How much of chance did Anouk Aimée have in winning the Oscar back then? I was somewhat surprised to learn that she won a couple of awards, including the Golden Globe. That being said, I don’t think she had much of a chance in beating Elizabeth Taylor tour-de-force turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The reason why I was surprised at the number of awards picked up by this performance is simply because of how quiet the role is. First of all, A Man and a Woman is truly a beautiful film that deserved its foreign language picture win. I would even go ahead and say that it is my personal pick for best director that year. Claude Lelouch created a unique and original film that excels despite the simple premise. The editing is highly effective, especially in the flashback scenes and the score is beautiful – I will never forget that entire wordless boat sequence. That being said, I don’t think it is for everyone. If you cannot get into the really unique mood it is trying to create, chances are you will be bored out of your mind.
A Man and a Woman is really not so much of an actor’s movie. Its main focus is its portrayal of different stages of a relationship, and it does so in a captivating manner. As such, the characters end up a little thin, being nothing more than instruments to portray the various stages. We get a little backstory here and there – Anouk Aimée plays Anne Gauthier, a grieving widow who meets a widower Jean (played wonderfully by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and falls in love with him. You don’t really know much about Anne other than what you see – she’s a beautiful, reserved and elegant woman who doesn’t speak much and gradually opens up to Jean. Aimée does a lot of wonderful acting with the eyes here – you can see the longing, the hesitation, the sadness and the love in there despite how few lines she has.
It’s not that Anouk Aimée is giving a bad performance – on the contrary, she gives a well-done performance that fits the movie perfectly. She conveys the emotions naturally and has a mysterious presence that is captivating to watch. However, the thinness of the role just limits how much she can do as an actress. I felt like I was watching different states of a woman falling in love rather than a character per se. The movie finds its emotional substance in its overall style rather than its actors, who are merely pieces of a puzzle here. Still, it’s nice, fine work. 3.5/5.