Les Femmes Essentielles is a special series of movie classics starring the most legendary actresses of French cinema. These films are available in specially priced packages for theaters, film societies, cinematheques, and museums, supported by first-run quality marketing materials and filmgoer guides.
Contact us if you’re interested in booking any of these films or if you're interested in seeing this series in your city.
Diary of a Chambermaid (1964, dir. Luis Buñuel)
Jeanne Moreau (1928—2017) first gained true stardom in Louis Malle's debut feature Elevator to the Gallows, soon becoming the screen's incarnation of French femininity, projecting both worldly sophistication and earthy sensuality in a wide range of roles, with an acclaimed array of international filmmakers including Welles, Trufaut, Renoir, Demy, Antonioni, Becker, Kazan, Losey, Fassbinder, and Wenders. Octave Mirbeau's libertine novel of 1900 had been adapted twice earlier for the screen. Buñuel's Diary of a Chambermaid is considered truest to the novel's anarchic spirit. As the maid Célestine, Moreau captivates as she navigates the various perversities of her employers, eventually elevating herself to a high position of class, authority, and lascivity.
Entre Nous (1983, dir. Diane Kurys)
Diane Kurys' biographical drama features two renowned actresses of contemporary French cinema. Isabelle Huppert is one of the most celebrated stars working today, with a career spanning over 45 years. Miou-Miou's best-known films include Bertrand Blier's Going Places, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, and Memoirs of a French Whore, for which she won the 1979 César Award. In Entre Nous, a decade after escaping occupied France, housewife Lena (Huppert) becomes enamored of free spirited Madeleine (Miou-Miou) even as Madeleine is faced with her own challenges. Best Foreign Language Film nomination (Academy Awards, 1984). Best Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay nominations (César Awards, 1984).
César and Rosalie (1972, dir. Claude Sautet)
Viennese by birth, Romy Schneider (1938—1982) began acting in German films but gained international stardom in such films as Orson Welles' The Trial, Jacques Deray's La Piscine, and Claude Sautet's Les Choses de la vie. Tragically, she died of poor health at age 43. Almodóvar dedicated his film All About My Mother to Schneider's memory. In Sautet's César and Rosalie, Schneider plays a recent divorcee who splits her time between family and the wealthy César (Yves Montand). When David (Sami Frey), an old flame of Rosalie's, appears, the two men vie for her affections.
Contempt (1963, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
There was the "It Girl." There was the "Oomph Girl." And then there was Brigitte Bardot, the movies' first "sex kitten." Starting as an Elle cover model at age 15, Bardot drew the attention of Roger Vadim, who married her and then invented her sexy screen image in ...And God Created Woman. She remains the symbol of mid-century sexual freedom. Those who would dismiss her as merely eye candy have not seen Contempt, Godard's early career triumph of anti-spectacle, where she's more than a match for movie veterans like Michel Piccoli and Jack Palance, playing the disenchanted wife of sell-out screenwriter Piccoli, but who's seduced by the vulgar charms of Hollywood producer Palance.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, dir. Alain Resnais)
Emmanuelle Riva (1927—2017) epitomized a new kind of female star, more realistic and intellectual, as opposed to the "sex kitten" stereotype of Bardot. After her star-making turn in Hiroshima Mon Amour, Riva appeared opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo in Melville's Léon Morin, Priest. In 2012, Riva starred in Michael Haneke's Amour, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, a role for which Riva received a multitude of awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and César and BAFTA Awards for Best Actress. In Alain Resnais' groundbreaking work of the New Wave, Riva portrays a French actress researching a role in post-war Hiroshima. She enters into an affair with a Japanese architext (Eiji Okada) while experiencing flashbacks of a doomed wartime tryst with a German soldier. Screenplay by Marguerite Duras (Academy Award nomination, 1959).
Pierrot Le Fou (1965, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Anna Karina left Denmark at age 18 to pursue a modeling career in Paris. She turned down a supporting role in Breathless, but accepted the lead in Godard's second feature, Le Petit Soldat. They married the following year and their cinematic collaboration continued with six more features. When not working with Godard, Karina appeared in a variety of other films, including Visconti's The Stranger, Vadim's La Ronde, and Jacques Rivette's controversial La Religieuse (now back in theatres in a new 4K restoration). In Pierrot Le Fou, her sixth collaboration with Godard, she plays the femme fatale role to its Godardian extreme: murdering, luring, seducing, abandoning, or playing the damsel-in-distress, all contributing to the unraveling sanity of her partner on-the-run, played with effortless cool by Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Le Sauvage (1975, dir. Jean-Paul Rappaneau)
Perhaps the most iconic of all French actresses, Catherine Deneuve worked professionally for seven uneventful years until Jacques Demy cast her in the classic Umbrellas of Cherbourg in 1964, vaulting her to international stardom. Plum roles would swiftly follow, for Polanski in Repulsion and for Buñuel in Belle de Jour and Tristana. In Le Sauvage, Deneuve plays a manic maiden in the best screwball tradition, fleeing her possessive Italian fiancé to hide out on a remote island with a quirky parfumier (Yves Montand). Tony Roberts and Dana Wynter (of Body Snatchers fame) round out this escapist comedy, one of France's top box office hits of 1975.
When You Read This Letter (1953, dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)
Iconic singer and actress Juliette Gréco (born 1927) was imprisoned as a teenager for her involvement in the Resistance. Gréco became a central figure in the post-liberation Bohemian circles of Saint-Germain-des-Près, her friends including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, earning her the nickname "la Muse de l'existentialisme." When You Read This Letter was her first starring role. Now 91, she announced her retirement in 2015. With the sudden death of her parents, Sister Thérèse (Gréco) has to quit the convent to run the family business in Cannes and support her kid sister Denise (Irene Galter). Enter low-life Max (Philippe Lemaire), an auto mechanic, nightclub boxer, chauffeur, and all-round hustler, who chases Denise at the same time he's sleeping with his rich employer (Yvonne Sanson)...setting up an impassioned battle between good and evil.