21 February 2009

Field Guide: Yolande Moreau

Quite possibly the sexiest woman in cinema today

Belgian-born Yolande Moreau first caught my eye in Quand la mer monte, a bittersweet romance she wrote (and co-directed), based on her own experiences in a one-woman show touring the hinterlands. Along the way, she meets a fellow (Wim Willaert) whose sole occupation, if you can call it that, is creating gigantic Carnival costumes. That neither of them looks remotely like a movie star doesn’t stop their passion. Before the picture is finished, you will be smitten with Yolande, and as firmly convinced as her “poussin” is that she’s one of the most sensuous beings ever to grace the screen. Since that first encounter, I’ve looked forward to each new appearance onscreen, and she is never less than satisfying – albeit not always quite so sexy.

I’ve just seen her again in a new picture called Louise-Michel, and such is the angry tenor of the times, so resentful are Americans toward the wizards who wrecked the economy, that some smart producer in Hollywood doubtless has snapped up the adaptation rights already, to set the thing in Kentucky, perhaps, instead of Picardy. That producer will be hard-pressed, however, to find an American actress to fill Moreau’s sneakers.

In an extraordinary bit of physical acting that gets only more brilliant the longer you watch, Moreau plays the Louise of the title (though that is also an homage to the 19th-century anarchist Louise Michel): hulking, inarticulate, violent, and often very funny. Her illiteracy leads to some amusing complications, including a terrific sight-gag torn from the playbook of Buster Keaton. When she and her colleagues are laid off without warning from a little clothing factory, Louise suggests that they do something useful with their severance money: namely, hire a hit-man to kill the boss. It becomes increasingly clear that, in Michel (Bouli Lanners, also Belgian), Louise has chosen the wrong guy; ultimately, they join forces to see justice done. More or less.

Natural Born Killers? Lanners and Moreau in Louise-Michel

It’s one of the oddest films I’ve seen in years, yet every loony detail is just right. Apart from a joke at the expense of 9/11, it ought to succeed in U.S. release – and, as I say, it’s itching for an American remake.

Moreau is nominated for a Best Actress award at the Césars on Sunday, February 28, for her work in another film from last year, Séraphine. I wonder if it’s still plaing around town….

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