24 March 2017

Macha Méril

In the early 1960s, French actress and writer Macha Méril (1940) was one of the actresses of the Nouvelle Vague. During her career, she appeared in 125 films by such famous directors as Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Bunuel, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Dario Argento.

Macha Méril
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 88. Photo: Lucienne Chevert.

Macha Méril
French playing card. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Macha Méril
French postcard by St. Anne, Marseille. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Russian Princess

Macha Méril (sometimes written as Méryl) was born Princess Maria-Magdalena Vladimirovna Gagarina in 1940 in Rabat, Morocco. By her father, she is descended from the Russian princely house Gagarin and by her mother from a Ukrainian noble family. Her parents were Mary Belsky and Prince Belsky Wladimir Gagarin who were cousins and were found in the south of France after fleeing the Bolshevik Russia, separately.

She attended Lycce Marie Curie de Sceaux school, then started a degree in literature at the Sorbonne while attending the Course Dullin theatre NPT (Theatre National Populaire). From 1959 on, Macha Méril appeared in more than 125 films. She began her film career with a role in La Main chaude (1959), the directing debut of Gérard Oury. I

In the 1960s she also worked as a model. Between 1960 and 1962, she attended the course of Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio as an observer while working as a model in for Harper's Bazaar in New York. After a few guest parts in American TV series, she returned to France.

Her first French films were often examples of the Nouvelle Vague, like Eric Rohmer’s Le signe du lion/Sign of the Lion (1962). She also appeared in the double film La vie conjugale/Anatomy of a Marriage (André Cayatte, 1963), the story of a couple from the very first meeting to break up, told in one film from the perspective of the woman (Marie-José Nat) and in the other from the man (Jacques Charrier).

In Jean-Luc Godard’s Une femme mariée/A Married Woman (1964) she plays a bored housewife who has an affair. Godard records 24 hours in the life of Charlotte (Meril), the eponymous married woman, a morning and the morning after with her lover, actor Robert (Bernard Rose), the evening spent with Pierre, her pilot husband (Philippe Leroy).

Another highlight was the classic Belle de jour (Luis Bunuel, 1967), featuring Catherine Deneuve. She then formed her own production company called Machafilm which co-produced the romantic drama Au pan coupé/Wall Engravings (Guy Gilles, 1968), Pier Paolo Pasolini's Porcile (1969) and Robert Bresson’s Quatre nuits d'un rêveur/Four Nights a Dreamer (1971).

Macha Méril
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Macha Méril
Collection: Bunched Undies.

Macha Méril
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 180.

Italian Horror Thrillers

In 1969, Macha Méril married Italian filmmaker and producer Gian Vittorio Baldi, and the couple settled in Rome. She kept appearing in interesting films, such as in the French film Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble/Break-Up (Maurice Pialat, 1972) with Marlène Jobert and Jean Yanne.

She also often performed on TV. But Macha Méril is perhaps best known for her roles in the Giallos (Italian horror thrillers) Profondo rosso/Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) starring David Hemmings, and L'ultimo treno della notte/Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1975), in which she played a demented nymphomaniac.

With her friend Anna Karina, she appeared in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Chinesisches Roulette/Chinese Roulette (1976). Back in France she appeared in the excellent thriller Mortelle randonnée (Claude Miller, 1983) starring Michel Serrault and Isabelle Adjani.

One of her best films is Agnes Varda’s dark but mesmerizing drama Sans toit ni loi/Vagabond (1985) with Sandrine Bonnaire as a free-spirited drifter on the road in southern France. Her later films include the drama Duet for One (Andrey Konchalovskiy, 1986) with Julie Andrews, the Italian drama Una storia semplice/A Simple Story (Emidio Greco 1991) starring Gian Maria Volonté, and the satire Meeting Venus (Istvan Szabo, 1991) with Meryl Streep.

Macha Méril has also written a series of cookbooks and four novels. She is politically active and has supported the presidential campaigns of Lionel Jospin in 2002, Ségolène Royal in 2007 and François Hollande in 2012. Between 1969 and 1978, she was married to Italian director and producer Gian Vittorio Baldi.

Since 2014, she is married to composer Michel Legrand. She has been given the Officier des Arts et des Lettres, Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite, Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and Chevalier du Mérite Agricole. Her latest film is Un profil pour deux (Stéphane Robelin, 2017) with Pierre Richard.

Trailer Une femme mariée/A Married Woman (1964). Source: precija (YouTube).

Trailer Profondo rosso/Deep Red (1975). Source: Blade in the Dark (YouTube).

Trailer L'ultimo treno della notte/Night Train Murders (1975). Source: BlueUndergroundinc (YouTube).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.

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