Her provocative inscrutability combined with great acting talent inspired a series of famous film makers such as Jacques Rivette, Jacques Doillon, Patrice Leconte, André Téchiné and Claude Chabrol to work with her, which earned her a reputation as a Muse
Since European films are rarely shown within regular movie theatre repertoires, its main actors do not reach wider popularity easily, unless they star in commercial Hollywood productions. Therefore, only those domestic film lovers who have somewhat more systematically followed French cinema know that Sandrine Bonnaire is one of the most acclaimed French actresses. At the same time, and not at all without a reason, it may seem to them that the peak of her career arrived at the end of the last century, even though she is only forty-four (she was born near Paris to a family of eleven children on May 31, 1967). A quick ascent and then a fall would be easily explained by an actress who succeeded solely based on her attractiveness, but even as a young girl Sandrine Bonnaire displayed exquisite acting talent.
After a few smaller roles, at the young age of sixteen, Sandrine was hired by one of the, at the time, most successful French directors, Maurice Pialat, to star as a maladjusted teenager fighting against life and its failures in order to achieve freedom in À nos amours. For this role, she received the César film award for Most Promising Actress (i.e. Best Debutant). Pialat’s fascination with her abundant personality and expressive acting is evident in the way he lurks at her reactions with his camera and the way he looks at her and reacts to her interpretation of the scenes in which he plays her father. These are probably some of the most impressive film scenes showing an interaction between a father and his daughter in her sensitive years. At the age of eighteen Sandrine Bonnaire joined the elite ranks of leading French actresses when she received the César as Best Actress in the most important French female director Agnès Varda’s film Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi). She starred as a homeless woman who rejects the middle class that she grew up in to become a wanderer without ambition or the means for living.
These two acclaimed performances, besides their common themes of the pursuit of happiness of the two protagonists, are complete opposites in every other way. Nevertheless, in her very beginnings it was possible to identify some characteristics of Sandrine Bonnaire’s acting style that were to be present in all of her future roles. No matter whether she played women who came into conflict with their surroundings due to injustices and problems and tried to actively secure their freedom - or rather find that freedom in complete abstinence from entering a conflict or doing anything at all - Sandrine Bonnaire’s characters inspire those who encounter her to open up and find a common ground. In spite of the initial impression of understanding, it is clear that these protagonists never manage to completely open up and seem to keep a dark secret forever. This provocative inscrutability combined with great acting talent inspired a series of famous film makers such as Jacques Rivette, Jacques Doillon, Patrice Leconte, André Téchiné and Claude Chabrol to work with her. The fact that she worked with all of these famous directors brought her the reputation of a Muse of French author film during a very important period in the 20th century (which only in our region, obviously due to a complete lack of information and knowledge about it, was called a time of film crisis in France). For her role of Sophie, the maid of a rich married couple who hides her inability to read and write, which ends in a tragedy, in Chabrol’s film La Cérémonie (1995), she won (together with the co-star Isabebelle Hupert) the award for Best Actress in Venice and one of her five nominations for the César.
The last of her nominations for the French film award happened in 2000 for Régis Wargnier’s Est-Ouest and it heralded certain problems in her career. Even though this is a solid and acclaimed film (among others, it was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe, as Best Foreign Film), unlike Sandrine Bonnaire’s former roles in author films with high artistic pretensions, Wargnier devoted considerable attention to attracting a wider audience. At the same time Bonnaire started to take on roles in films that would attract more viewers. She successfully showed her talent for comedy in Mademoiselle (2001) by Phillipe Lioret and won an award at the Festival of Romantic Film in Cabourg. Besides that, she was open to collaborations with young up-and-coming filmmakers such as the debutant Caroline Botarro in the interesting Joueuse (2009). The fact that she could offer not just her acting but also a more complete film experience was proven when she directed a documentary about her younger autistic sister Her Name is SAbine (Elle s'appelle Sabine, 2007). She managed to avoid pathos but offered a lot of understanding and an eye for details.
This program presents some of the key films in the French actress and author’s career and allows a valuable insight into Sandrine Bonnaire’s great contribution to French contemporary cinema. (Tomislav Kurelec)