Friday, 5 March 2021

Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden

Catriona Troth

What We Thought Of It:

“In making this and other films, no one had ever questioned my right to tell a story and present it in the way that sang to me.”

A film director, referred to only as Maestro, arrives in town for the premiere showing of his latest film at a film festival. The film is a loose adaptation of William Maxwell’s The Folded Leaf, but the director has transported to story from the American Midwest to a European location.

A close relationship has developed between the director and the two stars of the film – one established and one up-and-coming. But all three are aware of shifting dynamics as the process of making the film comes to an end, and the final product is released into the world.

And then there is the woman the director meets on the eve of the premiere – who takes the Maestro to see some intriguing wall art and tells him the story that lies behind it.

Arguably, Diary of a Film is a slight misnomer. More accurately, this is the diary of a film festival, from the point of view of a director who is up for a prestigious Jury Award. It is also the diary of a three-day period in which a creator lets go of an old project as a new potential one takes root in their mind.

Diary of a Film explores the vexed question of creative freedom, particularly in the context of the conflicting rights of two creative minds. How does the right of one creator to re-imagine a story (as when a written work is adapted for screen) balance with the right of the original creator to ownership and control of their own work? For all his  care and civility, the Maestro's language betrays how rapacious the creative mind can be in pursuit of its own aims.

“For now I wanted to keep picking the bones for all remaining flesh from her story, because there was truth in the contrary view: that the story was more important than she was, and I would do what it took to secure it.”

The book is subdivided into chapters, but within the chapters there is no paragraphing and no punctuation of dialogue – just as if someone were pouring words into a journal. Style-wise, it feels like a book that could have been written somewhere in the early to mid-twentieth century. Although it is clearly set in the present day, something about its tone reminded me of authors such as Doris Lessing, Thomas Mann or Virginia Woolf. 

A tender and intimate portrait of that peculiar mixture of insecurity and arrogance that makes up the creative mind.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:  Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Avoid If You Dislike: Reading long unbroken blocks of text

Perfect Accompaniment: Un doppio (double espresso)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy This Book Here

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