As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, A Man and a Woman is one of my favorite films ever. It’s such a beautiful, simple, chic story, but nothing compares to the brilliance of the directing, to the perfect mood that Claude Lelouch creates for the film. Watching it is a beautiful experience, hard to forget.
The Golden Globes really loved A Man and a Woman and who could blame them. It won Best Foreign Language Film and Anouk Aimée won the Best Actress in a Drama award over Liz Taylor. The second win is what you call a shocker and pure subjective voting. Even if we’d ignore comparing the two performances, Anouk’s role doesn’t look like much of a winner-type to begin with. While she does nothing wrong and the film is a masterpiece, A Man and a Woman is rather selfish when it comes to its actors.
Anouk plays Anne Gauthier, a young beautiful widow, mother of a small child, who accidentally meets Jean-Louis, an attractive race car driver with a personal loss of his own. They talk, they flirt, they discover eachother and Anne thinks she might actually be in love with him, but can she get past the memory of her dead husband.
The film is very much focused on style, which doesn’t mean that there’s no substance in the story. But Lelouch wants his actors to play it in a simple, natural, uncomplicated way, without any big dramatic moments. This type of acting is exactly what the film needs and it’s effective. Both leads understand that and their dialogues are very natural, looking almost like excellent improvising.
Anouk is always charming, but her main acting challenge in this film is to act like she’s falling in love with Jean-Louis; in all fairness that’s not very difficult to do. She smiles a lot, she acts naive and puts in some schoolgirl charm that really works. She is a courted woman and brings in all the tricks needed to create a believable but unspectacular performance.
One might easily argue there’s no visible character arc and that we know almost nothing about this woman. It might be true, it’s hard to put a finger on it. This works wonders for the film, because it keeps some anonymity of the character, it keeps it simple while giving the impression that anyone could be Jean-Louis and Anne, just a man and a woman on their way to a love story. But it also leaves almost no room for Anouk to show some range.
Her biggest, most meaningful acting moment is of course the ending. The love making scene is filmed with such good taste, beautifully directed and it also has a lot of emotional power and meaning. Her eyes wide open make us understand what she’s feeling and how she’s suddenly thrown back into the past, unable to emotionally connect with the new love in her life. It’s well acted, on a low key.
It’s a difficult performance to judge, because it’s like nothing that usually defines the Best Actress category. The performance is simple, natural, very low key; she is almost a puppet in the director’s hands. Her beauty and classiness make Anouk just right for the film, but the role is not meant to show range. While she is doing exactly what she’s being asked, regardless of how much I ADORE the film, I’m being objective and going with . I respect her a lot, but this is just not an actors’ film.