filmmaker & writer

Playing a Part: the Story of Claude Cahun

Playing a Part  explores the life and work of Claude Cahun (1894 –1954), one of the greatest, yet almost forgotten, 20th century photographers with movement sequences devised by choreographer Lea Anderson.

Cahun collaborated with her life-long lover and stepsister, Marcel Moore, to produce an astounding series of images of herself from her teens to her death that defy a fixed gender and identity. Influenced by Oscar Wilde, the pair were part of the vibrant artistic life of interwar Paris. Posing as a treacherous German soldier, the women carried out an ingenious counter-propaganda campaign against the Nazi Occupation of Jersey, where they had moved in 1937, until their arrest and condemnation to death. Combining rarely seen war archive and contemporary footage, the film mimics the photographer’s own surreal style.

Key critics, including David Bate, Mary Ann Caws and Elisabeth Lebovici highlight her significance to modern art and personal acquaintances recount memories of this remarkable couple.

Featuring Anna Pons Carrera as Claude Cahun and Mary Herbert as Marcel Moore.

Produced and directed by Lizzie Thynne

Director of Photography: Melissa Byers  Editor: Phil Reynolds  Research Assistant: Louis Bailey  Art director/Stills photographer: Jess Hooks  UK 2005

Black and white/colour 45 minutes   Video aspect ratio: 16:9   In English with French subtitles.  Supported by

playing a part

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Press release (PDF)

Read this page in French


Playing a Part has accompanied major exhibitions of the artist’s work including at the Jeu de Paume (2011) La Virreina Centre de L’Imatge (Barcelona, 2011 – 12), MoCa (Sydney, 2006) and the Hayward touring show ‘Claude Cahun: Beneath this mask’. It was included in a special display on women in WW2 at IWM North (2015-16) and was invited for fifteen film festivals. It is screened internationally at museums and events.

‘…a richly informative and innovative character study, that manages at the same time to be both a compelling piece of story telling, and an acute analysis of an artist’s work.’
– Gen Doy, The Art Book, 14 (1) Feb 2007

‘…an intriguing act of biographical retrieval that at times made one of us wonder whether we were viewing an elaborate fiction – which is meant as a compliment. Moving and innovative.’
– Tim Wall et al., Three-D (7), 2006

‘I had often read about Cahun’s focus on gender identity but Playing a Part puts her in a much wider historical and political context, which is really fascinating…  There’s an obvious intimacy of relationship to Cahun’s work in the film.’
– Linsey Young, curator, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

‘La volonté de Lizzie Thynne à présenter les autoportraits de Claude Cahun comme des oeuvres de Marcel Moore a un côté polémique qui me plait bien…Et si j’ai choisi avec joie ce film pour notre saison L’Art de filmer L’Art, c’est simplement qu’en le voyant  j’ai eu de l’émotion – une émotion plus importante et différente que la seule vue des photos de Cahun. Ce n’était pas un simple documentaire, il y avait un point de vue formulé par la réalisatrice qui donnait matière à reflexion et discussion.’
– Alain Le Provost, Les Amis du Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes