You could summarize Carole Bouquet’s legendary good looks in the title of Bertrand Blier’s “Trop belle pour toi” (Too Beautiful for You), a 1989 comedy-drama in which her on-screen husband (Gerard Depardieu) falls for his rather plain-looking secretary. You might also define her signature French chic and unrivaled allure through a “Sex and the City” episode, where lunching at Parisian hot spot Kong she discusses her ex with Carrie Bradshaw, aka Sarah Jessica Parker. If you’re of the cinephile kind, you would trace Bouquet’s debut silver screen appearance in Luis Bunuel’s 1977 surrealist “Cet obscur objet du desir” (That Obscure Object of Desire) as her entry into the panorama of film’s great masters.
Are some on-camera appearances easier than others?
“Cinema is usually a very light, joyful experience, no matter what the film’s level of difficulty; it’s so marvelous to tell stories and live them, so I don’t suffer as an actress. But there are some roles which are harder than others,” Bouquet told Kathimerini English Edition.
In Patrick Mille’s 2012 “Mauvaise fille,” Bouquet’s most recent film to date, the actress takes on the role of a terminally ill mother and former model who has a painful relationship with her daughter. On location, the actress faced seven hours of prep work before shooting the film’s several hospital scenes.
“The difficulty was not the illness itself, I had already portrayed dying people, but the fact that I was physically restrained. Being confined to a hospital bed, unable to speak or move, I was confronted with a suffering daughter but I couldn’t budge, as it would endanger the entire production,” noted Bouquet.
The film, a story full of surprises and pain – like life itself, according to the actress – is one of many making up the core of the 14th edition of the Francophone Film Festival, which wraps up in Athens today before moving to the northern port city of Thessaloniki from April 11-17.
As the event’s godmother this year, Bouquet was honored in the Greek capital with an award as well as a tribute featuring a selection of her films. While in Athens, the actress visited the Acropolis Museum, indulging her love for Greek myths.
“These are stories which fascinate and sustain me. I always carry with me Jean-Pierre Vernant’s ‘L’Univers, les dieux, les hommes,’ a book on Greek mythology. I find that even today, even more so today, there is a stronger need to reread these ancient stories,” she said. “Many actors have an issue regarding their roots, where they come from. My feeling is that my roots are to be found in Greek mythology.”
Bouquet’s love for antiquity comes into sharp contrast with another of her Greek experiences, which was shooting the James Bond adventure “For Your Eyes Only” alongside Sir Roger Moore in 1981.
“It was rather boring because we didn’t do anything. They didn’t lie to me; they didn’t say, ‘You’ll be doing “Medea.”’ We traveled and it was stunning [part of the movie’s action was shot in monastic Meteora, central Greece] but after a few days on the set pretending to climb, it was all down to special effects. You’re actually on the floor in a studio and the shot is then turned upside down. It’s amusing for a day or two, but not if it goes on for the next six months. It’s amusing for the director, of course, because it’s like a Lego game where you construct something, and for the public as well.”
Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, an elegant borough on the outskirts of Paris, in 1957, Bouquet grew up in a rather privileged environment before enrolling in a philosophy course at the Sorbonne. She only lasted a few days there before heading to the city’s Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique instead.
Cast in the Bunuel classic during her drama studies, Bouquet subsequently spent most her life in the public eye. Besides a rich crop of films and a series of awards and nominations, there has been plenty of speculation and scrutiny regarding her private life, most notably regarding her long-term relationship with larger-than-life Depardieu. The mother of two sons, Bouquet has also worked as a model and enjoyed a long-lasting association with luxury powerhouse Chanel.
Could her visit to Athens be interpreted as a means of showing support to a society which is being put to the test?
“I find that linking an entire population to a financial crisis is terribly unjust,” she said. “Do you think that France has a proper system? Look at all the scandals hitting the country [Jerome Cahuzac, France’s ex-budget minister, recently resigned after admitting to keeping an undeclared foreign bank account with deposits of about 600,000 euros, while Jean-Jacques Augier, President Francois Hollande’s treasurer for the latter’s presidential campaign last year, was discovered to have shares in companies registered in the Cayman Islands, a well-known tax haven]. We have a certain image as a nation, but we’re not doing very well either. Europe is not doing well: What is going in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain is very violent. Am I content? No. France is like pretty dress where you don’t see what’s going on underneath, all the problems at hospitals and schools. Education used to be the right of a street kid as much as that of a rich kid, everybody had access. This system came to an end 30 years ago.”
In 2008 Bouquet was on her way home from dinner when she walked past a group of about 50 homeless women and children on a Parisian sidewalk. While her initial reaction was to keep walking – “something which I found worrisome,” she later admitted – she then decided to make an U-turn.
The women were French workers, some even working at ministries, all living in rented places in cramped conditions, lodgings that cost the French state hefty sums. The group was demanding decent housing for them and their families. On the spot, Bouquet decided to help, embarking on a mission which culminated in a meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy. The result of her involvement was a government decision to provide new social housing for dozens of French families.
“In such cases you can have a voice, a little bit like a lawyer, because I can talk to media and ministers,” said the actress. “In this case it was about an an absurd system which comes at a very high price. So I spoke to them and we found a solution.”
This proactive approach was not a first in terms of Bouquet’s involvement in public life. Over the last 25 years she has been the spokesperson of La Voix de l’Enfant, an organization catering to abused children in France and around the world.
“I felt very spoiled, very fortunate, and when I was pregnant with my second son, 27 years ago, I wanted to assist charity organizations,” she said. “When I visited La Voix de l’Enfant the phone kept on ringing with calls regarding cases of abused children in France, family abuse and incest, for instance. That’s how it started,” said Bouquet. “But in order to help everybody I would have to become a minister and that’s not something I would like to do. Because I wouldn’t be effective. Politics is very important but personally, I love the work of associations, because these people are in the field, they are in touch with reality and its problems, and are able to come up with practical solutions.”
While activism remains a top priority, she is also pondering her upcoming artistic moves. Theater is at the top of her agenda.
“I haven’t done much theater, and every time I do, I realize that it’s something I always wanted to do, but it takes time,” said Bouquet. “For a while now I have been thinking of Euripides’ ‘Medea.’ I think I might even do it here, in Greece.”
[Kathimerini English Edition]