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Stèphane Audran (8 November 1932 – 27 March 2018)

The Sixties were a boom time for French actresses, and Stèphane Audran certainly made her mark on international cinema during that period. Success came quickly after she began acting in the mid-Fifties, appearing on stage and in an early short movie by Eric Rohmer. In 1957 she was introduced to the director who would do the most to shape her career, Claude Chabrol (and who she would marry in 1964). Early in her career, she often played the lively, vivacious friend of the female lead, but Chabrol saw another persona that could be used to greater effect: that of a glamourous yet detached sophisticate whose emotions ran deep. It was the role that Audran was seemingly born to play, and during her early collaborations with her future second husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant was her first), it was the kind of part that she returned to time and again, but she was always able to give each portrayal a different spin. By the end of the Sixties, Audran was an established star of French cinema and one of its finest ambassadors around the world.

It was the Seventies that really saw her career take off, with a string of impressive performances that garnered her a clutch of awards, and which cemented her reputation as one of the most intelligent actresses of her generation. Audran had never really had much confidence in her abilities when she started out, but the reception to performances such as the one she gave in Just Before Nightfall gave her the boost she needed. As the decade progressed she consolidated her position as one of France’s best actresses, and began appearing in English language movies, such as The Black Bird (1975) and Silver Bears (1978). Her marriage to Chabrol was beginning to suffer by then, and her portrayal of Isabelle Huppert’s working class mother in Violette Nozière aside (a role she thought she wasn’t right for, but which brought her a César Award for Best Supporting Actress), Audran began to suffer psychosomatic problems. Her career declined for a time, and though she continued working, and still on occasion with Chabrol himself, the Eighties weren’t as successful for her as the Seventies were.

But it was a movie made in 1987 and set in 19th century Denmark that cemented her reputation: Babette’s Feast. Beautifully crafted and with perhaps Audran’s finest performance at its centre, this was the movie that erased any doubts as to her skills as an actress. She continued to work steadily from then on, and even though she never again scaled the heights of the previous decades, she remained a consistently reliable actress whose performances were always carried off with honesty and sincerity. All of which was a far cry from her formative years when she was plagued by illness, and an over-protective mother who disapproved of her decision to become an actress. By her own admission her early roles weren’t very good, and she always attributed her success to Chabrol, but if she was his muse – and they did make twenty-four movies together – then we should all be grateful that he saw what a talented actress she could be, and made sure that we all found out.

1 – Good Time Girls (1960)

2 – Les biches (1968)

3 – The Unfaithful Wife (1969)

4 – Le Boucher (1970)

5 – Just Before Nightfall (1971)

6 – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

7 – Violette Nozière (1978)

8 – Coup de Torchon (1981)

9 – Thieves After Dark (1984)

10 – Babette’s Feast (1987)

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