European crime fiction in the crosshairs
n°4 February-March-april 2006

 

>> Festival

3rd Noirfest (Festnoire)
Mexico, november 2005

Raphaël Villatte
Translation : Steve Novak

The third edition of this crime stories event (created by Emmanuel Rivière) at Alliance Française of México, took some sismic and impressive proportions according to both public and organisers. Four days of meetings, of discussions panels, of bubly and unpredictable round tables, with more than twelve guest speakers (ten of whom were present at the closing event); the atmosphere was altogether cosy, pepper-hot and tequilla-filled, not to say crazy-filled. Just imagine this franco-mexican mix : Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Claude Mesplède, Pascal Dessaint, Juan Hernández Luna, Myriam Laurini, Sergio González Rodríguez, Andrés Acosta, Víctor Luis González, Eduardo Antonio Parra, Eduardo Monteverde, Julia Rodríguez, Jesús Tonantzin et Fernando Figueroa.
The very location of this Noirfest, Mexico and the heart of this tentacular city, made for explosive fireworks: a center of investigations and mystery since the first half of the XXth century, through the stories of Máximo Roldán’s investigator, the gruff but clever Pancho Reyes, the Arsène Lupin of the Distrito Federal (Federal District), through those of Péter Pérez, the Sherlock Holmes from Peralvillo, through those of Armando Zozaya, the most intellectual Mexican detective, from the couple María Elena and Bruno Morán, the Tuppence and Tommy Beresford of the New World, and also a center of crime stories writing since the sixties with Los albañiles (1963) from Vicente Leñero, El complot mongol (1969) from Rafael Bernal, Las muertas (1977) from Jorge Ibargüengoitia and especially since the guest of honor and almost godfather of this event Paco Ignacio Taibo II, published his first novels and brought to ‘crime stories hall-of-fame’ (« lo policíaco ») his detective-hero, Héctor Belascoarán Shayne.

 

Sergio González et Miriam Laurini

Numerous themes were touched upon, starting with the importance of ‘crime and newswatch stories’ (faits divers), the « nota roja » in crime stories. The points of vue exchanged by Myriam Laurini, Pascal Dessaint and Sergio González Rodríguez were the richest, especially concerning the repect shown by authors to the reality that inspires them occasionally. In a world in which violence feeds our daily news, literature cannot but avoid this dark and tormented reality. These three authors share the purpose to tell the tragic in a responsible way since the goal is to give the reader a vision of contemporary society and since the author alone, as an eternal witness, gets to know those who become part of the news. This type writing which brings ‘crime and newswatch stories’ to fiction, indeed needs to lean on feelings but above all needs to look for the origins of each criminal investigation and to understand events, ‘re-contextualize’ them and then play the important role of revelation in our societies where ‘forgeting’ is cultivated.

 

De gauche à droite, Raphaël Villatte, Claude Mesplède,
Paco Ignacio Taibo II et Juan Hernandez Luna.

The next day meant relax for an evening about humour in crime stories moderated by Claude Mesplède, Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Juan Hernández Luna… and a glass of wine. The discussion, unavoidably excessive and uncontrolled, funny and fiery, floated from the history of humour in crime stories by Claude Mesplède to the praise of surrealism or Mexican magical postmodernism, the one found in streets with a dark sneer and which almost automatically transforms any noir writer into an author bent on humour even if it is only, as Paco Ignacio Taibo II reminded us, for one metaphor that turns what is « below reality into reality ». According to him dark humour is doubly narrative in so far as it is used to exorcise horror but also narratively, for the type of smiling that, no matter what, never mutates into laughter. Humour is thus a potential counterpoint coming from the strange situations experienced daily by the Mexican people and which succeeds in demystifying the unthinkable. The highlight of the event was the lyrical and slang-filled breakout from Juan Hernández Luna. During his verbal odyssey literally and literarilly filled with expletives like « pinche, chingón, cuate, güey », he underlined his ‘telluric’ passion for Les Misérables while telling the story in « speedy hernández » style, while adding varied, pictorial and colorful comments.

 

De gauche à droite, Andres Acosta, Christian Moire,
Claude Mesplède et Pascal Dessaint.

The third evening allowed us to meet Andrés Acosta, author of the remarkable Doctor Simulacro, which is an ambitious denunciation of justice-as-a-spectacle, and also allowed to come back to the notion of genre as described by a witty Claude Mesplède with the backing of his accomplice Pascal Dessaint. The central theme was social critique in crime stories and it was the occasion for each to state his social vision. This led to three slightly different views between the union man (Mesplède), the green (Dessaint) and the lawyer (Acosta),but who all united in describing the noir genre as the best way to efficiently denounce and criticise in a strong wake up call to readers. Andrés Acosta added that it was his country’s dark and humored reality, given to explosions of laughter followed by tearful meltdowns, which lead him to devote himself to writing and to explore through narration the demons of society. When a voice in the public expressed worries about the risks taken by writers, even fiction ones, especially in Mexico, Acosta answered with humour that « fiction was a lot less dangerous than journalism because politicians do not read ».

 

De gauche à droite, Andres Acosta, Fernando Figueroa, Victor Luis Gonzalez,
Claude Mesplède, Rodrigo Castellanos, Pascal Dessaint,
Raphaël Villatte, Cathy Fourez et Eduardo Antonio Parra.

Finally, the fourth evening was the summum, with ten authors either on the stage or among the public, ready to discuss and even contradict themselves and transcend the subject of this last meeting... A gargantuan endeavour… without moderation and moderator, sparked with vigorous discussions, sometimes tough ones, but all bursting like dynamite sticks in this criminal debate! There were some sharp verbal broken bottles (de maguey « por supuesto »), some punches below the belt (Mexican cow hides), yet it was all grubstaken – impossible to escape that - by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who professed that « he who has the microphone, has the power », and obliged by grabbing it therefore as much as possible in front of a mesmerized public. Style in crime stories was the theme explored energetically by the day guests , all acknowledging the importance of style in their writings even if they seemingly did not accept it initially, and Pascal Dessaint noting finally that « the bent of the sentence must match the character’s », a statement also supported by Eduardo Antonio Parra, and Andrés Acosta. The fascination for the mecanisms of evil was the bone of contention, fundamentaly judged as unsound by Pascal Dessaint, but that seemed to enliven Víctor Luis González and above all Eduardo Antonio Parra ; he underlined that bringing esthetics to brutality allowed him to go through several experimental steps and reflect on how to best rough up readers with language, to ensnare them in sordid atmospheres and then drag them out of it. Eduardo Monteverde sent both of them back to the ropes explaining that, in his crime stories, he was more concerned by killer’s strategies than by writer ones…thus creating commotion and « desmadre » in the audience… but it didn’t matter: Paco Ignacio Taibo II took it upon himself to re-center the debate towards the formidable energy of noir stories that should lead it towards little explored avenues such as the great financial frauds for example. And then let’s not forget, he said to an audience mesmerized by his showmanship potential, that it is ample time that todays writers « anew, simply told stories » and that such an approach is called « meeting the reader». In conclusion Claude Mesplède couldn’t avoid his wonderment at the vitality of Mexican noir literature and, maliciously, Paco reciprocated.

 

Four days and twelve authors later, the crime story frienship between France and Mexico was thus reinforced, contacts were made and everyone hopes for an encore. And so does the numerous audience. The stars of pen and black ink could meet their public and less known authors could win over some readers. Organisers were satisfied with an event closer to a happening than to a true conference. An event modeled after the genre, a genre not so dark in fact, as was displayed throughout this highly colorful Noirfest.

 


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