Dysfunctional Families: a Writer’s Coming-of-Age, a Denounced Female Sexuality and Domestic Terror in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s ‘L’Amant’.

“Very early in my life it was too late.”-Marguerite Duras (The Lover)

Magnified close-ups of the girl, a woman now in her sixties, reveal the story of her life, exposing her skin, eyebrows and texture to the spectator listening to her retrospective narration. From the beginning the young girl and the older woman are shapeshifters in narration, one establishing the other, the younger one planting the seeds of the older one’s authorship. ‘The Lover’ is a self-initiated voyage into the memory of a young girl relived in a mature woman’s body.

From the worn-out lady shoes on her feet to the childlike application of lipstick, the girl is transitioning into a womanly autonomy that seeks to counteract her mother’s fallibility and failures and most importantly reach self-sufficiency by distance, agency and expression.

The girl, “the one who doesn’t love” (Duras), is aged by violence, misfortune and inherited grief that sickens the family she was born into. The deceased father is out of the picture and the mother is torn between the reality of poverty, the irrationalities of her mental illness and the narcissistic relationship with her older son.

The older son is abusive, violent and an accusatory threat orbitting the family and trying to control them all like puppets. The younger brother is silent, desperate, weakened by his sibling’s terror and rage. In the midst of this painful and ravaging family constellation is the girl, partly sane, partly affected.

Her mother is everything she cannot allow herself to be and yet she left her traces. The girl, both apathetic and passionate, seeks refuge from the volatile atmosphere of her familial home with the hovering judgements of her depreciative brother who is favoured by their mother and dives into a sexual liaison with a man twelve years older than her.

It is an act of self-realisation, a part of her that is lived out, where nobody can follow her, dictate her personality or her actions, a sanctuary of oblivion and a carnal discovery of her own body. The girl’s family home and the Chinese man’s bachelor room are counterpoles, and through the link they both share, both try yet fail to extinct one another.

The love the girl feels for her lover slips away from her as it is an emotion she is unfamiliar with. Their relationship initiates the passage into selfhood for her, physically disentangled from her familial misery, seeking to heal her wounds by writing. In the bachelor’s room, she is not the daughter, not the sister, not the student, she is the lover too.

The older brother shames, judges and demonises the girl for her sexuality, yet tries to profit from it. The mother, buried in self-pity, guilt and helplessness, loses sight of who her daughter is and what she has to offer. There is an unspoken hardship between these two female characters, who have so much in common, whose demons correlate and infect one another.

The girl comes from a family of (self-)destroyers and through the expression of and consent to intimacy and self-discovery and growth, she becomes a creator. Amongst the trauma and horrors that surround her ruthlessly, she manages to access a sphere within herself that allows her to overcome everything, to become the woman she feels, the writer she hears, the girl she never forgets, who loved an older man and herself enough to fight for a way out. And all of this originated in the bachelor’s room, her safe sphere and space, where she could be herself, not in her room at home with unwanted and attacking intruders.


photo of woman lying beside a long stem clear wine glass
Photo by Giselle Cristine on Pexels.com



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