Anouk Aimée, Oscar-Nominated French Star of ‘A Man and a Woman,’ Dies at 92

Anouk Aimée, the French actress known for her elegance and cool sophistication in films including Claude Lelouch’s “A Man and a Woman” (1966), Fellini classics “La Dolce Vita” (1960) and “8½” (1963) and Jacques Demy’s “Lola” (1961), died on Tuesday. She was 92.

Aimée’s daughter, Manuela Papatakis, confirmed her death in a post on Instagram.

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“With my daughter, Galaad, and my granddaughter, Mila, we have great sadness to announce the departure of my mother Anouk Aimée,” she wrote. “I was right by her side when she passed away this morning at her home in Paris.”

Fairly described in one encyclopedia as an “an aloof but alluring presence on the screen,” Aimée was frequently described as ““regal,” “intelligent” and “enigmatic,” giving the actress, according to journalist Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, “an aura of disturbing and mysterious beauty that has earned her the status of one of the hundred sexiest stars in film history (in a 1995 poll conducted by Empire magazine).”

Aimée was Oscar-nominated for best actress for her role opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant in “A Man and a Woman” — one of a relatively small number of actors to be so nominated for a performance in a foreign film. The movie’s director, Claude Lelouch, was also nominated (he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes), and “A Man and a Woman” won Oscars for best original screenplay and foreign language film.

The film, made on a small budget, was also an enormous commercial success. Aimée played a production assistant in the movie business who meets a race-car driver played by Trintignant at a school where each has a child boarding.

Reviewing the 1966 film for the DVD Verdict website in 2003, Dan Mancini wrote that “A Man and a Woman” serves as “a reminder that the sleekly produced modern Hollywood romance isn’t the only way to go, that romantic films can benefit from the raw aesthetics of the low-budget independent. Aimée and Trintignant are movie-star pretty, but Lelouch’s style gives them both a weighty humanity, as do their performances. Like any respectable disciple of the French New Wave, Lelouch gives his actors plenty of room to improvise, to get to the heart of a scene via whatever path feels natural. The tentative nature of the interactions between Aimée and Trintignant — their halting eye contact, pregnant pauses, nervous laughs — undercuts (in a good way) their sparkling good looks and movie-star mystique.”

Back in 1965, Variety said: “Anouk Aimée has a mature beauty and an ability to project an inner quality that helps stave off the obvious banality of her character, and this goes too for the perceptive Jean-Louis Trintignant as the man.”

(Lelouch brought the two actors back together for 1986’s “A Man and a Woman, Twenty Years Later,” which was far less successful.)

In 1961’s “Lola,” Jacques Demy’s first film, which was not appreciated until later, Aimée starred “as the alluring and guileless Lola, the mysterious woman of the world who draws the attention of a trio of lovers, in her universal portrayal of a vulnerable cabaret singer jilted in love but still hopeful of her man returning,” in the words of critic Dennis Schwartz. In the film, set in the port town of Nantes, most loves sadly go unrequited. (Aimée reprised the role of Lola in Demy’s Los Angeles-shot 1969 film “Model Shop,” in which her character worked in a photo studio where men could rent cameras and take pictures of naked women; she encounters a young man played by Gary Lockwood. The New York Times said Lockwood’s character “meets Miss Aimée, falls in love with her, and after much coffee house philosophy about war, marriage, love and politics, they part.”)

In Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Marcello Mastroianni plays a journalist wandering through the realm of the glamorous people of Rome while juggling a number of romantic entanglements. Marcello is drawn to Aimée’s Maddalena, who is beautiful and exceptionally rich but also bored and apathetic, and his wooing of her is half-hearted.

In Fellini’s “8½,” a film declared the director’s “obvious masterpiece” in a 1964 review by Esquire’s Dwight MacDonald, Mastroianni’s movie director is having a professional and personal crisis after scoring a big hit, leaving him nervous and uncertain about what to do next; he seeks solace or at least escape at a health spa, but those who depend him, including his mistress and then his intellectual, chain-smoking wife, played by Aimée, follow him. Aimée’s Luisa is, in the words of Roger Ebert, “enraged at him — as much for his bad taste in women as for his infidelity.”

The New York Times declared that much is “wonderful” in the film, including “some splendid and charming performing — Sandra Milo as the mistress, Guido Alberti as a producer, Anouk Aimée as the director’s jealous wife, Claudia Cardinale as a ‘dream girl,’ and many, many more.”

Aimée also gave a memorable performance in Belgian filmmaker André Delvaux’s 1968 surrealist classic “Un Soir, un train,” in which she starred with Yves Montand, he as a linguistics professor in Flanders, she as his lover, a Frenchwoman who designs costumes for a theater and feels uncomfortable in her alien surroundings while he shows no signs of wanting to take the next step in their relationship.

