Nationality: French. Born: Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, 22 March 1949. Family: Daughters Lumir, Josephine (with François Truffaut) and Baladine. Education: University of Aix-en Provence, political science degree, 1970. Career: Worked briefly in London at the French Embassy, 1970; returned to France to act on stage and on television, 1970–1979: featured in television serie s Les Dames de la côte , where she was spotted by Truffaut, 1979; received critical acclaim as
Les Chiens ( The Dogs ) (Jessua); Le Mutant (Toublanc Michel—for TV)
Les Dames de la côte ( Women of the Coast ) (Companéez—for TV)
Les Uns et les autres ( They and the Others ) (Bolero) (Lelouch); Le Chef de la famille ( The Head of the Household ) (Companéez—for TV) (as Katy); La Femme d'à côté ( The Woman Next Door ) (Truffaut) (as Mathilde Bauchard)
Desiderio (Tato); Benvenuta ( Welcome ) (Batz and Delvaux) (title role); La Vie est un roman ( Life Is a Bed of Roses ) (Resnais) (as Livia Cerasquier); Vivement dimanche! ( Confidentially Yours ) (Truffaut) (as Barbara Becker)
Un amour de Swann ( Love of Swann ) (Schlöndorff) (as Duchesse de Guermantes); L'Amour à mort (Resnais)
Vivement Truffaut ( Suddenly Truffaut ) (deGivray—for TV) (as herself); L'Été prochain ( Next Summer ) (Trintingnant); Les Enragés ( The Enraged ) (Glenn) (as Jessica Melrose)
Le Conseil de famille ( Family Business ) (Gouvras) (as The Mother); Le Paltoquet (Deville) (as Lotte); Mélo (Resnais) (as Christiane Levesque)
La Famiglia ( The Family ) (Scola) (as Adriana)
Médecins des hommes (Boisset and Corneau—for TV); Paure e amore ( Love and Fear ) (von Trotta) (as Velia)
La Grande Cabriole (Companéez—for TV) (as Laure de Chabrillant); Pleure pas my love (Gatlif); Australia (Andrien) (as Jeanne Gauthier)
Aventure de Catherine C. ( The Adventure of Catherine C.) (Beuchot) (title role)
Afraid of the Dark (Peploe) (as Miriam); Rien que des mensonges ( Nothing But Lies ) (Muret) (as Muriel)
La Femme du déserteur ( The Deserter's Wife ) (Bat-Adam) (as Nina); François Truffaut: Portraits volés ( François Truffaut: Stolen Portraits ) (Pascal) (as herself); Amok (Farges) (as The Woman)
Le Colonel Chabert ( Colonel Chabert ) (Angelo) (as Countess Ferraud)
Les Cent et une nuits ( A Hundred and One Nights ) (Varda) (as Actor for a Day); Par-delà les nuages ( Beyond the Clouds ) (Antonioni and Wenders) (as Patricia); Sabrina (Pollack) (as Irene)
Pédale douce (Aghion) (as Eva); Désiré ( Desire ) (Murat) (as Odette); Ridicule (Leconte) (as Madame de Blayac)
Elizabeth (Kapur) (as Marie de Guise); La Cena ( Dîner ) (Scola) (as Flora)
Augustin, roi du Kung-fu ( Augustin, King of Kung-fu ) (Fontaine) (as herself); Balzac (Dayan—for TV) (as Eve Hanska); La Débandade (Berri) (as Marie); Le Fils du Français (Lauzier) (as Anne)
Le Libertin ( The Libertine ) (Aghion) (as Madame Therbouche)
"The French Colonel's Woman," interview with Judy Stone, in San Francisco Chronicle , 19 February 1995.
"A Woman to Put Iron in a Man's Soul," interview with Chris Peachment, in Sunday Telegraph (London), 16 April 1995.
"Don't Look Back," interview with Richard Mowe, in Scotsman (Edinburgh), 26 January 1997.
"For France's Fanny Ardant, Art of Acting Driven by Passion," interview with Jay Stone, in Ottowa Citizen , 14 February 1997.
Ansen, David, "Truffaut's Endless Love," in Newsweek (New York), 19 October 1981.
Schmitt, Olivier, " La Musica Deuxième , partition de la passion," in Le Monde (Paris), 14 February 1995.
Bremner, Charles, "The French Femme Fatale," in Times (London), 22 April 1995.
Schmitt, Olivier,"Maria Callas dans le corps et la voix de Fanny Ardant," in Le Monde (Paris), 11 December 1996.
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In 1979, François Truffaut saw Fanny Ardant in a French television soap opera. Truffaut immediately got on the telephone and called Ardant, whom he once described as a woman "who makes you think of a woman from another country, without knowing quite which one" and asked her to star opposite Gérard Depardieu in his film La Femme d'à côté ( The Woman Next Door ). Fanny Ardant's distinguished career in French cinema was about to begin. Until that point, the then 30-year-old Ardant had been acting on stage and in bit parts on television and in films. With her portrayal of Mathilde Bauchard in Truffaut's film, however, Fanny Ardant became a star.
