Nationality: French. Born: Colette Suzanne Jeannine Dacheville in Versailles, 2 or 8 November 1932. Education: Attended Lycée Lamartine, Paris; studied drama with Tania Balachova and Michel Vitold. Family: Married 1) the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (divorced); 2) the director Claude Chabrol, 1964 (divorced), son: Thomas. Career: 1959—appeared in Chabrol's Les Cousins, beginning long personal and professional relationship; work for TV includes Orient-Express, for French TV, 1979, and Brideshead Revisited for BBC TV, 1981, mini-series Mistral's Daughter, 1984. Awards: Best Actress, Berlin Festival, for Les Biches, 1968; Best Actress, British Academy, for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Juste avant la nuit, 1973; César Award for Best Actress, for Violette Nozière, 1978; Best Actress Award (UK Critics Circle) and Robert Award (Danish Film Academy), for Babette's Feast, 1988. Address: 95 rue de Chézy, 92200 Neuilly, France.
Films as Actress:
Les Cousins (The Cousins) (Chabrol) (as Françoise); Le Signe de lion (Rohmer)
Les Bonnes Femmes (Chabrol) (as Ginette); Saint-Tropez Blues (Moussy)
Les Godelureaux (Chabrol)
L'Oeil du malin (The Third Lover) (Chabrol) (as Hélène Hartmann)
Landru (Bluebeard) (Chabrol) (as Fernande Segret)
Le Tigre aime la chair fraîche (The Tiger Loves Fresh Blood) (Chabrol); Les Durs à cuire (Pinoteau)
"La Muette" ep. of Paris vu par . . . (6 in Paris) (Chabrol) (as wife); Marie-Chantal contre le Docteur Kha (Chabrol)
La Ligne de démarcation (Line of Demarcation) (Chabrol)
Le Scandale (The Champagne Murders) (Chabrol) (as Jacqueline/Lydia)
Les Biches (The Does; The Girlfriends) (Chabrol) (as Frederique)
La Peau de torpédo (Delannoy); La Femme infidèle (Unfaithful Wife) (Chabrol) (as Hélène Desvallées)
La Dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil (The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun) (Litvak) (as Anita Caldwell); Le Boucher (The Butcher) (Chabrol) (as Hélène Marcoux); La Rupture (The Breakup) (Chabrol) (as Hélène)
Juste avant la nuit (Just before Nightfall) (Chabrol (as Helen); Sans mobile apparent (Without Apparent Motive) (Labro) (as Hélène Vallee); Aussi loin que l'amour (Rossif)
Un Meurtre est un meurtre (Périer); Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (Fuller); Le Charme discrèt de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) (Buñuel) (as Mme. Alice Sénéchal)
Les Noces rouges (Wedding in Blood) (Chabrol); Hay que matar a B. (B. Must Die) (Borau)
And Then There Were None (Ten Little Niggers; Ten Little Indians) (Collinson) (as Ilona); Comment reussir dans la vie quand on est con et pleurnichard (Audiard); Le Cri du coeur (Lallemand); Vincent, François, Paul, et les autres (Vincent, François, Paul, and the Others) (Sautet)
The Black Bird (Giler) (as Anna Kemidon); one ep. of Chi dice donna dice . . . donna (Cervi)
Folies bourgeoises (The Twist) (Chabrol) (as wife)
Mort d'un pourri (Lautner); Des Teufels Advokat (The Devil's Advocate) (Green)
Silver Bears (Passer) (as Shireen Firdausi); Les Liens du sang (Blood Relatives) (Chabrol) (as Mother); Violette Nozière (Violette) (Chabrol) (as Germaine Nozière); Eagle's Wing (Harvey) (as the widow)
Le Gagnant (Gion); Le Soleil en face (Kast)
The Big Red One (Fuller) (as Walloon)
Boulevard des assassins; Le Choc; Le paradis pour tous (Jessua); Coup de torchon (Clean Slate) (Tavernier) (as Hughuette) (Cordier)
Le Sang des autres (The Blood of Others) (Chabrol); The Bay Boy (Petrie) (as Blanche); The Sun Also Rises (for TV)
