Nationality: French. Born: Clermont-Ferrand (some sources say Gannat), 31 May 1967. Family: Daughter with actor William Hurt. Awards: César Award for Most Promising Young Actress, for À nos amours, 1984; César Award for Best Actress, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actress Award, for Sans toit ni loi, 1986; Volpi Cup (with Isabelle Huppert) for Best Actress, Venice Film Festival, for La Cérémonie, 1995. Address: c/o CINEART, 36 rue de Ponthieu, 75008, Paris, France.
Films as Actress:
Le tout cinéma (Courant)
La Boum 2 (Pinoteau)
À nos amours (To Our Loves) (Pialat) (as Suzanne)
Tir à vue (Fire on Sight) (Angelo) (as Marilyn); Blanche et Marie (Renard) (as Marie)
Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) (Varda) (as Mona Bergeron); Le meilleur de la vie (Victor)
Police (Pialat) (as Lydie); Sous le soleil de Satan (Under Satan's Sun; Under the Sun of Satan) (Pialat) (as Mouchette); La puritaine (The Prude) (Doillon) (as Manon)
Les innocents (Téchiné) (as Jeanne); Jaune revolver (Langlois)
Quelques jours avec moi (A Few Days with Me) (Sautet) (as Francine); Peaux de vaches (Thick Skinned) (Mazuy) (as Annie)
La captive du désert (Captive of the Desert; Prisoner of the Desert) (Depardon); Monsieur Hire (Leconte) (as Alice)
Dans la soirée (Verso sera and Towards Evening) (Archibugi) (as Stella)
Le ciel de Paris (The Sky Above Paris) (Béna) (as Suzanne)
Prague (Sellar) (as Elena); La peste (The Plague) (Puenzo) (as Martine Rambert)
Jeanne la pucelle (in two parts: Les Batailles and Les Prisons) (Rivette) (as Jeanne d'Arc)
Confidences à un inconnu (Secrets Shared with a Stranger) (Bardawil) (as Natalia); La Cérémonie (Chabrol) (as Sophie)
Never Ever (The Circle of Passion) (Finch) (as Katherine Beaufort)
Secret défense (Rivette) (as Sylvie); Voleur de vie (Stolen Life) (Angelo) (as Olga); Une femme en blanc (mini—for TV) (as Margaux Dampierre); La Lettre (—for TV)
John Felton (Thomasson); Est-Ouest (East-West) (Wargnier) (as Marie); Au coeur du mensonge (The Color of Lies) (Chabrol) (as Vivianne Sterne)
By BONNAIRE: articles—
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 378, December 1985.
Interview in Cinéma 85/86 (Paris), no. 332, 4 December 1985.
Interveiw in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 390, December 1986.
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 407–408, May 1988.
"Photos de familles," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 419–420, May 1989.
Interview in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 479, February 1992.
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 476, February 1994.
Johnston, Trevor, "Upping the Stakes," interview in Time Out (London), no. 1305, 23 August 1995.
Interview in Télérama (Paris), no. 2381, 30 August 1995.
On BONNAIRE: articles—
Roth-Bettoni, D., "Sandrine Bonnaire: Un sourire de lumière," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 451, July-August 1989.
Jousse, T., "Otage et nomades," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 429, March 1990.
Parra, D., "L'état de grâce," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 459, April 1990.
Sheehan, Henry, "À Nos Amours," and John Powers, "Under Satan's Sun," in Foreign Affairs, edited by Kathy Schulz Huffhines, San Francisco, 1991.
Elia, M., "Sandrine Bonnaire: La séduction par le simple regard," in Séquences (Montreal), no. 156, January 1992.
Kieppe, M., "Die geniale Dilettantin," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 46, no. 18, 31 August 1993.
Rouchy, Marie-Élisabeth, and Fabienne Pascaud, "Jeanne d'Arc et un peu tête à claques" (special section), in Télérama (Paris), no. 2300, 9 February 1994.
Maslin, Janet, "La Cérémonie," in New York Times, 20 December 1996.
Brown, Royal S., "Disc and Tape Reviews: Cleo From 5 to 7 and Vagabond," in Cineaste (New York), December 1998.
