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January 2012, arsenal cinema

Showcasing Sandrine Bonnaire


Sandrine Bonnaire is one of the most famous and popular French actresses of her generation. Since her debut in Maurice Pialat's A NOS AMOURS (1983), she has worked with numerous auteurs, including Claude Chabrol, Raymond Depardon, Jacques Doillon, André Téchiné, Jacques Rivette, Claude Sautet and Agnès Varda, and has demonstrated her astounding versatility. She made three films – more than with any other director – with Maurice Pialat who discovered her at a casting session she had accompanied her sister to as a 15-year-old with no intention of auditioning. Her first role propelled Bonnaire, who stemmed from a working class family in Clermont-Ferrand and was the seventh of eleven children, to fame and secured her not only numerous offers of work but her first prize – the César Award for Most Promising Actress. Two years later, she won the César for Best Actress for her impressive interpretation of the vagabond Mona in Agnès Varda's SANS TOIT NI LOI. Her early success is also remarkable because of the fact that the first films Sandrine Bonnaire, who never went to acting school, played in are charac-terized by her courage to take on unattractive roles, her defiance, and a particularly tumultuous physical presence. The physicality of her young years has since given way to a more discreet introverted acting style; but what have remained are her austerity and inscrutability. Bonnaire is neither a downright beauty nor a resplendent heroine. When she acts it is without the pretensions of a star; she is neither facile nor affected, nor is she sentimental, lending her characters depth but also preserving their mystery. Having spent the first 15 years of her career working with great French auteurs, Bonnaire has in recent years worked mainly with young directors. In 2007, she swapped places for the first time to stand behind the camera, directing ELLE S'APPELLE SABINE, a documentary about her autistic sister. She is currently completing her feature film debut.

We are very pleased to welcome Sandrine Bonnaire – thanks to the generous support of the Institut français – to the opening night of our 12-film retrospective of her work on January 7. She will be accompanied by Tiffy Morgue and Jean-Yves Gaillac, who co-authored her book Le soleil me trace la route that was published last year. There will be a book signing session before the screening of A NOS AMOURS, and a Q&A afterwards.

A NOS AMOURS (Maurice Pialat, F 1983, 7.1., in the presence of Sandrine Bonnaire, Tiffy Morgue and Jean-Yves Gaillac & 4.2.) Suzanne (S.B) is 15 and looking for the love that is missing in her dysfunctional family. But she only finds lovers and sexual adventures. In their experience of sadness and perpetual loneliness, father (Maurice Pialat) and daughter are two kindred spirits. Pialat’s unsentimental chronicle of youth takes up the same themes as his other films – the family, upbringing, the psychological impact of childhood ordeals and the capacity to love. The film, whose opening sequence with Sandrine Bonnaire at the bow of a boat with Klaus Nomi's interpretation of Henry Purcell's "Cold Song" in the background – represented the director's late breakthrough. "Sandrine Bonnaire shines in her debut role. Her acting oscillates between girlish fooling around and the self-assured poise of a young woman. And from time to time, her already addictive smile lights up her face. 'There are forces of sadness that have to be fought against'". (Nicole Hess)

SANS TOIT NI LOI (Vagabond, Agnès Varda, F 1985, 8. & 31.1.) At the start of the film we see Mona's (S.B) end: a young woman in her grave somewhere in southern France during winter. The question that interests the police of whether the homeless person died a "natural death" is quickly answered. All the other questions, which could offer a key to Mona's life, remain open. Mona does not explain herself; she denies the ideals of those around her as well as their help. In the end, the investigations that the film traces say more about the people Mona encountered themselves than about her. They define themselves in the way they speak about Mona. "I could characterize the film in three words: Distance, rebellion and simplicity. The other thing is the story of a vagabond whose greatest strength is that she lives as if she were just passing through. Mona is a person who is disturbing and confusing because she rejects everything, even the slightest social conformity, all prospects for the future. She is also disturbing because she is never a victim, never to be felt sorry for. And that incites strong reactions." (Agnès Varda)

