The Les Valseuses (aka Going Places) star-to-be was born on Feb. 22, 1950, in Paris, daughter to a greengrocer mother and an unknown father. As a teenager, Sylvette made a living as a weaver and later helped her mother sell strawberries.
It was at the market that she caught the eye of the director Romain Bouteille, who invited the girl to visit his open-air theater, the famous Cafe de la Gare (Railroad station cafe), which was to become a launching pad for numerous French actors of the 1960s and the 1970s. For example, at that moment (the late 1960s), Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere were the leading actors there.
Initially, Sylvette only saw the grim side of art. She mended the upholstery, cleaned, and worked as a stage hand and a dresser. In Cafe de la Gare, Miou-Miou met Dewaere, with whom she lived for several years, virtually until his last day. Their life underlies the plot of Marc Esposito’s film Patrick Dewaere (1992).
The start of Miou-Miou’s career is also connected with the Cafe de la Gare, where she began to play her first parts. However, it is the movies that brought her true fame.
Miou-Miou’s first appearance on screen was in 1971, and she instantly starred in several films by Italian and French directors: La Vie Sentimentale de Georges Le Tueur (aka The Sentimental Life of George Le Tueur, 1971), La Cavale (aka On the Lam, 1971) by Michele Mitrani, Elle Court, Elle Court la Banlieu (aka The Suburbs Are Everywhere, 1972) by Gerard Pires, Quelques Messieurs Trop Tranquilles (aka Some Too Quiet Gentlemen, 1972) by Georges Lautner, and Themroc, 1972 by Claude Faraldo.
Les Valseuses (1974) by the guru of French film Bertrand Blier became very significant for her career. In it, Miou-Miou starred with Dewaere, Depardieu, and Isabelle Huppert, with whom she was later to meet on set more than once. The two actresses together made up one of the most exciting female duets in the French movies of the 1970s and the 1980s.
Marcia Trionfale (aka Victory March, 1976) by Marco Bellocchio became Miou-Miou’s next great success. The actress played the wife of a sadistic army officer (Dewaere). The same year, the actress starred in a famous film F... Comme Fairbanks (aka F... Like Fairbanks, 1976) by Maurice Dugowson. The plot resembled the history of Miou-Miou’s relationship with Dewaere: the persistent and cheerful heroine is in love with a depression-prone neurasthenic, trying to awaken in him the hope and love of life.
For this film, Miou-Miou was first nominated for Cesar Best Actress award in 1977. Afterwards, six more nominations for the main European movie award followed, including her parts in such famed movies as Tenue de Soiree (aka Evening Dress, 1986) by Blier, Milou en Mai (aka May Fools, 1989) by Louis Malle, La Lectrice (aka The Reader, 1988) by Michel Deville, and Germinal, 1993, by Claude Berri.
As a matter of fact, Miou-Miou was acknowledged as the best actress in 1980, for playing a prostitute in Daniel Duval’s La Derobade (aka Memoirs of a French Whore, 1979), but the actress refused to accept Cesar. Her next important award was Lumiere Prize in 1997, for starring in Nettoyage a Sec (Dry Cleaning).
Although Miou-Miou continues to appear in quite distinctive films, e.g., Michel Gondry’s La Science des Reves (The Science of Sleep), 2006, yet her most interesting parts were the 1970s and the 1980s. Her roles were a peculiar combination of comicalness and femininity: very few actresses succeeded in being both funny and sexy on set. That is why, Miou-Miou will be mostly remembered in the film history as a gangster’s faithful girlfriend in Going Places, or a seductive and reckless reader from the eponymic 1980 film by Deville. This alone makes her arrival an unprecedented thrill for the Kyivan movie fans.
Miou-Miou met with the press just after the show of Une Petite Zone de Turbulences (aka A Spot of Bother), which was a part of the Pre-Opening Shows Festival.
You have spent several hours in Kyiv. What are your first impressions? Had you known anything about Ukraine before you arrived?
“No, nothing in particular. We had a lot of news about your country in France in relation with the Orange Revolution. At the airport, I had a feeling as if I were in the film Concert – even as far as the language, advertisements, and dress of the people who came to meet go.”
Do you enjoy traveling? Did you easily agree to go to Ukraine?
“I have become more of a recluse recently. For some reason, I have come to like staying home. However, I easily agreed to visit your country. I enjoy being here. Perhaps, the airport customs checkup was a little tiring. But now, everything is just fine, and I am happy to see you.”
