30 Apr Michel Audiard, slant & slang
slant & slang
30 April 2017
Linking Michel Audiard, the French dialog writer for Les Tontons Flingueurs, with Asia might first seem like a joke rather than a real essay subject. This was my first reaction when I was traveling through the region and Latitudes assigned me to write about the author, with whom I’ve dealt with in some intimacy, in this light.
Yet when thinking about it a few seconds, I realized that Audiard knew very early on how to form special bonds with this region of the world. When he wasn’t yet a dialog writer, but already a man of letters (in this case, a journalist for the Etoile du Soir) in 1947, he already had the opportunity to provide a brilliant interview with Chang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader, who was then at war against his rival Mao Zedong. The scoop impressed both the editors of the daily paper and its readers. Their amazement was understandable since it was a genuine breaking story, but the young journalist had written it all seated comfortably in a bistro in Paris’ 14th arrondissement without, of course, having had the slightest contact with the Kuomintang’s leader.
However, France has a History and its relationship with Indochina couldn’t be completely absent from the hundred-odd films for which Audiard would write the dialog between 1949 and 1985. Those who know the dialog from Les Tontons Flingueurs remember that Bernard Blier recalled with misty eyes “The Red Shutter,” a Vietnamese brothel located in Biên Hoa. In this city, thirty kilometers from Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City) a famous madam, “Lulu la Nantaise” showed off her talents.
Still in a tone of nostalgia and wistfulness, A Monkey in Winter devotes a significant time to the Asian memories of Albert Quentin, the former sailor played by Jean Gabin, that every drink would eventually end up in the Yang Tse Kiang, the blue river, “a five- thousand-kilometer avenue that winds down from Tibet to end up in the Yellow Sea.”
Still, the most amazing is that one of Audiard’s film was entirely filmed in Vietnam in 1957, shortly after the defeat of Dien Bien Phu, while the country was cut in two between
the North Viet Minh and the South, which resisted communist advances.
Few people remember Mort en Fraude with Daniel Gélin (and we can’t blame them!). The story talks about the fraternization of a little white man in a village caught in the vice of a colonial con ict, and whose inhabitants are starving both because of the French colonists and because of their Viet Minh “liberators.”
Shot in a natural setting, the movie quickly leaves Saigon, and the humid atmosphere of black-and-white Indochina is rendered perfectly, making at times the lm resembles an ethnographic documentary. As for the dialog, you also get the impression that Audiard subcontracted a local author. There’s no need to mention the fact that he’s never set foot on location. Such a faraway filming was exceptional at a time when many movie projects never saw the light of day, because, for example, it was unthinkable to send an actor such as Jean Gabin so far, and even feature lms that claimed to take place in the tropics never strayed very far from the Eiffel Tower.
Far from being a specialist in the complicated context of East Asia, Audiard stayed an emblematic Parisian, who shared memorable success with Gabin, as well as an aversion to anything to do with traveling. However, he did have a natural a nity for lying, and he would probably have sworn he’d crossed Southeast Asia from top to bottom to confound some dope or to canoodle with a hussy.
S. Germain has written L’Encyclopédie Audiard and Le Dico Flingueur des Tontons et des Barbouzes, Hugo Editions