Emmanuelle Riva, 1927 - 2017
Riva, who worked with Resnais, Melville, Franju, Kieslowski and Haneke, was 89.
Samuel Wigley for the BFI: "She subsequently worked with other important French filmmakers of the time, including Jean-Pierre Melville, in the occupation drama Léon Morin, Priest (1961), and twice with Georges Franju, in the literary adaptation Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962) and the 1965 film Thomas the Impostor, based on a story by Jean Cocteau. After the 1960s, however, she worked less frequently as an actor, turning up only occasionally on screen in films such as Marco Bellochio’s The Eyes, the Mouth (1982) and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue (1993)."
Blue comes up in the conversation Xan Brooks had with Riva and her Amour co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant, in 2012. Brooks notes that "Riva played Juliette Binoche's mum in Blue and Trintignant starred as the judge in Red. 'That's right, we did,' says Trintignant, still twirling his stick. 'And actually there are a lot of similarities between Kieslowski and Haneke. In fact, I'd put them in the same family as Bergman and Tarkovsky. They all have the same generous, magnificent vision of the world.' 'Yes, but I think Haneke is more happy, more smiley,' adds Riva. 'Kieslowski did not strike me as a very happy man.'"
Profiling Riva for the New York Times in 2013, Maïa de la Baume notes that "Isabelle Huppert, who plays her daughter in Amour, told her that in Mr. Haneke’s movies, 'the spectators are the ones who suffer, not the actors,' and Ms. Riva said she agreed with that sentiment. 'The atmosphere was very solemn, very precise and very rigorous on the set,' she added. 'There wasn’t any sadness; we were all together.' As for Hiroshima, "She has fond memories of the experience, whose aftereffects include the 2009 publication of a book of photographs she took of Hiroshima during the shooting, and a lasting friendship with the movie’s writer, Marguerite Duras."
Riva "was also a powerful presence as the concentration camp inmate in Gillo Pontecorvo’s disturbing and controversial drama Kapò (1960)," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "But her greatest role of this era is in a film which deserves to be much better known: Jean-Pierre Melville’s superb Leon Morin, Priest (1961)." During the Occupation, Riva's Barny, "a discontented, angry widow…, one day goes to confession, purely and simply to pick a quarrel with the priest—and this is Morin, an excellent performance from Jean-Paul Belmondo. Instead of the reactionary bluster she is expecting, this calm, thoughtful figure engages her in conversation and of course she falls passionately in love with him. It is a really sensual and sympathetic performance."
Updates: "Riva never married or had children, and lived for 54 years up the same 4th-floor, walk-up flat on a bustling street in Paris’s Latin Quarter," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "At 85, she became the oldest ever Best Actress Oscar nominee, in the same year as the youngest, Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Her devastatingly persuasive performance as an octogenarian stroke victim was the acting achievement of the year, bar none: hot-to-trot Jennifer Lawrence was lucky to beat her for Silver Linings Playbook."
Writing for Variety, Boyd van Hoeij notes that "the actress’s filmography reveals a breadth of work and a capacity to suggest conflicting feelings without necessarily using dialogue or relying on the strict meaning of spoken words. But what’s especially noteworthy about her career is the precision with which she chose her roles, almost all of them seemingly offering a fresh new challenge."
Updates, 1/29: Writing for RogerEbert.com, Dan Callahan suggests that Riva "gave perhaps her finest performance" in Thérèse Desqueyroux, "a patient, severe movie based on a novel by François Mauriac in which we watch Riva’s Thérèse struggle unhappily in her marriage to Bernard (Philippe Noiret), an infuriatingly complacent man whose only interest is in appearances and preserving his family name. Steadily, scene by scene, Franju gives Riva space and time to develop Thérèse’s ennui and her growing dislike for her husband, which begins to approach real hatred…. Riva again excelled for Franju in Thomas the Imposter (1965), an adaptation of a Jean Cocteau novel set during World War I where her fraught face once again both gave out and withdrew emotion at the same time."
"She was also effective as the wife of a teacher (Jacques Brel), accused of the rape of three pupils in André Cayatte’s Risky Business (Les Risques du Metier, 1967)," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "One of her most bizarre enterprises was Arrabal’s I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse (J’Irai Comme un Cheval Fou, 1972) in which Riva, seen in surreal flashbacks, played a domineering mother murdered by her son…. In February 2014, Riva returned to the Paris stage, performing in Savannah Bay by Duras at the Théâtre de l’Atelier, a reunion with the avant-garde writer more than 50 years after Hiroshima Mon Amour. Riva, who never married, once said: 'I had dozens of marriage proposals, I refused them all. Why would I tie myself down with a husband and children?'"
"For moviegoers who were unaware of Riva’s work prior to Amour, her performance was a kind of revelation, while others saw it as a fitting final act for a career filled with tough and uncompromising roles, each one different from the last," writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. "But perhaps 'career' isn’t the right word for an actor who hated the term and refused the kind of commercial movies that may have brought her greater fame both at home and abroad. In one of a flurry of interviews she gave at the time of Amour’s Oscar run, she told the reporter: 'I’ve never wanted to be a star, never.'"
Update, 1/30: "Amour remains a memorable and moving tribute to the beauty and status of the actress through the decades," writes Ginette Vincendeau for Sight & Sound. "Although she said, referring to her pickiness when choosing roles, 'In my life I’ve chiefly said no,' we can be grateful that in this case she said yes. At the same time, Amour must not obliterate the memory of ‘Elle,’ Thérèse and Barny, through which Riva personified a rare vision of audacious and modern femininity in the pre-feminist early 1960s."
Updates, 1/31: "For each role, she would create her own world for herself, and she would carry something so undefinable that you could call it poetry," Isabelle Huppert tells the Hollywood Reporter. "You understood so many feelings by her behavior and by the way she just was—she was so touching and moving, sometimes even to tears."
And the TIFF Review posts an excerpt from James Quandt's essay for the 2013 retrospective, A Man and a Woman: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva:
Remembering the coolly beautiful Riva in Hiroshima mon amour—“Deform me, make me ugly,” she instructs her Japanese lover—makes her senescent frailty in Amour all the more affecting. Riva’s characters are often as inward as Trintignant’s, though their reserve derives not from timidity or introversion, but from a sense of entrapment. “Elle” cannot free herself from the fetters of memory in Hiroshima mon amour; the imperiously fragile Princesse de Bormes in Georges Franju’s Thomas the Imposter cannot escape the realities of war, as much as she attempts to turn carnage into theatre; the eponymous poisoner in Franju’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, her face a mask of domestic suffering, literally becomes a prisoner of the clan she has unhappily married into; and Barny, the atheist widow in Melville’s Léon Morin, Priest, is trapped in an unattainable passion for a priest. Exquisite in suffering, Riva never submits to martyrdom.
Update, 2/6: "I interviewed Riva for Al Jazeera America—before that died, too—for a series commemorating the 70th anniversary of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in late 2015," writes Massoud Hayoun for the Los Angeles Review of Books. "It was an opportunity to speak to an idol. I’d first watched Hiroshima mon amour bootlegged in China, where I was studying abroad and decidedly melancholy. As an American of North African-Arab origin living in the People’s Republic, I felt myself of the East and the West. Her interaction with her male costar Eiji Okada felt like me in dialogue with myself."