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[Film culture]

Old flame
Myriam Mézières still has heart


She had a bit role, sketchy and undefined, as an aunt of one of the randy boys in the recent Nico and Dani. Who remembers that 14 years ago France’s Myriam Mézières blew open the boundaries for frank sexuality in A Flame in My Heart, which she both co-wrote and starred in? The Alain Tanner–directed work, which screens this Sunday at the Harvard Film Archive, was regarded, on its release, as of a piece with Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, and Bellocchio’s The Devil in the Flesh for its obsessive, self-conscious carnality. A Flame in My Heart was perhaps most revolutionary for foregrounding a woman’s sexual perspective; it’s startlingly confessional, Erica Jong meets Anaïs Nin. Mézières’s vivid autobiographical story tells of an actress, Mercedes, who exists for "amour" above all.

"Seventy-five percent of the script is close to my life," Mézières told me when I interviewed her in Montreal about a decade ago. "The love scenes were made in a joyous atmosphere. In life, I’m shy. I’m not a liberated woman in the way of a stereotyped Swedish blonde. But when I’m in front of a camera, something happens! What I try doing is not to turn off the light in the bedroom of my life."

Some people were repelled by A Flame in My Heart and accused Mézières of exhibitionism. "I always ask them, ‘Explain. Tell me more,’ but they can’t go farther than that one word. On the other hand, one guy who adored the film sent me his writings printed in a limited edition of 100 copies, really hot porno! It made me laugh, because sometimes you are loved for false reasons."

Mézières distinguished between A Flame in My Heart and hardcore pornography, which she called "cold naturalism, with your nose too close to the real thing." Her collaboration with the esteemed Swiss filmmaker Tanner (Jonah Will Be 25 in the Year 2000) was conceived also in opposition to softcore porn, which, they felt, caters to the hypocritical bourgeoisie. "We are anti-Emmanuelle," she said. Instead, she and Tanner tried to locate a film equivalent to the eroticism of serious fiction, painting, and sculpture. "We both were excited about how to capture love images, akin to trying to capture a butterfly in your hand when a kid. Women in the audience love the movie and understand it’s a real thing from my heart. My character wants to dedicate her life to love. Other women don’t, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be a dream factory for their lovers, even if they won’t say it aloud. Now, women seem to be quite lucid about men, love, and work, but they still have romantic need. That contradiction makes them so moving."

Has Mézières settled down since with a husband and toddlers? I have no idea. At the time we conversed, she pledged never to wed. "I don’t want my man saying someday to me, ‘I have a mistress.’ It would be inevitable in marriage, and I couldn’t survive that. But I would like someone to write me a poem, ‘I would follow you even to Hell,’ though I don’t say I would really make him do it."

THE STORIES HAVE HIT THE WIRES, the Wall Street Journal, the Times. A fabulous Montauk estate at the far tip of Long Island, once owned by Andy Warhol and now in the hands of his collaborator, filmmaker Paul Morrissey (Heat, Trash), is on the market. The Xanadu-like asking price: $50 million. As I was driving recently along the Montauk highway, and as I’m acquainted with Morrissey, I thought I should take a look. I telephoned and he graciously invited me over. Turn off a paved road, head down a bumpy dirt one, keep driving, keep driving. So I did, arriving at a semi-circular compound of five weathered, New England–style houses. In the distance: three homes designed by Stanford White, the largest occupied by the Julian Schnabel family. Below: rocks and a private pounding ocean. The compound was built in 1931 by the Armand Hammer folks. The furniture, put there by Morrissey, is musty antique: Stickley chairs and lots of handsome items from a small company owned in the ’30s by Eleanor Roosevelt and women partners. In one house, a shaky-mattress double bed in which Elizabeth Taylor once slept, and (at a different moment) Jackie O when the compound was rented by her sister, Lee Radziwill.

And here’s the rub: Warhol never owned this place. He was simply an investor when Morrissey bought it for himself 35 years ago for $220,000. "Andy was albino and wore a wig. He couldn’t have stood the sunshine here," Morrissey confided, eager to sell to a modern-day Gatsby. If so, he could finally finance a movie that Lars von Trier endorsed as a Dogme 95 project back in 1999.

Gerald Peary can be reached at

Issue Date: July 26- August 2, 2001