Iconic French actress and Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva, whose career spanned six decades, has died. Riva passed away Friday afternoon in Paris following a long battle with cancer; she was 89. Consistently an in-demand actress, Riva was best known internationally for two roles that essentially bookended her career. In 1959, she starred in Alain Resnais’ classic Hiroshima Mon Amour, picking up a BAFTA nomination. Fifty-three years later, she played Anne in Michael Haneke’s Oscar-winning drama Amour.
The heartrending love story about an aging couple was an intimate acting tour-de-force that also starred Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert. The film won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and Riva went on to win the César and BAFTA acting prizes, as well as nods from several critics groups. Riva received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role, becoming the oldest woman ever to do so.
Upon winning the César, she said, “I worked on this film with great passion and I am very lucky at this hour of my life” to come across such a “wonder” of a subject that is “so close to all of us. This is the first time I have received a César and I thank everyone.” When she tried to pick up her award and walk offstage, she had to hand the trophy off, “It’s heavier than I am!,” she laughed.
Riva recently gave a lecture at the Villa Médicis in Rome and her agent, Anne Alvares Correa, told Agence France Presse today, “Until the end, she was active.”
Born in 1927, Riva began her career on the stage and in 1958 appeared in her first film, Les Grandes Familles, alongside Jean Gabin. The following year, she played Elle, a French actress who has an affair with a married Japanese architect in Hiroshima Mon Amour. Marguerite Duras’ screenplay was Oscar nominated. France’s Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma, which paid homage to Riva today, said her portrayal of Elle “caught and held the attention of all the great filmmakers.”
Riva would go on to star in such films as Jean-Pierre Melville’s Léon Morin, Prêtre alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo; Georges Franju’s Thérèse Desqueyroux with Philippe Noiret (for which she won the Venice Film Festival Best Actress Volpi Cup); Oscar nominee Kapo by Gillo Pontecorvo;
Philippe Garrel’s Liberté, La Nuit; Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue; Julie Delpy’s Skylab; and most recently, Lost In Paris by Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon.
It was 2012’s Amour that again turned a global spotlight on the actress. The French Académie said today, “We will all always have the image in our hearts of the immense joy to see her ascend the stage at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2013 and receive the Best Actress César… A great and sublime actress has left us.”