By Seo Dong-shin
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio is a French writer whose name often appears on pundits' lists of candidates for the Nobel Prize for Literature along with South Korean poet Ko Un. He is also one of the French writers who have a peculiar hold on the Korean literary circle, with his novels such as his debut work in 1963, "The Interrogation", as well as later works including "The Flood" and "The Golden Fish
As if rewarding the attention his works have enjoyed here over the last decade, the 66-year-old has visited Korea quite frequently since 2001. Last year, he even backpacked for one month around Yongwol, Kangwon Province.
Now Le Clezio is visiting South Korea for the fourth time. This time, he is on an official mission _ interviewing Korean film directors and writing a piece on Korean cinema. The organizing committee of the Cannes Film Festival asked him to contribute to a book to be published this year marking the 60th anniversary of the festival.
"I'm a writer, and I wanted to explore the relationship between literature and cinema", the soft-spoken writer with silvery blonde hair said in a meeting with Korean reporters on Monday at a restaurant near Kwanghwamun in Seoul. "I also wanted to write about what Korean cinema has meant to me".
Le Clezio has already met and talked with such prominent Korean directors as Park Chan-wook
of "JSA - Joint Security Area
" and "Old Boy"
, Lee Jeong-hyang
of "The Way Home"
and "Art Museum By The Zoo
", and Lee Chang-dong
and "Peppermint Candy
Counting Park's "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
" as one of his favorites, Le Clezio said he agrees with the view of director Lee Chang-dong
, who served as the Minister of Culture and Tourism 2003-2004, that "watching Hollywood films makes one feel like being cheated by a slicker".
"Park's style is quite similar to Hollywood films, both in terms of financial budget and technique", he said. "But with references to classical films abounding and flashbacks on the past, they also have artistic elements. Not so simple, nor fraudulent".
One of the common elements Korean cinema shares with Korean literature seems to be an abundance of violence, the French writer said, citing Korean writer Lee Seung-u's "Private Life of Plants", recently translated into French under the title "La Vie RÍvee des Plantes".
While French literary circles put emphasis on aesthetics of literature, Korean literature seems to retain the tradition of engagement, or participation in the society, he said.
"When I came to Korea for the first time in 2001, it was a shock for me to know that Korea and France share so many things", Le Clezio, who has extensive travel experience in Africa and Latin America, said. "Both are relatively small countries, but have a long tradition in culture and history".
"Like Korea was colonized by Japan, France was once occupied by Germany. The two countries share the painful experience of trying to overcome those pasts", he said. "Both had this fantasy about the ability to change society. So they also share the bitter experience of realizing that change is nothing but an illusion".
Le Clezio seems to have developed quite a fondness for Seoul, which he describes as unique in that the metropolis has pieces of nature and religion _ such as small mountains and temples _ in every nook and cranny.
The Nice-born writer is currently holding talks over the possibility of teaching at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, and plans to drop by Seoul again this autumn. "Seoul is a moving city that is ever changing. If someone takes an image cut every week and makes a film out of it, Seoul will look like a living animal that is moving listlessly".
At Le Clezio's lecture on the theme of memory and imagination held on Wednesday at Kyobo Building, hundreds of people turned up to listen to the veteran writer.
"As a writer, you go into a memory of other people that is fading away at some moment, and write about that memory", he said. "This may be what we call an imagination. In a sense, imagination is the reconstruction of memory".