedly saying:

"Don't turn around, eh? It's not for you."

The two women were laughing. They were drunk. It would be a dangerous trip. To suffer the harpies for an hour did not scare Lionel, but he did not want to end up in a wheelchair. Go back to the château? He could no longer do that. He wanted to see Paris, his house, his bed. He slid into the back of the car that took off into the foggy night.

A winding road descended to the valley. He discrectly curled up in the back seat and hoped these young women would exercise some self-control at the wheel; that the folly would cease the same instant the key turned in the ignition. On the contrary, the alcoholic hysteria redoubled with the movement of the car, eating up the rniles at a hundred kilometers an hour along the road and its turns, short of falling into ditches.

"Stop the music, I want to sing," said the small one to the taller girl, "Lock for Patrick Bruel's tape."

The tall one found the tape and insertod it in the player. The singer began shouting out his despair. Public concert, screaming crowds. The car was traveling along the river. The words evoked first loves and disappointed adolescent ambitions. The refrain emphasized: "You are a failure." Patrick Bruel cried and moaned. The crowd shouted and sang together: "You are a failure."

The driver did not find the music loud enough and turned the volume up to maximum. The speakers were just behind I-ionel who intensely suffered all the feelings expressed by the amplified voice. The car roared along the national road at one hundred and fifty kilometers an hour. The effect of the champagne still left the passenger slightly euphoric. In front, the two women chain-smoked and sang with the music:

". . . And you' Françoise and you, Sophie, have you succeeded in your goals?"

They were moving and dancing around the wheel while the vehicle careened from right to left. Holding the wheel with one hand, the driver removed her vest and suddenly accelerated. Her arms were half-naked while Lionel stiffened behind. He watched every turn of the road, waiting for the headlights of an oncoming car that would smash into them. This girl is crazy. He did not have the courage to tell her to slow down. She would go out of her way to make it worse. One hundred fifty, one hundred sixty . . . For an instant, Lionel thought of getting down right there, in the middle of the road, in the middle of the forest, and continue on, hitch-hiking. He did not have the courage.

"You are a failure. You are a failure." sang the voice.

Along the highway, the speedometer went to a hundred eighty but Lionel felt secure. Leaning forward, he asked the ladies about their lives, their work. They were '`financial consultants in a communications firm." He attempted to learn more. On what elid they consult? They typed texts on machines, filed papers and answered calls. The car accelerated through the night heading towards Paris-Notre-Dame.

The ladies still wanted to listen to Patrick Bruel. They said he was fantastic and drove them crazy. They were talking between themselves, smoking more cigarettes. The driver askod her co-pilot to rewind the cassette, no not that, a little further on, fast forward, yes, that's it, good, Patrick! When she turned the wheel dangerously, the co-pilot became slightly worried. But they were so drunk they preferred singing heedlessly: "You failed your life . . . did you succeed in your goals?"

The driver was fecling warm. While driving, she opened her blouse exposing her white-laced bra.

"Ah, I feel better!"

She breathed out and encouraged her friend: "Do what I just did if you feel warm!"

Obediently, the other one opened her dress while Patrick Bruel intoned a lively song, accompanied by the public's applause.

They were approaching Paris. The traffic was denser. A small queue was forming at the automatic tollgate. The two women were singing in chorus with their half-naked breasts bouncing to the song. A big car inched up along the side. Suddenly, a hand moved behind the tinted windshield making a sign at Lionel. While salivating for the two secretaries, a mustachioed man gave the young director the thumbs up sign in congratulations. He contemplated the breasts and seemed envious of Lionel who for the first time felt strong, adopting a dominating face and giving a sign back to the man signifying complicity.

The girls threw coins into the basket. The car started again. The other vehicle kept up with them. The man gave Lionel a lusty sign of sexual encouragement, then accelerated, overtook them and disappeared.

Patrick Bruel was singing a sad song. The two women scemed calmer. Their breasts relaxed and the voices lowered in an alcoholic stupor. Each was lost in thought. The car raced into the night. Lionel looked out the window. The monotonous scenery passed by hirn under the full moon: forests, black holes, urLan zones, fluorescent signs signaling invisible monuments, hypothetical archrological ruins.

