Since the 1980s, Luxembourg-born film director, screenwriter and former actress Anne Fontaine has risen to dizzying directorial heights by cementing herself as one of the most influential cinematic figures in modern French cinema. Over the decades, her wide variation of intensely provocative and poignantly whimsical films have shifted from lightly droll comedies to darkly psychological dramas that demonstrate the director’s visionary talents that have been so successfully translated onto the big screen.
Fontaine’s early life was absorbed by her acting aspirations, demonstrated through her selection by esteemed French film director, Robert Hossein, to play Esmeralda in a theatrical production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in 1980. Her acting interests developed as she gained recognition for her roles in the comedy films, Si ma guile vous plaît (1981), about a woman who undergoes a life-altering journey of sexual exploration and P.R.O.F.S. (1985), following the machinations of a group of young teacher at a high school who endeavor to retain their youthfully subversive ways. Subsequently, Fontaine’s first foray into directorial work came in the opportunity to be an assistant director in a stage version of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End in 1986, at Paris’s Renaud-Barrault theatre.
Her debut directorial feature Love Affairs Usually End Badly (1993), a meritoriously received comedy following the dilemma of a Frenchwoman who vacillates between a stable marriage to a conscientious law student and a torrid romance with a stage actor, notably won the director the Prix Jean Vigo that year. Four years later, her commercial success Dry Cleaning (1997), following a married couple whose monotonous life is disrupted by a young man who develops strong romantic desires for both husband and wife, also garnered Fontaine a Golden Osella for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival – a film now widely considered to be the seminal production of Fontaine’s career, cementing her as a principal figure in contemporary French cinema.
Fontaine’s follow-up films, including How I Killed My Father (2001), a thriller-drama following a gerontologist who becomes reacquainted with his once estranged father for whom he develops obsessional homicidal thoughts, as well as Nathalie… (2003), a drama starring Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, and Gérard Depardieu depicting a conniving wife who keeps close watch on her cheating husband by paying a prostitute to engage in a contrived affair with him, introduced Fontaine’s psychologically-oriented dramatic style which is deeply embedded in her later films.
An extension of Fontaine’s grippingly psycho-analytical style is demonstrated in her César Award nominated thriller, In His Hands (2005), following an insurance company worker who engages in an extra-marital affair with a client whom she conjectures to be a hunted serial killer. The film’s seductively dark, character-driven nature lends to a psychologically experimental quality which has come to be a hallmark of Fontaine’s works: “I try to work on my characters’ blind side, in a kind of Freudian way: to ask, ‘What are the things about themselves that they’re unaware of?’” she says. “I’m fascinated by the irony of fate, when something goes into a skid. All my stories have an element of cruelty in them.”
Illustrating Fontaine’s involvement in numerous facets of artistry, her comic book venture which initiated with her brother in 1995, entitled Augustin – following a passionate young actor who develops his deep interest for kung fu by watching movies and practicing in his apartment – was subsequently developed into a comedy film Augustin, King of Kung-Fu, starring her sibling, Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, the same year. In 2006, an addition to the comedic Augustin saga, entitled Oh La La!, was released and screened in competition for the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, followed by the equally jocular romantic thriller The Girl From Monaco (2008), depicting the encounters of a well-known attorney with his newly assigned bodyguard who aids him in his romantic liaison with an enigmatic local TV weather girl.
Fontaine received international recognition for her highly acclaimed and explosive commercial success Coco Before Chanel (2009), a biopic celebrating famed fashion designer Coco Chanel. The film’s depiction of rise of the legendary artist from trying times in obscurity to the heights of haute-couture, sent the career of the film’s leading actress, Audrey Tautou, to stratospheric heights and secured an Oscar nomination, a César Award for Best Costume Design in 2010, as well as four BAFTA Award and three European Film Award nominations. The same year, an English-language adaptation of Natalie… entitled Chloe, starring Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson, won DGC Craft Awards for Sound and Picture Editing from the director’s Guild of Canada.
Fontaine returned to her comedic roots in 2011 with the French-Belgian drama, My Worst Nightmare, starring Isabelle Huppert as a high-strung, wealthy and successful art foundation boss who becomes embroiled in a mismatched love affair with an ex-convict. Fontaine’s highly absorbing and provocative follow-up, Adoration (2013), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is based on the novella The Grandmothers by British writer Doris Lessing and follows the escapades of a pair of middle-aged childhood friends and neighbours who falls in love with each other’s sons in a sensually intimate and provoking drama.
Fontaine’s latest work set to be released later this year, The Innocents (2016), deviates from her usual narrative content and intense yet whimsically-coloured tone, dealing instead with the gritty historical climate of 1945 Poland, through the journey of a young French red cross doctor assisting German camp survivors. Fontaine has consistently demonstrated her significant directorial prowess to be her ability to sensitively and authentically deal with an acutely diverse variety of material, yet retain her characteristically though-provoking and highly entertaining character-driven studies.