Total Eclipse

Year: 1995
David's Character: Paul Verlaine
Director(s): Agnieszka Holland
Other Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Romane Bohringer & Dominique Blanc
Pictures: Click here
Screen time: One of the lead roles

The older Paul Verlaine meets the dead Arthur Rimbaud's sister in a cafe in Paris. Rimbaud's sister and mother want Verlaine to hand over any copies he may still have of Rimbaud poems so that they can burn them; they fear the lewdness of his writings. Verlaine reflects on the wild relationship he had had with Rimbaud, beginning when the teen-aged Rimbaud had sent his poetry to Verlaine from his home in the provinces in 1871. Verlaine, instantly fascinated, impulsively invites him to his rich father-in-law's home in Paris, where he lives with his young, pregnant wife. The wild, eccentric Rimbaud displays no sense of manners or decency whatever, scandalising Verlaine's pretentious, bourgeois in-laws.

Verlaine is seduced by the 16-year-old Rimbaud's physical body as well as by the unique originality of his creative mind. The staid respectability of married, heterosexual life and easy, middle class surroundings had been stifling Verlaine's admittedly sybaritic literary talent. His taking up with Rimbaud is as much a rebellion and a liberation as it is a giving in to self-indulgence and masochism. Rimbaud acts as sadistically to Verlaine as does Verlaine to his young wife, whom he eventually deserts. A violent, itinerant relationship ensues between the two poets, the sad climax of which arrives in Brussels when an enraged and practically insane Verlaine shoots and wounds Rimbaud and is sentenced to prison for sodomy and attempted murder.

In prison, Verlaine experiences a conversion to Christianity much mocked by his erstwhile lover. Upon release he meets Rimbaud in Germany, vainly and mistakenly seeking to revive the relationship. The two men part, however, never to meet again. Bitterly renouncing literature in any form, Rimbaud travels the world alone, finally settling in Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) to run a "trading post." There he has an African mistress and possibly a young African boy-lover. A tumor in his right knee forces him back to France where his leg is amputated. Nevertheless, the cancer spreads and he dies at the age of 37.

Rimbaud's sister asserts that her brother had accepted confession from a priest right before he died and shown Christian penitence, which is why only the censored versions of his poetry should survive. Verlaine pretends to agree but tears up her card after she leaves. Later, Verlaine, drinking absinthe to which he has become addicted, sees a vision of Rimbaud, returned from some transcendent realm to express the love and respect Verlaine has thus posthumously earned.