22 October 2008

Field Guide: Enfants Sauvages

Wild Child: Testud in Aime ton père

Though the French film industry is remarkable in offering leading roles to actresses past the age of 40 and 50, there are plenty of younger women onscreen, too, and two of these — Sylvie Testud and Ludivine Sagnier — promise to become durable stars.

That said, Sylvie Testud might go into politics or marine biology. She’s completely unpredictable. Already branching out beyond cinema, Testud played real-life novelists Amélie Nothomb in Stupeur et tremblements (Fear and Trembling) and Françoise Sagan in the recent Sagan: now she’s a published author in her own right. I’ve yet to read her work, though from a quick glance it appears to be closer to Nothomb’s work than to Jackie Collins’: it may be beach reading, but it’s not celebrity trash. A fierce yet feline presence onscreen, this Lyon native exudes restless intelligence, raw sexuality, and not a little rebelliousness; these qualities served her well in two early roles, Albertine in Chantal Akerman’s updating of Proust, La Captive, and one of the sisters who inspired Genet’s The Maids in Les Blessures assassines. She is always exciting to watch, always strange and surprising. Look for her as Edith Piaf’s sidekick in La Môme (La Vie en Rose) — and anywhere else you can find her.

Testud in Stupeur et tremblements

Another of my favorites, Ludivine Sagnier has proven herself phenomenally versatile already, excelling in comedy (8 Femmes), drama (Swimming Pool), mystery (A Girl Cut in Two), and a musical (Les Chansons d’amour). She even played Tinkerbell in the 2003 Peter Pan! Though she’s generally playing a sex kitten, she’s wily, and she bends her art to suit the material. To my surprise, she popped up in Claude Miller’s A Secret (2007, currently playing in New York, where I saw it this week); here, she plays not the sex kitten but a young Jewish woman under the Nazi Occupation, whose doubts about her marriage have disastrous consequences for her child. When you go to see her pictures, you honestly don’t know what to expect. Her precocious track record comes as a relief, because even in cinemaniac France, we get flash-in-the-pans, one-note wonders, dropouts and flameouts. There’s every reason to think that Sagnier will be around for a long time.

Sagnier, as one-third of a couple in Les Chansons d’amour

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