Aimée and Dirk Bogarde turned in good performances in “Justine” (1969), but the film was handed to George Cukor after another director had made something of a muddle of it, and it doesn’t ultimately really work as a film.

Of mild interest considering that the actress did not appear in many English-language movies is Aimée’s appearance in Robert Aldrich’s dreadful 1962 biblical epic “Sodom and Gomorrah,” in which she plays the evil queen of the Sodomites.

Aimée did not work in film for the first half of the 1970s, returning in 1976 for the Lelouch film “Si c’était à refaire” (Second Chance), in which she starred with Catherine Deneuve.

In Marco Bellocchio’s “A Leap in the Dark” (1980), Aimée starred with Michel Piccoli and Michele Placido, playing a woman fraught with depression and fantasies of suicide; after seeming to recover, she begins a relationship with a brilliant actor (Placido), leading to jealousy on the part of her brother (Piccoli), a judge, whom she raised. The film won best actress and actor awards for Aimée and Piccoli at the Cannes Film Festival, and Bellocchio was nominated for the Palme d’Or.

In Bernardo Bertolucci’s critically acclaimed 1981 film “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man,” she played the wealthy, French-born wife of a Parma cheese factory owner (Ugo Tognazzi) whose son may or may not have been kidnapped.

Aimée was the star of Henry Jaglom’s 2001 film “Festival in Cannes,” a satire of Hollywood wheeling and dealing at the center of which is a struggle for the services of her character, European screen legend Millie Marguand, who is married to Maximilian Schell’s Victor. The New York Times said: “Most of the movie’s warmer moments that don’t seem forced belong to Millie and Viktor, who have been through too much together to pull any wool over each other’s eyes. As they philosophize about love, marriage, passion and companionship, you sense the power of a bond formed over many decades. Ms. Aimée and Mr. Schell emerge from the film with a worldly dignity.”

She also appeared in Robert Altman’s 1994 film “Prêt à Porter,” aka “Ready to Wear,” in which she played the mistress of Jean-Pierre Cassel’s head of the French fashion commission, who dies under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Aimée’s character is a top designer, and she and her son (Rupert Everett) face the prospect of selling their label to a Texas boot tycoon played by Lyle Lovett.

Nicole Françoise Florence Dreyfus was born in Paris, the daughter of actor Henri Murray (born Henry Dreyfus) and actress Geneviève Sorya.

Though her father was Jewish, she was raised in the Roman Catholicism of her mother, though she converted to Judaism as an adult. She studied dance at the Marseille Opera, and she studied theater in England, after which she studied dramatic art and dance with Andrée Bauer-Thérond.

She made her film debut at the age of 14 in Henri Calef’s “La Maison sous la mer” (1947) (she adopted her character’s name Anouk as her stage name), and was among the stars of Marcel Carné’s “La Fleur de l’âge” (1947), a film that was never completed and whose footage has disappeared; that film’s co-writer, Jacques Prévert, gave her the name “Aimée.” She starred opposite Serge Reggiani in André Cayatte’s Romeo and Juliet story “Les amants de Vérone” (1949).

The actress made her English-language debut in 1950 in Ronald Neame’s “Golden Salamander”; the tagline on the poster was “Introducing the compelling new star discovery of the year….exotic ANOUK!”

The New York Times said: “The authentic Tunisian backgrounds and atmosphere of this film are its best points — these and a pretty young lady who now goes by the name of Anouk. Miss Anouk (if that is how we should call her) is a wistful but strong and pliant girl who recently made a quite impressive appearance in ‘The Lovers of Verona,’ a French film. And now, as a French girl residing in a somewhat remote Tunisian town where things happen during the course of this picture, she continues to draw attention to herself.”

Jacques Becker’s “Modigliani of Montparnasse” (1958) was a stepping stone for Aimeé to the lead roles that would soon be hers. In this tragic biopic of the artist, she had a supporting role as Jeanne, a smart, wealthy woman keen on art who provides emotional support to the frail, older Modigliani (played by Gerard Philipe).

Aimeé’s last film was Charlotte de Turckheim’s “Mince alors!” in 2012.

She won an Honorary César at France’s César Awards in 2002, an Honorary Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2003 and the Silver Medallion Award at Telluride in 2009.

Aimeé was married four times, the first to Edouard Zimmermann (1949-50), the second to Nikos Papatakis (1951-55), the third to Pierre Barouh (1966-69) and the last time to actor Albert Finney (1970-78). All the marriages ended in divorce.

She is survived by her daughter, Manuela Papatakis.

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