“My grandmother influenced artists with her intelligence”

After a successful book written with her sister, author Anne Berest brings her grandmother Gabriële Buffet-Picabia to the screen. Her documentary traces the dizzying life of this woman at the center of the artistic avant-gardes of the last century. Maintenance.

In 2017, with Gabriel (edited by Stock), sisters Anne and Claire Berest had brought their great-grandmother, Gabriële Buffet (1881-1985) back to the fore. Wife of the painter Francis Picabia, this personality with an extraordinary destiny exerted a great influence on the entire artistic avant-garde of the early twentieth century.And century, from Guillaume Apollinaire to Igor Stravinsky. Anne Berest and director Marthe Le More bring her back to life on the screen in a film, The woman with the erotic brain, broadcast on Arte.

Where does the desire for this documentary come from, which aired five years after the publication of Gabriel ?
The idea goes back a long time, ever since we imagined a movie while we were working on the book. But, at the time, Gabriële Buffet was completely unknown to the public and ignored by art historians. So it took the success of the book for Gabriële to start living again and for us to be accompanied. Arte was immediately enthusiastic about the project, especially since many inside the canal, I think, had read Gabriel. The book thus allowed the film to be made, and this is the magic of literature: you can bring the dead back to life!

How did you work on the documentary?
I wanted the project to remain, like the book, a small family business. The production was then entrusted to Marthe Le More, who is a childhood friend. We have entirely dedicated our summer 2021 to Gabriële. After three years of working on the book, Claire and I had other adventures: it was a joy to find her again. Especially since we spent a lot of time in the family home in Étival, in the Jura, where many archives lie that have never been exhumed. It was here, in 1912, that Gabriële came to stay for ten days with Francis Picabia, Guillaume Apollinaire and Marcel Duchamp. This trip to the Jura is decisive for the quartet: Apollinaire composed the poem “Zone” there, which will open his collection Alcohols, Marcel Duchamp his notes on the “Via Giura-Parigi”. This house now belongs to cousins ​​we didn’t know. Thanks to the book, then to the documentary, we met and fell in love: this project has therefore brought together an entire family!

What archives did you use?
In addition to these family archives, made up of numerous letters and photographs never shown, we have also collaborated with various associations, such as the Marcel-Duchamp Association and the Picabia Committee. We also investigated the banks of the film archives of the time. I wanted archives that were both modern and joyful, in the image of these personalities whose film tries to reflect the happiness of existing: it is about showing that modern art was made by people who wanted to live. Their problem was not being famous or being exhibited in museums, but to love and be happy.

What did this film allow you, beyond the book?
Our book ends in 1919, while the film traces the whole life of our great-grandmother. This allows us to talk about her about her commitment to the resistance, which is impressive: she and her daughter had created a network, “Gloria SMH,” specifically by passing cards in a pram that they pretended to turn around. It was important to remember this, because throughout her life Gabriële had heroic impulses, but with the desire to remain in her shadow. She never talked about it, like her daughter, who had won a medal of the Resistance from the hands of Charles de Gaulle. These women learned not to talk about themselves, not to put themselves on the stage: they had to show that they mattered.

Why did you choose to take the title The woman with the erotic brain ?
This phrase, attributed without certainty to her husband Francis Picabia, helps to break the cliché by reducing the women who surround artists to muses. We wanted to show that they, and Gabriële in particular, have influenced them with their intelligence and creativity. The term “brain” reminds us that Gabriële was a theorist – she wrote about ten articles in particular. These two words joined together form an almost Dadaist title. Because eros was instrumental in these people who loved, celebrated and traveled together, and whose creations were born out of romantic and sexual tensions. The history of art feeds on this meat. Gabriële was not beautiful, but her extraordinary spirit attracted artists.

r Gabriële Buffet-Picabia, the woman with an erotic braindocumentary by Marthe Le More and Anne Berest, broadcast on Sunday at 5:45 pm on Arte.

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