“My son can ensnare you, you know. It comes right out of his eye.”
Service number T 1023 T53. You board in Toulon, headed for Indochina. Another move—just farther this time. You’ve been racking them up ever since Edith and Fabien divorced when you were four. A foster family in Fresnes, by the prison where Laval was waiting for the firing squad—you just can’t make this stuff up. They invite you to lunch. You pick a spot at the far end of the table, away from their affection. You don’t want any part of it. Kicked out of school a lot; you’re always quick with your fists. Catholic school, to teach you some discipline. You don’t buy into it because it’s phony, rancid as religion in the dormitories. One misstep and you’re yellow-carded. Ticketed, confined to quarters. Stubborn as a stump, you collect a whole flip book of ’em, not giving a fuck since no one’s waiting for you outside anyway. God finds you, or you call on Him, you both put up with the arrangement. Business between men. Good at math—goes with your love of precision. Mediocre at history—you’re waiting to write your own. And you sing in the choir. A voice like an angel, not to mention that kisser.
A mug made for movies if ever there was one.
“A great weariness is manifest in the enemy units, some of which give the definite impression of being worn-out physically and morally.”
—General Henri Navarre, Commander-in-Chief of the French forces in Indochina, in a telegram
Port Said, Djibouti, Singapore, and to top it off, Saigon. Sick on the crossing, you cling to your beige Paris transport ticket. A get-out-of-jail-free card: out of the family business in Bourg-la-Reine, selling sausage in a meat market, straight for the ladies in the rue Catinat. Portside girls like sailor boys. A few lukewarm beers while the grunts get a pounding from the Việt Minh at Dien Bien Phu. Posted to a barge, you sit out the action.
“Two forces bring Visconti’s Senso to life. The thwarted love between Countess Livia Serpieri and Lieutenant Franz Malher, and the inevitable conflict between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and nascent Italy. A time of decadence and rebirth, yesterday’s love fueling today’s hatred.”
—L’Écran français [French Screen]
You saw the film at the theater on base. A smoky room that reminds you of the Cinéac in Montparnasse. The girl’s pretty and the guy looks like you, just less manly. But you don’t get why audiences love the story, cheer for the partisans against the Austrians. A natural rebel, you’re not pro-oppressor, but some people needed to be led. Leastaways, that’s how it is in Indochina. A curious race, weird people—take the part of town they call Cholon. Two sects, fighting over who owns the whores. The Bình Xuyên and the Hòa Hảo: all monks, just like the goodly brothers at Saint Nicolas d’Ivry. They’d never believe it back home. But for them to even know, you’d have to write. Instead of which, you stay for a second showing of the film. One thing’s for sure: Visconti would not approve of France’s involvement in Southeast Asia.
“It concerns the painful but unavoidable resolution of a situation that had none.”— L’Aurore
A fuckup; not the first. Just as the jeep tips into the canal, you recall your header off a bike, right in front of a girl. A kid showing off, just copying Émile Carrara, who won the six-day race at Vel d’Hiv’. Except this time, you don’t get up. Pierre Mendès-France and his ceasefire along the 17th parallel, the war over; you just wanted to celebrate. Left the shipyard with some buddies in a stolen jeep, headed for the rice paddies. They end up pulling you out of the mud. Sixty days in the pen, and a poked-out eye.
Your face was a curve you didn’t handle well.
“While the independent government of Saigon declares all foreign presence a loss of national sovereignty, the first American military advisors are arriving in South Vietnam.”
Demobilized, back in France. Jailed forty-five days in Toulon for carrying a banned weapon, a rusty old rifle bought off a pimp in Marseille. Your mother wants you to come back and work at the deli. Not the counter, because of your eye—that’d make the customers uncomfortable—but in the back room, butchering things. You stay in Paris. Wait tables at the Regina, a café with the same name as the movie theatre where your dad works. A bruiser, humping crates at Les Halles. A string of odd jobs like cigarettes or girls, burned through and thrown away. They keep finding you attractive, despite your handicap. But you never give them a second glance.
