Anouk Aimée’s Subtle Seductiveness in ‘A Man and a Woman’ and ‘La Dolce Vita’

The French star created characters who could be fantasies or enigmas, but they always intrigued, even when she was miscast in Hollywood.

These days it’s dicey to refer to a female performer as “a thinking man’s sex symbol,” but back in the ’60s and ’70s, when such phrases were dispensed profligately, the French actress Anouk Aimée, who died on Tuesday in Paris at 92, fit the category most beautifully. A willowy brunette with high sculpted cheekbones and penetrating eyes that seemed capable of looking right through you, she was a screen goddess who wielded a thoughtfulness that held the world at arm’s length, or farther.

“I didn’t want to be an actress, I wanted to be a dancer,” an effusive Aimée, then 80 and looking back on a career that began when she was a teen, told the interviewer Charlie Rose in 2012. Born in 1932, she studied both dance and theater in England during World War II, and by the time she met the Italian director Federico Fellini in the late 1950s, she had worked with old-school French cinema luminaries like Alexandre Astruc and Julien Duvivier. At that stage in her life, she was more reconciled to acting than in love with it. It was Fellini, she told Rose, whose attitude made her understand that one could be serious in one’s work while still enjoying life.

The two characters she created for him were not infused with joie du vivre, however. In “La Dolce Vita” (1960, streaming on Plex), she plays the ennui-besieged socialite Maddalena, who makes a sexual plaything of her ostensible friend and confidante Marcello, the tabloid journalist played by Marcello Mastroianni and based on Fellini’s days as a magazine writer. Contemplating escaping Rome, she talks of buying an island; Marcello chides her: “Your problem is you have too much money.”

“And yours is you don’t have enough,” she replies flatly. Then she looks up and gives him a sly, closed-mouth smile. You can see why Marcello might swallow the insult.

Three years later, in “8½” (streaming on Max, Criterion and Kanopy), Fellini once again cast Mastroianni as his stand-in, this time in director mode. In the role of Guido, Mastroianni is vexed not just by a crisis of creativity but also by the galaxy of women in his life. Sandra Milo is the indolent seductress, Claudia Cardinale is Guido’s ideal voluptuous virgin, Barbara Steele is a mod muse. Aimée plays Guido’s estranged wife, Luisa, the good thing he can’t hang onto. And while her place in his life is such that she doesn’t even show up until an hour into the movie, she’s the most luminous star in his cosmos — even if Fellini often hides her light under the bushel of what seem to be a deliberately clunky pair of black-rimmed glasses.

Her performance in the title role of 1961’s “Lola” (Criterion), the first feature by the French master of fanciful and melancholy romance, Jacques Demy, is perhaps her most extroverted. As a cabaret chanteuse in a quayside bar, she smiles when she sees a familiar face in her first scene — an American sailor who’s more than happy to give her cigarettes and vino upon their reunion — and lights up the saloon. She later attracts the attention of a beleaguered young salaryman out of her past. She’s glad to see him, too, but as is so often the case with cabaret chanteuses in quayside bars, she awaits her true love, the father of her young boy. Lola is a relative free spirit with an open heart but a sense of limits; Aimée’s performance emphasizes the essential innocence, or maybe insignificance, of her flirtations. The character is a male fantasy in her work, a devoted mother in her home and ultimately maybe a mystery even to herself.

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Source: Movies -


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