Musidora (Roques, Jeanne)


París, 1889 – París, 1957


Musidora, the artistic pseudonym of Jeanne Roques, was a French director, producer, writer and actress. She was closely linked to the ‘femme fatale’ archetype, and was close to the surrealist movement.

Musidora (Roques, Jeanne)


Musidora, the artistic pseudonym of Jeanne Roques, was a French director, producer, writer and actress. She was closely linked to the ‘femme fatale’ archetype, and was close to the surrealist movement.

Jeanne Roques, better known as Musidora, was the daughter of a singing instructor and composer Jacques Roques, and of painter and feminist Marie Porchez, both of whom had socialist convictions. Jeanne grew up in an intellectual, cultured, and politicised environment, surrounded by ideas that were very radical for the time. She began studying painting but soon switched to acting. For her debut, she took the stage name – Musidora, the gift of the muses – from Fortunio, by Théophile Gautier. In 1910, Musidora entered the Parisian theatre scene with a role in La Nuit de Noces that, though small, enchanted the audience nonetheless. Hardly three years later, she took her first cinematic role, in Les misères de l’aguille (Raphael Clamour, 1913) and became enchanted by this new medium.

While she was working on the stages of the music halls and cabarets, she met producer Louis Feuillade in Les Folies-Bergère. He saw immediately the photogenic qualities of Musidora’s gaze and offered her a role in Severo Torelli (1914), the first of 28 films on which they would collaborate. With Feuillade deployed during the Great War, she had to work with other producers, but, on the return of her collaborator (he was demobilized for infirmity) they both set forth on their most exciting work together: the mystery serial Les Vampires (1915), in which she played Irma Vep, an evil femme fatale and criminal. The character became an icon of the post-war period, as much with the public as with intellectuals; of whom the fascination held for her by the surrealists is particularly notable. Musidora took a similar role in Feuillade’s new serial Judex (1916). These two works launched her definitely to international stardom.  

That same year, she made the leap to the other side of the camera, directing Minne (1916), which made her the first woman director in French cinema. The losses suffered by the film (30 000 FRF) obliged her to return to acting. After starring in (André Hugon, 1917), and the play La Revue sensationelle (1917), which criticised the drug problems suffered by Paris during the war, Jeanne again tried her luck as a director with La Vagabonde (Eugenio Perego and Musidora, 1918), based on a novel by Colette. She continued to combine theatre and cinema, but her later directorial works went badly or did not come to fruition at all. With the aim of securing control of her projects, she founded the Societée des Films Musidora, where she worked in production, adaptation and performance. Her next film, La Flamme cachée (Musidora y Roger Lion, 1918), received rave reviews, but she was only able to premier it on one screen and it generated significant losses. Despite it all, she persisted in her efforts and for her next work, Vicenta (1919), she wrote the script and composed what would later be known as a storyboard. She was not daunted by the difficulties of shooting, or the lukewarm reception, and set to work on Pour Don Carlos (Musidora y Jacques Lasseyne, 1920): a film set during the Carlist Wars and filmed in Guipúzcoa. The critics present at the first screening were full of praise for the film. However, no exhibitor was willing to screen it until its runtime of three hours had been reduced. Finally, Musidora had to re-cut the film and premier it as La Capitana Allegria. The film did not make an impact in France, but was a sensation for the Spanish cinema-going public. This, combined with the fact that she had met there the bullfighter Antonio Cañero, who would be her partner for several years, led her to spend a long period of time in Spain. 

Her Spanish period began with the theatrical tour El día de Musidora (The Day of Musidora), but she soon made her way back behind the camera with Sol y sombra (Sun and Shadow) (1922): an adaptation of the novel by Marina Star which Musidora co-directed with Jaime de Lausen, who served as a linguistic intermediary between Musidora and the Spanish crew. Set in the world of bullfighting, it was a melodrama starring Cañero and Musidora, who took on a double role as Andalusian servant and foreign tourist. Once again, the film fared better at the Spanish box office than it did in France: “A frenchwoman has made a film that is absolutely Spanish, of Spanish spirit”, declared Alfonso XIII. Neither the debts incurred nor the goring sustained during the shooting discouraged her, and, she soon after directed the short film Una aventura de Musidora en España (1922), a surprising accompaniment to her new direction; and La tierra de los toros (1924). This last film took advantage of the prohibition of bullfighting (following the military coup led by Primo de Rivera) to produce a documentary concerning daily life on a cattle ranch, and intercut it with scenes of fiction starring Musidora and Cañero. When Cañero left her, Musidora returned to Paris: ‘Spain was, for me, love: perhaps the most beautiful… It happened, as a film, the images blurred, like a dream… I am now a little wiser… Everything is a matter of resignation and knowing to conform… ’ (Muchas Gracias, 23/10/1926).

In France, she dedicated a couple of years to cinema and theatre, but announced her retirement after a triumphal appearance, as the Queen of Cinema, in the carnival of 1926. She dedicated the rest of her life to writing: songs, poems and the novels Arabella et Arlequin (1928) and Paroxysmes (1934). She also worked as a teacher of diction in the Conservatory of Reims, and in distinct roles at the Cinemathéque Française from 1944. She returned to the director’s chair only once with the short film La Magigue Image (1950). She passed away on 7th December 1957. 

MAE, Luis Pérez Ochando, 2020





CALLAHAN, Vicki. Zones of Anxiety: Movement, Musidora and the Crime Serials of Louis Feuillade. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

CAZALS, Patrick. Musidora, la dixième muse. Paris: Henri Veyrier, 1978.


DURAND, Jacques, «Soleil et ombre». En: ARNAUD, Philippe (ed.). La Persistance des images. París: Cinémathèque française, 1996.

TIERCHANT, Hélène. Musidora. La première Vamp. Paris: Télémaque, 2014.


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