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September 14, 2005

Sophie Marceau ... And Group Characteristics 5

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

One of my current performer-faves is the French actress Sophie Marceau. She has some of Isabelle Adjani's dark-eyed, ethereal, doomed lyricism, but in a less high-strung and more kissable way. She's able to indulge in flights of French chic while never losing track of the earth beneath her. She's as funky and practical as a Cosmo girl, yet she's respectful of and tuned into the aesthetic dimension.

Poetic yet companionable, Sophie is one of my favorite performers -- despite the fact that I've seen very few of her movies. Not many of Sophie's French films have made it to the States, and the kinds of English-language movies she has appeared in haven't generally been movies I've been able to face. So I know Sophie's work mostly through photos, through articles, and through interviews.

I'm as charmed by Sophie and as interested in what she's up to as I am by any performer whose work I know well. Yet, while I may be losing filmbuff cred-points by admitting this, that's OK with me. Who says you actually have to watch the films of your favorite performers? How many Elke Sommer movies have I ever seen, for another instance? Four or five? Yet I'm glad to to be an Elke fan. (Fun to learn via Google that Elke -- famous in the '60s and '70s as a Euro sex kitten -- is active these days as a painter.) I'm in fact a little apprehensive that, if I were to see Sophie in the movies that I imagine I'd enjoy her in, my pleasure in her existence might be spoiled. And why risk that?

(Small thought: Maybe being-a-star is as much a matter of performance as any other role is. And maybe being able to play that role well is a rare talent. How many people have managed to act out being-a-star in ways you've enjoyed?)

So what I love about Sophie is Sophie's existence/performance on the public stage -- Sophie as a star: the fact that she's a star, and the career and life that she has led, at least as it has been portrayed in the Euro media. I love many of the photos that have been made of Sophie, for instance. She lends herself to fantasy, glamor, eros, and beauty almost as generously as Monica Bellucci does, yet with a lighter touch. However classy, arousing, or tragic the pose Sophie strikes, she seldom loses her scrappiness or her girlishness.

Sophie's soap-opera, actress-star life enchants me too. The daughter of a truck driver, Sophie became a French teen-queen star in the '80s; she was something like a cross between Phoebe Cates and Molly Ringwald. As she grew into a young woman, she partnered up romantically and creatively with out-there madman-filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski. Under his guidance she began making far-out and daring films.

Sophie and Zulawski were famous for their outrageous films, as well as for their high-drama relationship; and Zulawski (a Pole) was sometimes accused of playing Svengali with France's darling, and of forcing her to degrade herself. (Cinebizarre amusingly and aptly calls Zulawski "the George Cukor of demented cinema.") But Sophie herself never complained. In fact, she has triumphed through all the ups and downs, becoming France's most-loved and most-popular female star. Nudity, avant-gardism, a Bond movie, public controversy: It has all worked in her favor. These days, at 39 years old, Sophie has left Zulawski behind, and conducts herself with sophisticated-and-established-but-still-frisky star graciousness.

Sophie also gives consistently enjoyable interviews. Actress-babble is by no means absent from her conversation. But she also manages on a more-regularly-than-most-actors basis to be frank and insightful. I'd write that she's sometimes capable of being very funny, too, but with the French I'm often not sure. The French are sometimes said to have no irony. They have wit, god knows: Think of all the pirouette-turning they do, and think of their love of being dazzling while juggling abstractions. But a sense of humor, at least in an Anglo-American sense? Though the films of Bertrand Blier and the silent clown Max Linder do often make me laugh out loud ... (I blogged about one Blier film and linked to a number of others here.)

A long intro to a handful of links. I enjoyed this Sunday Herald visit with Sophie on the occasion, some years back, of the English publication of her novel "Telling Lies." I loved learning, for instance, that Sophie wrote "Telling Lies" at the urging of Zulawski, that he then panned in the book in a French newspaper, and that Sophie doesn't seem to have minded. Showbiz people! Gotta love 'em.

I enjoyed "Telling Lies," by the way. It's novella-ish, narcissistic, and erotic in a French-fiction way that I have a weakness for. And Sophie's actressiness takes the curse off the form's usual over-intellectuality; she gives the book a lot of fizz that these novellas usually lack. Tres pretentieux, god knows, yet silly and charmante too.

