30 September 2009

Field Guide: Anne Brochet & Michèle Laroque

Brochet, center, as Roxane in Cyrano
(That’s Jacques Weber on the right.)

It’s often remarked that, whereas American actors traditionally are caught in a tug-of-war between New York and Hollywood, British actors profit from the concentration of theater, film, and television production in London. French actors may enjoy a similar centrality in Paris, but truth be told, the vast majority of stage productions in the capital are cheesy, smirking boulevard comedies that not even stellar performers can uplift. (That’s why I seldom go to the theater here.) Still, one regularly finds top-name movie stars on Parisian stages, and two delightful leading ladies are now treading the boards.

Both Anne Brochet and Michèle Laroque came to my attention in the 1990s with brilliant performances in a handful of films — and both have slipped off my cinematic radar in the years since, though they continue to work frequently. In both cases, the initial impressions were so strongly favorable that I look forward to seeing them again, but I’m waiting to see them in the right vehicle.

Brochet, as Madeleine de Sainte-Colombe

Anne Brochet is stepping into the role of Tracy Lord in Philip Barry’s Vie Privée at the Théâtre Antoine. Perhaps to avoid comparison to Katharine Hepburn, the play is not being performed under the title for which the movie The Philadelphia Story is known here (Indiscrétions). There’s no point promising a Hepburn impersonation when the leading lady isn’t going to deliver one: though Brochet is awfully good at projecting an eccentric, nervous intelligence, it’s quite unlike Hepburn’s, and she doesn’t possess anything resembling Hepburn’s rangy, athletic grace.

No matter. Brochet’s own assets are more than enough, as she proved in Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) and Tous les matins du monde (1991). The films are costume dramas, both set in 17th-century France, yet Brochet’s roles are wildly different.

In Cyrano, she’s Roxane, a lady of the court so gorgeously dressed that we may be excused for failing at first to understand that, of all the characters in this story, she has the strongest innate ability to perceive what lies beneath the surface. Everybody else is obsessed with appearances, but it takes a mind as nimble as Cyrano’s to dupe Roxane, and that’s Brochet’s triumph. She peels away layers before we know they exist.

The confrontation: “Père, je l’aime!”
With Depardieu and Marielle, from Tous les matins

In Tous les matins, she eschews all that glamorous artifice to play Madeleine, daughter of one composer (Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, played by Jean-Pierre Marielle) and lover of another (Marin Marais, played by Guillaume Depardieu, in his first leading role).

Here, the austerity of Brochet’s appearance contrasts with that of the young Depardieu: when Marais returns from the court of Louis XIV, it’s he — not she — who’s powdered, rouged, and bewigged. And the stillness of her performance makes the force of Madeleine’s emotion all the more startling. When she blurts out, “Père, je l’aime,” it’s as if the earth has split in two. Though she was only 25 when the movie was made, she delivers a performance of exquisite sensitivity and control.

Laroque, with Patrick Timsit, in Pédale Douce

Michèle Laroque appeared in a batch of gay-themed movies in the 1990s, including the international smash hits Pédale Douce and Le Placard. Though her characters weren’t terribly sympathetic, Laroque won hordes of gay fans, by whom she was a little nonplussed. When my brother met her at a film festival, he reported that she seemed really to have no idea what she’d done to deserve all the fuss.

The answer, I suspect, can be found in her performance as Hanna, the mother of a seven-year-old boy with a passion for dolls and dressing as a girl, in Ma vie en rose (1997). Hanna is at first bewildered, then angered by Ludovic’s behavior: it flies in the face of convention and it’s made the family something of a neighborhood spectacle, at exactly the moment when her bourgeois aspirations have reached a fever pitch. Her long path toward acceptance of her child is by turns funny, terrifying, and heartbreaking, and Laroque serves up a tour de force.

Perhaps only someone with Laroque’s checkered résumé could have pulled off such a part: she’s acted in everything from sketch comedy to police drama, and she writes and produces, too.* Laroque is currently starring in a comedy, Mon brilliantissime divorce, at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. Her website is skimpy on features and mostly under construction, but it can be found here.

*NOTE: Though you may not find this terribly pertinent, my mother will want to know that Michèle Laroque studied English at The University of Texas at Austin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just seen Michele Laroque in Mon Brilliantissme Divorce in Paris. She was sensational. GA