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Hervé Guibert: Modesty, or Immodesty


7.30pm - 10.30pm

£5 advance / £8 on the door

All proceeds from this event will go to POSITIVELY UK, a peer-led support organisation for people living with HIV.

Ingrid Film Club presents:

La Pudeur ou L'Impudeur (Modesty, or Immodesty) 1992, 58'


Hervé Guibert on Apostrophes, 16 March 1990: 'Le Sexe Homicide', 15' 

Modesty, or Immodesty was Hervé Guibert’s final work. His one and only film, it began in June 1990 as a palliative respite from the agony of still being alive, having delivered his final literary work — he had famously stated on public television that there was no more writing after To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, partly as a response to that book’s controversial reception and partly as a reality of his PWA condition. Modesty, or Immodesty came about at producer Pascale Breugnet’s invitation to make a film “whose author and subject would be one”. She had witnessed Hervé on public television, in the wake of the infamous revelations, defending his right to tell, expose and sharpen the details of his life and its attendant shamefulness, in as much as it belonged to him and longed to be written. He happened to be a writer for whom the body was the only stable reality and writing the most direct way of encountering it. He also happened to have AIDS. What follows is an unflinching writer’s surrender to a reviled and cruelly misunderstood disease and an attempt at writing one’s own disappearance.

“At death’s door, it had been proposed that I should make a film, a dream of mine since childhood. The ambulance-chasing producer had written to me: ‘As you claim you are no longer writing, and naturally that’s your own affair, it’s all up to you to decide if you want to start again or decide not to start again, but for the moment I propose that you should occupy yourself by making a film of which you would be both author and subject.’ It wasn’t bad as formulas go: to tell the absolute truth, that was all I had ever done, apart from some freak excursions into fiction. I had demanded a fortune in fees from this producer, hoping thereby to gain time too. But from the moment I had signed a contract, everything that could enter into the field of experience…became a potential episode in the film.” H.G.

Modesty, or Immodesty was finished in December 1991 but its broadcast was postponed due to the French National AIDS Council's concern over its psychological impact on people living with HIV. Hervé Guibert died on 27th of December 1991. The film was released on TF1 on 30th January 1992. Please join us in witnessing this precious document of a life lived in writing, on its first public screening in the UK, 27 years after the fact.

Hervé Guibert was a writer, critic, photographer and an outspoken figurehead of the AIDS generation in France. His numerous writings redefined the genres of fiction, criticism, autobiography and memoir, and solidified his place in the canon of the first generation of practitioners of autofiction. He was a passionate observer of the destruction of AIDS upon his body and those of his friends and lovers. His output ignited fierce debate on the ethics of secrecy and AIDS in the French public consciousness and helped bring the epidemic to the attention of a wider audience at a time when people infected with the disease were heavily stigmatised. His photographic and filmic work, although lesser known than his writing, can only be seen in the context of his broader artistic project to reimagine how to represent bodies and affects across mediums, from text to photography, film and ‘daily life’.

The film will be preceded by Hervé Guibert’s first public TV appearance on France’s TF1 literary programme, Apostrophes in 1990, subsequent to a brief introduction from Oscar Gaynor and Alex Bennett, editors of Tinted Window journal, the first issue of which is dedicated to Hervé Guibert. Copies of the journal will be available to browse and purchase on the night. 

With thanks and much gratitude to BQHL, Christine Guibert, Christine Pichini, Ed Halter and Flora Pitrolo.

Soon after finishing work on his only film, La Pudeur ou l'impudeur [Modesty, or Immodesty], Guibert was interviewed for Le nouvel observateur by Didier Eribon. At the end of the interview, Eribon asks:

D.E.: What do you think of Michel Foucault’s sentence about you in the preface he wrote for the Duane Michals' catalogue? He speaks of "those forms of work which don't advance like an oeuvre, but which open up because they are experiences." He mentions Magritte, Under the Volcano, Der Tod der Maria Malibran, Bob Wilson, and he ends: "And of course H.G."

H.G.: I find that very fair with regard to what I've tried to do. At the point where I get in a state to write a book, literature incurs my wrath. [...]

D.E.: This "experience" isn't therefore solely a literary one. There's intervention from the world outside?

H.G.: There's the experience of writing, and that's the point where I become Hervé Guibert, the character in my books. I often have the impression of leading a double life. When people stop me in the street —"Aren't you Hervé Guibert?” —I feel like responding: "No, I'm not Hervé Guibert right now." Because at just that moment, I'm not caught in a wave of immodesty, in that strange intercourse there is between experience and writing.

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