80 and Beyond: The Longevity and Grace of French Actors
While the American and British film industries are renowned for their fickle nature, bringing stars into the limelight only to later abandon them, the French scene has proven to offer greater longevity for veterans of the silver screen. From Gisèle Casadesus to Jean-Louis Trintignant, we look at some of the French actors above 80 whose careers are still thriving.
Ageism is a discrimination that has taken a strong hold over the media industries over the past decades, especially in Western cultures. With the platitude of ‘sex sells’ still remaining a core principle in the press, broadcasting and advertising worlds, artistic commitment is often overshadowed by current trends, scandalous gossip and youthful looks. However, while this tendency is evident throughout nearly all European cultures, France has seemingly been less affected by this growing favouritism. There are a multitude of French actors above the age of 80 who are still stealing the attention of this seemingly ‘youthful’ industry.
France has the fourth highest life expectancy in the world and the late Jeanne Louise Calment still remains the oldest living person in recorded human history, reaching the age of 122. French filmmakers are also renowned for their adamant stance that film is an art form, not merely a commercial product, and so perhaps it is not surprising that so many well-experienced actors are still admired for their enduring acting skills. Gisèle Casadesus is one such versed performer, captivating audiences at the ripe age of 98. Over her long and fruitful career, Casadesus has won multiple awards including the high privilege of being ranked a Grand Officer in the Légion d’Honneur (2013), and has starred in an astonishing reel of films, theatre performances and television shows. First gaining attention at the age of 20 by winning the comedy award ‘Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique’ in Paris, Casadesus’ career is seasoned with a range of roles, from comedies such as My Afternoons with Margueritte (La Tête en Friche) (2010) to touching dramas like Sarah’s Key (Elle s’appelait Sarah)(2011). Her most recent work Sous le figuier (Under the Figtree) was released in 2012 and demonstrated her perennial prowess, moving audiences through the film’s light yet captivating exploration of modern life and the inevitability of death. Reportedly working on her next film, Casadesus is an inspiring figure whose long career exudes both grace and talent.
Jean-Louis Trintignant (82) and Emmanuelle Riva (86) are another two glowing stars who continue to receive critical claim for their performances. Trintignant and Riva performed together in the 2012 Oscar award-winning Amour (Love), directed by Michael Haneke. The film focuses on the two as husband and wife, exploring their relationship after Anne (Riva) suffers a stroke that paralyses one side of her body. Amour has been praised for bringing a refreshing perspective of relationships to the screen, a topic which has been saturated with sappy romantic stories of love-struck youths. Beautiful, mesmerising and emotionally resonant, both Trintignant and Riva’s performances in Amour highlight the unique acting potential that can only be gained through years of experience.
Other French actors who have surpassed their eight decade and are still at the pinnacle of their careers include Jean Rochefort (83), Michael Lonsdale (82), Michel Piccoli (87) and Jeanne Moreau (85). All staring in recently releases, their lasting careers not only highlight their passion and commitment to the art of filmmaking, but also the respect and reverence in which they are held by both the industry and their audiences.
With the continued trend of youthful attraction overcoming experience, skill and commitment, it is comforting to know there are filmmakers who are unwavering in their dedication to telling stories of and for all ages. Known as being home to pioneering artists in all fields, France’s dedication to practitioners of all ages further emphasises their justified status as one of the culture capitals of the world.
By Andrew Kingsford-Smith