Tara Brady

François Truf­faut’s fa­mous Dark Lady may be a lit­tle more auburn than she used to be, but Fanny Ar­dant’s pas­sion for life and cin­ema is undimmed. “You must fol­low your in­stincts, your plea­sures, your love. And you will be a win­ner,” she tells

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

The thick trade­mark eye­liner is still in place, but these days, François Truf­faut’s Dark Lady is a lit­tle more auburn than she used to be. In­deed, long time ad­mir­ers of Fanny Ar­dant should take note: in her lat­est film, a clever, sunny May-to-De­cem­ber rom-com called Bright Days Ahead, she’s a daz­zling blonde.

“I thought it would make more of a dif­fer­ence than it did,” she tells me. “It was in­ter­est­ing to see my re­flec­tion in the mir­ror sud­denly. But it was more like see­ing my­self in a cos­tume.”

Dark­ness suits Fanny Ar­dant. She prefers the ori­ent to the oc­ci­dent, she says: “My soul be­longs to the East. Dur­ing the Cold War, the Amer­i­cans did not like to hear that.”

It’s not that she isn’t ca­pa­ble of lev­ity: she has, in fact, a most mu­si­cal laugh and a play­ful way with words. But there is some­thing mys­te­ri­ous about this grand­est of dames: she’s known to keep to her­self on set, she has never mar­ried and she de­scribes her­self as a loner.

“I have no friends in film,” she says. “I love work­ing with people like Ger­ard Depar­dieu and Jeremy Irons. But when the film­ing is done, it is done. I am happy to talk to people when I meet them. But I have been like this since I was very young. My gen­er­a­tion was very politi­cised. But I never be­longed to any po­lit­i­cal or stu­dent group. There is a dan­ger in groups, of los­ing yourself.”

Truf­faut, who cast her in iconic The Woman Next Door (1981) and who lived with her for the last three years of his life used to say of Ar­dant: “She comes from a coun­try that doesn’t ex­ist”. Sure enough, her ori­gins can be traced to an old ex­tinct class of bour­geoisie. Her fa­ther was a cav­alry of­fi­cer in the French army. She mostly grew up in Monaco, where he was part of Prince Rainier’s per­sonal guard.

“I grew up around a lot of stupid rich people,” laughs Ar­dant. “It was a good ed­u­ca­tion for me. Be­cause I had to be my own char­ac­ter. I read a lot. I was not look­ing around to see what oth­ers were do­ing. Outwardly, my fa­ther was up­per-class. But in­side he was cul­tured. He was a dreamer. Any­one can be a dreamer. Even a po­lice­man can be open-minded. My fa­ther loved the idea of be­ing free. It is some­thing I love too.”

Made­moi­selle Ar­dant – and it is, most def­i­nitely, made­moi­selle – talks re­peat­edly of free­dom. It’s a no­tion that has guided her ca­reer since she first took a bow on a Parisian stage in 1974.

“You must fol­low your in­stincts, your plea­sures, your love. And you will be a win­ner. I never had a strat­egy. If you try to con­trol ev­ery­thing, if you try to plan, it can only in­ter­fere with your imag­i­na­tion.”

Ar­dant’s abil­ity to speak many lan­guages and her in­ter­est in the stage, and later film, was in­spired by her par­ents’ love of mu­sic and theatre: “I re­mem­ber my par­ents used to bring me to opera. Ital­ian, Rus­sian, French. All kinds of opera. And I re­mem­ber think­ing about the other side of the cur­tain. I knew in my deep soul I would be on the other side of that cur­tain one day. Why? I don’t know.”

She’s pas­sion­ate about act­ing and movies: “It’s like liv­ing in a house where you haven’t searched in ev­ery room,” she says. “So you open doors and find some­thing you didn’t know were there. It is a joy.”

And yet, fol­low­ing her pas­sion, hasn’t al­ways been easy. She was 30 be­fore a French mini-se­ries set dur­ing the first World War made her a house­hold name in France and in­spired Truf­faut to give her a call: it was a part­ner­ship that would change her life, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally.

“He loved cin­ema. He loved be­ing a di­rec­tor,” she re­calls. “He wel­comed ev­ery­one on set. Ev­ery­body was im­por­tant to him. Ev­ery day was a priv­i­lege.”

She went on to work with Euro­pean cin­ema’s heavy­weight au­teurs: An­to­nioni, Zef­firelli, Res­nais. More re­cently, she has in­spired a younger gen­er­a­tion of di­rec­tors: Paolo Sor­rentino cast her in Il Divo and The Great Beauty, and she took her place among France’s most recog­nis­able screen sirens in François Ozon’s 8 Women.

Ar­dant has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a muse, the kind of fab­u­lous, mys­te­ri­ous beauty who pops up in Mika videos or, as her­self, in The Great Beauty. And yet she in­sists that there are no dif­fer­ences be­tween male and fe­male di­rec­tors. She ought to know: she has di­rected two fea­tures, Ca­dences ob­stinées and Ashes & Blood. And she has lately starred in Anne Fon­taine’s Nathalie and Mar­ion Vernoux’s in­com­ing Bright Days Ahead.

“Can you tell that a Kathryn Bigelow film is made by a woman?” she asks. “I make French films and Ital­ian films. I make films with men and women. Cin­ema is made by hu­man be­ings. And hu­man be­ings are more than one thing. Ger­ard Depar­dieu has a very fem­i­nine side. Many women have mas­cu­line sides.”

In this spirit, Ar­dant loved Caro­line, her char­ac­ter in Bright Days Ahead, pre­cisely be­cause she is a con­tra­dic­tory soul: a smart women who is ca­pa­ble of be­hav­ing like a flib­ber­ti­gib­bet; a mar­ried, re­tired den­tist who is reck­lessly run­ning around with a thir­tysome­thing com­puter teacher.

“A con­tra­dic­tory char­ac­ter is one that is alive,” she cries. “Life is con­tra­dic­tory. If you are not con­tra­dic­tory it means you are stick­ing to one line or one ide­ol­ogy. If you love life, you love con­tra­dic­tions.”

Bright Days Ahead is play­ing ex­clu­sively at the QFT, Belfast, and is re­viewed on p18

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