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WEDNESDAY - Delphine Seyrig, More Than a Muse

Programmed by: Hannah Yang

What can one say that encapsulates Delphine Seyrig, the actress whose career spans the height of French cinema and who contributed to some of its most important works by directors like Resnais, Truffaut, and Buñuel?

Her unique voice, striking features, and ability to reveal the deepest of emotions with a single glance undoubtedly shaped her early-career roles—often the elusive, intellectual woman of desire as in Marienbad or Stolen Kisses. But, sensing that “theater and films are very far from women’s consciousness about themselves,” she refused to simply be a muse.

In 1975 she made three films with women and broke with this image-illusion, especially transcending it with her performance in Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman. Seryig stepped behind the camera and created the pioneering French feminist video collective Les Insoumuses with Carole Roussopolous, stating, “video is my independence from men.” Her work was explicitly feminist (even labeled as militant) and she fiercely advocated for issues like abortion rights. Through the end of her career, Seyrig continued to make work with women and about women, leaving the roles of her early days behind. She collaborated frequently with Marguerite Duras and Ulrike Ottinger, and held a close relationship with Chantal Akerman, who noted that the French film establishment could not tolerate “the incongruity between their fantasy of her and what she was—a total feminist activist to the end of her life.” This, combined with her unwillingness to compromise and become the perfect cinema muse, lessened what should be a significant legacy. Her contributions, both on and off screen, are invaluable. This series attempts to celebrate and bring to light her monumental life’s work as an actor, filmmaker, and woman.

Co-sponsored by the France Chicago Center.

7:00PM Wednesday, March 22nd

Last Year at Marienbad (1961) still

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Alain Resnais · 94m · DCP

Truth, time, and memory are dizzyingly twisted and muddled in a hotel in Marienbad, where a man insists he has met an unnamed woman (Seyrig) before, but she insists she does not know him. Conflict arises with the appearance of another man—what is the truth? This earlier role of Seyrig’s would pave the way for her future castings as the elusive object of desire. The script’s puzzle is enhanced by the hypnotic, surreal cinematography of Sacha Vierny.

Followed by a discussion with Prof. Maria Belodubrovskaya, Cinema and Media Studies.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, March 29th; 4:00PM Sunday, April 2nd

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) still

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Chantal Akerman · 201m · DCP

The film that changed everything. Delphine Seyrig gave her greatest contribution to cinema in Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman as a widowed housewife who spends her days peeling potatoes for her son's meals and trying to make ends meet. The film’s brilliance lies in its attentiveness towards its subject, the textural duration and repetition of Jeanne’s daily tasks, and the eventual disruption that occurs. Quietly harrowing, exhilarating, and triumphant.

March 29th tickets can be bought here.

April 2nd tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, April 5th

Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963) still

Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963)

Alain Resnais · 116m · DCP

Resnais exchanges Seyrig’s dreamy character in Marienbad for Hélenè, an agitated widow who lives in an antique shop with her stepson Bernard. He is deeply haunted by his time in the Algerian war, just as Hélenè is haunted by an ex-lover’s visit. Characters are trapped in their own histories as they confuse memories or obsess over them. Do they realize the futility of their perpetual forgetting and remembering? Perhaps, but they persist, or cannot escape.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, April 12th

Stolen Kisses (1968) still

Stolen Kisses (1968)

Francois Truffaut · 90m · DCP

In the third of Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films, the ever-youthful Antoine (Jeanne Pierre-Léaud) gets a job as a private detective and works undercover at a shoe store. He becomes relatably infatuated with his boss’s wife, Fabienne Tabard (Seyrig), who seduces him with her elegance, magnetic beauty, and charm. In her famous monologue, Fabienne says to Antoine: “I am not an apparition, I am a woman,” a quote which can equally encapsulate Seyrig’s career.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, April 19th

Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977) still

Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977)

Marguerite Duras · 91m · DCP

The film’s constant looping soundtrack accompanies a lonely Vera Baxter in an empty villa. A woman (Seyrig) hears Baxter’s name at a bar and is drawn to find her. Seyrig’s unique voice is seldom heard here; instead, she listens as Vera recounts to her the details of how her husband treats her as a commodity. Seyrig's character's presence is mysterious, never explained, yet she is our access to Vera, revealing the emptiness of her life through dialogue.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, April 26th

Sois belle et tais-toi! (1981) still

Sois belle et tais-toi! (1981)

Delphine Seyrig · 110m · DCP

Be Pretty and Shut Up! Delphine Seyrig turns the camera around to become the filmmaker, breaking the expectations and illusions placed on herself and others as she documents a series of interviews with well-known actresses like Juliet Berto, Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Wiazemsky, and more. Seyrig asks questions that radically allow the women to speak for themselves, illuminating what it means to be a woman in the patriarchal film industry.

Introduced by Matthew Hubbell, Cinema and Media Studies. Courtesy of the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, May 3rd

Maso and Miso Go Boating (1976) // Calamity Jane & Delphine Seyrig, A Story (2020) still

Maso and Miso Go Boating (1976) // Calamity Jane & Delphine Seyrig, A Story (2020)

Carole Roussopoulos, Ioana Wieder, Delphine Seyrig, and Nadia Ringart // Babette Mangolte · 55m // 87m · DCP

In 1975, a French TV show ran a program on the "year of the woman." Feminist video collective Les Insoumuses responded with Maso and Miso, a humorous and disruptive re-edit of the misogynistic show. Followed by a documentary about Seyrig's attempts to make a film about Calamity Jane's letters to her daughter. Babette Mangolte (cinematographer, Jeanne Dielman) interweaves footage and other materials from the incomplete journey in an homage to Seyrig.

Introduced by Aurore Spiers, CMS and CSGS. Restored by the ZKM de Karlsruhe in partnership with the Centre Pompidou. Courtesy of the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, May 10th

Letters Home (1986) still

Letters Home (1986)

Chantal Akerman · 104m · DCP

Known for the films about her relationship with her mother, Akerman’s third and last collaboration with Seyrig is fitting and poignant. Rarely seen, Letters Home is an adaptation of Rose Goldemberg's play, based on Sylvia Plath’s letters with her mother. Seyrig and her niece (Coralie Seyrig) recite the text directly to camera. Seyrig had asked Akerman to direct her in Racine's "Phèdre," but Akerman, not knowing Seyrig would die not long after, declined.

Courtesy of the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Wednesday, May 17th

Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia (1989) still

Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia (1989)

Ulrike Ottinger · 165m · 35mm

An eclectic mix of women passengers on the Trans-Siberian railway—Lady Windermere (Seyrig), an American Broadway actor, a German teacher (Irm Hermann), and an adventurous girl—are taken captive by a hospitable Mongolian princess and experience Mongolia in all its beauty and power. Language and culture pose no boundaries in this colorful whirlwind of a film. One of Seyrig's four collaborations with director Ulrike Ottinger, and also her final film.

Introduced by Prof. Daniel Morgan, Cinema and Media Studies. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

Tickets can be bought here.