* * *
In that way that French actresses seem to rise fully formed out of a mysterious wellspring—from the young Deneuve and Bardot, to the Isabelles Huppert and Adjani—a performer already in command of considerable powers emerged from Maurice Pialat's 1983 film À Nos Amours. Sandrine Bonnaire was just fifteen years old when she made À Nos Amours, yet her presence in the film shows an immediate understanding of acting for the camera: she withholds the obvious from the audience, she watches the other actors, she listens and waits. Her physical presence, too, was intriguing, a hard-edged, almost mannish face topping a voluptuous body. "Everything was there," observed critic David Thomson, "without coyness or boasting. From shot to shot, nearly, she seemed to be shifting in mood and age. Here was a phenomenon of acting."
She won a César as best newcomer for the role, but more importantly she won entry into the company of France's top auteurs—and she has since stuck to the path of film-as-art rather than indulging in more commercial European fare. She made two more films with Pialat, more than holding her own in a supporting role opposite Gerard Dépardieu in the rough crime film Police (1984); the female lead went to another teenage icon, Sophie Marceau, who had starred in La Boum 2 (1982), a smash hit that gave Bonnaire one of her first small roles. Bonnaire also sifted through the miasma of Pialat's controversial Cannes winner Under Satan's Sun (1987). Teamed again with Dépardieu, she played a temptress to his tortured country priest—two intensely committed performances made rather difficult to appreciate through the philosophical (and visual) murk.
But her most extraordinary performance while still a teenager came in Agnes Varda's Vagabond (1985), one of the best French films of the decade. Her character, a flinty, unreadable drifter, is discovered dead, in a frozen ditch, as the film opens. What follows is an episodic, cool-minded account of how she got there, from narrator Varda's opening speculation that "It seems to me she came from the sea" through a series of heartbreakingly mundane encounters. Bonnaire gives one of the least sentimental performances ever delivered by an actress, refusing to soften or explain her character's decision to exist, as the original French title has it, "without roof or law." She won the César award for best actress.
Her extraordinary early run was not yet finished. In 1989 she was the object of Michel Blanc's gaze in Monsieur Hire, Patrice Leconte's superb adaptation of a Georges Simenon story. Blanc plays a pasty Peeping Tom who watches the beautiful woman in the window across from him; Bonnaire does an uncanny job of maintaining the woman's mystery, even after she has become a flesh-and-blood presence in the voyeur's life. The film's immaculately cold style suited Bonnaire, and indeed the actress has a coolness that permeates her varied roles. This may be one of the reasons she has had only limited success as a popular star outside Europe.
One fling at international co-production was the unfortunate The Plague (1991), directed by Luis Puenzo. A garbled adaptation of the Camus novel, set in South America, the film received only limited distribution. It did introduce Bonnaire to her domestic partner, co-star William Hurt, with whom she has a daughter, Jeanne.
Another Jeanne was on the horizon, this time the maid of Orleans, courtesy of director Jacques Rivette. Bonnaire was cast as Joan of Arc, the 15th century virgin-general-saint, in the lengthy two-part film Jeanne la Pucelle (1991). The always-inventive Rivette might have had Vagabond in mind, for this is another perfect joining of Bonnaire's intelligent yet distant style with an enigmatic character. Leaner in appearance now, with her sculpted cheekbones jutting out of her determined face, Bonnaire gave the part not wild-eyed fervor (as Luc Besson and Milla Jovovich would later in the decade) but a confident calm. And in Rivette's telling, which allows for comic asides that deflate the usual pomposity of historical epics, Bonnaire can let Joan giggle girlishly at herself, seeing her blond hair cut away into a boyish bob.
Jeanne la Pucelle was not widely distributed outside France, but Bonnaire found international audiences again with Claude Chabrol's chilling La Cérémonie (1995). Cast as an illiterate housemaid in a stuffy upper-class home in Brittany, Bonnaire brought her focused sangfroid to another study of dangerous anomie. Janet Maslin revealed, "Chabrol suggested she think of her character as a vegetable. She chose to imagine herself as a stiff and featureless leek." Bonnaire shared the Venice festival best actress award with co-star Isabelle Huppert, who played a trouble-making hot pepper to Bonnaire's slow leek.
In 1999, Bonnaire took the lead role in a film designed for a much broader audience than her usual fare, Régis Wargnier's Oscar nominee East-West. As a French mother who voluntarily travels to the Soviet Union with her Russian husband in 1946, Bonnaire is able to suffer nobly when the Soviet bear closes its jaws on her unsuspecting family. The casting is curious, since the film is broad and sentimental, while Bonnaire never takes easy emotional short-cuts; yet there is never a doubt that the actress, as in the remainder of her vaguely unsettling career, has her fingers firmly on the nape of her character's neck.