Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977) Poster

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Who is Vera Baxter? This is the question the movie asks. There are many disputable facts, both due to differing viewpoints, but also because characters are lying either to themselves or to others. However, it seems reasonably clear that Vera is the wife of Jean Baxter, a man once heard in the movie, but never seen. Who is Jean Baxter? A rich man. The only certainties are those, he is a rich man, she is the wife of a rich man. These are the pins under which they live. True identity perhaps long lost in childhood.

Vera rests alone in an expensive house she is considering renting, in Thionville, and is visited by two women, the first a lover of Jean who is fascinated to know who Vera is, as Jean had often spoke of her, and an anonymous woman who became fascinated the name Vera Baxter when she hears it in a local bar. Names are very important in the movie, Vera grew up in the Arcangues, in south west France, at the conjunction of the Atlantic and the Spanish border. Scenes of the beach are shown throughout the movie, but Thionville is in Lorraine, in north eastern France. Thionville was known as Diedenhofen by the Germans, indeed had been inhabited by Germans for a millennium before annexation by France in the 17th Century. There followed a back and forth courtesy of the Franco-Prussian War, which left a French town but with many Neo-Gothic buildings (examples of which are shown in the movie). France has always been the feminine, and Germany the masculine in the French imagination. The best film exploration of this is Melville's Le Silence de la Mer.

Vera Baxter, the name is at once feminine and masculine. Baxter, so dominant and masculine a name, referred to women bakers in Anglo-Saxon times, but a few centuries later had been terminally co-opted as masculine. Vera is as feminine a name as I can think of. But the emphasis is on Baxter, repeated twice in the title. The Second Sex of Simone de Beauvoir appears to be a touchstone for this movie. Women have historically been defined as the "Other", that which is different from man, which revolves around man. Women still tend to identify themselves in reference to their social roles rather than their achievements in my experience. Vera Clouzot also springs to mind, that wonderful hyper-feminine actress who appeared only in the films of her husband. The male viewpoint is typified by the reported opinion of Jean Baxter that his wife's demeanour is one of docility, whilst the first woman visitor describes it as one of certitude.

Her first visitor mentions Vera returning to Arcangues briefly, describing it as "where people know you". She reports that her husband said that it was only possible to know Vera through desire. Perhaps she is only who she is during moments of passion. In any case none of this is shown in the movie, there is distance as much as anything. That is maybe the point, that her identity has been destroyed. This most heightened expression of this is when the second visitor, "l'inconnue", refers to a whole region of women deserted emptied when their husbands left for the crusades.

Something that I pondered on in the movie was that sometimes it's only possible for me to know other men via women. Men are so competitive and macho, and therefore reluctant to reveal themselves to one another, I can often only understand them by listening to their girlfriends, who are allowed to see them. Michel Cayre (Depardieu - present only at the beginning of the movie) dismisses the husband, only seeing about him that he is rich, therefore to be envied and despised. The only hint of who Jean Baxter might be comes from listening to Vera. I was very drawn in by this point and others, and I think Duras' technique aids this. Both in Detruire dit-elle, and here, I felt as if I were sat amongst the characters, here when Vera and "l'inconnue" are positioned around empty chairs that fill up half the frame, I felt as if I was being invited to sit down.

The sea, often used in contrast to the sky, or the mountains, as a feminine plays a large part in many of Duras' novels and films. Arcangues is by the sea, and the rhythm of the conversations is like the lapping of waves on the shore. Rhythm is important in the film and provides it with much of its allure, for most of the movie Chilean movie plays on a continuous loop. Some people have found this hard to handle, but I felt it removed much of the oppressiveness and inwardness that the film might otherwise have had. It was also a reminder that life is out there, even if it may be as far away as the other side of the Atlantic.

