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Celeste –Memoirs and Memories of Celeste de Chabrillan La Mogador.

September 19, 2016
Photo by Jacqueline Mitelman

Photo of AW by Jacqueline Mitelman

What a delight it is to see the heroine of my 1983 film and TV treatment back on the radar of the French presence in Melbourne. At the time I had spent over a year (1982- 83) researching the life of Celeste de Chabrillan the First French Consuls wife from 1852- 58 and saw the story as a potential film/ TV project.

I put my research in front of our friend Tim Burstall the film Director and he was immediately taken with the possibilities. We went on to write a film and a TV scenario together. We submitted the film scenario to the Australian Film Commission but Australia at the time had no co production agreement with France and I had facilitated a French company to be involved as half the film was to be shot in France.

After months of meetings and negotiations with the Australian Film Commission I then arranged for Bernard Ledun French Consul General in Melbourne to take our scenario to one of my favourite French writers Marguerite Duras in France

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Collage from diary, October 1983

It seemed we were at an impasse with the Film Commission because of the lack of a co production agreement between France and Australia in 1983 and the fact that we would have to use some French actors. Tim and I then turned the material into a TV series and submitted the project to Film Victoria with my name, and Tim using the non de plume Digby de Maistre.

In 1984 I submitted my research on Comte Lionel and Celeste de Chabrillan andphotographs for display in the exhibition The French Presence in Victoria 1800- 1901 that was shown at the Victorian Artists Society.

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I subsequently took up the position as cultural attaché at the French consulate responsible for publicity and promotion of $25 million cultural program that France gave to Australia for the Australian Bicentennial.

The French played an important role in the history of Australia and certainly the Comte and Celeste de Chabrillan provided some very colourful moments in that rich cultural past. Melbourne University Academic and award winning translator Patricia Clancy and Jeanne Allen translated Celeste’s second memoir Un Deuil au Bout du Monde in 1998 with a fascinating introduction. The bereavement to which the French title refers is that of the Comte’s death in 1858.

Last week at the Alliance Française in St Kilda a new book on Celeste’s final memoirs was screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-22-33-pmlaunchedCourtesan and Countess translated by three Melbourne University French Academics Jana Verhoeven, Alan Willey, and Jeanne Allen.. These memoirs hidden for 80 years were found by Jana in a Chateau in France once owned by Celeste.
“Courtesan and Countess tells the story not only of her struggle as a creative artist to survive and earn a living, but also of her fascinating life at the centre of the bohemian circles of Paris, surrounded by friends such as Alexandre Dumas père, Georges Bizet and Prince Napoléon. Courtesan and Countess paints a portrait of a remarkable woman and of the turbulent world of Paris during the Belle Epoque.”

The following are pages from my personal diaries that I have mentioned in my blog:

Jours Pour Se Souvenir – Days to Remember

JULY 16, 2012

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screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-1-02-30-pmAs a committed Francophile with a passion for fashion and French Culture Bastille Day evokes memories of early travels in France, and in the late 1980’s spent as cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Melbourne. As part of my research when developing my film The French Consuls Wife in 1983 I discovered that Dianne Reilly La Trobe Librarian had located the grave of my principal character Melbourne’s first French Consul, Comte Lionel de Chabrillan, a member of one of the oldest aristocratic families in France. This unruly and neglected grave was located at the Melbourne General Cemetery

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In 1984 frantically trying to write my film script The French Consuls Wife it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to throw a cemetery party with Melbourne’s Alliance Francaise and celebrate the hero of my film Comte Lionel de Chabrillan. Throwing a party is probably not the first thing people think of in connection to a cemetery. The French flag draped the austere grave. There was fine French champagne, strawberry pastries, a string quartet and readings from the French poet Baudelaire – all of this among the headstones.

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In 1986 we celebrated the graves restoration with a much grander party. I organised a splendid French lunch at the leading French hotel Le Meridian for 35 people. I recreated with the assistance of the chef the menu of the 1848 Café Anglais, gathering place for the Paris dandies, where the Comte first met his future wie. We then all went on to the Melbourne General Cemetry. It was a bleak gray winters day, the French Consul General the elegant Isabelle Costa de Beauregard Robertson gave an eloquent speech. As I spoke about Lionel and the love story with his wife Celeste, the famous dancer La Mogador, a clap of thunder echoed around the tombstones as a huge black crow let out a raucous craw swooping low over the restored grave, as if it had been scripted from a scene out of a Ingmar Bergman film. To this day whenever we see a big black crow we think of Comte Lionel de Chabrillan.

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Collage from my diary

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra Mitchell permalink
    September 20, 2016 10:45 am

    Love the portrait of you.xxx

  2. raimonda krogmann permalink
    September 30, 2016 10:59 am

    Thank you so much for your very interesting article on Celeste.

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