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The movie Rimbaud Verlaine (Total Eclipse)

January 17, 2013

    Rimbaud Verlaine, also called Total Eclipse, is a French English Belgian movie realized by Agnieszka Holland that came out in 1995. It redraws the relationship between the two French poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine thanks to their poems and their letters. In a realistic movie, we are plunged into this passionate and destructive relation  which reveals us a context not favorable to this love.


    The movie begins with an interview between an older Paul Verlaine and Isabelle Rimbaud, Arthur’s sister, who asks for her brother’s poems because of their subversivity. This complaint urges Paul to remember this passionate and painful relation which began when the 16- year -Arthur sent his poems to Verlaine’s house. The teenager immediately fascinated him with his ambitious texts and his way of mind which wants to recreate a new modern poetry. Verlaine thus invites him in his father-in-law’s house and he is seduced by the young man who is the contrary of him. Then they put a lot in this passionate relationship which is both liberating and violent. While the young Rimbaud imposes to his lover a sadistic treatment, Verlaine complies with his requirements and echoes his humiliations on his wife. This unhealthy relation ends finally in the assassination attempt of Verlaine on his lover. These memories show us a sadistic relationship but we can also glimpse at the realization of many poems which were created by the two poets. They realize, thanks to the experience of this relationship, subversive poems which have enriched literature.

    The context was not idealistic for the two poets. Indeed, Paul Verlaine was married to a young 18-year-old girl whose father was very conservative. Furthermore, at that time, homosexuality was hightly condemned. Paul Verlaine was imprisoned in 1873 for homosexuality and murder attempt on Rimbaud.  This living environment obliged them to run away for wo years before the arrest of Verlaine after  which Rimbaud would publish the poem “A season in hell “.

    I really appreciated this movie. It shows the strength of a real love which was unexpected, between Paul Verlaine, a married man and the young free man Arthur Rimbaud. This love which drove them crazy has also created an inheritance in the French literature with immortal poems. The movie is very interesting to understand the poets’ work.


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