“Delphine Seyrig embodied another idea of ​​femininity”

“Delphine Seyrig embodied another idea of ​​femininity”

2023-06-10 11:00:00

Eis it an effect of the #MeToo wave, an increased awareness of the diktats that weigh on actresses? We are rediscovering these days the singular figure of Delphine Seyrig, initials “DS” (goddess) as Bardot was “BB”. And it’s a pleasure to revisit the journey of this cinephile icon with an inimitable diction, a great theater actress – who died on October 15, 1990 in Paris –, a committed feminist and director of a documentary on the profession of actress whose title says it all: Be beautiful and stop talking (1981).

At the Institut Lumière in Lyon until June 30, here she is in majesty, blond hair, diaphanous skin and refined eroticism, disturbing a petrified Antoine Doinel as well (stolen kissesFrançois Truffaut, 1968) that the sovereign Jean Marais (Donkey SkinJacques Demy, 1970) and the guests of Discreet charm of the bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel, 1972).

Stern and pale under a helmet of brown hair, she breaks hearts in Last year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) and bends under the vicissitudes of domestic life in Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975). After Jean-Marc Lalanne who devoted an essay to him published in February (Delphine Seyrig, under construction, Capricci), journalist and director Virginie Apiou examines the Seyrig case. Her From Delphine Seyrig (Actes Sud) starts from a simple principle: to evoke the actress and the woman starting, not from external testimonies or biographical facts, but from the words and gestures of the actress herself.

Point : How was this book on Delphine Seyrig, which is neither a biography nor a classic essay, born?

Virginie Apiou : Thierry Frémaux suggested that I write a book on Delphine Seyrig, leaving me completely free on the form. I chose to immerse myself in her work and in the television interviews she gave, the reports where she appeared. All the words I quote, I’m sure she said them!

She never confided in anything about her life, which was very respectable. However, she left interviews, films, plays where it is only a question of that. His intimate being is deeply linked to his social and political being. There is no analysis or theory to deploy to convey the feminist message she carries. What she understood of life and of the feminine is fundamental and radiates her films and everything she has done. I would like teenage girls to come across this book and discover it.

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No, but I had had her on the phone for a long time on the question of feminism. And above all, I had seen her on stage in 1981 with Sami Frey in The Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James, adapted by Marguerite Duras. A spectacle that has become legendary. I was a teenager and came to Paris on purpose to see the play. I liked it so much that I came back, with my parents’ permission, a week later!

In your book, we discover a very international journey, which begins in Lebanon and passes through New York…

She is between a thousand worlds: Beirut, this incredibly cosmopolitan city where she grew up with an archaeologist father, France, Switzerland, country of her aristocratic mother – she belongs to the family of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure –, America , where she settled after her marriage… Wherever she went, Delphine Seyrig attracted deeply creative beings: filmmakers, writers, theater people, painters.

With her husband, the painter Jack Youngerman, she was close to great names in art history – Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Jasper Johns… – long before they were known. She first appeared on screen in 1959, in Pull My Daisy, a short film written by Jack Kerouac and directed by photographer Robert Frank. What a cast!

We are in the Bowery in New York, at the end of the 1950s… It is not the refined atmosphere ofIndia Song or of Marianske Lazne, but Delphine Seyrig is at ease everywhere. His father had told him, “I bet on you, little pony!” She took him at his word and threw herself into life.

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Delphine Seyrig is a very beautiful woman, with a particular voice, an aura… She could have lived her life in theatre, cinema, been an aesthetic icon and been content with that. But she had a very reasoned approach: to fight for equality between men and women, to choose to make the films of the directors she met, to embody another idea of ​​femininity.

With Chantal Akerman, for example, she demonstrates that a housewife is deeply esteemed, she is someone who accomplishes something… There is a real political dimension. His collaboration with Marguerite Duras is very beautiful because it allowed him to deal with crazy love, the one that grips you and can fall on anyone.

We see it in India Song (1975), a very surprising work, of great graphic modernity. And in The music (1967), a lesser known film, which I really like, about the need to love and its impossibility. Duras said: “It’s the story of any couple… Despite all the beauty of Seyrig running down the streets, of Robert Hossein opposite, their love is impossible. »

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Truffaut understands Seyrig perfectly. He perceives in her this need to be earthly, to be a real woman, beyond fantasies, beyond the object of desire. He writes her a magnificent monologue, truly made to measure, in which she says that she is a real woman, that she put on makeup before coming, that there is nothing magical about her.

Fabienne Tabard, her name in the film, is not fooled by the gaze of men, the one who freezes her like an “apparition”. She is a whole being, an adult. It should be added that Michael Lonsdale, who toured a lot with Delphine, was madly in love with her all his life, with an unrequited love. He told it in a book. This adds a real melancholy to the film since he plays Monsieur Tabard.

Which Delphine Seyrig film would you like us to rediscover?

Perhaps the last Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (1989), by Ulrike Ottinger. She is in the Trans-Siberian and delivers a story to younger women, there is like a handover. It’s extravagant and sweet.

To read

« According to Delphine Seyrig, by Virginie Apiou, Actes Sud, May 2023, 124 pages, 16 euros.

To have

« Delphine Seyrig Retrospective » until June 30 at the Lumière Institute, 25, rue du Premier-Film, Lyon 8e, such. 04 78 78 18 95, complete program to be found here.

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