Delphine Seyrig  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyrig (10 April 1932 – 15 October 1990) was a Lebanese-born French actress, a film director and a feminist, known for films such as Last Year at Marienbad (1961) Daughters of Darkness (1971) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).


Early life

Seyrig was born into an intellectual Protestant family. Her Alsatian father, Henri, was the director of the Beirut Archaeological Institute and later France's cultural attaché in New York during World War II. Her mother, Hermine de Saussure, was Swiss, and the niece of linguist/semiologist Ferdinand de Saussure.

Delphine was the sister of composer Francis Seyrig. Her family moved from Lebanon to New York when she was ten. When the family returned to Lebanon in the late 1940s, she was sent to school at the Collège Protestant de Jeunes Filles, which had been founded by Protestant pacifists and social justice activists in 1938. She attended the school from 1947 to 1950.


As a young woman, Seyrig studied acting at the Comédie de Saint-Étienne, training under Jean Dasté, and at Centre Dramatique de l'Est. She appeared briefly in small roles in the 1954 TV series Sherlock Holmes. In 1956, she returned to New York and studied at the Actors Studio. In 1958 she appeared in her first film, Pull My Daisy. In New York she met director Alain Resnais, who asked her to star in his film Last Year at Marienbad. Her performance brought her international recognition and she moved to Paris. Among her roles of this period is the older married woman in François Truffaut's Baisers volés (1968).

During the 1960s and 1970s, Seyrig worked with directors including Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Marguerite Duras, and Fred Zinnemann, as well as Resnais. She achieved recognition for both her stage and film work, and was named best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her role in Resnais' Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1963). She played many diverse roles, and because she was fluent in French, English and German, she appeared in films in all three languages, including a number of Hollywood productions.

Seyrig may be most widely known for her role as Colette de Montpelier in Zinnemann's 1973 film The Day of the Jackal. In turn, perhaps her most demanding role was in Chantal Akerman's 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, in which she was required to adopt a highly restrained, rigorously minimalistic mode of acting to convey the mindset of the title character.

Seyrig was a major feminist figure in France. Throughout her career, she used her celebrity status to promote women's rights. The most important of the three films she directed was the 1977 Sois belle et tais-toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up), which included actresses Shirley MacLaine, Maria Schneider, and Jane Fonda, speaking frankly about the level of sexism they had to deal with in film industry. She also directed with Carole Roussopoulos an adaptation of the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. In 1982 Seyrig was the key member of the group that established the Paris-based Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, which maintains a large archive of women's filmed and recorded work and produces work by and about women. In 1989, Seyrig was given a festival tribute at Créteil International Women's Film Festival, France.

Les Insoumuses

Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos and translator Ioana Wieder formed the feminist collective video Les Insoumuses in 1975 after meeting at a video-editing workshop that Roussopoulos organized in her apartment. The name, Les Insoumuses, is a neologism combing "insoumise" (disobedient) and "muses." The collective produced several videos together, focusing on representations of women in the media, labour, and reproductive rights.

Private life

Seyrig married (and was later divorced from) American painter Jack Youngerman (b. 1926), who had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Their son Duncan (b. 1956, Paris) is a musician and composer working in both France and the United States. His daughter Sian Youngerman is a French-American actress, currently based in London.


Seyrig died in Paris in 1990, aged 58, from lung cancer. She was interred there in Cimetière du Montparnasse.

Select filmography (acting)

Filmography (directing)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Delphine Seyrig" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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