Monday, June 5, 2017

Fanny Ardant / 'Tears are like diamonds, you can't waste them'

Fanny Ardant: 'Tears are like diamonds, you can't waste them'

The French actor on being Truffaut's muse, why she never married, and the feminine side of Gérard Depardieu

Interview by Jonathan Romney
Sunday 15 June 2014 06.07 BST

In your new film, Bright Days Ahead, you play a retired married woman who has a guilt-free affair with a younger man. Is the film a manifesto for holding on to sensuality?

It's a hymn to the present moment. What makes the present moment? It can be a magnificent bath, or getting into bed, eating salad or drinking Château Margaux… All very modest things – not a cruise to the tropics, just anything that helps you live. What really matters is love, but if you're having problems of the heart the only thing that helps you fight that is the senses. Or reading. I've spent a lot of my life in hotel rooms, and it was always books that got me through.

Bright Days Ahead

You and the film's director, Marion Vernoux, have expressed surprise that American audiences saw your character as a "cougar".

The whole cougar phenomenon is all to do with feminism – placing your lover on your head like a crown, that's nothing to do with real love. I think we're returning to an age of obscurantism. The 18th century was a period of great freedom – then came the 19th-century age of puritanism. Why? Because of the bourgeoisie – money, commerce, the whole question of patrimony. Apparently women in the Roman empire, as soon as they were pregnant, had the right to sleep with any man they wanted. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s we had 30 years without taboos – and suddenly taboos returned.

You have some intense love scenes in Bright Days Ahead. Do you ever feel uncomfortable or exposed in those moments?

It was never easy for me, I'm naturally shy. But François Truffaut agreed with Hitchcock: love scenes should be choreographed just like murder scenes. In other words, not "Do what you would naturally" but "Put your hand just there". In fact, the hardest thing for me is emotion. If a script says: "She starts crying", that's much harder than kissing a man. I made a film in Israel, and my character was supposed to cry all the time. I told the director: "No – tears are like diamonds, you can't waste them."

You've often been very outspoken against the institution of marriage.

The reason I never married is because my mother and father really loved each other, so we were a perfect family. The Little House on the Prairie was bullshit compared to us. I think I was afraid of not measuring up to that. For me, a successful marriage is something to be revered. Real closeness between a man and a woman, a real family where you can argue and laugh, that's like Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey – a chef-d'oeuvre. It's hard to achieve.

Your earliest starring roles established you as the romantic Frenchwoman: Truffaut's The Woman Next Door in 1981, then Alain Resnais's La Vie est un roman, which begins with you swooning, "Amour, amour, amour, amour…"

When I read the synopsis of The Woman Next Door I was completely stunned by the idea that you could die of love. The only thing I've ever believed in, at the risk of seeming sentimental, is love. If I'm at a boring dinner I always ask the man next to me, whether he's an ambassador or the president of the Republic: "Do you love your wife?" It's the only interesting subject.


You were Truffaut's last muse and partner. For a hardcore cinephile like him, it seems that film itself was a kind of amour fou.

It was a matter of life and death. He used to say: "In films, trains never run late" – I love that. Film was his salvation, because in film everything has a meaning. Life is chaotic but in cinema you can stop time. François used to say: "Those who love life, love cinema." That's for sure.

Very early in your screen career you worked with world-class heavyweights – Truffaut, Resnais. Was that a shock to the system?

Not at all – I started out with them so I thought it was always like that. If you start out with caviar, you can't imagine dry bread. Resnais's vision of the world has nothing to do with François Truffaut's or Antonioni's or Costa-Gavras's – but if you put them all together in the same room, you'd see the same energy, the same passion to fight for the very smallest detail.

You've worked with a handful of female directors but you have said that for you there is no difference between men and women behind the camera.

Well, there's always a masculine or a feminine element. For example, a man always wants to light an actress so that she's beautiful. If you're working with a female director who doesn't care about that, for me that's a problem. But the whole man-woman equation is very complex. That's why I love Gérard Depardieu, because he has an incredible feminine side, finesse and intelligence – he's not a great crashing macho, even if he is arrogant. I was never a feminist, I always had trouble with that.


Because I really admired my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my brothers. I have an image of men as protective, intelligent, charming. So I never understood what feminists were talking about. Conversely, I always wanted my freedom. Not freedom against men – freedom for myself, here and now.

You have a curious accent when you speak English – some very un-French rolled 'r's. Where does it come from?

It's Italian, it's Russian… When I made Callas Forever with Franco Zeffirelli, he said: "Lose the Syrian/Lebanese accent." It comes from being cosmopolitan; in Monaco, where I grew up, there were lots of foreigners. If I see an English film I understand all the dialogue – unless it's cockney or Scottish – but I can't make out a word of American cinema. Or a film in Canadian French. Apparently it's the accent of the court of Louis Quatorze, but can you imagine reading Racine in an accent like that?




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