French New Wave star Anna Karina, who served as a muse for Jean-Luc Godard and appeared in eight of his films, has died. She was 79.
France’s culture minister, Franck Reister, announced her death in a tweet, as did her agent, Laurent Balandras, who attributed the cause as cancer, Variety reported.
“Her gaze was the gaze of the New Wave. It will remain so forever,” wrote Reister. “She magnetized the entire world. Today, French cinema is an orphan. It loses one of its legends.”
Karina’s best known films include “The Little Soldier,” “Vivre sa vie,” “Band of Outsiders,” “Pierrot le Fou,” and “Alphaville,” all throughout the 1960s. She starred in “A Woman Is a Woman,” as well, in a performance that earned her the silver bear award for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961.
Karina also worked with other directors of the New Wave, including Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette, and Luchino Visconti, the report said.
Her work continued through the ’70s, including roles in Christian de Chalonge’s “The Wedding Ring” (1971), Andre Delvaux’s “Rendezvous at Bray” (1971), “The Salzburg Connection” (1972), and Franco Brusati’s “Bread and Chocolate” (1973). She made her directorial debut in 1972 with “Vivre ensemble.”
The Danish-French actress’ relationship with Godard was reportedly tumultuous; they were married in 1961 and went on to make seven more feature films together, but divorced in 1965, the report said.
“He taught me so, so many things,” Karina said. “It was like Pygmalion,” she said, referring to the play by George Bernard Shaw.
“But it was complicated to live with him,” Karina told AFP in an interview in Paris in March 2018. “He was someone who could say to you, ‘I am going to get some cigarettes’ and come back three weeks later.”
In addition to her film work, Karina was also a style icon of the ’60s, embodying the French girl look with sailor costumes, knee-high socks, plaid, and headwear like berets and boaters. She also had a well-regarded singing career, with hits like “Sous le Soleil Exactement” and “Roller Girl,” written by Serge Gainsbourg.
In her famous “dance” scene in Bande à Part (1964), directed by her husband Jean-Luc Godard, she is Odile, who meets up with Franz (played by Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur), the people with whom she plans to do a robbery.
For no reason at all, for the sheer subversive mischief and fun of it, and partly also because they are a little bored (arguably the motivation for everything else as well), they do an extraordinarily insouciant dance together in the middle of a café.
Karina was born Hanne Karine Bayer in Solbjerg, Denmark. After her father left shortly after her birth, she spent some of her childhood years with her grandparents and other in foster care, though she eventually returned to live with her mother.
She dropped out of school at 14 and found work as a television model, and hitchhiked to Paris at age 17. There, she was discovered by a casting agent and went on to meet Coco Chanel during an Elle photo shoot. Chanel reportedly advised her to change her name.
She met Godard when she was a teenager, after the then-film critic saw her in an ad for Palmolive and contacted her to appear in “Breathless.”
The part didn’t come to fruition as it required her to appear nude, which she objected to. He again sought her out for a role in “Le Petit Soldat,” which meant her mother had to fly to Paris to sign the contract, as Karina was a minor.
Following her divorce from Godard, Karina married three more times, to French actors Pierre Fabre (1968-1974) and Daniel Duval (1978-1981), and to American director Dennis Berry (1982-1994).
But it was her work with Godard that remained the most influential of her career. In her 2001 NPR interview, she said Godard’s working methods were just as distinctive as they were misunderstood. For instance, her roles were highly scripted, she said, not acts of improvisation, as Godard had done in other instances.
“He would not change one word. Never. Of course, if you had a good idea once in a while, he would use that. But if not, we’re not allowed to say a word for another,” Karina told NPR. “They’re so natural that people, most of the time, thought that you were just talking, you know, saying whatever we wanted to say, which is totally false.”