Saturday Night Spotlight #27: Sólveig Anspach

Iceland-born, France-bred director Sólveig Anspach (1960-2015) was an internationally recognized director, the films either winners or nominees of awards given at the Cannes Film Festival, the César Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars) and the Venice Film Festival, among others. Anspach passed away recently at the tragically young age of 54, having fought her battle with breast cancer for many years, but the legacy of her filmography lives on in her nuanced portraits of women who face all manner of personal and professional challenges.

Haut les coeurs! (aka Chin Up!) (1999) – This drama co-written by Anspach and Pierre-Erwan Guillaume tells a story of a woman (played by Karin Viard) who is diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after learning she is pregnant. Inspired by real events from Anspach’s own life. Two of the film’s three cinematographers were women, Mathilde Jaffre and Isabelle Razavet (the other DP being Lorenzo Weiss); Razavet also shot Queen of Montreuil (2012) and Lulu in the Nude (2013) for Anspach. Anne Riegel, who edited the film alongside Mathieu Blanc, later returned to work with Anspach on Made in the USA (2001), Stormy Weather (2003), Back Soon (2008) and Queen of Montreuil (2012). Both Razavet and Riegel were also employed for TV work that Anspach did in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as on Anspach’s final film, L’effet aquatique (2016), which was in the process of post-production when Anspach died. Haut les coeurs! was a success when it was released in France; Karin Viard won the César Award for Best Actress, Laurent Lucas was nominated for Most Promising Actor and Sólveig Anspach was nominated for Best First Work. The film also earned awards and nominations at the Chicago International Film Festival (New Directors Competition), the Ghent International Film Festival, the Lumiere Awards, the Molodist International Film Festival and the Valladolid International Film Festival.

Stormy Weather (2003) – Possibly Anspach’s most emotional film, this drama relates the story of a middle-aged, mentally ill wife and mother (played by Icelandic actress Didda Jónsdóttir) who is studied by a young, inexperienced psychiatrist (French actress Élodie Bouchez). By turns humorous and unsettling, depending on the mood Anspach goes for in the scene, the film is accompanied by a score composed by Alexandre Desplat.

Queen of Montreuil (2012) – Recipient of the Lina Mangiacapre Award at the Venice Film Festival, Anspach’s comedy stars Florence Loiret Caille as Agathe, a director whose husband has recently passed away, an event which has (understandably) put her life and career on hold. As Agathe tries to get herself back to normal, she runs into a series of bizarre obstacles, including a surprise encounter with some Icelandic tourists who have a sea lion in tow. Colorful cinematography by Isabelle Razavet gives the film a warm glow.

Lulu femme nue (aka Lulu in the Nude) (2013) – Playing like a Gallic version of the Italian comedy Bread and Tulips (2000), Lulu tells the tale of a wife and mother (Karin Viard) who makes a spur-of-the-moment decision not to return home to her husband after she takes a trip out of town for a job interview. Lulu’s ensuing odyssey gives her the opportunities to make new friends and rediscover her own identity and sense of self. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Claude Gensac) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Sólveig Anspach and Jean-Luc Gaget) at the 2015 César Awards, Lulu marks another collaboration between Anspach, lead actress Viard and cinematographer Isabelle Razavet.

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