In La Femme d'à côté , Mathilde and her husband unwittingly move next door to Bernard Coudray, Mathilde's former lover. From the first encounter, Ardant makes it clear that the passion between the two lovers has never died. Ardant's gaze at this initial re-encounter silently displays the intensity of Mathilde's feelings for Bernard, and the iron determination that eventually leads the couple to self-destruct. Ardant's raw portrayal of Mathilde's passion, her nervous breakdown and eventual suicide gained her both acclaim and a nomination for the César for best actress. In this debut, Ardant demonstrates a remarkable ability to embody both strength and vulnerability in her characters, as well as a talent for conveying a complex range of emotions in a single glance, or through the tone of her voice—in fact, these techniques have become her trademark.
Subsequent to La Femme d'à côté , Ardant worked on several films, includin g La Vie est un roman ( Life Is a Bed of Roses ) with director Alain Resnais. Her next critically acclaimed performance, however, came in 1983 in another Truffaut film, Vivement dimanche ( Confidentially Yours ). This second collaboration with Truffaut, an homage to American film noir thrillers, is based on Charles William's novel, The Long Saturday Night. Ardent again plays a strong, sexy woman, although this time, her character is much more unscrutable than Mathilde Bauchard. In the film, she plays Barbara, the recently dismissed secretary to Julien Vercel. After Vercel's wife is murdered, he engages Barbara to help him solve the crime. The film makes it clear that Barbara is in love with her boss, however, the main tension in the film is not romantic. Rather, it is due to the perpetual uncertainty as to Barbara's loyalty. Ardant makes it absolutely unclear as to whether Barbara is helping Vercel, or betraying him. Ardant's performance in this film again garnered her a César nomination for best actress.
Ardant starred in some 21 films after Vivement dimanche , most notably in Alain Resnais' L'Amour à mort and Volker Schlöndorff's Un Amour de Swann ( Love of Swann ), She did not, however, receive wide critical success until her 1994 role as Countess Ferraud in Yves Angelo's Le Colonel Chabert ( Colonel Chabert ). As the Countess, Ardant shows her ability to portray the complexity of a single character through gesture, expression, and voice. In the film, based on a novella by Honoré de Balzac, the Countess, a former prostitute, struggles to maintain her marriage to a wealthy French Count, after her first husband, long presumed dead, returns. Although Balzac wrote the Countess as a scheming manipulator, interested only in the bottom line, Ardant portrays her as a strong, vulnerable woman, torn between the love for the husband she thought dead, and the security and independence of her current financial situation. Ardant's silently emotional Countess is a character who inspires pity, and even admiration.
Ardant's masterful perfomance in Le Colonel Chabert created interest in her ability to play independent, intelligent women during historical periods when women were allowed to be neither. For this reason, she was cast as Madame de Blayac in Patrice Leconte's Ridicule in 1996. Madame de Blayac, the rich widow of a much older husband, has direct access to King Louis XVI. In fact, it is said that her bed leads to the King. This makes Madame de Blayac a very powerful woman, although not powerful enough to win the love of provincial noble Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy. Again, as in Le Colonel Chabert , Ardant creates a powerful, respected woman, whose emotions must come second to her independence. Through her smoldering stares, and quiet wit, Ardant presents Madame de Blayac as seductress, courtisan, and profoundly lonely woman, and again, renders a thoroughly despicable character pitiable.
Despite the strength of this performance, Ardant's César nomination in 1997 came not for Ridicule , but for her portrayal of Eva, the owner of a homosexual nightclub in La Pédale douce. This is the performance that finally gained her a César, and it is a sizzling, provocative and comic one.
Probably because of the success of Le Colonel Chabert in the United States, Ardent made her English language debut in 1995 in Sydney Pollack's remake of Sabrina. Although not a particularly noteworthy role, playing Irene gave Ardant credibility in English language films, which later landed her the role of Marie de Guise in Shekkar Kapur's Elizabeth in 1998. Marie is another strong woman, waging war against the young Elizabeth in the name of religion. Alternatively warlike and devout, cold and absolutely sexy, Ardant's Marie is yet another woman whose desire does her in.
Despite her incredibly busy film career, Ardant has managed to maintain a stage career as well. Classically trained in plays by Corneille and Racine, Ardant won critical acclaim for her performance in Marguerite Duras' Musica Deuxième in 1995 and for her portrayal of opera singer Maria Callas in Roman Polanski's production of Terence McNally's Master Class in 1997. Olivier Schmitt called Ardant's portrayal of Callas "remarkable" and said that she "is one of those rare actresses who can accentuate sadness with a smile, punctuate laughter with a tear the welcome of a being alone faced with himself."
Now in her fifties, Fanny Ardant continues to act, graced with a beauty and sex appeal that seems to develop rather than diminish over time. Unlike many of her Hollywood contemporaries, the roles offered her have neither decreased as she has aged, nor have they become less interesting. What is clear is that despite the wide range of roles Ardant has played, in some way, she identifies with all of them. Whether comic or tragic, historical or contemporary, Ardant's ability to capture fragility and fire, desire and independence, domination and submission lead her to play women who are as complex as she is.