Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kristin Scott Thomas goes French

When some actresses reach a "certain age," they undergo the acting industry's version of menopause. (Which, I guess, probably coincides with real menopause). The romantic lead roles they were accustomed to are no longer offered. Now they're cast as the mother of the lead, if they're cast at all.

Other actresses, like Kristin Scott Thomas, go to France.

Scott Thomas -- who first caught our attention in Four Weddings and a Funeral, before etching her place in the Movie Romance Hall of Fame with The English Patient -- is 49. That's two years younger than I guessed she was. Not that Scott Thomas looks 51. Just that I always find these people are older than you think they are, so I guess on the high end.

I've always been a fan. Kristin Scott Thomas redefines the word "elegant."

To say she has only just now gone to France is, of course, inaccurate. She's been living there since she was 19, and she's actually been getting cast in French films almost as long as English-language ones (1987 vs. 1985).

But much of the moviegoing world has perhaps not been aware of her bilingual abilities until this past year. I myself was not aware until I heard the raves for I've Loved You So Long late last year. By the time I finally saw it, last night, I'd seen Scott Thomas show up in another French film, the thriller Tell No One, a couple months earlier.

I think the reason this interests me so much is that we are accustomed to seeing foreign actresses come to Hollywood to forge a career, but we usually don't see established English-speaking actresses go the other way. And since I'm a short-sighted American, I'm a lot more impressed by an English speaker who learns another language than a foreigner who learns English.

Again this does not particularly relate to Scott Thomas, per se -- as a 30-year resident of France, she certainly didn't need to "learn" anything for her roles in I've Loved You So Long and Tell No One. Nor did Jodie Foster, I guess, when she appeared in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement. After all, Foster is a fluent French speaker who attended a French school in Los Angeles. I guess she dubs her own lines in the French-language versions of her movies.

But can I still be impressed? Is that allowed?

What I like in particular about Scott Thomas' emigration to French films is that the roles promise to continue to be interesting for her there -- to make excellent use of her elegant fragility, her steely resolve, even into her 50s. (I see she'll be in a movie called Partir later this year, which will probably hit us sometime next year).

Because just look at what she has to do here. You'd think, since she's a French citizen and actually identifies more with France than with England, that gracefully transitioning into intelligent French films would satisfy her. Unfortunately, the lure of Hollywood is still strong -- strong enough to convince her to make twaddle like Confessions of a Shopaholic. Maybe she thought her role as a terminally stylish magazine editor would give her a prominent platform like the one Meryl Streep had in The Devil Wears Prada, but I remember just feeling sorry for Scott Thomas when I watched Shopaholic. The movie wasn't worthy of her, and it brought her down to its level.

But since then I've seen Tell No One, in which she played a whimsical middle-aged lesbian, and I've Loved You So Long, in which she plays a woman returning to the world after 15 years in prison for murder. I'd say she was brilliant in both, but her role in Tell No One was relatively inconsequential to the plot. In I've Loved You So Long, though, she's front and center, and knocks your socks off.

The vintage Kristin Scott Thomas is still with us -- even if we have to read subtitles to get her.


Anonymous said...

i'm french, sorry for my english.

I guess she dubs her own lines in the French-language versions of her movies.
You guess right about Jodie ;)

I see she'll be in a movie called Partir later this year, which will probably hit us sometime next year
hope you do... sadly maybe you will not since as you said not many of her french movies were released prior to 'tell no one' (good movie) and 'i've loved you so long' (great performance from her, i agree...and a really moving picture).

and Scott thomas will shout 3 more french movies this year : "Sous ton emprise", "Une femme parfaite" and "elle s'appelait sarah".

Vancetastic said...

Thanks for the comment. Scott Thomas is one of those whose appearance in a cast always makes me more interested in a film.