Plunged into the obscurity of the fast lane, alone in the night where the headlights shone, lost in the solitude of this car, he let himself go. Like in the movies. No rules. No goals. Looking at the scenery. Looking at one another. Doing something about things, tripping over, starting over again. Remembering other trips, his head Iying against the windshield of a car or train. To be a passenger on a road, in the night.

"I want something . . ."

This desire, suddenly formulated by the driver, brought Lionel out of his reverie. Patrick Bruel's tape stopped. The car was in the vicinity of Paris between municipalities, industrial zones and commercial centers. The director comforted himself with the thought that he would soon arrive. The driver repeated while insisting:

" I want something . . ."

Half asleep, her friend opened an eye: "What did you say? "

"Do you know the drive-in?"

"What's that?"

"It just opened, a little farther, just after the cross-roads. You know, a drive-in, like in America: an open-air cinema for cars. Open twenty-four hours . . ."

"Oh yeah?"

"Let's go."

Surprised hy this last minute decision, Lionel hoped the other would refuse. She seemed so tired. He telepathically encouraged her to say no, to go home and sleep. The tall one, manipulated by the smaller one, immediately gave in. The driver stepped on the accelerator while shouting:

"Yippee! Just like in America . . ."

Lionel had no choice. Bear with it. A little later, the car reached the junction and exited from the right lane to the Bruyères service area. The vehicle slowed down, drove along a gas station, a supermarket and public toilets. The ligEted signs brought them from the darkness to the new drive-in, a parking lot installed at the extremity of the service station surrounded by bushes. An automatic barrier was at the entrance and only accepted credit cards. The ladies looked in their bags but could not find any. They began getting impatient. The driver asked Lionel to lend her his card. He was still hoping to change the situation by saying he did not have one. This confession lowered him even more in the driver's esteem who mockingly laugLed. Almost immediately, she found her credit card. The barrier lifted automatically and the car entered the parking lot.

Three o'clock a.m. Half a dozen cars were watching the movie on parking spaces delineated by white markers on the ground. At the end was a big screen where black and white images of a musical comedy passed by in the night; and then? without any transition?a colored sequence of Rambo battling in a modern hell was shown . . . The car stopped near a metal post crowned by a speaker. The driver lowered her window and let the sound in. A voice commented on the excerpts that succeeded each other on the screen: an anthology of cinematic legends. John Travolta was dancing Saturday Night Fever, then Michèle Morgan kissed Jean Gabin on that foggy platform . . . The girls calmed down again. Lionel was interested for an instant. He was pleased to see Humphrey Bogart. Between two sequences, a commentator appeared and spoke, scated on a director's armchair:

"Thank you, Michèle Morgan, Jean Gabin, John Travolta, Humphrey Bogart. Thank you for these magical moments. "

Another car entered the parking lot and parked beside them. The commentator continued.

"Let's leave Hollywood and its legends for a moment to go to the other side of the seventh art: those who earn little, the eternal seconds, the failed destinies that gravitate under the shadow of the stars while waiting for their day that does not always arrive . . ."

Funny idea, Lionel mused. He did not think that the cinema's backstage could be brought out in a service station along the highway. The commentator presented the following sequence:

"Let us discover, for example, this unhappy figure who obstinately goes on without hope, this dismissed pretender, funny and pathetic, of cinematographic legend . . ."

A change of lights announced the new excerpt. Plastered on the back seat, Lionel watched the image grow larger with the effect of a clumsy zoom. The camera scemed like it was held by somebody drunk. For a fraction of a second, the young man did not understand what he saw; then his eyes opened wide in hallucination. The film showed a silhouette seated on a low stone wall in front of a château. The lens progressed towards someone. It would seem . . .

Lionel closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He opened his eyes once more. They became even larger as he stared at the film. He rubLed his eyebrows but in vain. The image of Lionel, his own image, now occupied half the screen with his decrepit jeans, his badly ironed T-shirt with the slogan, "Never work," his young-old body made even uglier by a poor quality camera. The music of a wedding party is heard, The Beautiful Blue Danube. Seated on the low wall, Lionel seemed terrorized. Initially smiling, his face was deformed into an embarrassed grimace while the camera operator advanced towards him. The commentator's voice explained:

"Lionel thinks of himself as a successful director but he has never done a film; except for company documentaries. His only reward? A prize for amateurs given by a chain of department stores. Lionel should give up but, intoxicated by the legend, he is obstinate. For lack of admirers, he had himself interviewed by a member of the family . . ."

