Film & Television

Isabelle Huppert, The Art of Aging Gloriously

According to best-selling author Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don’t Get Fat. I was given this book as a gift a few years ago and dutifully read it. The only think that stuck with me was a super-complicated recipe for leek soup that is purportedly the secret weapon of French women. The rest of the book (from what I remember, and I confess I don’t remember much) championed the concept of eating for pleasure, making food a sensual experience. Savoring bread, pastry, wine, everything the French do so well. No heat-and-eat take-out or drive-through golden arches. “Mon dieu!”

About ten years later, Guiliano published French Women Don’t Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style & Attitude. The book promised to reveal “a proactive way to stay looking and feeling great, without resorting to ‘the knife’ — a French woman’s most guarded beauty secrets revealed for the benefit of us all!”

I resisted investing in this book, but its premise is intriguing. French women do seem to embrace their sexuality and a youthful joie de vivre decades longer than their American counterparts. And, even more surprising, French men (and movie audiences) seem to embrace those qualities as well. If you take a quick look at some of the iconic actresses of French cinema, there are a number of femmes d’un certain âge who not only work consistently, but continue to raise the pulse of doting admirers throughout France and the world.

One could argue that in the last decade or so, there have been multiple Hollywood movies about post-menopausal women rediscovering their sexuality. Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated, for example. Dianne Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams. Or, on the small screen, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie. The difference is that these American productions can’t resist poking fun at a woman who is coming of age in middle age. Streep seductively drops her robe and her lover (ex-husband Alec Baldwin) faints. Keaton gets caught in the nude and her houseguest (and soon-to-be lover Jack Nicholson) freaks out, unable to un-see the horror of a body that actually responds to gravity. Even when approached with affection and some compassion, middle-aged women wanting or — heaven forbid — enjoying sex is presented as comic relief. Is it progress that we’re seeing more of it? Certainly. But, is there a missing part to all of this? Absolutely.

French actresses, on the other hand, seem to be less hampered by an expiration date. Consider some of the most celebrated — and sexiest — working today: Audrey Tautou (age 40); Marillon Cotillard (age 41); Sophie Marceau (age 50); Juliet Binoche (age 52); Emmanuelle Beart (age 53); and Isabelle Adjani (age 61). Perhaps the grandest grande dame of all is Catherine Deneuve. At age 73, she still works consistently onscreen with leading roles in three upcoming films being released in 2017, and she’s also a spokesmodel for Louis Vuitton. Deneuve recognizes that her career has been unusual and fortunate. She’s also grateful that she began working decades ago. ‘I wouldn’t want to be a young actress today. They are not allowed to be individual. They all have to look the same, like Barbie dolls’

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