In the summer of 1999, a significantly large contingent of French cinema personalities visited Kolkata and Mumbai, participating and celebrating the seventh art with a series of French film festivals in these two cinema-mad cities. Most remember elegant French veteran Nathalie Baye and her steamy role in the provocative film Une liaisons pornographique (A Pornographic Liaison), and some may have noticed the very attractive young star, Marion Cotillard, a few years before she went on to gain international fame and recognition.
Most though may have missed out the beautiful young 25-years-old Natacha Régnier and her rather sinister role in the film Les amant criminels (Criminal Lovers), yet she was, at that point of time, the one with the most epaulettes, the one who had won the most prestigious of film awards in Europe. Just the year earlier, in 1998, the movie La vie rêvée des anges (The Dream Life of Angels) had been the film that had had every cinema buff under its spell, as it cornered many of the most important awards at various film festivals. Though the movie was nominated for the very prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it missed out, but the two protagonists, Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Régnier, shared the award for the best female actor(s).
At the no-less prestigious French film industry awards, the César, La vie rêvée des anges was nominated in seven categories, winning the César for the best film, as well as the César for the best female actor, for Elodie Bouchez, and the most promising actress for Régnier. Though La vie rêvée des anges was not Régnier’s first feature length movie – she had already had a role in Pascal Bonitzer’s film Encore from 1996 – it was the one in which she had an important role, one which established her reputation as one of the finest actresses in the highly competitive and rather demanding French cinema milieu.
Natacha Régnier though, is not French. She is Belgian, having grown up in a comfortable “bourgeois family” from Ixelles, a municipality of Brussels, in Belgium. As a child, Régnier dreamt of cinema when she saw Catherine Deneuve in the film Peau d’âne (Donkey Skin).
After a few years of theatre classes in the neighbourhood theatre school, a friend suggested that Régnier play a role in a short film called The Motorcycle Girl, in 1993. Two years later, she moved to Paris with a backpack and with plans to give the film industry a shot.
She found an agent, Jean-François Gabard of Zelig, and there was no looking back, as she landed a first role, a small one for the film Dis-moi oui (Tell Me Yes) by Alexandre Arcady, followed by roles in several TV serials. It was thanks to Pascal Bonitzer's 1996 film Encore though, where Régnier played a student in love with her philosophy teacher, when the actor was really noticed.
Recognition followed soon thereafter, when at the very young age of 24 years, Natacha Régnier shared the Best Actress award with Elodie Bouchez at Cannes for Erick Zonca's The Dream Life of Angels in 1998, a troubling film about the aimless and frustrating wanderings of two teenage girls in the despairing industrial wasteland in the North of France. With an angelic smile – which could quickly transform into a stubborn, smouldering stare – Natacha embodied Marie, in all her contained violence, as opposed to the warm and extrovert Isa (Elodie Bouchez).
Since then, a series of movies, of mostly the auteur kind, has followed. A soft spoken, almost shy, yet demanding personality, Natacha Régnier alternates between first films by new directors and working with recognised and reputed moviemakers.
“I was very shy as a youngster,” explains Régnier, “and acting gave me the opportunity to express myself through the roles of others. I am much more comfortable saying the words of others. I needed to express myself, and acting is a wonderful way to do so. At the same time I like the script to be clear and precise.”
Régnier has also been very active on stage in Paris, doing plays. So how does theatre compare with cinema? “Theatre is a like running a marathon,” replies Régnier. “You need to prepare and train yourself over a period of time and then you go and perform for one hour or two hours with very little breaks. Cinema is like a series of sprints. Short takes where you need to be as precise as you can be. Long breaks and then back performing in front of the camera for another series of takes.”
With a predilection for very personal and intimate interpretations encompassing timidity, softness and vulnerability, Régnier’s roll call of over two dozen roles include films made in Belgium, Switzerland, Kirghizstan and Burkina Faso. Yet none in connection with India.
“My one visit to India was absolutely fascinating,” says Régnier, “and I have always been a great fan of Indian cinema, specifically those by Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. What I would love to be able to do is either an Indian film, or a film with an Indian connection. I think India’s sensitivities matches my temperament more than many other part of the world.”
(Gautam Sen is acknowledged globally as a leading automotive journalist, writer, automotive design consultant and expert from India. He founded the country’s first newsstand car magazine Indian Auto in 1986, followed by Auto India, Auto Motor & Sports and BBC’s TopGear. Mr Sen has also been directly involved with the automobile industry in India and Europe, and has worked with eminent designers such as Gerard Godfroy, Tom Tjaarda and Marcello Gandini