“French Beauty”: Make that beauties, plural

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I was on vacation in New York a couple
of weeks ago, when I noticed a film due to screen that evening on the
Sundance Channel. Titled French Beauty, it was a documentary
on Gallic actresses that took as its premise that "As essential to
France’s mystique as its wines, haute couture and cuisine is its place
as the defining home of female beauty."

Well, no disagreement here. I’ve
often wondered what it is that they are putting in the water to make
French actresses so consistently, yet uniquely, ravishing. While the
documentary didn’t succeed in answering this question, it did get
me thinking over some of my favorite French actresses and also reflecting
on how many of them seem to have featured in films with either an overtly
lesbian or a homoerotic theme.

First there was Catherine Deneuve
in 1983′s The Hunger.

Deneuve would also go on to star
in the 2002 musical mystery 8 Women/8 Femmes,
where she has a sexually charged relationship not only with her sister-in-law,
played by Fanny Ardant, but also her maid, played by Emmanuelle
Béart
.

And that wasn’t the first time
Béart had played queer. In 2001, she starred in La Répétition,
a drama where she played the object of obsession for her best female
friend (Pascale Bussières, star of When Night Is Falling).

Julie Delpy had a lesbian
cameo in the 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader.

The peachy-looking Ludivine Sagnier
is not well-known in the States, except perhaps for her role as Tink
in the 2003 movie Peter Pan. But British audiences may remember
her in the French/U.K. co-production Swimming Pool, released that
same year.

Sagnier played Julie, a young woman
who becomes the object of a strange, irritated fascination for an older
writer, Sarah (played by Charlotte Rampling). Julie seems to
embody youth, beauty and sexuality, in contrast to Sarah’s tension
and repression — a role which Sagnier was eminently suited to fill.

Some reviewers didn’t
think much of the 2001 lesbian-themed drama Amour de Femme.
But personally, I found it difficult to resist this tale of beautiful
35-year-old osteopath Jeanne, played by Hélène Fillières

… falling in love with equally
beautiful dancer Marie, played by Raffaëla Anderson.

One of the most internationally successful
French actresses, of course, is the Audrey Hepburn–like Audrey Tautou.

While Tautou has never played gay
herself, she does appear in two ensemble dramas with a strong lesbian
character: L’Auberge Espagnole and its follow-up Les Poupées
Russes
.

And finally, there is Juliette
Binoche
, who had an early, lesbian-inflected scene with Lena
Olin
in 1988′s The Unbearable Lightness of Being — although
since then, as far as I’m aware, she has never played gay. Luckily,
I came across this picture, which allows me to pretend that the 2006
drama Breaking and Entering, instead of being a film about a
love triangle between her, Jude Law and Robin Wright Penn,
was actually just a straight-up romance between Wright Penn and Binoche:

Which are your favorite French actresses?
Who have I missed? And what exactly is it that makes French
women so damned gorgeous?

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