Lionel recognized his uncle's voice:

"Your mother just told us you won the Monoprix prize. Can you tell us what that consists of?"

Horribly embarrassed, the person on the screen hid his face with his hand. Is he intimidated? Does he consider himself a star followed by the paparazzi? Coward or a lover of myths, he remains silent. He gives a nervous smile towards the camera and stammers a few incomprehensible words. He finally manages to raise his head and very seriously pronounces, like a student interrogated on a lesson:

"It's a prize given to a professional director; a prize that is quite famous in the profession."

Peals of laughter are heard on the soundtrack; the laughter of spectators in a room when a comedy is taped. Absurdly, Lionel crumpled on the backseat. Curiously, the two ladies did not even react. One would think they had forgotten. The driver simply said to the other:

"How pathetic this guy is . . ."

The interviewer addressed Lionel from the screen:

"Tell us about your life. Is it always the odd jobs that earn you a living?"

Rippling laughter is heard once again. The on-screen Lionel remained in shock, pathetic, incapable of saying a word. The one in the car was hoping this was just a nightmare but this night, these girls, this parking lot, did not have the consistency of dreams. Lionel looked at the parked car beside him. A driver was looking at the film from behind his windshield. Suddenly, Lionel recognized the man who gave him signs at the tollgate just a while ago, encouraging him. Seated behind the wheel of his big car, the mustachioed man turned once more towards him with mocking lips. Like the first time, he put out his arm but instead of giving him the thumbs up, in a sign of macho complicity, he turned his thumb down like a Roman emperor refusing grace.

Fighting these hallocinations, Lionel turned towards the interior of the car. The faces of the girls were furiously attacking him. Turned towards the backseat, both girls seemed full of unmitigated hate, as though he had duped them from the beginning; as though they just realized the truth, totally devoid of compassion. On the contrary, the kinder one admitted to the mean one that she was right from the start and it was the kinder one who first said:

"You're a real zero! You're a real zero!"

The other one, satisfied, with eyes shining, suddenly screamed:

"You're really pathetic . . ."

Lionel was not sure he understood. He was scared. Their voices became particularly aggressive. He turned to the guy in the next car who watched them while pointing his thumb down. The driver yelled at him a second time:

"Get out!"

Lionel was bewildered. He didn't know where to go. He knew he had to obey and stammered:

"Yes, right away . . ."

Trembling, he opened the door under the repulsive stare of the two secretaries. He placed a foot on the parking lot, almost falling. Above him, on the big screen, a new sequence began:

"After these losers of the cinema, let's go back to the world of the fantastic and the legends."

The projector showed a Walt Disney film. Alone, on the parking lot, Lionel backed out of the car. The tall girl continued to attack him savagely while the small one lowered her window and turned towards the bigger car and addressed the mustachioed man:

"How pathetic this guy is!"

"What's your name?" seductively replied a macho voice.

"Sandrine. And you?"

Lionel wanted to go as far away from there as possible, to see the sunrise . . . He stumbled to the end of the drive-in, arriving at the bushes near the scrcen. He suddenly found himself in the midst of a small wooded area, half-lit by the screen.The ground was strewn full of pine trce needles, oily wrappers, and Coca-Cola cans. Lionel stumbled and continued towards the dark. He stepped on plastic bags and toilet paper. It was getting darlcer. The area was not safe at all but the young man was less fenrful now. From afar, he heard the roar of cars from the highway. He continued on straight ahead, stepped on a bag of peanuts, impatiently putting distance between himself and tlie girls. He would certainly reach some place sooner or later.

Translation: Ophelia Fadullon Lizot et Luis Antonio Maneru

Date de création : 16/07/2005 @ 18:21
Catégorie : - Extraits en anglais
Page lue 6416 fois

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