The film was also released under the title of "L'adultère", which in French can either mean adulterer or adulteress. For whatever reason and whatever truth (the movie suggests more than one), Vera appears to have given into the urge to sleep with another man not long prior to the start of the movie, which has provoked a sort of despair. Jean has had many affairs, but they're not treated in the same light, almost as if his are acceptable, as if a man's nature is to give his body freely, but a woman's to save her love for one man. The scenes during the credits I would suggest relate to this and are post-coital.

As a side note, Duras is uncredited as a cast member in the movie, but is an unseen participant in the first conversation of the movie.
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Ponderous, pretentious and it feels like it goes on forever.
MOscarbradley2 October 2020
Although a major player in the French New Wave, the films of Marguerite Duras are, in general, not that widely known and "Baxter, Vera Baxter" is one that disappeared from view quicker than most. She wrote and directed it in 1977 with her usual collaborator Delphine Seyrig and a little-seen Gerard Depardieu heading a largely unknown cast and it plods along in typrical metronomic fashion as we are introduced to our titular heroine, (Claudine Gabay), by Depardieu who, it appears, is her current lover before meeting Vera herself as she languishes in some expensive villa regaling anyone who listens with tales of her sorry love life; Seyrig is one of the listeners.

This is the kind of art-house movie that gives art-house movies a bad name. Ponderous, pretentious and, although only ninety minutes long, feeling like an eternity in hell. It's the kind of rubbish you can see the Monty Python team sending up with dialogue so precious you may feel like switching the subtitles off altogether but even then you would still have to listen to the God-awful music. To be avoided like the worst case of Covid.
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Another display of Duras's pedantry. Easy beautiful images. Insufferable dialogue.
Falkner197619 February 2022
One of the least unbearable Duras movies. With photography by Sacha Vierny, Delphine Seyring more languid than ever, and beautiful images of the coast. So far the positive part.

As always with Duras, the problem starts with the text: ridiculous, empty, contrived, and so underlined by the style of the film that it seems that we are being shouted that it is art with capital letters.

Again the usual zombies chatting slowly and staring into space for what seems like an eternity.

A tribute to that intellectual kitsch of the time, with all the clichés and fashionable stereotypes about immature and cowardly men, empathic, profound and understanding women. Affected interpretations, stupid dialogues (that telephone conversation! With poor Perier shouting Vera!... Vera!), a dash of classy French eroticism (Vera naked with a pearl necklace), and a desolate and luxurious background of an uninhabited mansion with impressive windows to provide easy beutiful images.

Duras continues to have followers, although her film work is largely forgotten. For me she has always been the most unbelievable and overrated nullity of French literature in the second half of the 20th century. Compared to the highly esteemed Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute, Perec... the literary work of this author is of a badly repressed sentimentality, only tolerated by a style reputed for its conciseness and supposed precision (favorite word among the french critics of that time), and her continual display of so called correct political positioning.

I must say about the music, which is ironically referred to by the characters as "outer turbulence": it plays continuously from the second scene, for almost 90 minutes, in an unbearable uniform rhythm. It's pretty at first, over the lonely beaches, the mansions, and the desolate mansion rooms. In the end it is already torture.

Her cinema is different, assumed to be targeted for a minority, with artistic flair, but that doesn't make it good.

