Sentimental tectonics


(Not published in English language for the moment)

Can one go from love to hatred in one second? When filing shift describes the havoc Diane causes when she imagines that Richard no longer loves her. Earthquakes and tidal waves rock the lives of all the characters as a result, because when an emotion shifts, the repercussions are multiple.

And the vibrations are stronger in proportion to the strength of the protagonist's pride. A cruel play that examines our contradictions and probes our relations in love but which nevertheless ends on a note of tenderness.


« Is it possible to go from love to hatred in a few seconds? »

Is it possible to go from love to hatred in a few seconds? If the answer is yes, it wasn't love to begin with...

Sentimental Tectonics recalls the story of the jilted Mme de la Pommeraye in Jacques le Fataliste...

I started out wanting to adapt Diderot's character for the stage and write a play around this forceful woman with a kind of Laclosian blackness. In the end, by working on it in my own way, I  came up with what I think is an original play.

You've already written a tribute to Diderot. Is there no end to Diderot?

Never! He is at the heart of my writing and formed me as a writer. He taught me freedom. I'm in the paradoxical situation of being philosophically Pascalian but closer to Diderot stylistically. What a contradiction!

At base, your plays are to the 21st century what Marivaux was to the 18th?

He was criticized for being lightweight when in fact, behind the mask of fun, he was a formidable observer of manners. Your characters have the elegance of wit but they're on the brink of tragedy, much like Marivaux's.They're not so much elegant as terribly restrained. They take an age to find themselves and most of all to express themselves. Really, they want to be other than they are. Sentimental Tectonics is a sort of initiation play: these are men and women who come to know themselves, accept who they are and even reform, but they have to face ordeals in the process.

Your theatre is in the grand French tradition of words, thought and the pleasure of conversation.

Absolutely. Molière and Racine define the theatre as 'the art of pleasing', to which I'm a total subscriber. When the word is not devalued, 'to please' means 'to interest', 'to excite', 'to carry away'. My intention is to tell a mostly serious story that is unhinging and thought-provoking without neglecting the importance of humour and pleasure.

You are totally at odds with the minimalist theatre of silence and the blackness of German theatre that was so much in vogue......

Which is maybe why the Germans have taken me to their hearts! My plays have enormous popularity in Germany, with over a hundred productions from the Berlin Schaubühne to private theatres. You know, the Germans' suspicion of words is understandable when you think how words were used to manipulate language in the Third Reich. For me, the enjoyment of writing is of a totally different order-- it's about paradox, exploring our contradictions, and fun.

As audiences will discover, Diane defiles those most sacred things, human bonds and attention to one's partner. And she is the first to suffer.

Diane is a modern woman, in competition with men and at a thousand removes from her mother, a child-woman. On the other hand, she has trouble building a loving relationship and consenting to the element of self-abnegation that goes with it. Everyone knows of independent women who've had to fight huge battles and have successful careers but failed marriages.

Again, you're opposing passion and commitment, love and power. Are you trying to say that marriage is a con-trick that gets tainted by marketing, earning and efficiency?

We live in an era that wants to 'manage', we want to control everything and that's the big illusion, that's where the con-trick comes in. Now, in love, you've got to agree to live with uncertainty and vagueness. Love is not a practical arrangement. It's a crazy gamble that a mystery can be kept alive. What do you fall in love with? With freedom, with the insolence of someone who can come to you, leave you, betray you... Loving is necessarily uncomfortable.

At base, yours is a theatre of Cruelty in the sense that it's a critique of cruelty. Your works are about atonement, and human redemption.

Yes, I'm a profound optimist with a humanist faith. I may describe problems, pain and bitterness, but I also want to show that we have to agree to live with complexity. Never try to simplify! Never be reductive! People who claim to be able to erase life's difficulties and contradictions are imposters!


La Libre Belgique - « M. Schmitt's geology of love »


A moment of beauty on the theme of passion and its waywardness

It's no accident that the programme notes for Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's show When filing shift at 'Le Public' theatre feature an extract from Racine's Andromache: 'And let him die. He must have known, have seen / It all. He forced me into willing it.' In his latest play, France's most talented playwright and most popular author tackles a paroxysm of passionate love, at the point when it turns to vengeful hatred.

Tragedy sits decidedly well on Patricia Ide in the lead role as Diane, a veritable 21st-century Andromache. Schmitt, who still claims the influence of Pascal's thought and Diderot's style nearly a decade after writing The Libertine, has produced a show that is more like a cross between Marivaux and Laclos: Marivaux for the pertinent descriptions of the transports of love, Laclos for the perverse manipulation to which they can be subjected.

The title evokes the movements of the earth's crust under the pressure of magma flow and is a fair description of the scientific exactitude of observation here: the stage is a kind of laboratory where the playwright studies his characters to see how they behave. Although outwardly stable, their emotions shift before finally erupting with volcanic force.

[...] The quality of the acting does ample justice to the depth of the script, and the meaning of the dialogue, the verbal fireworks and multiple manifestations of the coup de théâtre [...] are deftly handled and used to develop a true portrayal of the human heart.

