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Seyrig, Delphine

SEYRIG, Delphine

Nationality: French. Born: Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyrig in Beirut, Lebanon, of French parents, 10 April 1932. Family: Married Jack Youn-German, 1950. Career: 1952–55—actress on French stage; then studied at the Actors Studio, New York; 1961—French film debut in L'Année dernière à Marienbad brought international fame; stage work included roles in A Month in the Country, 1964, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, 1967, and The Beast in theJungle, 1981; 1970s—directed video shorts. Awards: Best Actress, Venice Festival, for Muriel, 1963. Died: Of a lung disease, in Paris, 15 October 1990.

Films as Actress:


Pull My Daisy (Frank) (as Mrs. Larry Rivers)


L'Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) (Resnais) (as the woman)


Muriel (Resnais) (as Helene)


Qui êtes-vous, Polly Magoo? (Klein)


La Musica (Duras and Seban) (as She)


Accident (Losey) (as Francesca)


Mr. Freedom (Klein) (as Marie/Madeleine); Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses) (Truffaut) (as Fabienne Tabard); La Voie lactée (The Milky Way) (Buñuel) (as prostitute)


Peau d'âne (The Magic Donkey; Donkey Skin) (Demy) (as Fairy Godmother)


Le Rouge aux lèvres (Daughters of Darkness) (Kumel) (as Countess Elizabeth Bathory)


Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) (Buñuel) (as Mme. Thevenot); Le Journal d'un suicide (Stanojevic) (as interpreter)


Evlalie quitte les champs (The Star, The Orphan, and the Butcher) (Savary); A Doll's House (Losey) (as Kristine Linde); The Day of the Jackal (Zinnemann) (as Colette)


The Black Windmill (Siegel) (as Cecil Burrows); Dites-le avec des fleurs (Grimblat) (as Françoise); Le Cri de coeur (Lallemand) (as wife)


India Song (Duras) (as Anne-Marie); Le Jardin qui bascule (Gilles) (as Kate); Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman) (title role); Aloise (de Kermadec) (title role); Voyage en Amérique; Je t'aime, tu danses


Caro Michele (Monicelli) (as Adriana); Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert (Duras)


Repérages (Faces of Love) (Soutter) (as Julie); Der letzte Schrei (van Ackeren); Baxter—Véra Baxter (Duras)


Le Chemin perdu (Moraz); Cher Inconnu (I Sent a Letter to My Love) (Mizrahi) (as Yvette)


Freak Orlando (Ottinger); Man of Destiny (Davis—for TV)


Le Grain de sable (Meffre)


Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (Ottinger)


Sarah et le cri de la langouste (Bluwal)


Letters Home (Akerman); The Golden Eighties (Akerman) (as Jeanne)


Seven Women, Seven Sins (Sander)


Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia (Ottinger)


By SEYRIG: articles—

"The Lily of the Valley," interview with Rui Nogueira in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1969. Interview with A. Drewnowski in Inter/View (New York), June 1972.

"Delphine Seyrig," by G. Heathwood in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), January 1978.

Interview by E. Bonn and T. Deknut in Ecran (Paris), March 1978.

Interview in Talking Films: The Best of the Guardian Film Lectures, edited by Andrew Britton, London, 1991.

On SEYRIG: articles—

Amiel, M., "Alain Resnais raconté par ses acteurs," in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1980.

Hervo, B., in Filmfaust, December-January 1981–82.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 22 October 1990.

* * *

The haunting screen image of Delphine Seyrig stands at the center of French avant-garde filmmaking since the 1960s. Her elevation to this stature is based on two films, L'Année dernière à Marienbad and India Song. Not only significant as films, these works are important for their connections with the nouveau roman, a style that seeks to achieve an image of the eternal present through a dynamic of frozen gesture and glances. Only the face, body, and intellect of Seyrig could lend the subtleties demanded of this form which emphasizes image and psychology over plot and dialogue. David Bordwell admirably summed up Seyrig's novelistic qualities by calling her a Proustian actress. She endows her characters with a historical complexity brought to life in the present through the simplest of gestures.

Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote L'Année denière à Marienbad, had hoped Kim Novak would play the female lead. He wanted an actress who was less cerebral and more carnal than Seyrig. Fortunately for the dramatic and visual complexity of the film, Seyrig won the role. The film is about brainwashing; a man attempts to create in a woman's mind a past that never was in order to gain control over her present. The dramatic energy of the film is based on the woman's psychic resistance to the man. At times, the woman posed like a model, moments when the fashion-plate beauty of Seyrig works to perfection. Other times, the woman rebels or at least recoils from this positioning and rebuffs the man with wit and sophistication. Here the persona of Seyrig comes into full play. Even when capitulating to the man, there is enough lingering resistance to make the spectator question the validity of the image and wonder if it is not part of the man's fantasy. Novak, who plays to perfection a woman conforming to all aspects of imagistic male fantasy, as in Vertigo, would not have been able to generate this sense of resistant intellect.

In India Song Seyrig perfectly embodies the upper-class hauteur of the femme fatale. She portrays a woman who, in the grand French manner of de Pompadour, de Staël, and George Sand, has emotional and intellectual power to enslave certain males even into her middle age. India Song, even more than L'Année dernière à Marienbad, gives the false impression of stasis. Treating mental actions and developments rather than physical ones, the film requires a commanding yet illusive presence that only Seyrig could provide. Any other actress would have made the character appear like a dress-maker's dummy in a shop window.

Between L'Année dernière à Marienbad and India Song lie other fine, if less historically significant, films: Muriel, Accident, and Baisers volés. Throughout her career, Delphine Seyrig embodied the intelligent and beautiful woman who approximates human perfection. She remains one of film history's most important actresses.

—Rodney Farnsworth

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