The great Nathalie Baye visits Connecticut

French Actress Nathalie Baye

The annual festival of new French movies – Focus on French Cinema – is always a major spring event in Connecticut.

The chance to see new films and attend Q&As with actors, directors and producers is fun and illuminating, but this year the festival has scored a real coup in getting Nathalie Baye to attend and to conduct public discussions of her work at four of the screenings.

Baye is one of the greatest actresses in world cinema, with a career that extends back to her first widely seen appearance as the script girl in Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” in 1973 (the picture that took that year’s Oscar for best foreign language film).

In the years since, Baye has been nominated for nine Cesar Awards – France’s equivalent of the Oscar – and she took home the statue on four of those occasions.

If you’ve never seen Baye’s Cesar-winning performance as a recovering alcoholic detective in “Le Petit Lieutenant” (2005) you’ve missed one of the greatest film performances of the past decade. Like Helen Mirren in the “Prime Suspect” television series, Baye takes the viewer deep into the darkest aspects of the life of a professional woman who is trying to succeed in a male-dominated sphere. Toward the end of the movie, when her character receives some terrible news, Baye plays much of the scene with her back to the camera, but still communicates almost everything the woman is feeling – an extraordinary moment in a performance filled with memorable scenes.

In Greenwich, Baye is set to appear at the screenings of “Call My Agent” and “Prejudice” on Saturday and she will do another Q&A after a showing of “The Return of Martin Guerre” at nathalie6the Avon Theatre in  Stamford on Monday night.

The festival concludes in New York City on Tuesday night at the French Institute Alliance Francaise with a screening of “The Assistant” (below) that Baye will also attend.

Last week, the actress replied to a few email questions I sent to her through a translator:

Q: What do you look for in a new project?

A: A new adventure, new encounters, an unexpected role.

Q: Did working with Francois Truffaut so early in your career spoil you?

A: Yes of course I was spoiled and it gave me this taste for quality. The level was high and it wasn’t always easy to stay at this level.

Q: You don’t seem to have suffered from type-casting – the variety of parts you’ve played is amazing. How did you avoid being put into one niche?

A: I’m very claustrophobic and the idea to be locked in a single role is unbearable to me. Diversity is what helps me keep my desire for the job.

Q: Your performance in “Le Petit Lieutenant” is one of my favorites. Was playing a woman in a man’s world especially challenging?

A: No, it was rather stimulating, because unfortunately still today in the police world, there are more men than there are women.

Q: American television is in a Golden Age now, attracting some of the finest writers, directors and actors. Is there a similar movement afoot in France?

A: It’s happening now. TV series are getting better from one year to another and major actors have begun to accept roles in them. I hope notorious screenwriters will eventually invest themselves in this new form of fiction.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear Baye discuss her work after the screenings in Greenwich, Stamford and New York City. For complete Focus on French Cinema schedule and ticket information, visit www.focusonfrenchcinema.com

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Joe Meyers