The main effect of the show is a sort of serene beauty in the face of love's outbursts and transformations, the way one might calmly watch a volcano erupting in slow motion. And of course, we watch and question ourselves in the process. We are left at the end with a feeling of rediscovered plenitude, of being reconciled with ourselves and our loved ones.
The first-night audience showed their appreciation, listening for an hour and forty-five minutes in rapt silence before giving the play a standing ovation.

Philip Tirard

Le Soir - « A new Schmitt is like a new Harry Potter »

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt courts tragedy 03/09/05

A new Schmitt is like a new Harry Potter: not to be missed. [...] On Thursday evening, you could feel the tension rising, a feeling confirmed at the box office where seats are sold out till the end of the season.

[...] Central to the play is the question, can our need for love cause major upheavals? Yes, of course, says Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt in When filing shift. The beating heart is like a butterfly's wings, capable of creating huge waves beyond our control.

Here [...] Schmitt engages with a powerful genre that goes back to the dawn of time: tragedy, a dramatic form that relies on the audience's prior knowledge of the outcome, so that they suffer throughout the play.

Laurent Ancion

Le Figaro - « A Conjugal Pecadillo »


Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's Sentimental Tectonics

Full marks to Albin Michel for coming up with the idea of producing the text of the play Sentimental Tectonics. It reads like a novel, complete with punchy, subtle dialogue and an infallible pulse that beats to the rhythm of dramatic reversals and misunderstandings. Without the need for character descriptions, the main protagonists are gutsy, and the secondary roles (like the mother-in-law, Madame Pommeray, or poet and prostitute, Elina) are just as compelling.

In the opening quotation, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt says he was inspired by Diderot. But Tectonics owes more to Marivaux, with this story of a woman who falls into the trap of love she herself has sprung. Schmitt makes skilful use of the art of lies and subterfuge. He plays on the complex psychology of human beings, highlighting their failings and self-esteem. So, for instance, Diane, a forceful politician, suspects the feelings of her partner, Richard although he is madly in love with her. To test him out, she tells him that she doesn't love him so much any more and goes so far as to cast him into the arms of a younger girl. Cut to the core, Richard declares that they had better split up. The stage is set: the human comedy can begin.

In the manner of the best playwrights, Schmitt (who won the Grand Prix du Théâtre de l'Académie Française for the entirety of his oeuvre) slips the odd aphorism into the exchanges, such as, ‘You can't be in love with someone and trust them at the same time' or ‘Mankind is so spectacularly designed that he offloads his faults on to other people'. But Tectonics is also a study in geological distortions and dislocations. With this book, the writer shows that injudicious pride can trigger tsunamis of love.

Mohammed Aïssaoui

Le Figaro - « The follies of heart and mind »

Sentimental Tectonics by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt at the Théâtre Marigny

Diderot is the inspiration behind this play of love and cruelty from the author of Enigma Variations. Schmitt's new play, Sentimental Tectonics, takes as its starting point the same episode from the novel Jacques Le Fataliste that inspired Robert Bresson's 1945 film Les Dames du bois de Boulogne, co-scripted by Jean Cocteau. The tale of Mme de La Pommeraye holds endless fascination for the way it highlights ambivalence in love and shows how passion can become poisoned and ultimately destructive. 

The action takes place in contemporary Paris, where the heroine, a beautiful and liberated woman, causes her own downfall by hatching a perverse plot to wreak pointless vengeance. When the play opens, she is living with her mother and working on the lives of prostitutes. In the course of defending the law, she buys two defenceless women. But the love of which she is incapable overwhelms the other protagonists and she falls victim to her own schemes.

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt develops this ambiguous story at a leisurely pace and lovingly shapes the scenes and characters, with particular emphasis on the mother, charmingly and subtly acted by Annick Alane. This is Schmitt's first venture into directing, and his use of dreams and music in the play recalls his film Odette Toulemonde, perhaps to remind audiences that, while the tale is dark, it is after all fiction. His characters are clearly the creation of a novelist and not a sociologist.

The actors deserve full acclaim.

Julien Allugette gives a witty performance in his many appearances. Marie Vincent is stunning in two very different registers. The fruity voice, charm and grace of the young Sara Giraudeau add a lighter note to this dark world. Tchéky Karyo brings all the gravity of silent, tragic appeal. 

Clémentine Célarié plays Diane, too cerebral a huntress to indulge in anything other than these terrible machinations. She is adept in the art of nuance and admirably conveys the complexity of the character and the play.

Armelle Héliot


  • In French, published by Albin Michel and by A vue d'oeil
  • In Polish language, published by Znak

Stage Productions

  • Belgium, Brussels, October-November 05
    Director: Michel Kacenelenbogen.
    With : Rosalia Cuevas, Patricia Ide, Françoise Oriane and Philippe Résimont.
  • Estonie
    Pärnu-Endla Teatr, Oct 2007
  • France
    Théatre Marigny, Jan 2008
  • Poland
    Zielona Gòra Theater, december 2009, january 2009