‘A muse to both Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard, Anne Wiazemsky turned from screen acting to become a prize-winning novelist, and in the last year of her life saw herself portrayed on the screen. It’s the kind of career not so surprising in as cinephile a country as France, where the divisions between life, cinema and literature are frequently blurred.
‘Wiazemsky’s childhood was spent in a variety of countries, as her father was a former Russian aristocrat turned diplomat. Her mother was the daughter of Nobel Prize-winning writer Francois Mauriac. Once settled in Paris, the teenage Anne was introduced to Robert Bresson by her schoolfriend Florence Delay – who had been his Joan of Arc. Wiazemsky’s introspective, pensive nature, which could suggest both fragility and strength, led the master to cast her in Au hazard Balthazar (1966), which tells of the often oppressive life of a donkey and its most devoted owner, Marie, a shy country girl. For Bresson, Wiazemsky’s passivity matched entirely his preference for ‘models’ over ‘actors’: “She is Marie because she accepts simply to be herself without bringing intent or psychology to the role.” Marie’s suffering is the more moving for Wiazemsky’s lack of histrionics, and Bresson’s camera frequently frames her with a saintly aura.
‘During filming, Wiazemsky was visited by Jean-Luc Godard, to whom she had written a passionate fan letter. In 1967, he married his “animal-flower”, and cast her in a number of his films, most notably as the Maoist student in La Chinoise (1967). Shooting in their Parisian apartment, Godard played with the dichotomy between hardline political pronouncements and his wife’s physical delicacy. While together they engaged with the revolutionary events of 1968, gradually Wiazemsky took against her husband’s stance, and they lived apart in the 70s until their eventual divorce.
‘If in her films for Godard Wiazemsky seemed to be following the puppet master’s dictates, more interesting roles were offered by Italian directors Pier Paolo Pasolini and Marco Ferreri. In Pasolini’s Theorem (1968) she was perfect as the sexually gauche daughter of the bourgeois family turned upside down by the erotic presence of Terence Stamp. Never a career actress, Wiazemsky took ever smaller parts, bowing out in films by Philippe Garrel and André Téchiné.
‘In the 1990s, she turned to literature, and with the encouragement of Jacques Fieschi had her novels published. Canines (1993) won the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Controversy came her way with Jeune Fille (2007), which though described as a ‘roman’ (novel) was a flagrantly autobiographical account of the filming of Au hazard Balthazar, during which an infatuated Bresson (almost 50 years her senior) became painfully possessive of the young girl.
‘She followed this with Une annee studieuse (2012) and Un an après (2015), in which she described her passionate life with Godard. When the director of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, approached her to make his film Redoubtable (2017) from the latter book, she gave her blessing once it was established they both agreed it should be treated as a comedy, and attended the Cannes premiere to prove her commitment. Only in France.’ — David Thompson
Anne Wiazemsky @ IMDb
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Prisoner of Bresson
by Dave Kehr
Anne Wiazemsky was a 17-year-old nonprofessional when Robert Bresson asked her to play the leading role in ”Au Hasard Balthazar,” the 1966 film that is now widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of that French director.
”When I first met him, I was very much impressed and fell very much under his charm,” Ms. Wiazemsky recalled, speaking in French from her home in Paris. ”Because, even if he was an older man, he was really very, very handsome. He spoke very softly, with a slight stutter, and that made me laugh — the seriousness of his speech, the beauty of this man, and then his little stutter. That made me feel at ease with him right away.”
Ms. Wiazemsky met Bresson through the actress Florence Delay, who (under the name of Florence Carrez) had played the central role in Bresson’s 1962 film ”Trial of Joan of Arc.” Bresson cast Ms. Wiazemsky immediately, and given her ethereal, angelic beauty, it is not difficult to see why he replaced another actress who had already been selected for the role.
”She lost the film because of me,” she said, ”and I still feel a pang of regret for that unknown girl.”
During the filming, ”I lived with him, I ate with him away from the crew,” Ms. Wiazemsky recalled. ”I was his prisoner, but a happy one.” Bresson, who liked to refer to his actors as ”models,” militated against conventionally expressive film acting. He liked his performers to be as neutral and noninterpretive as possible. ”I was already what he was looking for,” she said, ”because I naturally have a very flat voice. He never had to direct my line readings as he had to, a great deal, with the others. And so I did very few takes compared with the other actors, 5 or 6 instead of 50 or 60.
”I was just emerging from adolescence,” Ms. Wiazemsky said, ”and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was very reassuring to be in the hands of someone who seemed to know everything. And when I decided to continue as an actress, it was largely because of the pleasure that experience gave me — of being an instrument in someone else’s hands, at the service of someone else’s desire.”
