I've just got the DVD of the film "Le Dernier Caravansérail. Odyssées.", based on the staging by the Théâtre du Soleil and directed by Ariane Mnouchkine.
My body shudders every time I remember this production I saw in Paris in December 2004, in that wonderful space Mnouchkine and all members of Théâtre du Soleil have created and established for decades.
The first scene where, in an absolutely cynical game of theatricality, recreates the crossing of a raging river at a border by Afghan illegal immigrants, a crossing that will lead to the uncertain freedom they seek in the West, and it shattered any block I might have had as a theatrical spectator. Magnificent, powerful, loaded with enough real artifice to assume it as real. The actors were in realism (who cares!); their colleagues helped them move, within view of the public, those enormous fabrics and create the raging waves of the river; the sound, loud, clear enough to be recognized as strong winds, as the noise of the running water, and as the force of a great theatre performance that was beginning.
Afterwads, scene after scene and the tragedy of emigration, of cultures in collision, of the humanity of the lost traveler. Humanity, grandeur, cruelty, evil, love, helplessness, sounds of a helicopter, of a train, yelling, crying, letters and nostalgia. I remember so much ...
That Saturday, at the Cartoucherie in the outskirts of Paris, I spent 6 hours with them, with the space itself, with its actors, with their books, with their food, reading from their walls and absorbing their performing art. I had just quit my project for my own theater company a year before, and I had done it for travelling and for the experience of devoting my life to see the world of the stage that I have had the opportunity to find, to see its greatest masters, and I was really thankful for my stay there.
This extraordinary performance lasted nearly 6 hours (including breaks for lunch and dinner), and the final response was not only the heart-felt applause, but the emotion, the crying, the offering of our hearts broken by and open to what they had delivered to us.
That night I rediscovered the loving exchanges of theater, and also the tremendous force of Artaud's words echoed in the presence of the actor in that scene, the blood and dismemberment, but Artaud whimself would have been absolutely amazed at how Le Dernier Caravansérail exposed that through the work, devotion, sincerity and honesty of the effort of all of that (already legendary in my memory) company.
Mnouchkine has remained engraved in my memory as a great director and as an ordinary person: in her theater, before the beginning of her work, she talked to the audience as if to children, hers and of others; she showed us where to sit, how to behave, what to cover with (it was 3 degrees centigrade, with no heating) and at times she scolded us... I saw her gray hair, her face with her big nose and her wrinkles, her hands, her torso thick as a grandmother's, and I was thinking, this is the woman who moved this whole world.
To my mind came the teachers of the independent theater in my country and the world I had known, those messiah (some of them) and parents (most of the others), and recognized her as part of that tradition of the theater company of the world, of travel, of many men, women and cultures and, of course, I loved her with my memories and her present, I loved her as the theatre person I am and as the orphan with no more father-master I was at that time. (1)
The DVD "Le Dernier Caravsérail. Odyssées" is a filmed version, within the theatre scene but released as a film image, which Mnouchkine usually does with each of her productions, perhaps not with the same force that is achieved in real life but as a product that becomes a beautiful example of what one experienced there. I can use my critical sense when watching it (and I'm sure I will), but I prefer to enjoy it first as if someone had edited the memories of one of the most exciting and beautiful moments of my life.