Poulet au vinaigre (Cop au Vin) (Chabrol) (as Mme. Cuno); La Cage aux Folles 3: The Wedding (Lautner) (as Matrimonia); La Scarlatine (Aghion) (as Minon Palazzi); Les Plouffe (Carle) (as Mme. Boucher); Night Magic (Furey) (as Janice)
L'Isola (Lizzani); La Gitane (De Broca) (as Brigitte); Suivez Mon Regard (Curtelin)
Babette's Gastebud (Babette's Feast) (Axel) (as Babette); Les Saisons du Plaisir (Mocky) (as Bernadette); Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (Jarrott—for TV) (as Pauline); Les Predateurs de la Nuit; Corps źà Corps (Halimi) (as Edna Chabert)
Manika, une vie plus tard (François Villiers) (as Ananda)
Sons (Rockwell); Champagne Charlie (Allan Eastman—for TV)
Jours tranquilles à Clichy (Quiet Days in Clichy) (Chabrol)
The Turn of the Screw (Lemorande) (as Mrs. Gross)
Betty (Chabrol) (as Laure)
Au petit Marguery (Benegui) (as Josephine)
Maximum Risk (Lam) (as Chantal)
Un printemps de chien (Tasma —for TV); Arlette (Zidi) (as Diane)
Madeline (von Scherler Mayer) (as Lady Covington)
Belle Maman (Aghion) (as Brigitte)
La Bicyclette bleue (for TV); Le Pique-nique de Lulu Kreutz (Martiny) (as Lulu Kreutz)
By AUDRAN: articles—
Interview with Guy Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), November 1972.
Interview in Ciné Revue (Paris), 29 September 1983.
On AUDRAN: books—
Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, and others, Reihe Film 5: Claude Chabrol, Munich, 1975.
Magny, Joel, Claude Chabrol, Paris, 1987.
On AUDRAN: articles—
"Chabrol Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), December 1973.
Walker, Michael, "Claude Chabrol into the '70s," in Movie (London), Spring 1975.
"I Fell in Love with Violette Nozière," interview with Claude Chabrol, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1979.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 26 August 1982, 1 March and 8 November 1984.
Film Dope (UK), March, 1988.
Chevassu, François & Parra, Danièle, "Le festin de Babette/Entretien avec Gabriel Axel/Entretien avec Stéphane Audran," Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April, 1988.
Daems, P., "De discrete charme van Stéphane Audran," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), February, 1989.
* * *
Stéphane Audran's career is intimately connected to the emerging New Wave in France as well as to the career of her husband, Claude Chabrol, who directed Audran in her most acclaimed performances. Her beauty is remarkable: the luminous eyes, the exquisitely high cheekbones, the long neck, the grace with which she moves—her hand cocked at a slight angle. What makes Audran different from Garbo or Dietrich (whom she in some ways evokes) is that one never feels that an Audran film has been constructed as a vehicle for her, but rather that her performance, though central, remains subservient to the film's overall conception. Audran has perfected her portrayal of the bourgeois French woman—elegant, aloof, reserved, and yet often compassionate—who becomes embroiled in a murderous conflict. Her major performances are all related; indeed, in at least five instances, the character Audran plays is named "Hélène," although each Hélène demonstrates a subtly different psychological makeup. Minor, early Audran performances in Chabrol's films include the salesgirl who yearns for success on the stage in Les Bonnes Femmes, the first incarnation as Hélène in the triangular tale of jealousy and murder, L'Oeil du malin, and a double role—as a mousy secretary and a femme fatale—in Le Scandale.
