“French Beauty”: Make that beauties, plural


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


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


And finally, there is Juliette

, who had an early, lesbian-inflected scene with Lena

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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