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La femme publique (1984)

An unexperienced young actress is invited to play a role in a film based on Dostoyevsky's 'The Possessed'. The film director, a Czech immigrant in Paris, takes over her life, and in a short... See full summary »


Andrzej Zulawski


Dominique Garnier (scenario), Andrzej Zulawski (scenario) | 1 more credit »
2 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Francis Huster ... Lucas Kessling
Valérie Kaprisky ... Ethel (as Valerie Kaprisky)
Lambert Wilson ... Milan Mliska
Patrick Bauchau ... Le père d'Ethel
Gisèle Pascal ... Gertrude
Roger Dumas ... André, le photographe
Diane Delor Diane Delor ... Elena Mliska
Jean-Paul Farré Jean-Paul Farré ... Pierre
Olivier Achard Olivier Achard ... Le premier assistant réalisateur
Yveline Ailhaud Yveline Ailhaud ... Rachel
Michel Albertini Michel Albertini ... Maurice
Marianne Basler Marianne Basler ... Une jeune anarchiste
Nathalie Bécue Nathalie Bécue ... L'habilleuse (as Nathalie Becue)
Lucas Belvaux ... François
René Bériard René Bériard ... Mgr Shlapas (as Rene Beriard)


An unexperienced young actress is invited to play a role in a film based on Dostoyevsky's 'The Possessed'. The film director, a Czech immigrant in Paris, takes over her life, and in a short time she is unable to draw the line between acting and reality. She winds up playing a real-life role posing as the dead wife of another Czech immigrant, who is manipulated by the filmmaker into commiting a political assasination. Written by Yuri German <blsidt1@imf.org>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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Release Date:

16 May 1984 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

The Public Woman See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Valérie Kaprisky took dance lessons to perform her two nude dance scenes. She practiced to the music of David Bowie and two of his songs were played on set during the scenes. But obtaining the rights to use Bowie's music would have eclipsed the film's entire budget, so composer Alain Wisniak had to create new music to go with the footage. See more »

Alternate Versions

U.S. based video label Mondo Video selected this film as its debut release. Their 2008 DVD is the first to have English subtitles. Prior to this release, the film was only available officially in select European countries. See more »


Referenced in Les témoins (2007) See more »


Grande messe en Ut' Mineur KV 427
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as W.A. Mozart)
See more »

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User Reviews

"La femme publique" does not allow traces of subtlety.
18 June 2017 | by guedesninoSee all my reviews

"La femme publique" does not allow traces of subtlety. In fact, in fantasy or in the mixture between these two poles, everything is said or shown in excesses.

To the unsuspecting, it is the warning: the work of the Polish director Andrzej Żuławski is neither rest nor invitation to the contemplative gaze, nor does it want to be analytical. It allows, however, many reflections and moments of pure poetry, but its main characteristic is the disturbing, provocative, rebellious and critical figure about life and consequently about man.

"La femme publique" was made in 1984 with inspiration from the novel "Demons" by Dostoevsky. Scenes of this same healthy play used in a film that is being made within the film itself or what would be the main story "La femme ..." this use of metalanguage, which often complicates the understanding of the work, yields, in Counterpart, a valuable game that even equates the audience with the protagonist of the story, the dizzying Ethel (Valérie Kaprisky).

She equates in the sense that Ethel is a young aspiring actress who can not differentiate acting and reality, to the point of assuming the figure of a dead woman whose murderer is the abusive and displaced director Lucas Kesling (Francis Huster), add to this plot the A figure of Milan (Lambert Wilson), a Czech immigrant who is manipulated by the filmmaker (Lucas) to commit a political assassination. Among these three characters that form a love triangle that is never realized or wanted to be performed, we accompany the fears, insanities, challenges and impulses as archetypes of a fictional world mirrored to the real.

At various moments in the film, we feel as if we are as lost as Ethel, and as his character, there is no one who can give us hands, on the contrary, whenever someone arises we are attacked either verbally or physically, which establishes A very crazy game that makes us embarrassed, because when this game is fictional (that is being shot during the main movie) such aggressions are even well received, but when they reveal themselves in the reality of the lives of those actors, human beings, it is an aggression Even though there is a strong backing that we are watching a performance within the other, but again, as it is mirrored in real life, it is a madness and aggression common to human life.

Whether it's a recording set, a movie day, or the end of the movie, where actors like a theater revere the public's applause. In all these moments that mix reality and fiction, the palette of tones used in "La femme publique" does not allow traces of subtlety. In fact, in fantasy or in the mixture between these two poles, everything is said or shown in excesses. Because the traits are so gross, the moments of failure and the uncertainty of which world we are, soften this drama. It is interesting to note the theatrical references that accompany the director Andrzej Żuławsk, not only of theatrical authors, but in reference to theatricals like Brecht, with his political theater with ruptures and fragmentation of the scenes, besides the "I" narrator where the figure of the actor is Sometimes the intermediary of the author's ideas. Another theatrical reference is by Antonin Artaud is his theater of cruelty, where the actors look for in real situations and emotions to bring them and to revive them in the stage, like the young actress Ethel of the film, however, that is lost when mixing Reality and fiction.

Although relatively narrow, Zuławski weaves his own tale of political violence with Dostoyevsky. Kesling explains that he wants to adapt the novel because it is "a prophetic tale about those who try to change the world through violence," and strangely it becomes the incarnation of Stavrogin and Verkhovensky. Zuławski selects key scenes from "Demons" to include as the film within a movie and most of them have to do with political content. The scene at one of Verkhovensky's meetings is brilliantly filmed as a sweaty game on an indoor tennis court, where it is stated that "murder, blackmail, extortion, bombs" will be added to his agenda, and a list of people to be killed must Be drafted immediately.

The camera in the films of Żuławski is chained in scenes, advancing in the arrows and actively seeking the actors, most scenes of "Femme Publique" is struck by low and daring angles that make Kaprisky a species of totemic goddess or a lost soul in means To vertiginous and cavernous European buildings, spiral staircases and dilapidated columns. But this is also his most sumptuous film in terms of lighting, courtesy of the celebrated director of photography Sacha Vierny.

No longer the acting of the actors is the height of the film, but Valérie Kaprisky with its Ethel dominate the scene. If at the beginning of the film we have the young actress with lots of magazines of famous actors, the same happens with the consecration, even if fantastical of Ethel, stamping another pile of magazines, becoming the actress and woman publishes. Ethel's eroticism, through her body, her dance and her beauty, which is eternalized in this film and will surely be in the public's memory for a long time.

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