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Anouk Aimee: A Most Down-to-Earth Superstar

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anouk Aimee has been acting for the last 56 years. She’s won a Golden Globe and best actress honors at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. Last Saturday, the French beauty received a Cesar--France’s counterpart to the Oscar--for lifetime achievement. And she’s been the muse of many directors, including Federico Fellini (“La Dolce Vita,” “81/2"), Claude Lelouch (“A Man and a Woman”) and Jacques Demy (“Lola”). But even with that legacy, Aimee doesn’t seem to believe that she’s anything exceptional.

She didn’t even feel she deserved the Golden Globe for her performance as a beautiful young widow in the 1966 film “A Man and a Woman.” “When we went to the Golden Globes, I remember I saw Fred Astaire,” said Aimee, still stunning at 69.

“John Wayne came over to talk to me. Groucho Marx. These are people I admired when I was a kid and here they are applauding me. I don’t understand. It’s wrong.”

Henry Jaglom, the writer and director of Aimee’s new film, “Festival in Cannes,” reports the actress was surprised at the reaction from the audience at last week’s Los Angeles premiere of the romantic roundelay.

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“The audience went crazy for her,” says Jaglom. “She kept saying, ‘Why are they coming up and telling me [they love me]?’ I said, ‘You are magnificent. Do you think every single person is making it up?’ And she said, ‘No, no, no. I don’t even know what I’m doing.’ She is so genuinely modest. No vanity. No ego.”

In “Festival in Cannes,” which was filmed in 2000 in the French festival city, opens in limited release today. Aimee plays Millie Marquand, an aging screen legend attending the Cannes Film Festival who must decide whether to do a cameo in a Tom Hanks blockbuster or a meaty lead role in a low-budget independent film that will be directed by an actress (Greta Scacchi). Maximilian Schell plays Aimee’s notoriously unfaithful husband and Ron Silver is a powerful Hollywood producer determined to get Marquand for the Hanks film.

The actress, who lives in Paris, met Jaglom in Beverly Hills about five years ago at an event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cannes. “He wanted to do a film with me,” she says matter-of-factly.

Jaglom recalls attending the evening at the academy with Candice Bergen. “She said ‘Look over there. That’s Anouk Aimee.’ My heart stopped because ‘A Man and a Woman’ was this movie that had meant more to me romantically and emotionally. And the most important movie in my mind creatively was ’81/2.’ I was sort of star-struck. Candice took me over and introduced me and this is what I heard myself saying: “I have been looking all over for you. I have a movie I want you to make.’”

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Truth be told, he didn’t have a movie for Aimee. But he knew he wanted to work with her. So he sent her copies of his films and two days later, she called him. “She said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want. Now, what is the film about?’ I said it’s the kind of film where the person who plays the lead shouldn’t know too much about what it is about at this point.”

Jaglom promised to call Aimee three months later with the film’s concept. Meanwhile, he racked his brains trying to come up with his idea when he remembered an abandoned project from the ‘70s in which Gene Kelly was to play an aging superstar who comes to Cannes.

“It suddenly occurred to me I could apply [that movie],” Jaglom says. “It would also open up this whole subject I have been very preoccupied with in all of my movies, which is how women are treated when they get older--both generally and specifically in our culture--by the film world, which is a metaphor for the whole world, and how women are discarded and dealt with at a certain age. [The film] was born of my lie.”

Aimee quickly took to Jaglom’s unconventional, improvisational directing style, having worked in similar fashion with Fellini, Lelouch and Robert Altman (“Ready to Wear”).

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Plus, says Aimee, “I like the person. I like the man of Henry--the way he explains things. I loved working with him. It’s like an adventure. We don’t know where we are going.”

Ageism, Aimee says, is just as prevalent in Europe as it is in American cinema. “I would say maybe it is worse,” says Aimee.

“When I was young, a woman of 40 or 50 used to do parts of women 15 or 25. Now it is the contrary. It is the young woman of 18 or 20 doing the part of a 40- or 50-year-old. They will take a girl, very young, to do a part that is older.”

Her most recent work was on “Napoleon,” a European miniseries that also stars Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich. Christian Clavier and Isabella Rossellini play Napoleon and Josephine. The miniseries was filmed in France and the Czech Republic.

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Aimee, who proudly declares that she has had no plastic surgery (“She is a great advertisement for natural beauty and trusting nature,” says Jaglom), began acting at the age of 13 in the film “La maison sous la mer.” Aimee says she was walking down a street in Paris with her mother, a former actress, when a director approached her. “He said, ‘Would you like to make a film?’”

Born Francoise Sorya Dreyfus, she adopted her character’s name in the film, Anouk, as her screen name. The following year, while she was starring in a film for Marcel Carne which was never completed, the movie’s screenwriter, Jacques Prevert, gave her the last name of Aimee. “He said when you are going to be 40 you cannot be called Anouk alone,” she says.

Though she was much in demand in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, Aimee didn’t fall in love with her profession until she played the rich nymphomaniac in “La Dolce Vita” (1960).

“Before I met Fellini ... I didn’t realize what acting was,” she says. Fellini, she says, thought she was a cover girl. “He was always joking and lying,” Aimee says, laughing. “The story he told me was he saw my picture in a magazine and said, ‘I want to see her.’”

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Fellini taught her not to take herself too seriously. “Acting was part of our everyday life,” says Aimee. “What embarrassed me before was that a lot of [actors] think of themselves seriously. That bored me. But with Fellini and [star] Marcello Mastroianni, it was a big festival, a beautiful party. From then I began to love [acting].”

In between the two Fellini films she made Demy’s first feature, “Lola” (1961), in which she played a cabaret dancer and single mother. The restored version of “Lola” opens March 25 at the Nuart.

“‘Lola’ is one of my favorites,” she says. “I think ‘Lola’ maybe is his best film. Jacques was good with actors. He was poetic. He liked women.”

Eight years later, they made a sequel in Los Angeles called “The Model Shop.” Aimee’s leading man in the film was Gary Lockwood, fresh from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

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But Lockwood wasn’t Demy’s first choice. “You know who was going to be the actor?,” Aimee asks. “Harrison Ford. He was unknown and Demy was very happy that he got him. I remember he said, ‘I found a wonderful actor.’ I saw him on tape. But [the studio] didn’t want him. They said he wouldn’t make any money.”

But even with Lockwood, “The Model Shop” flopped.

Aimee vividly recalls the surreal experience of the “A Man and a Woman” phenomenon. Aimee received an Oscar nomination for her haunting performance as a widow who meets a widower (Jean-Louis Trintignant) at their children’s boarding school. They become friends, then closer friends and then lovers until she realizes that her late husband is still too strong in her memory and in her heart for their relationship to work.

“A Man and a Woman” won best foreign language film, and Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven picked up the Oscars for original screenplay. “It was unbelievable,” says Aimee. “It was an incredible adventure. I must say I owe a lot to American films because I have always been received very well here. People behave very well with me in America--that’s true. I am one of the Europeans who love it [in America].

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“It sounds pretentious, but American film people behave so incredibly with me. So nice. They ask me to work. It’s wonderful. I have always been lucky here.”


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