Nationality: French. Born: Sylvette Herry, Paris, 22 February 1950. Education: French public school until 1966. Family: Daughters Angel (with Patrick Dewaere) and Jeanne (with Julien Clerc). Career: Worked as an upholsterer's apprentice in Paris, 1966; founder
and actor, Café de la Gare theater, 1968; film debut in La Cavale , 1971. Awards: César Award for Best Actress, for La Dérobade ( The Getaway ), 1979; Institut Lumière Award for Best Actress, for Nettoyage à sec ( Dry Cleaning ), 1997. Agent: Artmédia, 10 avenue George V, 75008 Paris, France.
Films as Actress:
La Cavale (Mitrani)
Themroc (Falardo); Quelques messieurs trop tranquilles (Lautner) (as Anita); Elle court, elle court la banlieue (Pirès)
Granges brulées ( The Investigator ) (Chapot) (as Monique); Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob ( The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob ) (Oury) (as Antoinette Pivert)
Les Valseuses ( Going Places ) (Blier) (as Marie-Ange)
Tender Dracula (Grunstein); Pas de problème ( No Problem ) (Lautner) (as Anita); Un Genio, due compari, un pollo ( The Genius ) (Damiani) (as Lucy)
On aura tout vu ( We Will Have Seen it All ) (Lautner) (as Christine); Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l'an 2000 ( Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 ) (Tanner) (as Marie); F comme Fairbanks (Dugowson) (as Marie); Marcia trionfale ( Victory March ) (Bellocchio) (as Rosanna)
Dîtes-lui que je l'aime ( This Sweet Sickness ) (Miller) (as Juliette)
Les Routes du sud ( Roads to the South ) (Losey) (as Julia); L'Ingorgo—Una storia impossibile ( Traffic Jam ) (Comencini) (as Angela)
La Dérobade ( The Getaway ) (Dival) (as Marie); Au revoir à lundi ( Bye, See You Monday ) (Dugowson) (as Nicole); La Femme flic ( The Lady Cop ) (Boisset) (as Inspecteur Corinne Levasseur)
Josepha (Frank) (title role); Guy de Maupassant (Drach) (as Gisèle d'Estoc)
Coup de foudre ( Entre Nous ) (Kurys) (as Madeleine); Attention! Une femme peut en cacher une autre ( My Other Husband ) (Lautner) (as Alice); Canicule ( Dog Day ) (Boisset) (as Jessica)
Blanche et Marie (Renard) (as Marie); Le Vol du Sphinx ( Flight of the Phoenix ) (Ferrier) (as Laura)
Une vie comme je veux (Goron—for TV) (as Laurence)
L'Argent (Rouffio—for TV) (as Caroline Hamelin); Tenue de soirée ( Ménage ) (Blier) (as Monique)
Les Portes tournantes ( The Revolving Doors ) (Mankiewicz) (as Lauda); La Lectrice ( The Reader ) (Deville) (as Constance/Marie)
Milou en mai ( May Fools ) (Malle) (as Camille)
Nethcaïev est de retour ( Netchaiev Is Back ) (Deray) (as Brigitte); La Totale ( The Jackpot ) (Zidi) (as Hélène)
Patrick Dewaere (Esposito); Le Bal des casse-pieds (Robert) (as Louise Sherry)
Tango (Leconte) (as Marie); Germinal (Berri) (as Maheude)
Une femme dans la tourmente (Moati); Un Indien dans la ville ( Little Indian, Big City ) ( An Indian in Paris ) (Palud) (as Patricia); Montparnasse-Pondichéry (Robert) (as Julie)
Ma femme me quitte ( My Woman is Leaving Me ) (Kamimka) (as Joanna Martin)
Le Huitième jour ( The Eighth Day ) (Van Dormael) (as Julie)
Nettoyage à sec ( Dry Cleaning ) (Fontaine) (as Nicole Kunstler)
Elles ( Women ) (Galvao Teles) (as Eva); Hors-jeu ( Foul Play ) (Dridi)
Jamais trop tard ( Never Too Late ) (Gaget)
Légères absences ( Minor Absences ) (Mouriéras); Tout va bien, on s'en va ( Everything's Fine, We're Leaving ) (Mouriéras) (as Laure)
By MIOU-MIOU: articles—
"Miou-Miou Tells a Tale Worthy of La Lectrice ," interview with Paul Chutkow, in New York Times , 16 April 1989.
"Miou-Miou Visits Here-Here," interview with Susan L. Weis, in Jerusalem Post , 7 January 1990.
"Label populaire," interview with Olivier Seguret, in La Libération (Paris), 24 September 1997.
"Through Good and Bad, the French Love Her," interview with Alan Riding, in New York Times , 24 January 1999.
On MIOU-MIOU: articles—
Bill Brownstein, "Miou-Miou Crosses Atlantic," in Gazette (Montréal), September 21 1991.
Jean-Louis Mingalon, "Miou-Miou ou la pudeur des sentiments," in Le Monde (Paris), 13 February 1995.
John Henley, "Box Office: Big In . . . Paris: Miou-Miou," in Guardian (London), 3 October 1997.
