Before the era of Sarah Bernhardt, Rachel was the great actress of the Comédie-Française—and the first international dramatic star. The daughter of Jewish peddlers from Alsace, Rachel Felix (1821–1858) made her debut as a street singer in Lyon and Paris. She joined the Comédie-Française at the age of 17 years and became a star of the French theater in the heyday of Romanticism, 1838-1855. Small, plain and fierce, Rachel’s ability to convey passion in her performances thrilled audiences. She revitalized the Comédie-Française and made high culture popular by playing the classical female roles as if they were living women.

Paintings, prints and photographs from the era, together with interviews with French actors (including Françoise Gillard, Dominique Blanc and Daniel Mesguich), directors and scholars, excerpts from contemporary productions of the classics from eyewitness accounts along with Rachel’s own letters tell the story of this complex and compelling woman.


Judith Wechsler is a filmmaker and art historian. She has written, directed and produced many films including Jasper Johns: Take an Object (with Hans Namuth) distributed by the Museum of Modern Art; Drawing the Thinking Hand made for The Louvre; Honoré Daumier: One Must be of One’s Time; and Monet's Waterlillies: Vision and Design for the Orangerie Museum. Her books include A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th Century Paris and Daumier Le Cabinet des Dessins. She has written articles on Robert Frank, Meyer Shapiro, Cezanne and the representation of Ophelia. Wechsler has received numerous awards, including the title of Chevallier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, a Mellon Foundation faculty research grant, two grants from National Endowment for the Arts, six grants from National Endowment for the Humanities, and six CINE Golden Eagle Awards for documentary films. She will be a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin from January-May 2010. Wechsler is currently the National Endowment for the Humanities Professor at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.


A film directed by Judith Wechsler
Written by Judith Wechsler and Rachel Brownstein
© Les Films d'Ici, Comédie-Française, Ina, Mezzo - France 2003
in association with Odyssée, the Documentary Channel and The Centre National de la Cinématographie

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Rachel de la Comédie-Française

France, 2003, 52 minutes, color
French with English subtitles
Directed by Judith Wechsler

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Public Exhibition formats: Beta, DVD





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