At least four later performances stand out as extraordinary. In La Femme infidèle Audran plays, with the most incredible subtlety and economy, an unfaithful wife: when her lover is killed by her husband in a moment of passion, Hélène lies flat on her bed and emits three tiny sobs. One remembers Audran's mysterious and wondrous expression of approval as she rediscovers her husband's passion; one remembers, too, the delicacy of her posture at the moment she burns the picture. Although La Femme infidèle takes the emotional conflict between husband and wife as its psychological subject, it is significant to note that not one word passes between them on the subject of their relationship or her infidelity: the conflict is all in the subtext, and Audran makes the subtext dominant through her considerable nuance and skill. In Le Boucher Audran plays a schoolteacher (again, Hélène) who sublimates her sexual desire into her work, but who nevertheless becomes involved with a homicidal maniac who falls in love with her. Here again, as in La Femme infidèle, Audran's performance seems so extraordinarily integrated into the fabric of the film that one can hardly tell where actress Audran leaves off and director Chabrol begins. Certain images of Audran in Le Boucher are difficult to forget: her elegant walk through town, sustained in a very long tracking shot; her yoga posture, formal and self-absorbing, as she attempts to shut out the world and her problems; her scene of breakdown and tears while eating cherries in her kitchen; and her ultimate isolation—serene and yet desolate—by film's end. In La Rupture, Audran's Hélène is this time of a somewhat lower class, but here absolutely virtuous: a strong and prepossessed woman who is unaware of the horrible plot being spun against her. Here one is drawn to the generosity and innocence of her portrayal. Again, certain scenes stand out: her heartrending monologue about her troubled past delivered on a streetcar in a scene recalling Murnau's Sunrise; her triumphant speech as it appears she will finally vanquish her enemies ("I am a woman, and I have all my strength!"); her regression to childhood and subsequent release in a drug-induced fantasy at film's climax. In Violette Nozière, Audran surprised many with her portrayal, drawn from a historical character, of a lower-class, almost slatternly mother who is poisoned by her daughter. Although her earlier Chabrol performances are arguably more significant, Audran's playing against type in a narrative that gave the leading role to the younger Isabelle Huppert, finally brought Audran the official acclaim of the French "Oscar," the César. And yet certainly, virtually all of Audran's leading performances for Chabrol have been extraordinary, even if they have been judged by some as too many variations on the same theme to be accorded great acclaim—including her upper-class lesbian in a bisexual love triangle in Les Biches; her adulterous, murderous wife in Les Noces rouges; and again her status-conscious Hélène in Juste avant la nuit.
At least two other directors have managed to use Audran as skillfully as Chabrol: Luis Buñuel in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Gabriel Axel in Babette's Feast. In Buñuel's film, Audran with great wit plays an archetypal bourgeoisie, mistress of the manor, totally and comically unflappable in her designer gowns as she oversees huge dinner parties, is visited by terrorists, climbs down garden ivy for a quickie with her husband, and listens politely to strangers who insist on telling her their violent dreams; as well, Buñuel's recurring cutaways to images of his rich protagonists, including Audran, walking down the road (of life?) to an unclear destination, are surprisingly moving. Babette's Feast represents an even more impressive personal achievement for Audran, not only because she was working outside the French industry, but because she plays a role far from the bourgeois, glacial persona which has become her trademark. Although Audran enters the film late, once she does, she totally dominates it with the understated warmth of her sincere, if discreet, working woman, a cook whose earthy meals ultimately reveal her to be the most luminous and sensuous artist. Audran deservedly received several acting awards, and the film reaped huge international box office virtually everywhere except for its native Denmark.
Nevertheless, true international fame has eluded Audran. By the time of Brideshead Revisited, Audran's English had improved enough to play Laurence Olivier's Italian mistress, but the role attracted little attention. Despite a variety of opportunities in English-language roles (in The Black Bird, The Silver Bears, and the television films Mistral's Daughter, The Sun Also Rises, and Poor Little Rich Girl), American stardom also has continued to elude Audran—in part because her demonstrated inability to speak English without a heavy, sometimes impenetrable accent renders many performances phonetic and rigid. Audran's charisma is subtle, certainly, and perhaps inherently French; and too, one must consider the failure of the French mystique to travel well to American culture—the number of French stars (Bardot, Deneuve, Moreau) who have failed spectacularly in the American market is numerous. More recently, Audran has been taking supporting roles—even in Chabrol's work—which, to her fans, must be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. That most of these supporting roles are in films that have had virtually no release outside of France makes it particularly difficult for an American commentator to generalize. But many of the performances that have been marginally available—for instance, her alcoholic, older woman in Chabrol's Betty—do not seem especially interesting or notable. It is clear that as Audran ages further and loses that particular confluence of beauty and charisma that marked the period of her greatest performances for Chabrol, her challenges will be to find other roles worthy of her talents and to find directors—like Axel—who will spur her to complex, rich, inventive work.