Michel Cournot, "Miou-Miou, qu'alliez-vous faire dans cette
galère. . . ?" in Le Monde (Paris), 4 February 2000.
* * *
In 1974, after six years of stage acting and unremarkable movie parts, Miou-Miou was offered the part of Marie-Ange in Bertrand Blier's picaresque tale of life in the French suburbs, Les Valseuses ( Going Places ). The film became a French classic, and Miou-Miou, along with her co-stars Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, was on her way to becoming an icon. Pure "gamine" or "waif" in every sense of the word, Miou-Miou (who was given the name by legendary French comedian and former lover Coluche) conveyed body and soul the repressed sexuality of hairdresser Marie-Ange. This sexuality later explodes in the film through Marie Ange's adventures with wanderers Jean-Claude and Pierrot, and it established the frail and delicate Miou-Miou as an emblem of popular womanhood. French film critic Jean-Michel Frodon wrote that Miou-Miou's performance in the film is marked by "a disturbing submission, a dead spirit in a heavy body, burdened with vulgarity, all followed by a sublime vitality." This unlikely combination of grit, fragility, and masked sexuality guaranteed Miou-Miou's place in French cinematic history.
Following her explosive performance in this landmark film, Miou-Miou went on to make some 16 more films in the 1970s alone, including Dîtes-lui que je l'aime ( This Sweet Sickness ) in which she, again, played opposite Depardieu, and La Dérobade ( The Getaway ), for which she was granted a César for best actress. Yet, despite the award, it was not until 1983 that Miou-Miou was again able to demonstrate her force as an actress. This time, it was in Diane Kurys's semi autobiographical film, Coup de foudre ( Entre Nous ). In the film, Miou-Miou plays Madeleine, a submissive housewife in post-war France, who meets Léna (played by Isabelle Huppert), a Jewish woman married to a man she does not love. Over the course of the film, a passionate friendship develops between the two women, as both neglect their children and lie to their husbands in order to be together. Again, Miou-Miou gives a remarkable performance, showing the quiet torment of Madeleine, stuck in the middle-class female role assigned to her by society. As Madeleine evolves, Miou-Miou makes visible not only the resigned sadness, which had marked Madeleine's married life, but the evolving strength, independence, and even selfishness that the contact between she and Léna ignites. With this performance, Miou-Miou gained a great deal of international attention, and the film itself was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
In 1988, Miou-Miou gave another highly acclaimed performance as an atypical woman in Michel Deville's La Lectrice ( The Reader ). In this film, she plays Constance, a woman reading, and Marie, a character in one of the books that Constance reads. Marie, in the book, is a professional reader, who visits clients and reads to them the book of their choice. This portrayal of two (overlapping) women in the same film, as well as Miou-Miou's acting out of the act of reading, give the film unusual depth. Also noteworthy is the alternation between Marie's sizzling sexuality and her intelligence, especially when men attempt to turn this sexuality against her. In a particularly riveting scene, for example, Marie is coerced into reading the Marquis de Sade for men who clearly wish to dominate her through her reading. Through her cold, distant interpretation of these highly pornographic works, Miou-Miou gives a strength and dignity to a character who might otherwise be seen as a prostitute (she has sex with many of her clients). Instead of a sexy type, Miou-Miou creates a female character who overcomes her seeming weakness with an iron will and a determined mind.
In 1993, Miou-Miou played one of the most assexual and gritty roles of her career in Claude Berri's epic version of Émile Zola's Germinal. As Maheude, the wife of a coal miner, and a coal miner herself, Miou-Miou goes through the entirety of the film in soot-covered rags. The coal dust, however, is not sufficient to mask the raw courage and latent anger Miou-Miou brings to Maheude. It is clear from her portrayal that the character lies very close to Miou-Miou's own experience, a fact that she has admitted. Her near complete identification with this misery of Maheude's existence, and her embodiment of the battered dignity of this nineteenth-century heroine, reveal that her own working class background has not been forgotten.
Miou-Miou's most recent award winning performance was in 1997 in Anne Fontaine's Nettoyage à sec ( Dry Cleaning ). Anne Fontaine hand-picked Miou-Miou for the role of Marie Kunstler, the wife of a dry-cleaner. In the film, Marie, bored with her marriage and with her life, falls passionately for Loic, a young transvestite. Eventually, Loic moves in with the Kunstlers, and steamy affairs begin with both husband and wife. In the film, Miou-Miou gives not only another wildly sexual performance, she again depicts the emotional and psychological complexity of an unhappy woman, who has not allowed herself to recognize or admit her own unhappiness.
Although she is no longer acting in four to five films per year, as she did earlier in her career, and although known as much in recent years for her political activism as for her film career, Miou-Miou, now in her late forties, still manages to find challenging roles. In 1999, for example, she won acclaim in Luis Galvao Teles' film Elles ( Women ) and she is currently featured in Claude Mouriéras film Légères absences. It seems that, despite her age, Miou-Miou, whom director Anne Fontaine once called "the most popular actress of her generation," has lost none of her force and none of her appeal.