Variety reports that celebrated French actress Emmanuelle Riva has died, at the age of 89. Over the course of her career, Riva worked with some of the most prominent directors in French and European cinema, with Alain Resnais, Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Franju, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Michael Haneke all employing her talents. Her work with Haneke, on 2012’s Amour, (besides being both riveting and heartbreaking in its own right) earned her the distinction of being the oldest person ever to be nominated for Best Actress or Best Actor by the Academy Awards.
In her early career, Riva played the mysterious muse, lending wounded passion to her breakout role in Resnais’ philosophical romance, Hiroshima Mon Amour. She played a similar enigma in Franju’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, portraying a woman who lashes out at her hapless husband and unhappy existence in subtle, deadly ways. (Few actresses have ever made walking down the aisle to the altar look like more of a death sentence.)
Working steadily from 1957 until her death this week, Riva eventually moved into roles that took on a surface air of matronliness, while never losing the dangerous subtlety lurking underneath. Appearing as the mother of the main character in Blue, the first film in Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy, Riva depicted the slow ravages of age while never losing the strength of her always-expressive eyes and face. Those same traits served her well in Haneke’s Oscar-winning Amour, playing Anne, a woman whose body and mind slowly fail her while her husband is forced to watch. It‘s a harrowing performance, one that reportedly left Riva both physically and emotionally drained. But the end result is one of the must painfully apt depictions of aging, death ever committed to the screen.