Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 27 June 1955. Education: Attended Courbevoie public school. Family: Son, Barnabe, with film director Bruno Nuytten; son with actor Daniel Day Lewis. Career: 1969—debut in first film, Le Petit Bougnat, during school holiday; 1970—stage debut in Lorca's The House of Bernada Alba at Reims; 1973—became member of Comédie Française, Paris. Awards: Prix Suzanne Bianchetti, 1974; Best Actress, New York Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics Best Actress Award, and National Board of Review Best Actress Award, for The Story of Adèle H., 1975; Best Actress, Cannes Festival, for Possession and Quartet, 1981; César Awards for Best Actress, for Possession, 1981, L'Été meutrier, 1983, Camille Claudel, 1989, and La Reine Margot, 1995; Silver Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, for Camille Claudel, 1989. Agent: c/o Artmedia, 10 av. George V, F-75008 Paris, France.
Films as Actress:
Le Petit Bougnat (Michel) (as Rose)
Faustine et le bel été (Faustine and the Beautiful Summer) (Companeez) (as Camille); L'Ecole des femmes (Rouleau—for TV) (as Agnes)
La Gifle (The Slap) (Pinoteau) (as Isabelle Doulean)
L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (The Story of Adèle H.) (Truffaut) (title role)
Le Locataire (The Tenant) (Polanski) (as Stella); Barocco (Téchiné) (as Laure)
Violette et François (Rouffio) (as Violette)
The Driver (Walter Hill) (as the Player)
Nosferatu—Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu—The Vampire) (Herzog) (as Lucy Harker); Les Soeurs Brontë (The Brontë Sisters) (Téchiné) (as Emily)
Clara et les chics types (Clara and the Nice Guys) (Monnet) (as Clara)
Quartet (Ivory) (as Marya Zelli); Possession (Zulawski) (as Anna/Helen); L'Année prochaine si tout va bien (Next Year If All Goes Well) (Hubert) (as Isabelle)
Antonieta (Saura) (title role); Tout feu tout flamme (All Fired Up) (Rappeneau) (as Pauline Valance)
L'Été meurtrier (One Deadly Summer) (Jean Becker) (as Eliane/Elle); Mortelle randonnée (Deadly Circuit) (Claude Miller) (as Catherine Leiris/Lucie "Marie")
Subway (Besson) (as Helena)
Ishtar (Elaine May) (as Shirra Assel)
Camille Claudel (Nuytten) (title role, + co-pr)
Favorita Del Re (Corti); Fleur de Rubis (Mocky); Lung Ta: Les cavaliers du vent (De Poncheville) (as narrator)
Toxic Affair (Esposito) (as Penelope)
La Reine Margot (Queen Margot) (Chéreau) (title role)
Diabolique (Chechik) (as Mia)
Paparazzi (Berberian) (as herself)
By ADJANI: articles—
Interview with Guy Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), November 1975.
Interview in Interview (New York), March 1976.
Interview with D. Maillet, in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1977.
"Une image filante," interview with André Philippon, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1983.
Interview with D. Maillet, in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1984.
Interview with Claire Devarrieux, in Les Acteurs au travail, Rennes, France, 1986.
Interview in Première (Paris), December 1988.
"The Story of Isabelle A," interview with Marilyn Goldin, in Interview (New York), January 1990.
"Isabelle époque," interview with Geoff Andrew in Time Out, 11 January 1995.
Interview with Holly Milea, in Premiere (New York), March 1996.
On ADJANI: book—
Roques-Briscard, Christian, Le Passion d'Adjani, Paris, 1987.
On ADJANI: articles—
Truffaut, François, "Non conosco Isabelle Adjani," in Filmcritica (Rome), January/February 1976.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 22 April 1981 and 3 November 1983.
Séquences (Montreal), January 1984.
Toubiana, Serge, "Chére Isabelle Adjani," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1988.
Current Biography 1990, New York, 1990.
Rosen, Miriam, "Isabelle Adjani: The Actress as Political Activist," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 17, no. 4, 1990.
Bishop, Kathy, "Isabelle Stops at Nothing," in American Film (Hollywood), January 1990.
Collins, G., "The 'Hounding' of Isabelle Adjani," in New York Times, 6 January 1990.
Simmons, Judy, "Isabelle Adjani's Passion for Camille Claudel," in Ms. Magazine (New York), July/August 1990.
Roth-Bettoni, Didier, and others, "La reine Margot: la mort en son jardin," in Mensuel du Cinéma (Nice), no. 17, May 1994.