Asked by the interviewer what it was like as a young woman to do her first nude scene (NSFW), down-to-earth Sophie answers:

"Iíll tell you a secret. It is something actresses need to go through and I think they look forward to being naked in a movie. I donít know why, but it is something you need to exhaust from yourself."

In another good interview, Sophie hits a Zen note:

"For me, things don't happen when I try too hard. I have to go on with my life, working here in my country. If that leads to other things, great."

In one delicious passage, Sophie manages to reinvent the free market, as well as evolutionary biology:

"The best way to protect the Culture is by making it worthy -- not by passing laws. France is a country of subsidies. Socially speaking, that's fine, but culturally it can create problems. Nobody is challenged or forced to question their work, and that leads to an extremely conservative environment. There are no new ideas. France is not a modern country! And cinema is a modern art ...

"So I think it's great that American cinema poses such a threat. I don't think we should imitate it -- it's not our culture. But right now we have all these pseudo-auteurs who bore me, who don't have a new idea in their heads. And since they are so well-protected against the American invaders, they live among themselves in total autocracy. Outside France, their ideas interest nobody, but they won't change, because they're not really in danger ...

"What I wish for the French cinema -- and this is terrible, because I'd be the first victim -- is that it gets even worse. Because then, at least, we'll look for new solutions. The problem with the French, in politics as well as in cinema, is that we say nothing, we change nothing until we're pushed to the limit.

"Someone once said, 'The French hate change, but they adore revolution.' It's true. We can't change day by day. We wait and wait, and we say nothing. And then, one day we can't stand it any longer, we kill everyone !"

That's as smart and to-the-point as anything I've ever read about the French.

Here's some more NSFW Sophie: Sophie in elegant mode; and Sophie back in her pouty babydoll days. Here's her recent Cannes Film Festival wardrobe malfunction.

This English-language Sophie film was awfully somber, but it also wasn't terrible. Here's a collage of captures from it. Sophie's episode -- opposite John Malkovich! -- in the slow-moving but visually magnificent Antonioni/Wenders "Beyond the Clouds" sticks in the mind for a lot of good (and NSFW) reasons.

Are there performers whose actual performances you don't bother with much, yet whose existence and whose star-hood you enjoy following?



posted by Michael at September 14, 2005


Nope. I watch the terrible Sophie Marceau movies, examples being the Bond movie and something with David Spade about a lost doggie.

I also not too long ago watched a version of Anna Karenina with Marceau in the lead. Your lady might enjoy Sean Bean as Vronsky. Alfred Molina was an excellent Levin. A hopelessly miscast Mia Kirshner as Kitty. All of which still made for mediocre Tolstoy, but great eye-candy.

The nudity is sometimes nice, but these aren't remarkable bodies. Sophie & Adjani & Mia Kirshner have faces in motion and coltish sexiness I stare at in wonder.

No limit to number of times I will watch "Umbrellas of Cherbourg". "Our Man in Rio" with Belmondo and Francoise Dorleac...who was in the Marceau/Adjani style. I even remember Danielle Darrieux in "Rage of Paris" 1939 stripping to bra & panties. Ummmm.

French women. Not only prettier than all other species but also smarter and more fun. Sorry, it's true.

Did I forget Irene Jacob? Swiss, but close enough.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on September 14, 2005 01:03 PM

File under "Delightful Derrieres In Natural Light"!

Posted by: Michael Serafin on September 14, 2005 01:14 PM

Bob -- You've got the fever even worse than I do! And thanks for reminding me of Francoise Dorleac and "That Man in Rio." That may have been the first froggie film I saw, and she may have been the first French actress I flipped for. Warm feelings...

Michael -- Indeed! And fun to compare the very young Sophie, all poutiness and some clunky babyfat too, with the recent Sophie. Always interesting to see people's characters emerge from out of the clouds of adolescent flesh and hormones, isn't it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 15, 2005 10:17 AM

Anyone who has seen Solaris knows (and swears by) the name Natalia Bondarchuk. Her youthful beauty was striking in the film, as well as her ability to have the tragic emotion of one who was not quite human. She gave a poignant interview in the DVD commentary about not seeing Tarkovsky before he died (I write about it here .

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 26, 2005 12:59 PM

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