Le Point Spotlight: Sophie Marceau--Elegance à la française
By Clément Pétreault, Olivier Pérou, and Morgane Leclercq
From her roles in French hits “La Boum” (“The Party”) and “LOL (Laughing Out Loud)”to her foray into Hollywood as a Bond girl in “The World Is Not Enough,” and a leading role in“Braveheart,” Sophie Marceau has undoubtedly become one of French Cinema’s living legends
It all began when she was looking for a small summer job to pay for her vacation. At the age of 14, Sophie Maupu – her real name – was livingin a social-housing building in a Parisian suburb. She decided, though with little enthusiasm, to show up at a casting call for a movie. It turned out to be her lucky day: director Claude Pinoteau was immediately taken with the young teenager. He was looking for the lead in a low-budget romantic comedy: when he saw her, he just knew she was “Vic.” 1980’s “La Boum” went on to become a box-office hit, both in France and abroad, and with that, young Sophie was thrust from anonymity to youth icon.Countless teenagers all over France slow-danced to the tune of “Dream In Blue,” now a legendary hit, which she sang with François Valéry in 1981. France was not alone in falling for this young doe eyed girl: her sulky pout was also a sensation abroad. Marceau’s love story with Asia had already begun; in Japan, her arrival at the airport for a promotional tour almost caused a riot. As with so many young stars who have come into the limelight at a veryearly age, “France’s young sweetheart” could easily have singed her wings – particularly after having received the recognition of her peers with a Caesar for Best Young Actress for “La Boum 2.” But already, the stunning young woman’s atypical and rather endearing personality was showing: rather than surfing the wave by appearing in one blockbuster after another, she preferred to try her hand at an independent movie, and starred in Andrzej Zulawski’s “L’Amour Braque” (“Mad Love”); the man with whom she would share her life for 17 years – and the father of her son,Vincent – introduced her to a darker, more confidential movie style. While her choices baffled some, others saw in her the makings of a great actress, one who wouldn’t hesitate to plunge into dangerous situations and appear where she wasn’t expected. She seized a number of serious – and, at times, uncomfortable–roles with relish, even facing the terrifying director Maurice Pialat when she starred in “Police” with Gérard Depardieu. It’s been said that, when filming one of the scenes, she asked Depardieu to really slap her. “Joyeuses Pâques” (Happy Easter”),“L’étudiante” (“The Student”), “Par-Delà Les Nuages” ("Beyond The Clouds”)… Marceau was forever on movie sets, though never quite repeated the resounding success of “La Boum.” Such a triumph would have to wait until 1996 when, across the English Channel, she was picked to appear in “Braveheart.” Directed by – and starring – Mel Gibson, this film was her first introduction to Hollywood. Her charisma, her sparkle, her candour – even during promotional interviews – captivated US audiences. They loved this Frenchwoman’s forthrightness, so different from the overly polished interviews so common in the States. She was a breath of fresh air.
A Femme Fatale Called Marceau
Her accomplishment as one of the few French actresses to conquer Hollywood took place in 1999, when she played the role of Elektra King, the Bond girl in “TheWorld Is Not Enough,” sharing the screen with Pierce Brosnan. The world easily fell in love with her. But then, with her career at its peak, the French began to drift away from the woman they’d so cherished. Marceau managed to win her way back into the hearts of her compatriots with a series of eclectic movies that had just one thing in common – her name in the credits: “Anthony Zimmer,” “Les Femmes de l’Ombre” (“Female Agents”), “Del’Autre Côté du Lit” (“Changing Sides”), and especially “LOL (Laughing Out Loud),” in 2009. Echoing “La Boum,” this Lisa Azuelos film tells the tale of a teenager dealing with a stormy relationship with her mother, played by… Sophie Marceau. The young publicof the 1980s rediscovered their icon; like her, they had grown up and had children of their own. The movie was a huge success. Proof that the reconciliation is complete, Marceau is regularly voted France’s favorite actress. Ever the dabbler throughout her career, the actress wasn’t content to stay in front of the camera: in 2001, she directed her first movie, “Parlez-Moi d’Amour” (“SpeakTo Me Of Love”), and followed it up, in 2007, with “La Disparue de Deauville” (“Trivial”). She also tried her hand at writing, with a novel, “La Menteuse” (“Telling Lies”). True to her principles, she has also sponsored, forover 20 years, the Association Arc-En-Ciel (Rainbow Association), set up to make the dreams of sick children come true. Marceau is not just a cultural figure, but also an icon of French elegance. She is an ambassador for Dior, and has been the muse of Chaumet, the famous jeweler, since 2008. With her timeless elegance, the actress embodies the sophisticated French woman, as did Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot before her.