Gendron, Sylvie: "Adjani. La reine Isabellep" in Séquences (Montreal), July/August 1994.
Landrot, Marine, "L'histoire d'Isabelle Adjani," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2357, 15 March 1995.
* * *
In France, Isabelle Adjani has become an emblematic figure—admired, scrutinised, sometimes reviled, the recipient of Best Actress awards and of political abuse. But she's never achieved stardom outside France, thanks to the mostly forgettable films in which she's appeared. Of her twenty-odd movies to date, few have anything going for them beyond her performance—and some, not even that.
This is surprising, since Adjani is an intelligent and dedicated actress who chooses her roles with care and works on them with single-minded application. Truffaut, who gave her her first significant screen part in L'Histoire d'Adèle H, observed that "she acts as though her life depended on it." Intensity, the fierce wounded stare of a woman at once independent and painfully vulnerable, is the essence of her screen persona—and, on all the evidence, of Adjani herself. "One acts nothing but oneself," she concedes, "no matter how fiercely one denies it."
Adjani looks back wistfully on her work with Truffaut. "I don't think things can happen so beautifully, so smoothly and with such purity again." Even so, the film set the pattern for her career in more ways than one. Casting Adjani as Victor Hugo's daughter Adèle, who pursued an unrequited love beyond the brink of madness, foreshadowed her frequent later roles as solitary obsessives, alienated and victimised by a punitive society. But it also marked the start of her edgy, love-hate relationship with the French public. Joining the Comédie-Française at 17 to star in Molière and Giraudoux, she became the youngest player ever to be granted contract status. When, three years later, the company refused her leave of absence to work with Truffaut, she walked out, causing vociferous outrage.
In some ways, Adjani's exceptional beauty has worked against her. Small and delicate, with large, deep-blue eyes set in an oval face, she has sometimes been reduced to merely decorative roles—the errant socialite of Luc Besson's modish Subway, or The Player in Walter Hill's Melvillesque thriller The Driver. (Hill, she claims, "hated my scenes with Ryan O'Neal and cut most of them out.") In Le Locataire Polanski, with characteristic perversity, tried to neutralise her beauty with thick glasses and a shaggy wig, but only succeeded in smothering her personality.
Adjani's fragile looks suit her for roles as emotionally or physically exploited women—although neither James Ivory's Quartet, nor Herzog's brittle remake of Murnau, Nosferatu-Phantom her Nacht, offered her scope for much beyond passive suffering. More interesting are the films that explore the darker potential of her wide-eyed gaze, such as Claude Miller's Mortelle randonnée, where her serial killer, ruthless beneath an appealing facade, captivates even the detective sent to track her down.
This ambiguous combination of tenacity, even toughness, behind an air of childlike vulnerability underlies much of Adjani's best work. She has never lacked courage, professional or personal, and in a 1986 interview, disgusted by the rise of Le Pen's racist National Front, proclaimed her own non-French origins. (She was born in Bavaria to a German mother and an Algerian father.) Public reaction was swift and malicious: a rumour swept the country that she was dying of AIDS. Even her appearance on television, alive and in furious health, failed to still the whispers completely.
This ordeal fed powerfully into her playing of Camille Claudel. The film was a cherished personal project: Adjani herself raised the finances, acquired the rights, talked Depardieu into playing Rodin, and persuaded her long-term associate, the cinematographer Bruno Nuytten, to turn first-time director. Adjani closely identified with the brilliant sculptress, destroyed by her affair with the egocentric Rodin and incarcerated in an asylum for her last thirty years. The urgency and fervour of her performance burst through Nuytten's careful direction, and gained her an Oscar nomination. But in La reine Margot, a blood-soaked costume drama adapted from a Dumas novel, she was swamped by the rampant melodrama and by a grandstanding performance from Virna Lisi as her mother, the scheming Catherine de Medici.
So far, all Adjani's attempts to launch an international career have misfired: besides The Driver there's been Elaine May's megabuck comedy disaster Ishtar, and Diabolique, a botched shot at updating Clouzot's classic chiller. In France she seems trapped by her persona, by a public regard at once too indulgent and too censorious. Highly regarded by her colleagues—John Malkovich describes her as "a great actress . . . one of those people who really work from a deep sense of woundedness"—Isabelle Adjani has rarely found the scripts, or the directors, to stretch her abilities to the full. Since Diabolique, and the media feeding frenzy over her break-up with Daniel Day-Lewis, she has been involved in just one film, Passionnément, and may be preparing to retire into Garbo-like reclusiveness.