“Everyone remembers how they met. Romy Schneider leaving a big smooch on Jean-Paul’s cheek at the foot of the gangway (Photo 1), and Belmondo, our national treasure, complimenting the young Sissi with a “Sie sind sehr schön” or “Vous êtes très jolie”—sounds better in French, doesn’t it? (Photo 2). Till recently, it all seemed made up. Today, Romy and Jean-Paul are engaged. Their love is no longer just a publicity stunt.”—Paris Match
In your hotel room on Boulevard Rochechouart, you flip through the magazines. One photo at a time, so your eye won’t get tired. It takes you until late in the night. There’s no such thing as an innocent gaze. So you slip on your trenchcoat, headed for Pigalle. Smuggled cigarettes, gold-plated bracelets fallen from a truck, junk you pawn off on the gigolos just to seem in the know. Not that you’re diving into any fishy-smelling sidelines—the only thing you want to smell is Romy Schneider’s perfume. Pretty girl. You could’ve had her. A quick double espresso at the bar by the drag queens, maybe a croissant. Next to you, the mailman’s peeling his hard-boiled egg. Half of it disappears in one bite. You look away. The yolk’s yellow circle reminds you of an eye.
“In the end, Mr. Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard did not walk away from Cannes with any prizes. And that is only fair. Nor did audiences greet the screening with boos in error. Mr. Burt Lancaster’s performance was satisfactory, but unable to save the film from ridicule. Let us cast no stones; any actor would have floundered face to face with Tony Curtis. Born Bernard Schwartz, son of a modest Hungarian tailor, Mr. Curtis plays Tancredi with a Brooklyn accent! How are we to believe him a noble Sicilian even for a moment? This adaptation of Lampedusa’s novel amounts to outright treason—happily, one soon forgotten. After the revolting Rocco and His Brothers where Vittorio Gassman played a boxer—which was out of his range—Mr. Visconti has hit a new low. He’d be better off staying at Covent Garden and mounting operas. Should he slip up there, the fall won’t be as hard.” —L’Intransigeant
You can’t believe it. That role was made for you! Right down to the eye patch on the guy’s face! You wouldn’t even have had to pretend! You need a smoke. You rush over to the café, dragging Simone Boussaïda along behind you. You’d promised her the whole evening. The movies, and a dinner for two. Smart kid, Boubou. Used to be a dancer, till polio struck; you guys go out sometimes. Put your handicaps together and make a nice couple, but not one that winds up in bed together. No, just a couple of pals, out for a flick. Simone likes walking around on your arm. To her, you’re a star. Only her.
“The cinema is a bourgeois art, a dead art. Instead of drawing out the agony of its death on screen, I’d rather move on to something else.”—Luchino Visconti
Your apartment is revealing. Undecorated, hardly any furniture, just the bare minimum. And a canary in its cage, your only companion. Both confined to a cramped existence. He didn’t ask to have his wings clipped. You could take flight, soar over the rooftops through the American night, with its stars alighting at the Grand Hôtel. Sometimes you run into them in Saint-Germain-des-Près. Beret, existentialist black turtleneck, they’re all looking for a France that no longer exists, except in Hollywood. You’re very real; all you need is a springboard. The chance to explode into “The Talented Mr. Delon.”
“In a communiqué addressed to the Italian Minister of Culture, the terrorist faction known as the Sinistra Proletaria claims credit for the attacks on the SIT-Siemens, Pirelli, and Fiat factories in Turin and Milan. These were carried out to denounce the social and cultural alienation wrought by the ruling classes. Luchino Visconti, leader of the Red Brigade, is currently wanted by Interpol.”—Dépêche AFP
Olga Horstig-Primuz spotted you on a café terrace. Not the famous agent, actually, but one of her protégés, Jean-Claude Brialy. He thinks you’ve got what it takes. She seems to agree. Olga waves you over. You show her your best side—your only side. She screws a Kool into her drawn-out cigarette holder, and Jean-Claude flicks his lighter. She looks straight into your wound, guesses at others, and Olga Horstig-Primuz makes her call. She exhales smoke and these words: “How’d you like to be in movies?”
“In the end, Pier Paolo Pasolini has bowed out of The Stranger, out of solidarity with Visconti, who had considered adapting Camus’s novel for a while. The director explains all this in a long interview he gave our magazine. Instead, Pasolini will be shooting Angelique and the Sultan, after the famous heroine created by Anne and Serge Golon. Pasolini wants to return to the character’s roots, ‘a pervert whose sole pleasure comes from a disfigured lover.’ As Robert Hossein no longer wishes to play Joffrey de Peyrac, we hear rumors that a newcomer will step into the rôle.”—France Roche, Cinépanorama
“Cinépanorama” © by Xavier Mauméjean. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Edward Gauvin. All rights reserved.