Anyway this is far better than Le camion, and on a pair with Nathalie Granger. For an increasingly select minority.
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Those who wait
dmgrundy18 September 2020
Over a slow hour and a half, Duras' film unfolds in three scenes: narrative openings at a hotel bar introduce us to the absent figure of Vera Baxter, who waits in a large and empty villa she's set to rent; in the villa, Vera is visited by the former mistress of her husband, the enormously wealthy Jean Baxter; subsequently-in the film's real centre-the stranger (Delphine Seyrig) who'd heard Baxter's backstory at the hotel turns up at the house un-announced, listening in on a phone conversation between Baxter and her husband in which, with apparent, but unconvincingly finality, Vera announces that it's over, and then, in the subsequent, lengthy dialogue, insists that Baxter-who admits to frequently lying-will reveal her 'secret'. All this to slow pans around the enormous, clean, empty and arid villa, paid for with Jean's money; shots of the beach where Vera grew up; and of Thionville, the town where she now finds herself: sea, ruins and woods, emptied of people, but with an incessant, endlessly looped piece of South American music for pipe, guitar and handclaps, described by the characters as the sounds of a party from the villa nearest the sea, and in the film somewhere between diegetic and non-diegetic, real and hallucinated, ambient suggestion and maddening itch, a fly that won't go back out through the window. The revelation, if revelation it is, that Vera's one extra-marital affair was in fact set up by Jean as payment for a gambling debt reveals to a greater and more shocking extent the prison which is this bourgeois marriage-a marriage to a man, friends of her brothers, met as a teenager, enormously wealthy, but, according to Vera, a man who 'has money' rather than a 'rich man', who compulsively spends on gambling and on women in order to cover for his own lack. Vera in turn serves as accoutrement to the house (already paid for by Jean before Vera has even decided whether or not to say) as accoutrement to wife as accoutrement to husband, a financialised transaction in which sexual encounter serves as a payment for a debt between men, in which any act of freedom or defiance seems already circumscribed in a vicious circle of icy control. Vera has been sitting in the house, refusing to the answer the phone to her husband, her lover, the estate agent, contemplating suicide. But towards the film's end, the stranger tells her of the women who waited for their husbands, on holy wars or crusades, who learned to communicate with animals and forests, who were burned at the stake: one of these women was Vera Baxter, she informs her, in a flash of analysis that brings together the film's glacially, even languorously excoriating demolition of patriarchal marriage. At the film's end, the two depart for the hotel in town, not so much in sisterhood or escape, but with some slowly deepening knowledge beyond the incessant lies, tellings and re-tellings that both entrap and, perhaps, contain the seeds to understanding, itself the seed for liberation.
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A rare beauty
sveinpa17 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Having seen Duras' earlier film Nathalie Granger for the first time this morning after breakfast, and promptly posting a positive review for it, I found nothing better to do after dinner (It has been raining all day) to see Baxter, Vera Baxter, also for the first time.

Before the introductory titles are finished, we see, in bright colours, a high class, pale, semi nude woman lying down in four different poses. What we hear, however, is the sound of the sea. When the film "proper" begins, we see a modern house, and learn by an off screen voice that it is for rent. A scene in a tavern or hotel introduces a clerk that tells a female visitor that the house is rented out every summer to Vera Baxter, and also that something terrible happened there some time ago. There is a journalist present who has tried to get in touch with Vera Baxter without any success. The visitor repeats the name with great accuracy; "Baxter, Vera Baxter". And then the music begins. The music?

Yes, the music. During the remaining film there is a constant loop of some basic guitar chords and a high pitched flute that are intruding on both the characters and the viewers. It seems there is some party of strangers nearby, but no one ever sees it. The sound is never distant in a natural way, however, but very much on the soundtrack, and creates very much a stage of its own, an autonomous sound stage, so to speak. This is not unlike that of the sounds of the beggar in India Song, but my reaction to it is quite different: In India Song it gave the film an extra dimension that I found totally mesmerizing, but this flute soon got on my nerves, I must admit. And perhaps the effect is intended but the characters do not seem to mind, on the contrary, they, at least the life weary Vera Baxter, connect it with life and with living.

It seems to be some secrecy involved in the renting of the house. Jean Baxter has already rented it, but his wife Vera is not informed about this, and she is not certain that the price is right. First we see Vera taking to an old friend at the house, but she soon leaves. The visitor then mysteriously enters the house, meets with Vera, and the rest of the film takes place there, only interrupted by some fine exterior shots of the surrounding woods and the beach by the Atlantic. Much of the dialogue is obscure, as is expected in a Duras script, and I do not intend to offer any extensive analysis of it after a single viewing. Treason and infidelity abounds, as can be heard in a phone call from Jean. The visitor enquires about her marriage but also seems to play her part in the game,

The house also plays its important part. It is a fairly modernistic piece of architecture; vast windows from floor to ceiling revealing a landscape covered by trees looking over the ocean. As such the house is the absolute opposite of the Gothic and spooky old building by the pond in Nathalie Granger. Here the house is barren with only some creaking black leather furniture, but its doorways are framing the shots as would the rooms have a life of their own that they, or the house as a whole, imposes on the characters. As they are "framed" by the music, they are also framed by the house.

