Thursday, 31 May 2012



I’m so fascinated by the actress, Alice de Lencquesaing, at the moment. I saw a movie with her called, Le père de mes enfants on television, and spent most of the film admiring her subtle performance. She embodies the spirit of ‘fineness’. She has this quiet inner strength to her acting style that is expressed so beautifully on her face and body. And rather than seeming weak, her vulnerable performance in the film highlights the strength and backbone of her character, Clémence Canvel. It’s such a beautiful film.

I was reading this short, four-line poem by Jane Hirshfield (found in The Best American Poetry 2011 anthology) last night in bed, and suddenly it hit me why I loved her performance in the film so much:

The Cloudy Vase

Past time, I threw the flowers out,
Washed out the cloudy vase.
How easily the old clearness
leapt, like a practiced tiger, back inside it.

I immediately reacted to the metaphor of a tiger leaping into a fragile vase. That’s how I reacted to the character of Clémence: she was like a silent tiger encased by delicacy.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a handful of people mistake me for a teenager. This is not the first time it’s happened, I do admit I look young for my age. Still, every time it happens, I get defensive. Usually, it occurs within a context of someone not taking me seriously, or wanting me to ‘prove’ my professional credentials. Other times, I can already feel myself being talked down to, like a child. All this based not on what I say or do, or how I present myself, but on my small frame. There’s one word often used to describe me by strangers that I think is meant as a compliment, but which tends to irritate me: delicate.

I like the word ‘delicate’ itself, I also love its variant, ‘delicacy’. There’s something pleasing about the way it sounds when said out loud. But when this word is applied to me, it loses its charm. So you know what I’ve started doing? I’ve begun to reconceptualise it. Delicacy often implies fragility, weakness, and a whole list of similar words listed in the dictionary:

Delicacy * noun 1 FINENESS, exquisiteness, delicateness, daintiness, airiness; flimsiness, gauziness, floatiness, silkiness.

Lots of pretty ‘ness’ words. And its opposite? Strength, of course. So says the dictionary. But language isn’t a static thing, we often make our own meanings. I’ve only begun to notice quite recently how I’m drawn to some images that may outwardly seem to be the epitome of delicacy, but which also carry an underlying strength, confusing this logic of supposed fragility. I like things to be contradictory, maybe that’s why. Delicacy can be a strong thing, and strength can be a fragile thing. I want to remember this every time I feel myself starting to get defensive. This post will be my own personal reminder, I suppose. By the way, do you recognise Alice from the movie L'heure d'été? Another subtle and beautifully acted film, which if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend.

Image sources: pictures of Alice de Lencquesaing found here.


amy said...

it was such a sad film, i thought she was lovely in it though. i look much younger than my years too, have encountered many an awkward moment! does have its benefits though i suppose.. extra leg room on planes..

Jo said...

I really enjoy the word delicate too. I am quite the opposite to delicate as I'm so clumsy in real life, which makes me so fascinated with anyone or anything delicate - like a strange thing I have to be really careful with, it goes against my nature and I kind of love that.

Jo said...

I really enjoy the word delicate too. I am quite the opposite to delicate as I'm so clumsy in real life, which makes me so fascinated with anyone or anything delicate - like a strange thing I have to be really careful with, it goes against my nature and I kind of love that.

rooth said...

I haven't seen Alice in anything yet but her face is really quite unique. It's very interesting because I think that ladies and maybe especially Asian women are supposed to be delicate. Then someone like me comes along like a bull in a china shop and disrupts everything. If you can be delicate AND strong - I have all the more admiration for you

Sally said...

It's funny, I feel like I am quite fragile in many ways, but something about my taller, more "solid" appearance (and, I suppose, my manner) seems to imply the opposite, as I am often the friend others lean on without tending to ask if I am okay or look beneath the surface. Sometimes I long to be seen as vulnerable as the next person...but I definitely understand where you're coming from, and how sometimes superficial assumptions are demeaning (especially when based on appearance alone, how silly!).

Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

i enjoy that word as well.

suzie said...

That's such a co-incidence Hila…I love the word delicate. For ages now I've been trying to find a tagline for my art, and I have a sticky on my screen of words. Delicate keeps on emerging over and over when I think of my sculpture and yet it's also inappropriate as it implies it breaks easily and yet I believe it has strength too. Can I re-appropriate it with you?
Thank you for the film recommendations too!

suzie said...

Hila, have you seen this? It's relevant I think and very interesting!

Kate said...

Aung San Suu Kyi to me embodies the contradictory nature of delicacy that you describe: a delicacy of stature, yes, but also a certain grace of manner that combines with a ferocious, quiet, implacable strength. The tiger in the vase. That image is staying with me...

T C said...

I watched the film,i found her right for that role she plays, she is so delicate, pure, but with strong personality and capacity to be an adult if need. If I could imagine an alternative end of the film, i think she could be at the head of the company and continue father`s work. Though it`s a sad film, i enjoyed it so much, especially the scene of family gathering and home-made "theatre"improvisation.

Camila Faria said...

I love your posts Hila and I thing they're quite strong. Therefore I see you as such a strong person... And I believe someone can be delicate and strong at the same time. It just makes that person more especial! :)

Hila said...

Amy: it was indeed a really sad film, but so natural and unpretentious. It reminded me a lot of Beginners for that reason. I've had plenty of awkward moments too! But you're right, the extra leg room in planes is a plus :)

Jo: I guess we all have our thing that we're sensitive about. I'm fascinated by delicacy when it's applied to other people, not me.

Rooth: She does have such a unique face. She's pretty, but that's not what makes her face interesting - there's a sensitivity to it that's hard to describe.

Sally: it is strange how people use appearance to determine character and personality, right? I mean, my dad, who is big and gruff-looking, often 'scares' people. But he's really just a soft teddy bear inside.

Nancy: I thought you would.

Suzie: Thanks for that link, it looks very interesting! And yes, re-appropriate away! I rather like the idea of sculpture being described as delicate. It puts to mind the delicacy of something that is malleable to age, which I think art should be.

Kate: isn't it a great poem? The tiger in a vase, such a simple metaphor, but such a good one.

TC: that was such a beautiful scene - it reminded me of my uncle and his family. I also thought she'd end up the head of her father's company, she seemed to share a bond with his work. I think Alice is actually the daughter of the actor who played her father in real life too.

Camila: thanks! I don't feel very strong most of the time!

T C said...

Yes, Hila, she`s a real daughter of that actor :)

Hila said...

I thought so ;)