Zeno is the hero of Marguerite Yourcenar’s 1968 novel, L’œuvre au Noir (Translated into English by Grace Frick as The Abyss). Twenty years later in an adaptation for cinema by André Delvaux, it became the basis for a Gianmaria Volonté film.
Why create a documentary film about it today? Yourcenar’s Zeno is a product of the Renaissance. He is a philosopher, physician, alchemist, inventor. In embracing the fundamental problems of the XVI the century, notably the thirst for power and wealth, social unrest and religious obscurantism, he raises such questions for our own era. Françoise Levie embraces this fictional character as a way of facing our uncertain times, freeing us from dogma and restoring our free will. (117)
This documentary film employs several levels of narration. At one level is the comedian, Johan Leysen, who wants to produce a play about the principal character of L’œuvre au Noir. The inspiration for this is the sizable correspondence exchanged between Marguerite Yourcenar and the Belgian director, André Delvaux who had adapted the last part of L’œuvre au Noir for a film starring the Italian actor Gianmaria Volonté. At another level is Marie Christine Barrault [the well-known French actress] who, reading extracts from L’œuvre au Noir in Yourcenars’ House, Petite Plaisance, in Maine, in effect acts as a guide for Johan Leysen in his research