Review: Delphine and Carole
by Vladan Petkovic
- This archive documentary about key figures in the 1970s French feministic film scene is an indispensable basis for today's discourse around #MeToo, and is selected for the EFAs
French filmmaker Callisto Mc Nulty is the granddaughter of Swiss-French video pioneer and feminist Carole Roussopoulos, best known for her subversive, militant, and uniquely clever and funny video works that she made in collaboration with the great French New Wave actress Delphine Seyrig, and their artistic collectives "Insoumuses" and "Video Out".
Mc Nulty's archive-footage documentary Delphine and Carole [+see also:
interview: Callisto Mc Nulty
film profile] explores the work and times of these two singular, key figures whose legacy particularly resonates today. Audiences will be moved, surprised, amused, and alternately depressed and uplifted by this excellent film that world-premiered in the Berlinale Forum, has been selected for the European Film Awards and is now screening in San Sebastián's Zabaltegi-Tabakalera section.
As almost always happens in cinema, Roussopoulos's revolutionary work started with a new technology. In 1967, Sony released the first video camera, the Portapak, and Roussopoulos bought it in 1969 (it is said that Godard purchased the very first one that was sold in France). She started capturing the development of feminism in France in the 1970s, particularly the spirited and often devilishly funny actions of the Women's Liberation Movement.
Meanwhile, Seyrig was starring in films such as Truffaut's Stolen Kisses, Demy's Donkey Skin and Kumel's Daughters of Darkness. These featured women in various positions of submitting to or wielding power over men, and triggered her ambivalence towards acting due to stereotypical gender roles and the relations prevalent in the male-dominated industry. This led her to Carole.
Mc Nulty combines excerpts from their films, various TV interviews and especially a 12-hour interview with Carole by Hélène Fleckinger from 2008, without any additional commentary. This results in an eye-opening piece for anyone not well acquainted with this 1970s wave of feminism, and its roots and results connected to the film industry.
In Y'a qu'à pas baiser (1973), Carole shows a very tasteful scene of abortion, at the time of the Manifesto of the 343 Women, in which well-known public figures declared they’d had an abortion, which had a huge impact in France (where abortion was illegal) and around the world, and basically kick-started the global feminist movement.
For Be Pretty and Shut Up! (1976), the pair went to Hollywood and talked to actresses including Jane Fonda, Maria Schneider, Cindy Williams and Ellen Burstyn about their experiences in the industry. These stories, compared to those of today, are both innocent in the way these actresses tell them, but also devastating, as we see that very little has changed in more than 40 years.
But their most impactful work was certainly Maso et Miso vont en bateau (which translates roughly as “Masochist and Misogynist Go Boating”). As the UN’s “International Year of the Woman” ended in 1975, French TV broadcast a programme called “The Year of the Woman: Thank God! It’s Over”, in which then State Secretary for Women, Françoise Giroud, was responding to various questionable statements by French men. Giroud, clearly appointed in her position to protect the interests of men, declared, "Many women love misogynists."
Delphine and Carole inserted their own bitterly funny and searing reactions and comments into a recording of the show on video, and then started screening it in French cinemas, which went on for more than a month. This was the first-ever video to be projected in theatres, and it had such an impact that Giroud asked them what they wanted in exchange for stopping the distribution.
In one interview, Seyrig says, "Isn't this what we always wanted? To be able to react to what is being said on TV so that the whole world can hear it?" And this is, obviously, something that we have today. On one hand, this helped #MeToo gain such traction, but on the other, the internet is unleashing an unprecedented flood of misogynistic hatred on social networks.
The parallels and contrasts between the contexts of the 1970s feminist movement and the events of the present are innumerable and so thought-provoking that even an extended review like this cannot do justice to Mc Nulty's film and its significance. So, a tip for curators and programmers: Delphine and Carole could make for a fantastic double bill with Tom Donahue's This Changes Everything.
Delphine and Carole is a co-production by France's Les films de la butte, Le Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir and Institut national de l'audiovisuel, and Switzerland's Alva Film. Paris-based MPM Premium has the international rights.
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