‘Man and a Woman,’ ‘La Dolce Vita’ Actress Was 92

Actress Anouk Aimée, the sophisticated French beauty who graced the films of Federico Fellini, Jacques Demy, Sidney Lumet, Bernardo Bertolucci and Claude Lelouch, has died. She was 92. 

Aimee’s daughter said in an Instagram post on Tuesday that the star died at her home in Paris without providing further details. 

Perhaps best known for her role opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant in Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman (1966) — for which she received an Oscar nomination for best actress and won a Golden Globe — Aimée also starred in such art house standouts as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963), Demy’s Lola (1961), Jacques Becker’s Montparnasse 19 (1958) and Bertolucci’s Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981).

Her career kicked off in the late 1940s and lasted all the way through a reunion with Trintignant in The Best Years (Les Plus belles annees), Lelouch’s 2019 epilogue to A Man and a Woman. 

With more than 80 feature credits, she also sparkled in Robert Altman‘s send-up of the fashion world, Ready to Wear (1994); Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ The Birch-Tree Meadow (2003), in which she played a Holocaust survivor who returns to Auschwitz 60 years after the war; and Yvan Attal’s … And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004).

In a 2007 interview, the elegant Aimée revealed her secret of acting to The Guardian: “It was Fellini who taught me this: The most important thing of all is to listen, just listen to what the other characters say. And don’t take [yourself] too seriously.”

Born in Paris on April 27, 1932, Aimée, whose real name was Judith Dreyfus — though some official documents list her first name as Nicole — was the daughter of actor Henri Dreyfus (stage name: Henry Murray) and actress Genevieve Sorya (nee Durand).

During World War II, she took her mother’s maiden name to avoid Nazi persecution, moving between Paris and the south of France. She attended boarding school in the Alps and crossed paths with a young Roger Vadim, future director of And God Created Women.

When she was 14, Aimée was spotted by film director Henri Calef, who cast her for the part of Anouk in his 1947 romantic drama La maison sous la mer. The actress decided to keep that as her professional name, adding “Aimee” (which means “loved” in French) at the suggestion of author Jacques Prevert, whom she met while shooting Marcel Carne’s unfinished teen saga La fleur de l’age.

At 16, she starred in The Lovers of Verona (1949), Andre Cayette’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

During the next two decades, the enigmatic Aimée would star in more than 40 films, making a name for herself in French features like Alexandre Astruc’s drama Bad Liaisons (1955) — an inspiration for the auteurs of the French New Wave — and Montparnasse 19, Jacques Becker’s portrait of the early 20th century Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani.

In 1960, Fellini cast Aimée in his masterpiece La Dolce Vita, in which she played the wealthy heiress Maddalena, one of Marcello Mastroianni’s love interests. The two would work together again three years later in Fellini’s autobiographical classic 8 1/2, where she portrayed Mastroianni’s spurned wife, Luisa. (The character was based on Fellini’s real wife, actress Giulietta Masina.)

When recalling her work with Fellini for Paris Match, Aimée said, “I discovered laughter and the joie de vivre, and I learned to love my job as an actress.”

After 8 1/2, Aimée moved to Italy for a spell and made several movies there, including Marco Bellocchio’s drama A Leap in the Dark (1980), for which she received best actress honors in Cannes.

She also starred in Lumet’s Rome-set psychological thriller The Appointment (1969), in which she portrayed a woman suspected of being a high-class prostitute by her jealous husband (Omar Sharif).

Aimée had risen to international stardom after playing Trintignant’s lover — their characters were widow and widower — in Lelouch’s 1966 race-car romance A Man and a Woman, which followed a Palme d’Or win with a pair of Academy Awards.

Shot in three weeks on a tiny budget, the movie grossed $14 million in the U.S. and more than $50 million worldwide. Aimée became the first French actress to receive an Oscar nom for a French-speaking role, though she lost out to Elizabeth Taylor for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In 1986, Lelouch and the cast reunited to make A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, which premiered out of competition in Cannes.

Aimée continued to work regularly through the ’90s, performing in several other Lelouch productions while working with Altman, Bertolucci and other auteurs like Angés Varda, Jerzy Skolimowski and Mika Kaurismaki.

She did, however, pass up a chance to star alongside Steve McQueen in the role that Faye Dunaway made famous in 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair.

In The Birch-Tree Meadow, Aimée starred in Holocaust survivor Loridan-Ivens’ drama, which was filmed at the actual sites of Auschwitz and Birkenau. “At first, I didn’t want to accept the part out of modesty,” she said. “We shot in the actual barracks … It was horrible. I was sick, and when I came back, I lost my hair.”

She was the recipient of an honorary Cesar Award from her home country in 2002.

Aimée was married four times, the last three to Greek director-producer Nico Papatakis, with whom she had a daughter, Manuella; to French singer, songwriter and actor Pierre Barouh, who performed the title song for and appeared as her deceased husband in A Man and a Woman; and finally, from 1970-78, to British acting legend Albert Finney.

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