Gilles Deleuze, in Cinema 2 (1985), finds Duras' use of houses significant, he points out that her films "were marked by all the powers of the house, or of house and grounds together, fear and desire, talking and being quiet, going out and coming back, creating the event and burying it, etc. Marguerite Duras was a great filmmaker of the house, such an important theme in cinema, not simply because women 'inhabit' houses, in every sense, but because passions 'inhabit' women: as in Destroy she said, and especially Nathalie Granger and, later still, Vera Baxter." I take this to mean that like the way the two women in this film is framed by the house and its rooms, their passions are also dictated by the building, or inhabited as Deleuze says. As they move about the house, they also constantly talk about it, its environs and (especially) its high price. They might be the talking subjects but they are also the objects enclosed by the house. This interaction I find interesting but it is an interaction that you can see in many films, for example in Antonioni, and of course in countless horror movies. I guess we are made especially aware of it in Duras, however, because the dialogue itself seems to go nowhere, the talking goes around and around like an old dance record, or indeed like the music loop in the film. At least that is my first impression of the film, that the (modern) house and the (ancient?) music have as much importance as the dialogue. They do not seem to fit together, the house calls for a modern score but does not get it. The dialogue is caught in the gap. The result is (positive) friction.

So yes, I like it. I have, however, rated this film a point below Nathalie Granger, and not only because I am fed up with the music. The film did not have as strong effect on me as the more claustrophobic Nathalie Granger had this morning. It is more distant. But however much ellipsis or void there is in the films of Duras, I remain thankful that they are made at all. I feel at home in them. They deserve to be more seen, for they have a rare beauty that is all of their own.
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Bond, James Bond
philosopherjack25 September 2020
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know whether the title of Marguerite Duras' Baxter, Vera Baxter is consciously intended to evoke "Bond, James Bond," but it's an instructive point of comparison either way: as spoken by Bond, it's a construction emblematic of certainty, of an identity and affect so firmly established that a periodic change of actors is not just tolerated but actually part of the fun. Duras' film has as much tangible presence as any Bond film, every expression and exchange seeming weighted with significance, but the accumulation of "facts" about Vera's life can no more yield her truth than a biographical summary can explain a painting, and it comes to feel that the film isn't investigating the woman Vera Baxter as much as it's investigating the entire notion of cinematic investigations of women. The film's startling and disorienting opening shots, of a classically-posed, semi-nude Vera, suggest at once an objectification and also (because there's something immediately defiant about it) a challenge, a sense encouraged by the opening scenes in which Vera is absent, but actively evoked and discussed. Thereafter, the majority of the film takes place in a villa she's thinking of renting, but which in fact has already been rented by her (heard on the phone, but never seen) husband, who is elsewhere with his lover: her story (or fragments of it) emerges in conversation with a stranger (Delphine Seyrig) who turns up on a pretext - the stranger's real reason for being there, it seems, is simply the allure of that name, Vera Baxter, a name in which she detects historical resonances which, of course, can reveal little now. The musical backdrop (identified by one online commenter as the most annoying he's ever heard) is a strenuously upbeat creation of strings and woodwinds that although attributed to coming from a nearby party, clearly can't really be explained as such in its nature and repetition, and thereby represents much in the movie as a whole, evading and surpassing the explanations offered.
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Nobody´s perfect
karmazin31 August 2002
i didn´t enjoy this movie. i like other films with similar proposals (long shots, slow cadence, extended silences, bresson-like acting...) i accept that M.Duras had a personal way to understand the cinema, but i didn´t enjoy this movie.
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