Stormy life and career of a New Wave icon

Anna Karina dies in Paris at 79

by Richard Mowe

Anna Karina in Pierrot Le Fou
Anna Karina in Pierrot Le Fou

One of the acting icons of the French New Wave Anna Karina has died in Paris at the age of 79. The actress, who had Danish roots, was associated with her husband Jean Luc Godard (ten years her senior) on some of the most celebrated films of the period in the Fifties and Sixties.

She was born Hanne Karin Bayer on 22 September 1940 at Soljberg in Denmark. She began her career as a cabaret singer in her native land before moving to Paris at the age of 17, where she worked as a model, notably for Coco Chanel who suggested she adopt the stage name of Anna Karina.

After she refused a role in Breathless (A Bout De Souffle) after concerns about nudity, Godard got rid of the character from the script. He did, however, direct Karina in Le Petit Soldat in 1960, although the film was banned from being released for three years because of its allusions to the Algerian war. She and Godard fell in love during the shoot and married in 1961. She went to make a big impression in a film by Michel Deville in 1960, Ce Soir Ou Jamais, although Godard advised her against making it. Their relationship, both professional and private, continued to be fraught with difficulties.

Anna Karina in La Religieuse
Anna Karina in La Religieuse

A year later under Godard’s direction she made Une Femme Est Une Femme / A Woman Is A Woman, for which she won the Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival and co-starred Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Brialy. She worked with Agnès Varda in Cléo De 5 À 7 and then worked with Godard on Vivre Sa Vie, Bande À Part, Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville and Made In USA in 1966, which marked the end of their collaboration and their stormy marriage, during the course of which she lost a baby.

She was much sought after, however, by other directors including Luchino Visconti, Jacques Rivette, Roger Vadim, Volker Schlöndorff, André Delvaux and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, among many.

She tried directing in 1973 with Vivre Ensemble and her last screen appearance was in the road movie Victoria in 2008. She published four books, including her memoirs (in 1988) under the title On N’Achète Pas Le Soleil. She also recorded several albums and singles including Roller Girl and Sous Le Soleil Excitement, both written by Serge Gainsbourg.

She was married to Godard from 1961 to 1967, then actor Pierre Fabre (1968 - 1974), actor-director Daniel Duval (1978 - 1981) and writer-director Dennis Berry (since 1982). Berry was by her side when she died yesterday (14 Dec) after a battle with cancer.

Tributes have been pouring in, including from the French Culture Minister Franck Riester, who said that she “radiated magnetism” and that French cinema had lost one of its legends. Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of culture, Christophe Girard, praised her role in La Religieuse / The Nun (by Rivette) and her other memorable portrayals.

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