Sophie Marceau arrives for our interview at the Mandarin Oriental hotel as the vision of a sophisticated French woman, in a gorgeous silk dress. Yet it’s not just her elegance that has kept the star so cherished for all these years. Ever since she burst onto the scene as a 14-year-old ingénue in 1980, Marceau has maintained a disarmingly natural charm that has, if anything, grown and matured over time.
Le Point - Rendez-vous en France: Does the French woman exist?
Sophie Marceau: The French woman is independent, but that doesn’t prevent her from being an excellent homemaker and a very good mother. I find she’s reached a healthy middle ground between traditional and modern life. The French woman is an elegant woman, she is fashion and sophistication! Her existence is due to extraordinary designers, talented producers and authors in love. These are the artists who made the French woman into a standard of beauty and elegance. There was Dior, obviously, as well as Saint-Laurent. We owe so much to Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot, who was the world’s greatest star. People don’t realize this, but in her heyday,she was more famous than Marilyn Monroe! There were riots everywhere she went, it was crazy.
LP: How do you define the French spirit?
SM: It is a mixture of aesthetics and elegance, with a hint of conservatism. Modernity is not our main character trait, but we do have certain qualities! France is a gifted country, an extremely creative country, with great artisans, brilliant people with an incredible culture. But we tend to act as if the rest of the world didn’t exist. We don’t know how to sell ourselves, we think it’s beneath us… And what the world sees as arrogance is, in fact, a real lack of self-confidence. The French are always afraid of being ridiculed, as if that would kill them. It’s possible to be very creative and yet dare very little.
LP: What are the secret places where yourecharge your batteries?
SM: France is magnificent, wherever you go. Oddly enough, I don’t feel attached to any specific region, for the simple reason that I was born and lived the first 13 years of my life in a Parisian suburb. In Paris,there are so many fabulous places that it’s hard tochoose a single one! I love going for a scooter rideon the quays, particularly around the Pont Neufthatplace is truly magical. I really enjoy the FifthArrondissement; it’s superb. In my opinion, everything,everywhere, is beautiful; there isn’t one place thatisn’t interesting. I recently discovered the FondationJérôme Seydoux-Pathé. It was love at first sight. It feels so nice to have that touch of modernity in a city thatis fascinated with its own past!
LP: What do you want to discover about your country?
SM: Let me tell you a true story. I’m often asked to advertise bags or clothes, but I don’t like that too much. One day, I received an offer from a small company that manufactures ballet shoes. They asked me, “Could you wear our shoes? We’d take a photograph and put it upon our site…” I refused, but they sent me their shoes anyway. I thought they weren’t bad at all, so I tried them on. They were comfortable, beautiful, well made, very well stitched, and very well designed: this showed true skill. I told myself I had to do something to help them. These people had bought out a company that was near bankruptcy, because they really believed in it. They are located a long way from Paris, they are not well-known, they are struggling against the competition from larger corporations. Since I was proud of their work, I wanted to help them. I wanted to tell the world, “This is what the French can do.” Most of all, I wanted to tell the Chinese this, because they know how to appreciate quality. And all the more so because China is a great culture; they appreciate sophistication and they know the codes and symbols of refinement. We share this vision. Just compare France’s 18th century with China's - there are many similarities! So yes, I am getting involved in a ballet-shoe start-up.
LP: What is the name of this company?
SM: I am associated with the Villebois company. That’s its name because it’s located in Villebois-Lavalette, a small village near Angoulême. The person in charge of designing the models was trained in shoe and ballet-shoe design by the last French patternmaker. He is now the last French patternmaker, because all the rest have gone abroad. This story moves me because I too come from a working-class family.These things have a soul; we can’t afford to lose them.
LP: Are you a fan of gastronomy?
SM: Yes, I have a lot of appreciation for this art. But I might as well be honest and confess that I appreciate it without being a connoisseur. If you want to please me, don’t take me out to a fancy restaurant. Invite me to have a coffee instead. I just love eating local products at a corner table. It’s even better when it’s improvised. I used to live with an American who would ask me, “You set the table, you do the dishes, and then you start over again for lunch and supper?” I told him, “Yes, it’s a family ritual. We’re together for mealtimes. For me, that’s a given.” For 15 years now, I’ve breakfasted with my children every morning. It’s the time of day when we’re all together, we talk, we bicker, we settle scores, we have fun. The kitchen is, first and foremost, the art of sharing. And, of course, it also changes your life: you learn to have taste, patience, choices, organization.
LP: You sometimes come down hard on French movies. Don’t you like them?
SM: Our movie industry is a far cry from being hopeless! Look, people are still talking about the Nouvelle Vague, even today. But you have to accept that nowadays movies have become an entertainment medium more than an art form. Now that the whole world has been filled with screens, it’s hackneyed; movies are no longer a major artform…
This article was originally published in our print magazine Le Point Rendez-vous en France