Death of Nelly Kaplan, beloved witch

We say Nelly Kaplan and a movie goes back immediately: the pirate’s bride, feminist torch, angry and joyful embodied by Bernadette Lafont, in the role of the free woman, qualified as a witch because she turns men’s heads and she enjoys it, in a village in 1969 – a burning witch the inquisitors rather than being burned, and who sings to whom the better: “Me, I don’t care, my bed is big enough for thousands of lovers” by Barbara. We repeat Nelly Kaplan and we hear her rugged and persuasive voice, her Argentinian accent that she had kept from her youth, until she was eighteen in Buenos Aires. From her native country, she had kept the belief in the strength of the dreams of which we are made, an acute taste for the fantastic, and the conviction that nothing could resist the urgent need for a meeting.

Nelly Kaplan, born in 1931 in Argentina in a family of Russian immigrants, was a runaway rebellious, an irresistible and unruly young girl, whose parents first seek to get rid of by sending her to the cinema, before leaving her to eighteen years old embark on the Claude-Bernard, for a distant country whose language she did not know: France. “It was vital, I was suffocating.” It is 1950 and the young girl has, for only matches, a few letters of recommendation from Argentinian newspapers and fifty francs. She stayed in a room in Saint-Germain, and learned French by listening to the radio, and fifteen days after her arrival, the Cinémathèque became her second home. Henri Langlois offers him a permanent card. Nelly Kaplan, solitary beauty with surprising and sharp freedom, catches all eyes. Still at the Cinémathèque, she meets Abel Gance, Napoleon himself, forty-two years her senior. It is first as an actress in front of her camera that she discovers what filming is, before becoming her assistant on Austerlitz. With him, she developed a passion for polyvision – a forgotten technique that consists of projecting three distinct and connected images in a vast panorama on the big screen – and of which, in 1957, Magirama (J’accuse) constitutes a trace.

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Saved by Venice

Nelly Kaplan was undoubtedly not the muse of the New Wave, but certainly that of the surrealists, André Breton in mind, whom she had crossed by chance in an exhibition of pre-Columbian art in 1956, and with whom she lived. “A dazzling amorous friendship”. The day after their first meeting, Breton sends him a tire: “I am writing to you because tomorrow may be worse than today. I only like the lost one. ” That same decade, the young woman began an intimate correspondence with André Pieyre de Mandiargues, who nicknamed her Lady N, and the surrealist poet Philippe Soupault – Magnetic Fields. Together, they write novels governed by automatic writing. To escape censorship, Nelly Kaplan – who does not yet have French nationality and is embarking on erotic literature – publishes under the pseudonym of Bellen at Eric Losfeld and Jean-Jacques Pauvert. She will sign a dozen other books during her life.

Nelly Kaplan said in essence: “When you are a muse, you inspire but you don’t breathe.” And as a good unruly, she breathed as much as she inspired, first by shooting a series of documentaries, watching her becoming gazing. Among them, the Picasso Look, where his camera is in front of the canvas “Instead of the painter” in order to capture intimately the uninterrupted gesture of the artist for seventy-five years. The film was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1967. Since 1965, she has been trying to find producers to shoot the pirate’s bride, refused everywhere. Only producer Claude Makovski trusts him through thick and thin. Is this the effect of the golden lion? After 68, the fog rises, she can finally shoot her favorite film. Which borders on total ban during filming, then censorship of distributors. Once again, the Venice Film Festival saves her by selecting the comedy, celebrated by a ten-minute standing ovation, she confided to Release. Even though Nelly Kaplan went on to shoot other fictions – Papa the little boats, Néa -, she remains, for the cinephile memory, sometimes unfair, the scenario writer of only one title and of a marvelous fusion between an actress – Bernadette Lafont – and a character.

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About her heroine, Nelly Kaplan said that she wanted to address the fate of someone who voluntarily puts himself outside the law and condemns himself, thereby, to be cursed. No doubt she knew a little about this topic. She added that witches are just unsuccessful fairies. The comedy had unexpected admirers, including Antonioni. In 1992, she noted “I bow to tributes and rewards. On the cinema side, it’s the crossing of the desert. But I have the stubbornness of a camel. “ Darkness and light at the same time, that sums up the life of the one André Breton had renamed «vison blanc d’or».


Anne Diatkine

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