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Ludivine Sagnier moves out of the shallow end

The French actress, who admits fretting over being stereotyped for her bikini-bimbo turn in 2003's 'Swimming Pool,' has graduated to more complex roles as in her latest film, 'Love Crime.'

August 23, 2011|By Mark Olsen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Ludivine Sagnier stars in "Love Crime."
Ludivine Sagnier stars in "Love Crime." (Pascal Chantier / Sundance…)

In the new film "Love Crime," actress Ludivine Sagnier plays a meek junior financial executive steamrollered by a powerful superior (Kristin Scott Thomas) who frequently takes credit for her ideas. The two find themselves locked in an escalating feud fueled by ambition, jealousy and something resembling desire.

But when Sagnier appeared this summer at a Los Angeles Film Festival screening of the movie, which arrives on VOD and in Los Angeles theaters next week, she coyly told the audience, "No matter what you see, I'm innocent."

Sagnier's teasing aside, it's seldom that she plays the true innocent, even when she's cast as Tinker Bell (2003's "Peter Pan"). Although she made her screen debut at age 9, the 32-year-old beauty is perhaps best known in the United States as the pouting, unstable bikini kitten in director François Ozon's 2003 thriller "Swimming Pool." In the years since, she has worked steadily if selectively.

Her credits include such films as Christophe Honoré's "Love Songs," Claude Chabrol's "A Girl Cut in Two," the two-part gangster hit "Mesrine," "Lily Sometimes" and most recently, "The Devil's Double" — movies in which she's displayed wily, unpredictable range, emerging as a Gallic answer, perhaps, to Maggie Gyllenhaal.

In person, Sagnier is striking. A few days after the LAFF event she arrives for an interview at a Beverly Hills hotel dressed casually in loose slacks and a baggy cardigan, cigarettes at the ready. Her features are still a bit childlike, but her throaty voice and bombshell figure are fiercely seductive.

Beneath the glamorous exterior, though, Sagnier seems complex, and it's that subtle sophistication that she brings to her performances, crafting women with richly detailed yet extremely fragile inner lives.

"She is able to metamorphose herself with each role," said Honoré via email. "She is not afraid to draw the frank contours of her characters."

An office-politics thriller with undercurrents of "All About Eve," "Love Crime" afforded the actress the opportunity to showcase her skills. She said she changed her approach to the role when the film, initially called "A Perfect Woman," was given its current title. That inspired her, she said, to suggest an attraction between the insecure Isabelle and Thomas' confident Christine.

"She's not very often herself, she's always compensating," Sagnier said of her character. "She has a lot of trouble with human relationships. I've met a lot of people who are very good at school, then at university and a high-responsibility job and by the time they get there they've never stayed on their own or really experienced life and never gotten any human experience other than working, working, working.

"And even if she's good at what she does, she's somehow a bit weak," Sagnier continued. "She doesn't know much about feelings and stuff like that, and that's why she can't handle the feeling and the trap that Christine is offering to her. She's a perfect victim."

"Love Crime" is the final project from veteran French filmmaker Alain Corneau ("All the Mornings of the World"), who died of cancer at age 67 just after the film was released in France in August 2010. The actress said she was grateful to have worked with the director, who was undergoing treatment while he was editing the movie.

"I personally thought he wouldn't make it all the way through, so it was a privilege to have him that long," Sagnier said.

Sagnier, who is married and mother to two daughters, next reunites with Honoré, playing the younger version of Catherine Deneuve's character in the director's romantic drama "Beloved," which was just released in France and will screen next month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The actress said what she looks for most now in a role is "inspiration.... I need to be challenged," but even more important are the people with whom she will be working. She prefers it when she can establish a rapport with a filmmaker that will yield a long-term creative relationship, she said.

"To me, the director is the most important, rather than the story," she said. "Now when I read a script I'm not thinking if I can do this movie with this director, I'm wondering if I can do two or three movies, and that helps me to decide [whether] to accept a project."

Nearly 10 years on, she's says she's finally made peace with the sex symbol image that's followed her since the release of "Swimming Pool."

"When I was in my 20s, I thought that being known for 'Swimming Pool' was kind of a burden," Sagnier said. "Like, OK, everyone thinks I am this tanned bimbo and I was having problems coping with that image. And now that a lot of things have happened in my life personally, I feel so much more detached from these kinds of fears and I feel that it's a charm actually, not a burden.

"Having a movie that lasts and makes your image imprinted into the history of cinema, it's very positive."

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