19 Eylül 2008 Cuma

Martin Guerre

The story of Martin Guerre, written in narrative form by Natalie Zemon Davis and the historical movie on this story are comparable, first of all, in terms of their potential “to familiarize the unfamiliar” distant past to the readers and the audiences. This is one of the two important functions of narrating the past. The other is the assumption that the past experience, the center of which is occupied by the real man, could best be written in the narrative form if one wants to make sense of it. If we think history, in maybe too general words, as the endeavor to set up bridges between the past and the present to grasp, to explain or to interpret the continuous experience of humanity, despite its discontinuous nature, to the heterogeneous occupiers of the present, then narrating may occur through different channels of communication. Nowadays, we know that many historians have the modesty not to claim the absolute authority of telling the one and only one truth at the end of an accumulation of professional experience of more than a century.
Then, I can talk about the levels of past reality in addition to the probable different versions, even if not in terms of event but in terms of causalities and intentionality, of it. In terms of reconstructing the intentionality, the movie is more limited to represent the self-reflexivity of the fictive nature of narrative form through the narrative itself. Because the film has to be organized in a more or less standard sequence of narrative, consisting of introduction, development and conclusion, it has to choose one of the ways of reasoning to the acts of characters. The film goes beyond the limit of this sequence a little bit thanks to that the movie does not run synchronously to the story of Martin Guerre. The real time of the movie is of the conversation between the wife of Martin and the councilors of the Parliament of Toulouse following the trials. Even if this is not equal to the representation of a third person with a more distanced eye and so not more “objective” but more able to check and reflect the other possibilities of why things happened as they did; thanks to that sort of montage, movie hold some questioning potential. Maybe the role of this third person in the film is shouldered by the Jean de Coras, one of the councilors who attended the trial and afterwards wrote an account of the case of Martin Guerre. The so-called third one is functioning to interrogate the position of Bertrande de Rols to the case, whether she did not really recognize the fake Martin and reasons of that throughout the film. Visual representation has its own advantages and disadvantages. It has the potential to reconstruct the historical milieu in detail and this of course increases much the familiarizing power to the distance past of narrating historical experiences. This “real” scenery of the era facilitates to participate to the story, to make sense of it for the audiences. This is a way of learning as well as a way of feeling the state of belonging to the centuries-long adventure of people, of societies.
As for the written version of the story, it is more open to the probabilities that can break down the coherence of the narrative while it lacks the visualizing the peasant life in 16th century. Even if Natalie Zemon Davis did not emphasis on the possibility of that the wife was really duped, instead of participating willingly to the play of fake Martin; it is still a possibility in the book, differently from the movie. Davis contextualizes the wife, her choice in the book and it is this contextualization that led the historian author to think that Bertrande should have been recognized that the man came back was not the eight-year-absentee. She portrays a woman who is aware of the peasant world in which she lives, of the very limitations and advantages of her position as a neither single nor widowed woman and does her best in almost a rational way. Davis’ account is really persuasive in the sense that her detail narrative about the economic, social, institutional and psychological portrait of this16th century village and that the analytical and comparative methods she used towards her sources. These characteristics of the historical account, despite its fictionalized characters, make it a more extensive representation of the complex historical reality than the fictive account, the movie and may lessen the distance between the inaccessible “actual” and the fiction but trying to figure out the motives behind the historical actions almost always compromises in itself the risk of attributing present day mental habits and values to the past and Davis is aware of that. Also she is criticized by the historian Robert Finlay for portraying Bertrande as the accomplice of the fake Martin for her own romantic needs. It is the romantic framework of mostly the film of which advisor is Natalie Zemon Davis herself and of the book also, even if in less dramatized form, which makes the story worth to listen for much of the audiences. This reminds me the Stephan Bann’s romantic desire for history.
All in all, I do not think the fictive and the historical accounts could substitute one another. Both have their own possibilities and limitations and both are able to portray different levels of complex historical reality as well as their potential to manipulate this reality thanks to the very nature of their ways of narrating things.