Anouk Aimée - the eternal romantic

Star of A Man And A Woman takes her leave at the age of 92

by Richard Mowe

Anouk Aimée in The Best Years Of A Life with Jean-Louis Trintignant, reprising their characters 53 years on from A Man And A Woman. Director Claude Lelouch said:  'It was wonderful for us all to get together again. It was as though something had been left unfinished, and none of us wanted it to end.'
Anouk Aimée in The Best Years Of A Life with Jean-Louis Trintignant, reprising their characters 53 years on from A Man And A Woman. Director Claude Lelouch said: 'It was wonderful for us all to get together again. It was as though something had been left unfinished, and none of us wanted it to end.' Photo: UniFrance
Jean-Louis Trintignant as Jean-Louis and Anouk Aimée is Anne in A Man And A Woman
Jean-Louis Trintignant as Jean-Louis and Anouk Aimée is Anne in A Man And A Woman
One of the most revered icons of French cinema, Anouk Aimée who starred opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant in one of the most successful French films of all time, A Man And A Woman, by Claude Lelouch, has died today at the age of 92. The news was revealed by her daughter Manuella Papatakis.

The poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert was so entranced with her that he gave her the name Anouk Aimée (she was born Françoise Sorya), and cast her two years later as a contemporary Juliet in The Lovers Of Verona.

The Rank Organisation in the UK gave her a contract and a role as a French girl to appear with Trevor Howard in the thriller The Golden Salamander. She has worked with many of the greats including Jacques Demy (Lola), George Cukor (Justine), Sidney Lumet (The Appointment), Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita and 8 ½), Bernardo Bertolucci (Tragedy Of A Ridiculous Man), and Robert Altman (as the haughty designer Simone Lowenthal in Pret-a-Porter). She will be forever associated with her role opposite Trintignant in A Man And A Woman which the two of them touchingly reprised for Lelouch in 2018 in The Best Years Of A Life, 52 years after the original.

During the filming Lelouch reflected: “I found it deeply moving to see Jean-Louis and Anouk 52 years later, in the space of a second. It’s a second of eternity that rips a hole in time. Emotions are brought full circle. The images of Jean-Louis and Anouk from two different eras only intensify our emotions. Those three little words, ‘I love you,’ make up for everything. I built the film on this idea. All these images are much more than movie clips – they’ve become a part of our own memories. They belong to us, as if we had experienced that romance ourselves. One ‘I love you’ belongs to the whole world.”

Anouk Aimée in The Best Years Of A Life
Anouk Aimée in The Best Years Of A Life Photo: UniFrance
The idea of the sequel came during a 50th anniversary party for A Man And A Woman. Lelouch recalled: “I noticed Jean-Louis and Anouk talking to each other. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. It was wonderful for us all to get together again. It was as though something had been left unfinished, and none of us wanted it to end. That day I saw what made Anouk and Jean-Louis still so wonderfully unique after all these years. I thought to myself that it would be fantastic to bring them back together again, like a pair of eternal fiancés that had yet to say their final words – words that could also be their first.”

Anouk Aimée with Marcello Mastroianni
Anouk Aimée with Marcello Mastroianni Photo: UniFrance
Interviewing her at the Grand Hotel in Paris she told me disarmingly that “Being an actress is not my whole life. Part of the problem is that I don't know how to sell myself and I never have." There have been long gaps in her work which she described as "my luxury, and I have to pay for it". The penalty of being choosy or diffident gave her a cachet denied to more readily available talents.

She was never obsessed with work or self-image which helps to explain her peripatetic progress. She has espoused liberal causes and human rights but declined to earn easy showbiz Brownie points by detailing her activities. "We live in such selfish times and people are aggressive, violent, not well within themselves. People have to cope with insecurity, and that's one of the reasons we can get attached to religion and animals - from the need to hang on to something,” she continued as part of our conversation.

She was a self-confessed romantic who has always took decisions on a whim. Her emotional streak ruled when she gave up the profession for almost eight years to devote herself to marriage with British actor Albert Finney. She remembers only the positive aspects of their union - Yorkshire pudding and rugby.

Her feline predilections were often echoed in her body language, and her calming way of conversing, which must owe something to the fact that she used to share her flat in Montmartre with lots of cats - she wouldn’t divulge how many. "I do have a very strong bond with animals - I'm sure they know how to live much better than we do," she told me.

Anouk Aimée: 'Being an actress is not my whole life'
Anouk Aimée: 'Being an actress is not my whole life' Photo: UniFrance
After four marriages, and interludes with Ryan O'Neal, Omar Sharif and French director Eli Chouraqui, she preferred to live alone and, not unexpectedly, would always avoid any discussion of her private life.

She conceded to a certain laziness and liked to think of herself as a drifter who loved travelling. Ironically, in view of the outside world's opinion of her Gallic allure, she did not consider herself to be typically French. She has lived in London, Rome, New York, but Paris remained the place where she felt most comfortable.

Fashion designer Donna Karan worked with her once on a fashion shoot because she was looking for a woman who was “"strong and ageless with a defined sense of personal style".

Lelouch deserves the last word on the woman who was more than a protégé. Reflecting on The Best Years Of A Life, her penultimate film, he said: “Death isn’t a part of this film – only hope. I’ve never seen the two of them so beautiful. It’s both heartwarming and poignant to see them walk off together at the end, like a pair of adventurers. I had tears in my eyes while I was filming.” There could be no more fitting epitaph.

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