Anne Wiazemsky, 1947–2017

“The French writer and actress Anne Wiazemsky, who famously wrote a best-selling account of her short marriage to New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, died of cancer in Paris on Thursday,” reports the AFP. Wiazemsky, who was seventy, “made her screen debut as an elfin 19-year-old in Au hasard Balthazar [image above], Robert Bresson’s classic 1966 film about a mistreated Christ-like donkey, before meeting Godard—then at the height of his fame—a year later. They married during the shooting of his 1967 film La chinoise, in which Wiazemsky plays a member of a Maoist revolutionary cell.”

“Wiazemsky went on to appear in other Godard films, including black comedy Weekend and One Plus One,” notes Gwilym Mumford in the Guardian. “Yet, as Godard became more immersed in the social uprising in France and elsewhere in 1968, the marriage became strained. ‘The further it went on, the more our paths diverged,’ she told AFP in an interview earlier this year. The pair divorced in 1979. . . . In her later years Wiazemsky published more than a dozen novels, including 2015’s Un an après, about her relationship with Godard. The book became the basis for Michel Hazanavicius’s Redoubtable, and one of Wiazemsky’s last public appearances was at the film’s premiere at the Cannes film festival in May.”

Wiazemsky worked with Pier Paolo Pasolini on Teorema (1968) and Pigsty (1969), with Marco Ferreri on Il seme dell'uomo (1969), with Marcel Hanoun on La vérité sur l'imaginaire passion d'un inconnu (1974), with Philippe Garrel on L'enfant secret (1979), and with André Téchiné on Rendez-vous (1984).

Update: “Wiazemsky continued to act on screen until the late 80s, then directed a number of TV documentaries,” notes Jonathan Romney, writing for the Guardian. “She also co-wrote the screenplay of Claire Denis’s 1994 TV film U.S. Go Home, a 60s-set story of a teenage girl living in the Paris suburbs and anxious to lose her virginity. The subject couldn’t be further than Wiazemsky’s experience of growing up privileged and in the glare of media attention, but it’s a film in which you feel that, however elusively, Wiazemsky gives us another angle on her own adolescence in a time of radical personal and social change.”

Updates, 10/7: In his obituary for the New York Times,Sam Roberts points us to Dave Kehr’s 2003 interview with Wiazemsky. “When I first met [Bresson], I was very much impressed and fell very much under his charm. 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. I lived with him, I ate with him away from the crew. I was his prisoner, but a happy one. I was already what he was looking for, 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, five or six instead of fifty or sixty.”

Roberts: “In another memoir, Jeune Fille, published six years after that interview, Ms. Wiazemsky wrote that Bresson had become obsessed with her and propositioned her repeatedly on the set. ‘For a month and a half, we lived under the same roof with adjoining bedrooms and he never let me out of his sight,’ she wrote.

“Born in Berlin 1947,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club, “Wiazemsky came from an illustrious background. Her father was a prince of Russia’s exiled ancient aristocracy; his family, the Vyazemskys, were an old cadet branch of the Rurik dynasty that ruled Russia before the Romanovs. Her mother was the daughter of Nobel Prize laureate François Mauriac. Raised in Venezuela, Wiazemsky spent summers at her grandfather’s French estate, Malagar, before moving with her family to Paris in her teens. She would be introduced to Robert Bresson through Florence Delay, who had played the title role in Bresson’s 1962 film The Trial of Joan of Arc, and whose family traveled in similar social circles. . . . Pale and unconventionally photogenic, with tragic eyes and red hair, Wiazemsky was often cast as vulnerable and naïve characters—a perfect ingenue for the golden age of arthouse allegories.”

Update, 10/11: “Wiazemsky found it a paranoia-inducing experience to be filming [La chinoise] in the same space she shared with Godard,” writes James S. Williams in the Guardian, “yet Godard reveled in the life-work set-up he had engineered and tapped directly into Wiazemsky’s seductively ambivalent personality to create the figure of the intellectual Véronique, who could also be impulsive and rebellious. The improvised conversation on the train between her and the political philosopher Francis Jeanson (Wiazemsky’s teacher at Nanterre) about politics and terrorism is one of the film’s dazzling set-pieces, as is the moment when Véronique gives a lesson to Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Léaud) on the need for ‘combat on both fronts’ by pretending to dump him. The calm, impassive demonstration of willpower comes straight from Wiazemsky.”

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