13 of Anne Wiazemsky’s 44 roles
Robert Bresson Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
‘In 1965, young French acting aspirant Anne Wiazemsky was asked by celebrated auteur Robert Bresson to star in his forthcoming film, Au Hasard Balthazar, the austere, heart-wrenching tale of a donkey, and Marie, the farm girl who loves him. “At the age of 17 I was chosen,” she would go on to say of the part that launched her to worldwide fame upon the film’s release the following year. During the shoot, Jean-Luc Godard, whose work Wiazemsky much admired, visited the set and the duo fell in love. To Bresson’s presumed dismay – it is well known that he himself proposed to the auburn-haired beauty multiple times during filming – she and Godard were married shortly afterwards, and Wiazemsky would go on to star in a number of the director’s movies, securing her title as the face of French New Wave cinema.’ — AnOther
Jean-Luc Godard La Chinoise (1967)
‘Godard’s second masterpiece of 1967 – the first being Week End – is a brisk social satire on the nature of petty bourgeois revolutionaries playing terrorists from the comfort of their parent’s suburban apartment building, presented in the form of an infernal parody of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (1872). The film is famous for two reasons; firstly for predicting the eventual mood and political atmosphere of the events of the following year – with French university students plotting a course for political action and enforced revolution in a way that is highly reminiscent of the eventual proceedings of May, 1968 – and secondly for Godard’s increasingly confrontational style of film-making; with his continual experiments with Brechtian inspired alienation techniques employed alongside the once radical appropriation of abstract design concepts, pop art and psychedelia.’ — Three Sad Tigers
Jean-Luc Godard Week End (1967)
‘This scathing late-sixties satire from Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s great anarchic works. Determined to collect an inheritance from a dying relative, a bourgeois couple travel across the French countryside while civilization crashes and burns around them. Featuring a justly famous sequence in which the camera tracks along a seemingly endless traffic jam, and rich with historical and literary references, Weekend is a surreally funny and disturbing call for revolution, a depiction of society reverting to savagery, and— according to the credits—the end of cinema itself.’ — The Criterion Collection
Pier Paolo Pasolini Teorema (1968)
‘A mysterious, irresistible stranger (Terence Stamp) drops into the sterile, orderly home of a Milanese industrialist, then proceeds to methodically seduce the patriarch and his entire family in Pasolini’s perverse masterwork, as simple in structure as it is endlessly beguiling in execution. Italian stars Massimo Girotti and Silvana Mangano are heads of the household, but it is the blue-eyed Christ-devil Stamp and his painted-on slacks that reign here, exerting control over father, mother, and daughter Anne Wiazemsky in turn. The dialogue is sparse, but Ennio Morricone’s score speaks volumes.’ — Metrograph
Pier Paolo Pasolini Pigsty (1969)
‘In her second film for Pasolini, one of five features that she appeared in during a busy year, Wiazemsky again plays opposite Jean-Pierre Léaud. The duo feature in a contemporary narrative (intercut with a medieval-set scenario starring Pierre Clémenti as a not-so-fine young cannibal), in which Léaud’s conflicts over his rich German family’s wartime past lead him to forsake trying-to-make-it-work girlfriend Wiazemsky in favor of rutting with pigs.’ — Luce Cinecittà
Carmelo Bene Capricci (1969)
‘Articulated around two parallel series of events that constantly interfere with each other, the film demolishes any sequential concatenation. On one side is a painter of ‘poisoned Christs’ and on the other is a poet (Bene) and his partner (Anne Wiazemsky) orchestrating his suicidal tendencies in a self-destructive performance of car crashes (anticipating Ballard’s musings on the carnality of automobiles). Fierce parody of the then fashionable dilemma of art vs. life, Capricci sees and films destruction as the last possibility for creation, savaging all that is emotionally blackmailing and institutional within the frame to expose “the total void of art.” Cradled by an intoxicating choreography of meaningless eloquence, the victims of this crash between instinct and art are the codes of realism and the assertive nature of images.’ — MUBI
Marco Ferreri Il seme dell’uomo (1969)
‘”The Seed of Man,” which I could only find in Italian without English subtitles (I understand some Italian, but this isn’t a movie where the dialogue is terribly important), is typical of many Ferreri films: Striking in concept, middling in execution. It’s lively enough considering that not much “happens,” and the leads are agreeable, but there are too many scenes of them simply gamboling about, and the bemused, leisurely tenor isn’t close enough to either satire or tragedy for the overall sociopolitical commentary to have any great impact. Still, it’s a quirky movie from an always-interesting (at least in theory if not always practice) filmmaker, and if like me you get a kick out of such late 60s/early 70s projects that no one in their right mind would have funded at any other moment in time, “Seed” is certainly worth a look.’ — ofumalow
Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin Tout va bien (1972)
‘”If you use stars, people will give you money.” And so Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin went to work on what would be their first commercial narrative feature since coming together to form the radical Dziga-Vertov-Group filmmaking collective in the aftermath of May ’68. Enter Yves Montand and Jane Fonda as the stars, the latter of whose public support for the militant cause could serve as mutually beneficial for her own revolutionary credentials and for the publicity of Godard and Gorin’s film itself. Tout va bien [Everything’s Going Fine] places Fonda and Montand in the roles of Her and Him, that is, a modern couple representative of the middle-class global bourgeoisie circa 1972. She’s a radio journalist at the French bureau of the American Broadcasting System; he’s an advertisement director who before ’68’s social upheavals served as a Nouvelle Vague screenwriter. Through Fonda’s and Montand’s star-personas, Godard and Gorin investigate ‘how the sausage is made’, both metaphorically (movie financing) and literally (industrial food processing), in the process questioning what it means to be involved or ‘engaged’ socially, politically, and romantically. Taking a cue from the tricolour of the French flag, Godard and Gorin adopt the language of Frank Tashlin to discover whether or not, four years on, May ’68’s revolutionary spirit has not already been perverted into a living pop-art Looney Tunes, with society having finally transformed into a playground of consumption and commodity. With its bravura scenes of a factory cross-sectioned like a dollhouse (a nod to Tashlin-protégé Jerry Lewis’s film The Ladies Man) and an oscillating supermarket tracking-shot (one of many quotations of Godard’s ’60s work such as Weekend, La chinoise, Le mépris, and À bout de souffle), Tout va bien remains a vital film of the 1970s — and for a world gone out-of-control.’ — Arrow Films
Alain Tanner Return from Africa (1973)
‘An ode to liberated speech and to the power of words, “those one speaks to others, those one speaks in silence”, Alain Tanner’s third film is inspired by a poet and a poetic text which deeply affected him as a young director.’ — IMDb
Michèle Rosier GEORGE QUI? (1973)
‘Rosier’s extraordinary feature debut is a buried gem of post-New Wave French filmmaking, starring the inimitable Anne Wiazemsky as the scandalizing writer George Sand (1804-1874). Born into nobility as Aurore Dupin, Sand was the most prolific female author of the 19th century, notorious for smoking cigars and flouting laws banning women from dressing as men. While her life is storied (she was close friends with Balzac, Delacroix and Flaubert, as well as one of Frederic Chopin’s lovers; he described her gaze as “like a fiery flood” in his journal), Rosier’s approach mischievously and anachronistically engages the limitations of the staid and stale drawing-room biopic. GEORGE QUI? juxtaposes current-day discussions about Sand’s proto-feminism (as well as her militant opposition to the Paris Communards) with the very real movement for gender equality raging outside the cinemas. Beyond Wiazemsky’s coy leading turn, the film features delectable discussions about sex, love and literature, with a supporting turn from Bulle Ogier as stage actress Marie Dorval, and Gilles Deleuze in a bizarre cameo as pioneering Catholic philosopher Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais – Rosier’s idea.’ — Spectacle Theater
Philippe Garrel L’Enfant Secret (1979)
‘Garrel completed L’Enfant Secret in 1979 but didn’t exhibit it until 1982, because, according to legend, he couldn’t afford to pay the lab that had processed the film. Despite winning France’s prestigious Prix Jean Vigo (an annual award for movies exhibiting an original vision), the film has seldom been screened and was released on DVD only in Japan (even there it’s been out of print for a while). The rareness of L’Enfant Secret has heightened its reputation as a precious object, a movie so intimate that watching it makes you feel as though you’ve been let in on something private. Nakedly autobiographical, the film plays like a confession; moreover, Garrel elicits such sensitive performances from his actors that they too seem to be baring their souls.’ — Chicago Reader
André Téchiné Rendez-vous (1985)
‘Nina, a young provincial and a student actress, discovers the Capital. That of her dreams of love and theater. Guided by her instinct, she travels around alone and follows her chance encounters, whether good or bad. On her way, she first meets Paulot, a simple clerk, with a reassuring face of an honest man. Then Quentin, an actor enters into Nina’s life. He is a run-down actor, eaten up by a drama in his past. The third person she meets is Scrutzler, a rigid and tired director. He will choose Nina to mold her, throw her on the stage and leave her alone to face herself.’ — Unifrance
Philippe Garrel She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps (1985)
