Sunday, January 20, 2013

Second Look: Amour's Emmanuelle Riva

She wowed audiences in her first move role in Hiroshima Mon Amor and thrilled moviegoers no less in her most recent in Amour. Her breakout performance, directed by Alain Renais, was in l959; fifty-one years later, Michael Haneke chose her to play Anna, a dignified music teacher and devoted wife who is mercilessly debilitated after a stroke. For that performance, Emmanuelle Riva received the Oscar nomination for Best Actress. If she wins on February 27, 2013—the night of the awards ceremony and her 86th birthday, she will be the oldest person in any competitive acting category to take home the Oscar. (For the record, Christopher Plummer, 83, won last year for his role in Beginners.) By any measures, Emmanuelle Riva, who grew up in a small village in eastern France where she worked as a seamstress before she traveled to Paris to study acting, is a star with an exceptional career but she hates both words and applies neither to herself.

The  oldest and youngest Oscar nominees for best actress: Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhane Wallie

 Riva has lived in the same the Paris apartment for the past 50 years.(Her companion died in l999.) According to the New York times, her flat is decorated with a blend of past and present including paintings of landscapes and recent pictures of animals, among them her cat Titine (now dead). She is both a published poet and an accidental photographer. Not long ago, she had an exhibit of pictures she took in Japan during the filming of Hiroshima. Because she is a woman of carefully-chosen words, I thought I’d let her tell you more about herself. (I have culled her responses from interviews in the New York Times, USA Today, The Independent, and the Guardian—all newspapers—and from Fandor, an online site.)

On Acting: “I wanted to live another life and many lives at once. Acting makes you live plenty of lives.”

On Her Oscar Nomination: “I feel like I’m in a sort of fairy tale. At 85, I did not expect such a success. I was living life by the moment.”

On Her Red Carpet Experiences: “The crowds, the photographers, shouting at you. So many flashes going off. It’s crazy. It blinds you. ‘Turn one way.’ ‘Turn the other way!’ What’s that about. We’re not performing monkeys.”

Plastic Surgery:  Does she or doesn't she?

On Staying Young: “I’m definitely not one of these women who go to plastic surgeons every other month. Beauty is not worth fetishizing. I have much appreciation for those who want to be young forever, but it seems silly and futile. Chasing youth eternally, it must be terrible.”

On Being Healthy: “Health is the most important gift: an honor that deserves nourishing and care. Healthy people are happy people. I do whatever is in my power to stay this way. Nothing extravagant, just take care of myself. It’s really easy. Keep a healthy body and a clear mind. One needs to be open to other people. Stay free. I’ve always cherished freedom and independence. I think this is why I never got married.”

On the Message of Amour: “It is a story of human fate, of the inescapability of death and pain. But subsequently we are able to see ourselves in it. We can experience the true love that it emanates. What also is really the message is that we are all separate individuals, each with our own expressive character that should be respected. My impression is that when the lights are out, we are not leaving the cinema dispirited but purified.”

Who will win: Jennifer or Jessica or 'our girl'?  


On Future Roles: “If, by chance, people would still offer me roles, I’d still like to do them. But if not, that’s okay. I love life. If I don’t act in another film, who cares? I’m 85. It doesn’t matter. I’m still alive, and that feels great.”

Emmanuelle Riva is alive in every sense of the word. If you need more proof, check out the Wide-Awake Riva at French Cinema(Really you have to watch it. You can tell it’s great by the number of sites that have picked it up from the online NY Times Magazine.)  And, I’m crossing my fingers that Riva leaves America next month with a golden statuette in her carry-on bag-- not because she’ll be 86 but because she gave the best performance in a motion picture not just this year but maybe this century .


  1. I saw the film AMOUR. Emmanuette was fantastic in it. I hope she wins. I found the film quite a wake up call.

    1. I love that you call your reaction to the film 'a wake-up call' . Apart from being an amazing film,
      it does invite us to thing about how we want to die.

  2. Now I'm dying to see this film, and wanting to go back through whatever resources I can to see Hiroshima Mon Amour as well.

    Last evening, a friend and I attended a small dinner party - a mix of generations and several countries represented. We both remarked afterward how rare this feels in the US, whereas we've both experienced it far more often in Europe.

    Age literally drops away when you are engaged in a stimulating conversation, a compelling performance, and so on. You connect to the person, to the storytelling, to the talent, to the ideas. How I wish we were less afraid of aging, and more afraid of a dulling of the spirit and the fine mind.

    Here's to the eighty-somethings who make a mockery of our ageist prejudice.

    1. Sounds like a wonderful evening. I too find that dinners abroad-- I recall one in particular in Tuscany--tend to be my diverse in every way but especially nationality. My meals out in America tend to be lunches with
      the girls.

      Definitely see this film. I've seen it twice, one at the TIFF with Maryl and more recently with my daughter,
      who was equally moved as I.

      And, yes cheers to the eighty-somethings for showing us to be fully alive.

    2. Oh my…what you said is true! We see it ALL the time in France, pepole from different cultures having long, profound conversations at the dinner table. I would certainly miss that if I did not live here. And age is almost revered because it equates with knowledge and experience…and there is no other way to acquire those qualities except in the company (and reading) of those that have it.
      The film is extraordinary and Emmanuelle Riva is to be revered :)

  3. I can't think of a nicer compliment than to be revered, especially for a long life well-lived. We should all be
    so fortunate.

  4. Glad to have found your blog, too! Stop by to see me every day, it's always new, and I'll do the same with your great site! Carol