By Michael Aaron Gallagher
For many international filmgoers, French cinema is a niche genre. Still, some of the best actors, actresses, and cinematographers in the world have chosen to be a part of the rich cultural vision of the motion picture industry of France.
Over the past decade, the following five actresses have stood out, not only for their extraordinary beauty, but also for their exceptional talent, grace, and allure:
Best known for her role in “Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain” (2001), “Dirty Pretty Things” (2002), and the Hollywood blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code” (2006), Audrey Tautou is a delightful actress, who has starred in many celebrated foreign pictures. Her charm, charisma, and one-of-a-kind smile make her an easy choice for leading actress in any feature film.
From “À la folie... pas du tout” (2002), one of her most colorful and oddly original romantic comedies, known in the U.S. as “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” to the recently released “Priceless” (2006), Audrey’s enchanting personality and joie de vivre has made her an international star.
Ludivine Sagnier is stunning and mysterious. Her unforgettable performance in “Swimming Pool” (2003) captured the attention of worldwide audiences, showing that she can be sexy, intelligent, dramatic, and engaging. There is an enticing quality to her voice and her almost effortless performances. At times you wonder if she is acting or if she truly is the character she plays.
Ludivine is able to display a full range of emotions on screen, executing each performance with a confident, original je ne sais quoi that makes her memorable. When she is acting in a dramatic scene, she also has the ability to exercise great desperation, emotional vulnerability, and helplessness.
From the frolicsome character of Tinkerbell in “Peter Pan” (2003) to the independent woman Claire, in “Paris Je T’aime” (2006), she is a deeply passionate actress with an intellectual understanding of how to bring the story to life on the big screen.
(Ludivine Sagnier is exceptionally gifted, though she is unfortunately one of the most underutilized French actresses in Hollywood. Not only should she be in more French films, but American directors should be regularly casting her as well.)
American audiences may recognize Virginie from her work as a Cover Girl model, but there is much more to her than her beauty. Like Ludivine Sagnier, Virginie Ledoyen has a distinctly recognizable voice, with a soothing, hypnotic quality to it.
In 2000, she starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Beach,” a story about a group of stranded travelers in a strange new world. In 2002, she acted alongside Emmanuelle Béart from “Mission: Impossible” (1996), Fanny Ardant, Catherine Deneuve, and Ludivine Sagnier in “8 Femmes,” the musical/mystery about a group of women trying to discover which one of them is responsible for murder.
She also appeared in the emotional love story, “Jeanne Et Le Garcon Formidable” (1998), known to English audiences as “Jeanne and the Perfect Guy.”
One of her most intriguing films is the horror picture "Saint Ange," recorded simultaneously in French and English, and available in the U.S. as “House of Voices” (2004).
Virginie Ledoyen is an actress with universal appeal. Her contribution to the fashion industry and her photogenic look is always à la mode.
From one of the best modern French romances, "Jeux d'enfants," available in the U.S. as "Love Me If You Dare” (2003), comes a brilliant actress whose onscreen performances can be both glamorous and full of dramatic tension. Her recent role in “La Vie en rose” (2007), garnered her an Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.”
There is no doubt that Marion Cotillard will continue to astonish audiences in the coming years.
Whether you know her from English films like “21 Grams” (2003) or as the wife of actor Yvan Attal, César-winning actress Charlotte Gainsbourg unquestionably deserves her place in the list of “Five French Actresses You Should Know.” Her extensive body of work and contribution to foreign films spans many years.
What you may not know is Charlotte is also a pop singer. In addition to her acting career, she has also recorded two critically acclaimed albums. Her newest record, “5:55” is now available in stores.
Among the many films to her credit, Charlotte has appeared in “Love, etc.” (1996), “Ma Femme Est Une Actrice” (2001), and “La Bûche” (1999). Her lingual versatility as an actress (to convincingly play both English and French-speaking parts) is astounding.
Many of Charlotte’s characters are plain and unassuming, but you cannot deny her onscreen appeal. She has a noteworthy forte that will make you sit up and pay attention to her performance.
If you were going to assemble an all-star cast of talented French actresses, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Virginie Ledoyen, Marion Cotillard, Audrey Tautou, and Ludivine Sagnier would undeniably make the list. All five actresses are marvelous and irreplaceable movie stars. Without them, there is no romance, there is no drama, and there is no mise en scène.