QUELQUES JOURS AVEC MOI (A Few Days with Me, Claude Sautet, F 1988, 12. & 19.1.) A social satire and tragicomedy about rich industrialists, petty bourgeois provincials and what are known as "simple people". Martial Pasquier (Daniel Auteil), the rich heir of a supermarket chain, is released from a sanatorium and to distract him, his mother (Danielle Darrieux) sends him to Limoges to find out why the local branch is doing so poorly. He not only quickly establishes that the branch director is lining his own pocket, but also falls in love with his youthful maid (S.B). Without further ado, he settles down in the provincial town and invites the lively Françine to spend a few days with him.

LES INNOCENTS(The Innocents, André Téchiné, F 1987, 14. & 17.1.) While looking for her deaf-and-dumb brother Alain in Toulon, Jeanne (S.B) meets Stéphane, the son of a conductor, who wants to help her solve her problem. The search leads to Saïd (Abdellatif Kechiche), a young Arab who is in touch with Alain. Jeanne, who develops a fondness for Stéphane and Saïd, is exposed to a xenophobic, right-wing extremist group, whose words have an effect on the impressionable Stéphane. His bisexual father (Jean-Claude Brialy), for his part, has a weakness for young Arabs, especially Saïd.

LA CÉRÉMONIE(Claude Chabrol, F/D 1995, 20.1. & 9.2.) Sophie (S.B.) is employed as a maid by the factory-owning Lelièvre family. A stately country villa, a courteous couple, well brought up children with leftist ideas. The family has taste, style, three cars and watches Mozart operas on television together. Everyone is nice to Sophie but the hierarchies are clearly defined. It is not the individuals who are monstrous but the relationships. The Lelièvres' crime consists merely of their status and the arrogance that accompanies it. When they discover Sophie's illiteracy they cross a line. "LA CEREMONIE is Chabrol’s most merciless film about class: a fait divers one reads about every day in the papers, the chronicle of an inevitable execution. Cérémonie is an old-fashioned word for execution. The events unfold according to the immutable laws of ritual." (Christiane Peitz)

AU COEUR DU MENSONGE (The Color of Lies, Claude Chabrol, F 1999, 20. & 25.1.) When the body of a 10-year-old girl is discovered in a coastal town in Brittany, her drawing teacher is suspected of murder. His wife (S.B.) faces the local rumors head on and tries to convince the investigating officer (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) of her husband's innocence, while a love affair develops between her and a famous writer from the area. When he too is found dead, the spotlight once again falls on her husband. "Maybe Chabrol just wants to distract attention from his main interest: the fascinating face of Sandrine Bonnaire. Like Hitchcock with his blondes, he can't keep his eyes off her. His film is like a small Breton remake of Vertigo. Welcome to the land of the dead – a strange oracle – is quoted at the end" (Fritz Göttler) teacher

LA CAPTIVE DU DÉSERT(Captive of the Desert, Raymond Depardon, F 1990, 22.1. & 5.2.) In 1974, a French teacher was kidnapped by Tubu rebels in Chad. The young woman was released only after 33 months. Raymond Depardon, who was a reporter and photographer on the case, deliberately disregards the psychological and political implications of captivity in his film. He raises awareness of the martyrdom of captivity without deploying a plot in the conventional sense, or resorting to chronology, but instead using breathtaking images that make palpable the fact that time does not elapse, the soaring heat and the glaring light of the desert, and endless repetition of the smallest procedures and gestures. Sandrine Bonnaire's acting is striking.

