A breath of French air

Actress Sophie Marceau brings glamour, star power and refreshing honesty to Haifa's Int'l Film Festival.

October 1, 2007 09:31
4 minute read.

SOPHIE MARCEAU 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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It's easy to imagine, as she walks into Haifa's French consulate, a period in history when Sophie Marceau might have been described as having a face to launch 1,000 ships. But this is 2007, and the actress, who will turn 41 next month, lives in a less romantic era, an age in which her type of beauty inspires not epic poetry, but international bestsellers about how women of her nationality avoid putting on weight. She has, in any case, almost single-handedly provided all the glamour and sex appeal of this year's Haifa International Film Festival, an event which otherwise would have had to rely on Shimon Peres - an opening night guest - for its star power. Fortunately, there was Marceau - thick hair, elegant dress, gently tanned shoulders - entering the theater to loud applause and making her way to her seat. Best known to non-French audiences as the princess in Braveheart, Marceau, unlike some of the festival's other honorees, actually stayed for its official first screening, a bad-to-the-point-of-embarrassing effort by Haifa-born director Amos Gitai. (Popular, inexplicably, in France - 60 million Frenchmen can be wrong - Gitai manages in his new film to squander the talents of Juliette Binoche, the French Oscar winner, who couldn't get a role in community theater based on some of the scenes here.) The next day, Marceau meets members of the press at the city's French consulate, generating another round of murmurs about her beauty before fielding a query about the previous night's film. Such questions, of course, are normally pointless, leading to banal, evasive answers about how every film has its strong points and who, in any case, is the actress to judge. But Marceau, to her audience's surprise, answers the question honestly, admitting - though still politely - that she didn't like the film. "I think he missed the subject," Marceau says, her face framed by diamond earrings and a pendant around her neck. "I think it was off balance...there's something wrong about this movie, something that didn't work." She compliments the performance of Dana Ivgy, the Israeli who plays Binoche's daughter, but says of the film as a whole, "The emotions weren't there." Marceau, luckily, is in Haifa to promote a film that does work: her own La Disparue de Deauville, her second effort as a director. The movie, which she also co-wrote, has been given the regrettable English-language title Trivial, but the film itself is anything but: a complex, thoughtful, ultimately winning rumination on love and memory. Alternately dreamy and menacing, the film focuses on a detective mourning his wife's death, as well as on a mystery woman (Marceau) who bears a striking resemblance to a long deceased Italian actress. For much of the film's duration, viewers can't be sure whether Marceau's character is real or a phantom, and the story's considerable intrigue doesn't always derive from a strict grasp on logic. But emotionally and stylistically, the film is a powerhouse, observing life's evanescence as authentically as a memoir. The ending offers an impressive, well-executed surprise, redirecting much of the movie's emotional energy in a way that both alters its meaning and changes the significance of Marceau's part. "I believe in my instinct and the sincerity [of the film]," says the actress, who burst into French film stardom as a 14-year-old. "Making a film fulfilled my curiosity and my energy. [It's] a necessity for me to show things the way I see them, to leave some print of emotions. I sometimes see something in the street and think it's too bad that it just disappears." A winner of the Cesar, one of her country's highest film honors, Marceau has been to Israel before - "many times," actually - including to play a kibbutz volunteer in 1991's Pour Sacha, about a group of French friends who reunite near the northern border at the outbreak of the Six Day War. (Filming, she recalls, took place on the eve of another Middle East conflict - the Persian Gulf War - a bit of timing that clearly made an impression.) Though her early films cast her as a typical French teenager, the actress's English-speaking parts have been defined - despite her fluency in the language - by her beauty, an allure put to good if predictably silly use in the 1999 James Bond flick The World is Not Enough. (Though the actress easily outshined the film's other Bond girl, she somewhat unfairly got the inferior of the two characters' names, playing heiress Elektra King opposite Denise Richards' more boring Christmas Jones.) In addition to the Braveheart role, she proved her bilingual acting skills in a 1999 adaptation of A Midsummer's Night Dream (as Hippolyta), and as the title character in 1997's Anna Karenina. But with the exception of a small, beneath-her role in 2003's Alex and Emma, the actress has steered clear of Hollywood since the James Bond movie, a major international hit that could have put her in the top ranks of the American film industry. Instead, she's spent the last several years working more with Israelis than with partners from Hollywood, starring opposite Tel Aviv-born actor Yvan Attal in 2005's Anthony Zimmer and working on Trivial with producer Oury Milshtein. The film, ultimately, can be read as her reflection on nearly three decades of movie stardom, offering a clever and disarming look at how others remember her and how she understands herself. "Who stole my identity when I was a kid?" she asks, referring both to herself and to a male character in the movie. Told how to dress and behave as she promoted her first films, the actress has turned out sufficiently well-adjusted to smile as she reflects on the adult members of her field. Thirty years in the movie industry have prepared her well as a director, giving her the technical knowledge and human insight to work behind the camera. "Most actors are childish," she says, sitting next to an admiring Trival co-star. "If you can catch that, it's great, because you get them to open their hearts."

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