Nelly Kaplan was born on April 11, 1931, in Buenos Aires into a Jewish intellectual family. She studied economics at the University of Buenos Aires, but, as she put it in the interview with Ms. Dupont, “I was considered a rebel, whatever that means.” Her father, she said, told her, “Change or leave,” and so she left, boarding a ship for Paris with $50 in her pocket.
She arrived there in January 1953 knowing no French. She used some of her money to buy a radio. “I listened to it nonstop,” she told the film journal Another Gaze in 2016. It helped her learn French.
She also had a letter of introduction to the Cinémathèque Francaise from the Cinemateca Argentina in Buenos Aires, where she had been a regular. That got her a meeting with Henri Langlois, the French organization’s co-founder. Mr. Gance, more than 40 years older than Ms. Kaplan, spotted her at a Cinémathèque event and asked Mr. Langlois for an introduction.
She became a valued collaborator with Mr. Gance as well as lover and muse, serving as a co-writer and assistant director on the 1960 Gance film “The Battle of Austerlitz,” among other projects.
“I was an A.D. and did all the dirty work,” she told Ms. Dupont, recalling her work on “Austerlitz.” “But,” she added, “I’m grateful that he threw me into the water. Now, nothing scares me; there’s always a solution.”
Ms. Kaplan began directing her own documentary shorts. In 1966, when Pablo Picasso was the subject of a major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, she received permission to film the works as they arrived and were put on display. The footage led to an almost hourlong documentary, “The Picasso Look,” which brought her some attention. She rented a theater to show it to Picasso himself, and he apparently was appreciative. When “A Very Curious Girl” came out a few years later, he returned the compliment, calling the movie “insolence raised to the status of art.”