ELLE S'APPELLE SABINE (Her Name is Sabine, Sandrine Bonnaire, F 2007, 23.1. & 7.2.) "Even as a child, Sabine was different from us and needed special help. We didn't know what autism was then. When she was 28 she was put into a psychiatric ward. She stayed there for five years and when she was let out she had lost all her earlier skills." This is how Sandrine Bonnaire summarizes the fate of her younger sister. Sabine and Sandrine may have similar sounding names but their lives could not have taken on more different paths. In a documentary that juxtaposes video recordings of Sabine from the past with her surroundings today, without resorting to pathos at all, Sandrine Bonnaire paints a gentle portrait of her sister and their complicated relationship with one another.

JEANNE LA PUCELLE I – LES BATAILLES (Joan the Maid - The Battles, Jacques Rivette, F 1994, 28.1. & 1.2.) In his two-part film, Jacques Rivette tells the story of how the maid of Orleans felt called upon by God to free France from the English in the Hundred Years' War from January 1429 to May 1431. "The Battles" shows how Jeanne (S.B), the 16-year-old daughter of a peasant, insisted on meeting the Dauphin, became a warrior and managed to stir the French army, which was already on its knees, into fighting against the English and freeing Orleans. When asked what had inspired him to tell the story of Joan of Arc again, considering there already existed 40 film versions, Jacques Rivette answered: "Because of Sandrine Bonnaire. Without her I would never have come up with the idea of making the film. Like Jeanne, Sandrine embodies somebody who is very direct and clear, who never hides anything and is incapable of calculation or hypocrisy."

JEANNE LA PUCELLE II – LES PRISONS (Jeanne la Pucelle – The Prisons, Jacques Rivette, F 1994, 28.1. & 2.2.) The second part starts off with the coronation of the king in Reims and then traces Jeanne's demise: her capture, deliverance to the English, her Inquisition trial and her being burnt at the stake for heresy in Rouen. Rivette's filming of the story of Joan of Arc is largely different from the other the two most famous works about her (by Carl Theodor Dreyer (1928) and Robert Bresson (1962)) because of the use of space. Rivette opens up space and movement, revealing panoramas of landscapes and suites of rooms, courtyards and church halls, kitchens and cells. The film is not dominated by close-ups and details but by long and semi-long shots, the location, and by group pictures. "Without using any sets and avoiding historicizing fixtures, the camera accentuates the space, simply by concentrating on the changing light of the seasons and of the time of day, inside and out. Loyal to what can be seen and to the bareness of the mise-en-scène, JEANNE LA PUCELLE is a paradoxical documentary feature – free of all kinds of hollow overtones like a film narrative that does not have a historicizing, psychological or mystifying dimension." (Karsten Visarius)

SECRET DÉFENSE(Secret Defense, Jacques Rivette, F 1998, 29.1. & 3.2.) Sandrine Bonnaire is a modern Electra who puts a pistol in her bag to hunt down the apparent murderer of her father after five years. Jacques Rivette’s precise and cool thriller follows its protagonist at every turn and for him action means the in-between moments - waiting for a bus, a train journey that precedes the shots. This is a drama which is largely characterized by the gestures and facial impressions of its main protagonist. "Just in the time and calm Rivette takes to ensure he does not lose sight of his heroine from Paris to Dijon – there is probably no other actress whose face would accept so matter-of-factly, naturally, and yet so tellingly that the audience concentrate on its emotions or lack of emotion and never be exposed to a flicker of boredom, even though the trip ends up being long because of a whole series of changes." (Hans-Dieter Seidel)

CONFIDENCES TROP INTIMES(Intimate Strangers, Patrice Leconte, F 2004, 30.1. & 8.2.) After mixing up the doors, Anna (S.B.) tells tax advisor William Faber about her marital problems instead of a psychotherapist. Over time, a strange ritual develops between the two and each appointment and confession forms a closer bond. Deploying Hitchcockesque suspense and elements of classic Hollywood melodrama, Patrice Leconte delivers a playful thriller about "lust", "fear", "obsessions", "misunderstandings" and "transformations".

In cooperation with the Institut français, which we thank for its generous support.