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'Neither charm nor sex appeal...' Just what is the appeal of Simone Signoret?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sarah Leahy


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After the war and women's vote, the 1950s was a decade when femininity was in crisis as conservative discourses focused on containing women within the domestic sphere. Françoise Giroud proclaimed in Elle in 1953 that the 'charme' of Michèle Morgan offered a preferable type of femininity for women to emulate than the 'sex-appeal' of Martine Carol. Arguably, Signoret falls into neither of these two categories, nor indeed any other constructed to define and confine feminine behaviour. Although she frequently played characters such as prostitutes, contemporary reviews of her performances do not describe her as a sexual object. Many of these reviews discuss the way Signoret uses her body as a tool for expressing an inner intelligence of her character's desire. She emerges as an actor who possesses a certain knowledge (and thus power and agency) that was rarely associated with women at this time. This article examines how Signoret's disruptive star persona contributed to a renegotiation of femininity at this time of crisis and how this was articulated in the discourses that surrounded her. It argues that Signoret helped to 'expand the boundaries of the culturally intelligible' in Butler's words, offering spectators a proliferation of feminine identities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Leahy S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Studies in French Cinema

Year: 2004

Volume: 4

Issue: 1

Pages: 29-40

ISSN (print): 1471-5880

ISSN (electronic): 1758-9517

Publisher: Intellect Ltd.


DOI: 10.1386/sfci.4.1.29/0


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