24 November 2023

Photograph by Sarah Bernhardt, dating from 1887.


” All the same ! » The currency exists. It is by Sarah Bernhardt. Born between October 22 and 24, 1844 (her birth certificate disappeared in a fire), the tragic actress died on March 26, 1923. Some 400,000 people accompanied her to the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It is even said that, at the announcement of his death, the Parisian theaters lower their curtains in full performance.

Anecdotes of this nature, Sophie Jaubert’s documentary is full of them. The life of the actress, her incendiary personality, her passions for young men, her support for hairy people during the Great War, her collection of reptiles, her facelift, the amputation of her leg: this incredible destiny would propel today ” la Divine” in “one” of people magazines.

It is no coincidence that her slender silhouette occupies from head to toe the posters of the Czech painter and decorator Alfons Mucha, at the end of the 19th century.e century. Brilliant “influencer” (Alexis Michalik even speaks of “showwoman”), Sarah Bernhardt invents visual communication. But she is not just a rowdy vamp going from audacity to scandal.

Hagiographic portrait

Praise abounds in this resolutely hagiographic portrait. Among them, that, moved, of his great-great-grandson, the director Sébastien Azzopardi. The unforgettable voice of the outstanding tragedienne remains, the quavering echo of which rises against a backdrop of black and white photos, archive images recounting the era and incarnations of the heroine by a young actress wrapped in a Hamiltonian blur.

Read the picture: Article reserved for our subscribers Sébastien Azzopardi, a hyperactive troupe leader on the bill at four Parisian theaters

Strange bias, because Sarah Bernhardt had, for her part, nothing vaporous. An early feminist, avant-garde artist, she triumphed in 1872 in the play Ruy Blas. Victor Hugo celebrates his “golden voice” with wonder. Denis Podalydès still cannot believe the way she warms up her vocal cords, gaining strength as she declaims the verses.

His agonies on stage forged his legend: “If she didn’t die, she didn’t play”, recalls the historian Pierre-André Hélène. Of Phaedrus To The Lady of the Camellias, it moves and amazes. She transcends gender when she dresses up as a man in L’Aiglonby Edmond Rostand.

The public cheers this diva for whom “nothing is ever big enough”, underlines the actress Géraldine Martineau. She embodies France when she takes her troupe to the United States, Australia and Canada. In Paris, she bought two theaters and ran them with an iron fist (La Renaissance, then the Théâtre des nations, which she renamed with her name).

His days and his nights merge with the boards. She gives of herself to the theatre. His game borders on “devotion”, enthuses Denis Podalydès. One hundred years after her death, Sarah Bernhardt has lost none of her brilliance. How could it be otherwise? She is no longer a woman. She is a symbol.

Sarah Bernhardt headlongdocumentary by Sophie Jaubert (Fr., 2023, 52 min).

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