25 September 2008

Field Guide: Fanny Ardant

In Roman de gare

Her chiseled cheekbones and lean, aristocratic poise provoked early comparisons (from American critics) to Katharine Hepburn, yet once you get past that highly superficial assessment, Fanny Ardant is another species entirely. The proof? Hepburn never even smoldered, whereas Ardant is … well, ardent. I’m nuts about her. Though there’s an immense backlog of her pictures I’ve never seen, I make it a point to see each new film as soon as it’s released.

Like a prowling jungle cat, she speaks her lines in a husky purr and toys with her co-stars before devouring them. She’s managed to apply these qualities to an interesting variety of films, yet she has limitations. She seldom attempts comedy, and among the stars of François Ozon’s 8 Femmes, she was least comfortable singing, which is saying a lot. Her highly polished, urbane sophistication is indestructible, apparently, and it’s a limitation, too. One can’t imagine she’d be very good portraying a working-class housewife or any kind of unintelligent woman. Her characters can be deluded or deceived, yet the actress’ fundamental smarts can’t be disguised.

Having played Maria Callas onstage in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, she was Franco Zeffirelli’s choice to play the diva in his ill-conceived Callas Forever. She’s wonderful in the picture, but you wish everybody concerned had done something else instead. You’re better advised to check her out in La Femme d’à côté (The Woman Next Door, directed by her lover, François Truffaut) or, best of all, in Ridicule, both of which enjoyed solid American runs.

As Callas

She recently made the leap to directing operetta here in Paris, garnering good reviews from Stephen Mudge at Opera News.

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