French cinema has a long-standing relationship with older women which sees many of them receiving more and more interesting offers in their later years. Contrary to some other countries, French actresses enjoy careers at home that often extend well past their 50s and 60s. Think Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Nathalie Baye, Yolande Moreau, Isabelle Huppert and Josiane Balasko. The latter two are spending time at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema where I caught up with them to talk about the reasons why, as Balasko says, it’s a particularity of France that after a certain age, women are not “put in the garage like an old car.”
Largely a comedic actress, Balasko began making movies in the early 70s. She has starred in some of the biggest and most beloved local films of all time including Patrice Leconte’s Bronzés franchise, Jean-Marie Poiré’s Papy Fait De La Résistance, and Gazon Maudit which she also directed. Currently, she’s on screen with Le Grand Partage which is approaching 1M admissions, and Arrête Ton Cinéma, a female-led comedy directed by Diane Kurys. Kurys happens to be one of four female directors ever nominated for a Foreign Language Academy Award with 1983’s Entre Nous which also starred Huppert.
Balasko says she’s making more movies now because “they offer me more interesting things.” At 65 years old, she adds that the roles are “not just grandmothers… I continue to have offers and I think that’s typical of France. Most actresses who are known and recognized are still working like Fanny Ardant, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Nathalie Baye…”
Interestingly, Huppert says she doesn’t believe the perception that France stands out amongst countries where women get more work in their later years. “I have no problem with that. I think everyone gets work, look at Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep,” she told me today. Huppert, at 62, is still one of the most sought out dramatic actresses in France and also works internationally. She has four films coming out in 2016 and two more set for 2017 including a re-team with her Amour and Pianist helmer Michael Haneke.
Speaking of directors, Balasko says, “I am lucky to live in a country where young directors call women who in other countries would have been put in the garage like an old car.”
French-Moroccan helmer Nabil Ayouch (Whatever Lola Wants, Much Loved) says much of Europe is reverent of female actresses especially as they age. Certainly Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Charlotte Rampling (who equally works in France) fly the flag for the Brits. Particularly in France, Ayouch thinks part of the reason is that directors “still have a great desire to write roles for women over 50. The older women get, the more beautiful they get. The older they get, the more I find them strong, wise, touching and sexy all at the same time. In the U.S., it’s true there is still this idea that at a certain age a woman, especially if she’s an actress, is past the expiration date.”
France also boasts strong and enduring female helmers. Danièle Thompson, whose hit comedies include La Bûche, Jet-Lag, Avenue Montaigne and Le Code A Changé, was at the Musée d’Orsay on Friday night to promote her upcoming Cézanne Et Moi about the relationship between painter Paul Cézanne and writer Emile Zola and starring Guillaume Canet and Guillaume Galienne. At 74, Thompson reveled in telling me about all of the real shooting locations she employed for the film in Provence as she took a breath from zipping around the private cocktail reception.
Kurys for her part said she was pleased that Deniz Gamze Erguven was nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar this week for Mustang. Franco-Turkish helmer Erguven’s inclusion brings the total number of women from France to have earned the Academy’s recognition to four. That’s double the number of American women ever nominated for a Best Director prize. Kurys reflected on her own Oscar experience back in 1984 saying it was a great memory. At the annual nominees lunch that year, she was the only female helmer. But gender aside, she was surprised to feel like she was in the room with her equals, “meeting the directors, all the great ones of the time.”
Speaking to Deadline earlier this week, Erguven said, “Every (awards show) I was at this year, either I was the only woman or one of two (female) directors. It’s been like this for a long time. It’s changing but still not there in terms of numbers.”