Alain Delon on Frédéric Taddéï’s late night television show in France. What’s it like to be preceded to such a degree by images of oneself? How does one live when a part of oneself, and not the lesser part, remains a prisoner of some of the greatest works in the history of cinema? Who’s talking when he says « I »? Who is this man, Rimbaud’s « other », represented by «I», of whom he is at once hostage and host? Is he a ghost, or flesh and blood? A spectre who has returned for good, or for the time being? Who goes there when he is there? The exorcized, or the still haunted? An actor among actors or a magic lantern whose light shines on the parade of pale shadows that flashes by, the roles of his life? Is he Visconti’s Tancrede, really, or this wonderful companion who appeared two hours before in a Parisian café, to celebrate the anniversary of my review, La Règle du Jeu? And how does he do it? How can he be here among us, joking with Xavier Beauvois, in conversation with Milan Kundera or Christine Angot, moved by the fate of a young Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, condemned to be stoned to death, whose cause is the dominant theme of this soirée, and yet there, far away, somewhere between the Vel’d’Hiv, Rimini or Cuernavaca, busy directing the ballet of characters to whom he lent a bit of himself and who, as a result, will live longer than he will?
That is the mystery of Delon. That is the paradox he bears, and incarnates, at his peak. And that was the tour de force — yes — of this long televised interview, to momentarily tear down the walls of the imaginary museum, to break the sacred circle of this life and works which surrounds him and to reveal what his true friends, few in number, know: the great feudal lord, lost in a democratic world, all right; a man who can only be himself by being completely his other selves, of course; but the living Delon as well, one who is young and alive to all the curiosities, all the pleasures and bliss of this world. A roué who, even when the Leopard and Monsieur Klein, the Samouraï and the murderer of Maurice Ronet in «La Piscine» are carrying on dialogues within him, even when he appears to be in earnest or sullen conversation with Lino (Ventura) or Luchino (Visconti) or Jean (Gabin), his peers who have gone ahead, leaving him inconsolable, never allows himself to be consumed by his own memory, nor liquidated by his own chimeras. One imagines a Pessoa of cinema, ruling (like the other) over the people of his heteronyms. Or Pirandello’s Moscarda, but one who would have learned to be the « one, no one, and one hundred thousand » of the novel’s title without disintegrating, either, in the nothingness of his innumerable transparent identities. One thinks of a Garbo, who would not have had to disappear in order to inhabit her own legend, a Greta Garbo continuing to live, all the while breathing life into that legend. Delon has this great fortune. And he has the strength.
A visit from Régis Jauffret, whose latest-but-one novel, «Sévère», is freely inspired by the tragic fate of the French banker Edouard Stern, murdered in 2005 in circumstances that remain somewhat enigmatic. Six months after its publication, Jauffret has been sued by a part of the family for « invasion of privacy ». Ah, families, their strange — to put it mildly–relationship to literature. This reflex of the keeper of the flame every time a novelist presumes to lay a finger on their viper’s nest of secrets. In this case, it’s grotesque, for there have been several books published abut « the Stern affair ». And there have been slimy documents, truly nauseating, presented as the expression of the truth whereas, often, they are in reality just the result of half-baked, shoddy investigations. None of their authors, as far as I know, has ever been sued. Of none of these documents has it been said that it offended the memory of the dead. None has been the object of a demand for what amounts to capital punishment for a book, its withdrawal from sale in bookstores. But here is a true novelist who has gotten ahold of the story. Like so many before him (Truman Capote with In Cold Blood; Stendhal with the account of a minor event of 1827, the Berthet affair, at the origin of The Red and the Black), he decided to draw his inspiration from the facts and, without attempting anything resembling « exactness », without fooling the reader concerning the nature of his endeavor and its intent as fiction, used it as a mirror of society and of an era. And bang! He’s the one the family, ignorant of what harms them, has chosen to throw in the stocks.
They pull out the big guns of squabbling and quibbling that have existed since the birth of modern literature and attempt to make the writer settle what Kafka once called « the devil’s wages ». All this begs the question, why is true-lies literature more frightening than works of scandal? Fiction more than trash? The view, with some distance, of the novelist more than the voyeurism of supposed « investigations »? And why is the eye of the artist the problem, rather than the evil eyes of the grave robbers who, a few months after the crime, fell all over themselves to publish their « inside story »s of the Stern affair and who, once again, have been reprimanded by no one? I can imagine the pain of those close to the victim, Mr. Stern. I understand the unbearable difficulty for a spouse, or for the children, of having inherited this package of memories, to which anyone can walk right in and help himself. But for goodness’ sake, one shouldn’t aim at the wrong target. The writer should not pay for the insanities of those who confuse journalism and sensationalism. This will not make up for the crime. It will be committing another. This one, against the mind.