Anouk Aimée received her only Oscar nomination to date for playing Anne Gauthier, a repressed young widow in the French classic, A Man and a Woman. I don't know what to think about her chances of winning: on the one hand, she won the Golden Globe, which was pretty much a miracle, considering the fact that the Globes reward exclusively stars, but on the other hand, Elizabeth Taylor was the one to beat. I think Aimée might have been third in the voting, but I imagine that Taylor got about 75% of the votes at least.
A Man and a Woman is quite simply a great movie: yes, simply, as the main principle of this movie is simplicity. Everything is so nice, ordinary and therefore, simply loveable. The screenplay win was, in my opinion, richly deserved. The situations, the dialogues, the characters' thoughts are so damn realistic: it's not a heavy drama with huge scenes, outbursts and breakdowns, it's just a quiet tale of some natural emotions. I think the Foreign Language Picture award was also deserved.
The performances are just like the movie: quiet, simply, subtle and emotional. The chemistry between the two leads is just excellent: you can feel that they love each other, care about each other and want to be happy with each other, but it's as if there was a huge wall of grief between them. It's especially Anne who suffers from the loss of her husband. As she says in the end: he IS dead, but not for me. Knowing these emotions, Anouk Aimée was able to create a beautiful performance.
When we first see Anne, she's nothing special, she's just a smiling mum having fun with her daughter, telling tales and she seems to be perfectly happy. This is the surface, but Aimée showed the soul of this character with such ease, that it's almost invisible. Yes, Aimée is extremely subtle, but I always felt that there was real foce inside.
Again, when she meets Jean-Louis, nothing special happens: they are in the car talking in a very standard, polite way with a bit embarassment. These little nervous ticks are so exciting and show so much of them: we actually get to know a lot about them even at the beginning of the whole story. The movie itself is rather interesting too and it really helps the performances: everything becomes so natural, that you have actually NO doubt that this could happen in real life.
I always felt that Aimée understood her character quite well, she knew what there was inside her head and was familiar with the insecurities, sadness and guilt of this woman. Anne cannot let her late husband go even though she loves Jean-Louis and wants something more from him. Anne just doesn't have the courage to begin that relationship since she would think it's adultery.
As I said, this is a very natural performance, which has such a beauty that might come from the real beauty of Anouk Aimée. Let's face it: only looking at her is enough, as she charms you instantly becauseof her beauty. If you like a character instantly, it's much easier to connect to her emotionally and it's no problem with Anne: you root for her from the beginning, but in a very odd way. You just wish all the best for her.
However, this immense subtlety also makes her performance a bit undercooked and weak sometimes, especially when the movie focuses on Jean-Louis. When it's mostly about Anne, it doesn't bother you, but she should have been had a bit more impact on me, so that I do not lose connection to her. This is in the middle of the movie, and thankfully, in the end she really gains a lot of strength.
The scene where they are making love (and it's the best expression for it, it's not just having sex, there is so much true love there) focuses on the face Aimée and it's just terrific: there is a strange mix of joy and guilt in it, sometimes she feels great, but sometimes her eyes looks teary. Anouk Aimée perfectly handled and combined all the emotions, which really have an effect on the viewer. It's even better when she's on the train, sitting and thinking. That's probably the most memorable scene of Anouk and quite probably the whole movie too. It's just breathtaking.
In the end, I can say that I loved Anouk Aimée in this one very much, but sometimes I felt that her performance lacked something and wasn't constantly strong. It's an extremely simple, beautiful, clean and loveable work to which the viewer can easily connect. Not a huge achievement, but a great one anyhow.
A firm four.
What do you think? Any thoughts, observations? Tell me!