06 December 2012

Isabelle Pia

Delicate French film actress Isabelle Pia (1935 – 2008) had a short career in the French cinema of the mid-1950’s. After a promising start with seven films in 30 months, she refused a MGM contract and mysteriously retired.

Isabelle Pia
French postcard by Editions du Globe (E.D.U.G.), no. 413. Photo: Sam Lévin.

A Sensation On And Off The Set
Isabelle Pia was accidentally born in Mulhouse in the Alsace when her Parisian mother was visiting her Alsacian family in 1935. Her birth name was Genevieve Marie Madeleine Boussageon and during her youth, the girl developed a passion for Bach and Mozart. She studied the piano for eleven years, but she had to give up her studies because of a handicap. She then chose for drama, because Genevieve intensely felt the need to express herself. She attended acting classes by Tania Balachova who was under the spell of her young pupil. Olga Horstig, one of the most important and famous agents in Paris, then contracted her and Genevieve adopted the stage name Isabelle Pia. She played under the direction of Claude Autant Lara as the daughter of Henri Vilbert, the brave and understanding daddy of Le Bon Dieu sans confession/Good Lord Without Confession (1953). Her career had started and soon Isabelle was a sensation on and off the set.

Isabelle Pia
German postcard by Rüdel Verlag, Hamburg Bergedorf, no. 1247. Photo: Royal / Alltram, Frankfurt / M-Filmsonor / Regina, Paris / Schwennicke. Publicity still for Marianne, meine Jugendliebe/Marianne (1955, Julien Duvivier).

A Strangely Compelling Film
Isabelle Pia appeared in both plays and films. The brunette was given the blonde look of stars like Madeleine Ozeray and Madeleine Sologne. She thus appeared as future queen Marie Antoinette opposite Martine Carol in Madame Du Barry (1954, Christian-Jaque). She then appeared in the adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play Huis clos/No Exit (1954, Jacqueline Audry). One of her best roles was in the melancholic Marianne de ma jeunesse/Marianne (1955, Julien Duvivier), with Marianne Hold. James Travers at Films de France: “Marianne de ma jeunesse is an unusual departure for Julien Duvivier, yet it is easily one of his finest, most evocative films, showing a rare glimpse of his more human side. In contrast to the director’s more familiar dark psychological dramas and cynical thrillers, this is a romantic fable, having a charm, tenderness and visual style that is more recognisably Cocteau than Duvivier. The director eschews his trademark noir approach for something more in the classical romantic tradition, with ethereal Arcadian landscapes and Gothic sets that look like something from an Edgar Allen Poe story. It is a strangely compelling film, one that exudes poetry – a simple yet very effective kind of poetry which is poignant and soul-stirring, like a thoughtful elegiac poem for an unattainable love.”

Isabelle Pia
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. T 614. Photo: Pallas-Film. Publicity still for Futures vedettes/School For Love (1955, Marc Allégret).

Tragedy And Rumors
Isabelle Pia then worked together with other aspiring actresses like Brigitte Bardot and Mylène Démongeot in Futures vedettes/School For Love (1955, Marc Allégret). Her final film was Impasse des vertus/Love at Night (1955, Pierre Méré) with Christian Marquand. After seven films and three plays, she was invited by MGM to come to Hollywood. But tragedy struck. In Paris she had lived in the same apartment with her close friend, the young actress Nicole Ladmiral. When Nicole threw herself under a subway train at the Daumesnil station, Isabelle was shattered by the drama. She made the trip to the US, but after a few weeks of hesitation she decided not to sign the MGM contract. She went back to Paris but did not return to the theater nor the cinema. The young actress disappeared into oblivion. There were rumors that she had entered a convent, but these were false. Isabelle Pia died in Paris in 2008, three days before her 77th birthday.

Scene from Marianne, meine Jugendliebe/Marianne (1955, Julien Duvivier). Source: Fallsky1966 (YouTube).

American trailer for Futures vedettes/School For Love (1955, Marc Allégret). Source: kseniapbsbb (YouTube).

Sources: Yvan Foucart (Les gens du cinema) (French), James Travers (Films de France), La Saga des etoiles vilantes (French), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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