The movie we have just seen – is it on the funny or sad side for you?
“It is hilarious in French. Maybe, it was different in Ukrainian. In my opinion, this movie is quite funny, but it speaks of important things beyond the plot line: the fear of death, the fear of illness, and the fear of obligations.”
Was it you who picked this part?
“I agreed to play because I loved the plot and the cast. Besides, I discovered a wonderful director. It was the combination which compelled me to accept.”
So, were the other actors’ candidacies decisive?
“No, I don’t think that the participation of the other actors decided on my choice. The first thing that caught my eye was a very felicitous script. Each three minutes a new witty joke – that was great.”
To continue the actor theme: do you maintain relations with your colleagues in the shop, for instance, Gerard Depardieu, with whom you have appeared in several films, or do you only confine your communication to the set?
“With Depardieu – never. Normally, I never mix with my colleagues outside the set. We have enough time for this during shooting, we say whatever we want to say, so when we meet later we run out of topics for conversation.
“I think this is even better. At first, there were some attempts, and we tried to get in touch, but it all soon fizzled out. I have a very hectic private life, and this is why I perhaps do not need it. For example, I have worked with Michel Blanc, and for some reason, everyone thought that we kept in touch. However, we hadn’t seen each other for quite a while after the last shooting. And then we met at A Spot of Bother and spoke as if we had just parted the day before.”
Let us come to the start of your career. You began as a theater actress, in particular, you played in Marguerite Duras’ La Musica, and later, appeared in films based on her works. Are you personally acquainted?
“Duras directed that play, besides, she kept re-writing the text. During the rehearsals, she made up new phrases and cues. We learned them, we put them down, we were so eager to meet the standard and do everything up to the mark. Then she would come next day, and had everything re-written. And she would tell us, ‘You take the scissors, the scotch, and clip and paste your texts by yourselves.’
“It was an unbelievable experience. I was also to appear in the films based on her novels. An extraordinary type of writing. When you peruse her works, you get a feeling as if there were many little drawers there. You always discover something new for yourself.”
You have also worked with some great directors. Who was the most memorable one?
“I’ll give a typically French answer: each one was memorable, but in his or her own peculiar way. I cannot say that there was this one person who totally amazed me and changed my life completely. Each one was striking in his or her own way, and they really did that differently.
“On the other hand, sometimes I met directors who were just useless – and this also can amaze you.”
Now a question which perhaps seems unavoidable. Where does your stage name come from?
“It has nothing to do with cats, that’s for sure! You know, when I was 18, I lived with the famous comic Coluche. Once we were walking along the street and he was like ‘You know, you are so miou-miou.’ It is something like pussycat, just some sound associations. Actually, everyone started calling me like that afterwards.
“So, when I was to sign my first contract, I was asked what stage name we should use. I decided on Miou-Miou, just for fun. I did not think back then that I would become famous as an actress. Frankly, if I had known, I wouldn’t have done it.”
You have created various images. What other roles would you like to try?
“These questions are easy to answer, because now I’m aging. Now I can play the parts which I have never played before, and vice versa, now I won’t carry off the parts which I played as a young woman.
“On the whole, I adore working on new parts. I think I only have to wait a little longer, and I will have extraordinary parts both at the theater and in the movies.”
However, earlier this year you had a birthday anniversary. How did you take it?
“Very well. I mean, I’m totally indifferent to it. I think I had a lot more emotions when my grandson was born. It makes my belly somersault, because me and him, we are on the opposite ends of life. It was both amazing and unexpected.
“And one more thing: when you’re asked to retrospect, you start thinking about it and can’t help feeling surprised at how much you have done on stage and in cinema. I have been working so hard since I was 16, and now I’m really happy about this, because my life has passed amid interesting work.”
What are your other sources of inspiration in life?
“It is rather a matter of my private, personal life, because I get inspiration from my nearest and dearest. First of all, it’s my children, I’m very close with them, and although they are quite adult, they still remain my kids. My grandson is equally important to me. And of course, my love gives me inspiration. My personal life has always come before work.”
Then a personal question, to conclude with. In A Spot of Bother, your heroine is unfaithful to her husband. Have you ever happened to be the initiator of, or the victim to, unfaithfulness?
“I was to live during that epoch in the movies when everyone was dating everyone. It was absolutely okay. But speaking of betrayal as it is, it is very tiring. You always have to be alert and control what you say, you have to be able to avoid being caught red-handed, and that’s why... (laughing) I think, now I’m not doing it anymore.”