• France's news in English

The fairytale of French cinema's grand dame

Dan MacGuill · 24 Feb 2013, 17:47

Published: 24 Feb 2013 17:47 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Who's Emanuelle Riva?

Emmanuelle Riva is an 85-year-old French actor, who first came to prominence in the classic 1959 film ‘Hiroshima mon Amour.’ She has made an unlikely re-entry into the cinematic limelight, with her performance as a retired Parisian piano-teacher in Michael Haneke’s 2012 film ‘Amour'.

Tell me more.

Riva was born in 1927 in Cheniménil in eastern France, and after a few years working as a seamstress, moved to Paris to become an actor at the age of 20.

In 1959, Riva played the role of ‘Elle’ (‘She’) in Alain Resnais’ ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (‘Hiroshima My Love’), a film about an extended conversation between a French-Japanese couple. For her performance, Riva was nominated for a ‘Best Foreign Actress’ BAFTA in 1960 (roughly the British equivalent of an Academy Award), but lost out to Shirley Maclaine in ‘The Apartment.’

What’s she done since then?

Well, she won acclaim for her role as Barny, a young widow in the 1961 film ‘Léon Morin, Prêtre’ (Leon Morin, Priest). In the half-century since then her acting appearances have been few and far between, though Riva is also a published poet.

What’s she been up to lately?

Well, 53 years after her only previous BAFTA nomination, Riva finally won the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ award on February 10th. She was unable to attend the ceremony in London however, citing exhaustion: “I am already so, so tired and so, so harassed,” she told The Guardian.

Her performance as Anne Laurent, an octogenarian who lives with her husband (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and suffers a series of strokes, has gained her a host of other plaudits, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

If she wins on February 24th, her 86th birthday, she will make history as the oldest person ever to win an Academy Award for acting.

Paint me a picture of her.

Emmanuelle Riva is an almost impossibly elegant, silver-haired  woman. She’s slow and halting in her movements and speech now, but articulate, engaging and very playful in interviews.

In the course of her publicity duties since the release of ‘Amour,’ she has been seen wearing scarves, fur coats and a variety of jewellery, as well as an exceptionally warm and mischievous smile.

What one moment sums her up?

Story continues below…

Well, it's hard to find a single moment to represent someone who's lived such a long life, but check out this 1959 interview at the time of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (in French, with English subtitles.) As well as being a beautiful, quirky 32-year-old, Riva is full of maturity and self-perception, but without any sense of cynicism or self-aggrandizement. 

It's also really charming to hear her talk about trying to escape her 'youthful' label, since her fame now has so much to do with her old age, and her role in a film about dying.

What does she have to say for herself?

(On her historic Oscar nomination) “This adventure, this gift, in the last stage of my life -- it’s not easy to measure up -- but it’s the exact moment in my life when I could do it. Before would have been too early. Later might have been too late,” she told The Wrap. 

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Photo: AFP

Some in France have shown solidarity with their new guests, while others have made it clear they are not welcome.

Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
The fantastic new Bordeaux wine museum. Photo: AFP

After The Local France, the Lonely Planet has followed suit by urging everyone to head to Bordeaux in 2017.

Jungle shacks set ablaze and torn down as camp razed
All photos: AFP

IN PICTURES: The razing of the Jungle has finally begun.

Frenchwoman finds WW1 grenade among her spuds
Photo: AFP

It could have been a very explosive family dinner.

Refugee crisis
What rights to a future in France for Calais migrants?
Photo: AFP

What does the future hold for the migrants of the Jungle? Can they work or claim social benefits or travel freely inside Europe?

Pampers nappies 'contain carcinogenics': French study
Photo: Robert Valencia/Flick

The substances in the nappies are meant to prevent skin irritation but are cancerous, the study concludes.

France to scrap special prison wings for dangerous jihadists
Photo: AFP

The experiment has been ditched.

Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
A model at the Pulp Fiction fashion show in Paris that represents society's diverse spectrum . Photo: AFP

Hold on, aren't the French all meant to be finely toned specimens with not an ounce of fat on them?

France poised to send bulldozers into Calais Jungle
Photo: AFP

As hundreds of migrants leave, the bulldozers are set to tear down the sprawling Calais shanty town on Tuesday.

UK to spend €40 million on securing Calais border
Photo: AFP

Britain spending big on security in Calais.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available