06 March 2010

Field Guide: Dominique Blanc

So much for propriety!
An exuberant hypocrite, in Indochine

For much of her career, Dominique Blanc has brilliantly merged two important traditions: the classical French confidante, with whom the heroine shares her woes; and the wisecracking Hollywood sidekick. Even when she doesn’t make some tart remark about the protagonists’ business, you can see she’s thinking of one. Though she works constantly, with more than 60 films to her credit, and has taken leading roles from time to time, she’s really remarkable in character parts and supporting roles — which most modern actors have forgotten, or never knew, how to play.

With Deneuve, in Indochine

With her wide-set eyes and nasal voice, she’s an unlikely candidate for many glamorous star turns, but Blanc knows how to take even the smallest part and run with it, and she excels in playing the foil. She demonstrated this — to my astonishment — in two of the first pictures I saw her in, Patrice Chéreau’s La Reine Margot (1994) and Régis Warnier’s Indochine (1992), costume dramas in which she contrasted with, respectively, Isabelle Adjani and Catherine Deneuve. (They are, perhaps needless to say, two of the most glamorous actresses France has ever produced.) Blanc was nominated for the César for best supporting actress for both films, and won for Indochine.

Fashion Plate: In La Reine Margot

As those movies suggest (and as her latest release, L’autre Dumas corroborates), Blanc looks terrific in period dress — almost any period, really, except our own, when fashion is created for taller, thinner girls. Her work in costume dramas may account partly for my notion of her as a confidante, that character whose primary purpose is to prevent the heroine from talking to herself. The confidante crops up all over Racine and Corneille, usually an attendant or noblewoman of lower rank than the heroine; her literary heirs are seen in opera, Lucia’s Alisa and Trovatore’s Ines being prime examples.

At her best, Dominique Blanc provides the necessary emotional support associated with the classical confidante, and yet, like a French Eve Arden, she’s always standing off to one side, commenting on the principal action even when she says nothing aloud, and eager for adventures of her own.

As Céleste, with Benoît Poelvoorde as Maquet

L’autre Dumas features a scene in which Blanc’s character, Céleste Scriwaneck, realizes that Auguste Maquet isn’t the man she thought he was. She’s devastated — but she won’t give the younger, prettier Charlotte Desrives (Mélanie Thierry) the satisfaction of knowing why. Blind to almost every truth (including that of Maquet’s real identity) but seeing the tears in Céleste’s eyes, Charlotte asks what’s wrong. “It’s nothing,” Céleste replies simply; “I just lost someone very dear to me.”

What she means, of course, is that her idea of Maquet has been lost; it’s a beautiful moment. Very little else in the picture rises to this level of artistry, it must be said.

Glenn Close has nothing on her:
Blanc in L’autre

An actress of Blanc’s range can’t be expected to linger too long outside the spotlight, and her latest star vehicle was L’autre (The Other Woman, 2008). Because of my travel schedule, I missed the picture, a contemporary urban drama in which Blanc plays a vengeful ex-mistress; for her efforts, she was awarded Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. She’s been nominated for nine Césars, winning four (one best actress, three supporting), and in 2008 won the Molière for her stage performance in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Clearly, she’s a talent to look out for — and chances are, she’ll turn up again somewhere, very soon.

With Malik Zidi, in Les amitiés maléfiques:
In this tale of youthful ambition, Blanc isn’t quite a French version of the Texas Cheerleader Mom, but she’ll do nicely, thank you.

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