‘Faceted, fragmented, and oneiric, Philippe Garrel’s She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps is an abstract, yet lucid chronicle of love and loss, death and birth sublimated through textural, self-reflexive impressions, visceral gestures, and metaphoric tableaux.’ — MUBI
p.s. Hey. ** h (now j), Hi, h (now j). Yes, I believe it has the Blanchot introduction. My copy is the old one. Well, I hope our almost opened lives are a preview of what you’ll be happily experiencing before too, too long. Great luck with the pieces you’ll be writing. Stay well and busy and hopeful. ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, T. It’s a lovely book. I’m pretty you’ll like it a bunch. I’m glad you fnally got to see the comments. Weird problem, that, or weirdly unfixable. Great news about your book being on track. Let me know the scoop. But that’s great, man! ** David Ehrenstein, Leiris is something else, yes. I would be curious to see a production of ‘The Screens’ some day. Gisele considered doing one way back when she was starting but couldn’t figure out to ace a production, so she did ‘Splendids’ instead. Everyone, FaBlog + today = General Idea. ** _Black_Acrylic, Me too. My dreams are bare boned and very uncolorful. ** Jeff J, Hi. You haven’t read it? Oh, it’s great. I read the first volume of ‘Rules of the Game’. Amazing, yeah. I should get back on finishing the trilogy. The Bob Kaufman ‘Collected Poems’ that City Lights put out earlier this year is very good. Yes, I like his work. Maybe not every thing, but he has a real force. More interesting than most of the Beats, in my opinion. Derek’s new novel is insane. Mind-blowing. I love the new Sparks. One of my favorites of their most recent LPs. All I know is that Carax was editing the film a few months ago. I would imagine it’s finished. I thought it might be in the cyber-Cannes line-up, but it isn’t. Yet anyway. ** Tosh Berman, Yes, yes! ** Dominik, Hey, hey, D! Oh, mainly I moved to Amsterdam because I was in love, and my boyfriend was Dutch, and he was in the US for a while, but then he started back at university in Amsterdam, so I moved there to be with him (although our relationship crashed and burned very shortly after I moved there, oops.) Also it was the height of the AIDS crisis, and most of my friends in NYC, where I was living, were sick and/or dying, and I was doing way too much coke, and I was really broke, so all of those things combined made moving to Amsterdam seem like a good idea. Whoa, here’s hoping Anita can move to Amsterdam with you! Crazy! I sure hope that happens. If she’s (apologises if I’m misgendering) in the situation she’s in, I mean, it would make total sense for her, no? Good about the session. And thank you about ‘The Sluts’. My day was okay. It rained a lot, which was nice. My plans for yesterday got delayed to today, so it was empty-ish in an okay way. How was your today? Love that magically goes back in time and transforms the young Walt Disney into a guro fanatic/artist and lets the future play-out anew, Dennis. ** KK, Hi, man. Oh, cool, that you love that book. It’s killer, yeah. Excellent! Your story! I’ll hit it/read it when I’m done here. Everyone, Most excellent scribe and d.l. Kyle ‘KK’ Kirshbom has a new story called ‘Holoceners’ just published on the excellent Hobart site, and please complete your day by zipping over and reading, yes? Easy. Congrats, man! I’ll check my laptop’s game resources, thanks. Gombrowicz’s ‘Cosmos’ is top notch, yeah, I agree. His diaries are really excellent as well. Theaters don’t reopen here until the end of the month or early July. France is being very careful. So I don’t what’s on release. I’m still fishing around in the ‘illegal’ sites. The new Benning was briefly online, either by accident or as a quarantine gift, but it’s gone now. Most lovely day to you as well! ** chris dankland, Whoa, Mr. Dankland! A site for very sore eyes! So great to see you! That does sound like something that would take over your life. So has you been teaching them by Zoom? Or are in-person things still possible there? Thank you! You mean ‘Permanent Green Light’, I think, right? Anyway, thank you so much, that means a lot. We put a lot into that film. We were going to do some kind of ‘PGL’ book that would have the script as part of it, but it never happened. Maybe it still can. I’m glad the Leiris caught your eye. It’s excellent, as is he/his in general. I don’t remember my dreams almost ever, and they’re always nightmares, and they’re always slight variations on the same thing, so, no, no dream journal for me. Well, yeah, if you can find the time and interest to be here more, that would be treasure for me/us/here, but you must do what fuels you always and only. In the meantime, I remain a devoted reader and fan of X-R-A-Y. Take good care, pal! See you soon somewhere or other, I hope. ** Steve Erickson, Ah, well, imagine being in that situation for two months straight. Everyone, Steve has reviewed Abel Ferrara’s newbie ‘Tommaso exactly here. He also tells/reminds us of the following: ‘Many record labels are donating all or some of their profits from Bandcamp tomorrow to organizations fighting for Black civil rights, change to the police in America and bail money for imprisoned protesters. There’s a list here.’ ** Okay. Today the blog focuses on the wonderful French actor Anne Wiazemsky, and I hope it suits. See you tomorrow.