The Wasteland- Le Terrain Vague

Robert Doisneau- la voiture fondue (1944)
Robert Doisneau- la voiture fondue (1944)

I have written and posted this text in Portuguese under the title Terreno Baldio- Le Terrain Vague  and thought I should share it in English as well because I consider Au Soleil même la nuit-Scènes d’accouchements by Éric Darmon e Catherine Vilpoux one of the most stimulating French documentary-films I could have ever watched. The film is about the Théàtre du Soleil’s commitment to finding the right theatrical form. The company is filmed during their rehearsals of Molière’s Tartuffe for the Festival of Avingnon in 1995. One crucial scene in the film is when Ariane Mnouchkine, director of the Théàtre du Soleil, feeling unsatisfied with the acting, gathers the cast to share her feelings:

“There’s light, a curtain, a carpet, plenty of masks, some actors but no theatre. Does anyone have any idea to help us? You came to the stage to play, not to think about why you didn’t play. You have to play. It’s not about having big discussions with your actors and actresses. Leave your actor alone and find a way to be left alone as well. Don’t throw yourself into big analyses. We need to play if we are to go back to the stage. Let’s not multiply the problems. That’s what it is. You are there to put on a mask, an expression, a costume, step onto the stage and… play. And play like… I’ll try and explain.

 I saw a picture by Doisneau the other day. It’s so wonderful that I thought, ‘I must find it for you’. It’s a picture of a wasteland. I often tell myself that what children and young people do not have nowadays is wastelands. That’s because a wasteland helped to build up precision in imagination. It permitted this. The emptiness outside enhanced the structuring of imagination. But now we don’t see wastelands any more. Now we’re all locked in. This is the picture of a wasteland with some children on an old car. One child is perched on the roof, two actually, and others are inside. The most remarkable are on the top. One is like a Knight. He’s like Richard II, like Ben Hur, or even like Napoleon. The boy behind him is pretending to be the coachman.  He’s younger. He reminds me of Krisna, Arjuna; absolutely prodigious; but they didn’t have to talk. They met on that ground just to play. You need to come in exactly like that. The scene is a sublime wasteland. It’s really a remarkable picture. For me, it represents the birth of creation, the birth of creativity… the birth of theatre, in particular. If you, who possess this craft, this art, are not capable of retaining that innocence and that courage, Rajissan was right, and start thinking ‘my actor… my prison…’ and so on; in the end thinking about your prison becomes your prison. Ok, let’s get to work.”

How interesting to see the physical and allegorical relationship between a wasteland, innocence, courage and imagination. It makes total sense to act on stage as well as in life with an authentic and simple attitude of a child who is able to play in a wasteland without complicating or analysing it.


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