01 April 2014

Marie-France Pisier

Refined beauty Marie-France Pisier (1944-2011) was a French actress, screenwriter, and director. She was discovered by François Truffaut and became his muse. She later also worked with such auteurs as Luis Buñuel, Jacques Rivette, Raúl Ruiz and André Techiné. Pisier twice earned the César Award for Best Supporting Actress. The international success of the comedy Cousin, Cousine (1977) brought her to Hollywood, where she had a short and unhappy detour.

Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Truffaut and the Nouvelle Vague

Marie-France Pisier was born in Dalat, French Indochina, where her father was serving as colonial governor. Her younger brother, Gilles Pisier, is a mathematician and a member of the French Academy of Sciences. Her sister, Evelyne, was the first wife of Bernard Kouchner, a French politician and the co-founder of Doctors Without Borders.

The family moved to Paris when Marie-France was twelve years old. As a teenager, she began acting with an amateur theatre troupe.

At 17, she made her screen acting debut as Colette in the short film Antoine et Colette/Antoine and Colette (François Truffaut, 1962) with Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Donel. It was the second film in which Truffaut follows the Antoine Donel character from boyhood to adulthood.

Antoine et Colette was made for the international omnibus film, L'amour à vingt ans/Love at Twenty (1962), which also featured shorts from Shintarô Ishihara, Marcel Ophüls, Renzo Rossellini and Andrzej Wajda.

Pisier had a brief but incendiary romance with the older, married Truffaut. Despite its end, she later appeared twice more as Colette in Truffaut's Baiser volés/Stolen Kisses (François Truffaut, 1968) and L'Amour en fuite/Love on the Run (François Truffaut, 1979).

L'Amour en fuite was the fifth and final film in the semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, and Pisier was credited as a co-writer of the screenplay. In the film, her character, now a successful lawyer, handles Antoine with the same dismissive ease as she did in their youth.

After breaking into film with Truffaut, she went on to work with other Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) directors. She starred with Jean-Louis Trintignant in the meta-thriller Trans-Europ-Express (1967), written and directed by the novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet.

In the meanwhile, Marie-France attended Paris University, eventually attaining degrees in law and political science.

Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Unforgettable, Fascinating, Luminous, Haunting, Mesmerizing and, yes, Confusing

During the 1960s and 1970s, Marie-France Pisier appeared in several mediocre genre films, including thrillers directed by the actor Robert Hossein.

Then, her career took a more interesting turn. She collaborated on the screenplay to Céline et Julie vont en bâteau/Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974). She also played a significant supporting role as the mysterious governess Sophie in the film.

Craig Butler at AllMovie: “Celine and Julie Go Boating is one of those truly rare films that deserves to be called ‘unique.’ It also deserves a plethora of other adjectives: unforgettable, fascinating, luminous, haunting, mesmerizing -- and, yes, confusing.”

Later in the same year she had a role in Luis Buñuel’s Le Fantôme de la liberté/Phantom of Liberty (1974). She is among the elegant guests seated on individual lavatories around a table from which they excuse themselves to go and eat in a little room behind a locked door.

In 1975, Pisier gained widespread public recognition when she appeared in the popular comedy Cousin Cousine (Jean-Charles Tacchella, 1975) with Marie-Christine Barrault and Victor Lanoux. Her role as the high-strung, monumentally self-involved Karine earned her a César Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Her subsequent feature films included three with director André Téchiné, starting with Souvenirs en France/French Provincial (André Téchiné, 1975) with Jeanne Moreau. For Barocco (André Téchiné, 1976), Pisier won a second César for her performance as a prostitute with a baby in tow, alongside Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu.

In Les Sœurs Brontë/The Bronte Sisters (André Téchiné, 1979), she portrayed Charlotte Brontë opposite Isabelle Adjani as Emily and Isabelle Huppert as Anne.

Pisier attempted to crack the American film industry with The Other Side of Midnight (Charles Jarrott, 1977), a cinematic soap opera based on the Sidney Sheldon novel.

She appeared on American television in the miniseries The French Atlantic Affair (Douglas Heyes, 1979), and Scruples (Alan J. Levi, 1980).

She made two more Hollywood films, French Postcards (Willard Huyck, 1979) with Debra Winger, and Chanel Solitaire (George Kaczender, 1981) in which she portrayed the designer Coco Chanel with her usual elegance opposite Timothy Dalton and Rutger Hauer.

Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for Les soeurs Brontë/The Bronte Sisters (André Téchniné, 1979) with Marie-France Pisier as Charlotte Bronte, Isabelle Huppert as Anne Bronte, and Isabelle Adjani as Emily Brontë.

Outspoken Defender Of Women's Rights And Legal Abortion

Returning to France, Marie-France Pisier co-starred with Jean-Paul Belmondo in the action-comedy L'as des as/The Ace of Aces (Gérard Oury, 1982).

She also appeared in the Thomas Mann adaptation Der Zauberberg/The Magic Mountain (Hans W. Geissendörfer, 1982), and co-starred with Gérard Lanvin and Michel Piccoli in the Science Fiction film Le Prix du Danger/The price of the Danger (Yves Boisset, 1983).

An interesting experiment was Parking (Jacques Demy, 1985) starring Francis Huster, Laurent Malet, and Jean Marais. It transposed the Orpheus myth to the 20th century, and it paid tribute to Jean Cocteau's film Orphée (1950).

Also remarkable was the drama L'Œuvre au noir/The Abyss (André Delvaux, 1988), based on the novel of the same name by Marguerite Yourcenar.

Pisier made her directorial debut with Le Bal du gouverneur/The Governor's Party (1990) starring Kristin Scott Thomas, which she adapted from her own best-selling novel, based on her childhood experiences in New Caledonia.

She also played Madame Verdurin in the Marcel Proust adaptation Le Temps retrouvé/Time Regained (Raúl Ruiz, 1999), and the mother of Louis Garrel and Romain Duris in the chamber drama Dans Paris/Inside Paris (Christophe Honoré, 2006).

Her last film was the comedy Il Reste du Jambon?/Is There Any Ham Left? (Anne Depétrini, 2010).

Pisier was an outspoken defender of women's rights and legal abortion. She overcame breast cancer in the 1990s.

Pisier's first marriage to Georges Kiejman (1973-1979) ended in divorce. Later she married Thierry Funck-Brentano. The couple had a son, Mathieu, and a daughter, Iris.

The 66-year-old actress died in 2011 at her home in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer in the South of France. She was found dead in her swimming pool by Funck-Brentano and is believed to have drowned.

Trailer L'Amour en fuite/Love on the Run (1979). Source: The Cine Lady (YouTube).

Trailer Les Sœurs Brontë/The Bronte Sisters (1979). Source: Heroxmasox (YouTube).

Sources: William Grimes (The New York Times), Ronald Bergan (The Guardian), Craig Butler (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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