Issue 31, Winter-Spring 1964
J. Darribehaude is a French film director and television producer whose interest in Celine’s work was rewarded when Celine first became his friend and then accorded him the interviews here printed in English translation for the first time. When considering a screen version of Journey, he called on Celine with a tape-recorder and asked him to suggest ideas for the script. Celine, who had long envisaged such a film, responded with an unusually complete impromptu monologue which amounted to a working draft for a film scenario.
Well, here you are. July ’14. We’re in the Avenue du Bois. And here we have three somewhat nervy Parisiennes. Ladies of the time— time of Gyp. So then, for God’s sake, we hear what they’re saying. And along the Avenue du Bois, along the allée cavalère goes a general, his aide de camp bringing up the rear, on horseback, of course, on horseback. So the first of the ladies, for God’s sake, “O I say, it’s General de Boisrobert, did you see?” “Yes, I saw.” “He greeted me, didn’t he?” “Yes, yes, he greeted you. I didn’t notice him. I’m really not interested, you know.” “But the aide de camp, it’s little Boilepère, O he was there yesterday, he’s impossible, don’t show you’ve seen anything, don’t look, don’t look. He was telling us all about the big exercises at Mourmelon, you know! O, he said, it means war, I’ll be leaving, I’m. going... He’s impossible, isn’t he, with his war...”
Then you hear music in the distance, ringing, warlike music.
“D’you think so, really?”
“O yes, darling, they’re impossible, with this war of theirs. These military parades in the evenings, what d’you think they look like? It’s ludicrous, it’s comic opera. Last time at Longchamps I saw all those soldiers with stewpots on their heads, sort of helmets, you’d never believe it, it’s so ugly, that’s what they call war, making themselves look ugly. It’s ridiculous, in my opinion, quite ridiculous. Yes yes yes, ridiculous. O do look, there’s the attache, the Spanish Embassy. He’s talking war too, darling, it’s quite appalling, O really I’m quite tired of it, we’d do far better to go on a shoot and kill pheasants. Wars nowadays are ridiculous, for heavens’ sake, it’s unthinkable, one just can’t believe in them any more. They sing those stupid songs, no really, like Maurice Chevalier, actually he’s rather funny, he makes everyone laugh.”
So there you are, yes, that’s all.
“O, I’d far rather talk about the flower carnival, yes, the flower carnival, it was so pretty, so lovely everywhere. But now they’re going off to war, so stupid, isn’t it, it’s quite impossible, it can’t last.”
Good, O.K., we’ve got a curtain-raiser there, we’re in the war. Good. At that point you can move into Paris and show a bus, there are plenty of striking shots, a bus going down towards the Carrefour Drouot, at one point the bus breaks into a gallop, that’s a funny sight to see, the three-horse Madeleine-Bastille bus, yes, get that shot there. Good, right. At that point you go out into the countryside. Take the landscapes in Journey. You’re going to have to read Journey again— what a bore for you. You’ll have to find things in Journey that still exist. The Passage Choiseul, you’re sure to be able to take that. And there’ll be Epinay, the climb up to Epinay, that’ll still be there for you. Suresnes, you can take that too, though it’s not the same as it was... And you can take the Tuileries, and the Square Louvois, the little street, you ought to get a look at that, see what fits in with your ideas.
Then there’s mobilisation. All right. At that point you begin the Journey. This is where the heroes of Journey go off to war—part of the big picture. You’ll need a pile of dough for that...
Then the end.
I’m giving you a dreamy passage here, then maybe you can show a bit of the Meuse countryside, that’s where I began in the war, by the way, a bit of Flanders, good, fine, you just need to look at it, it’s very evocative, and then very softly you begin to let the rumbling of the guns rise up. What you knew the war by, what the people of 14 knew it by, was die gunfire, from both sides. It was a rolling BLOM BELOLOM BELOM, it was a mill, grinding our epoch down. That’s to say, you had the line of fire there in front of you, that was where you were going to be written off”, it was where they all died. Yes and what you were supposed to do was climb up there with your bayonet. But for the most part it meant shooting and flames. First shooting, then burning. Villages burning, everything burning. First shooting, then butchery.