French actress Annie Girardot dies at 79

Made several films with director Claude Lelouch

Annie Girardot, the perky, gravelly voiced actress who became one of France’s most enduring and acclaimed modern stars, died Monday, Feb. 28, in Paris. She was 79.

Girardot, with awards for both film and theater in a decades-long career, had suffered for years from Alzheimer’s disease.

With an enthusiastic nature that never seemed to fail, Girardot captured the hearts of French lovers of cinema and theater.

Film director Claude Lelouch, who made her his star in six movies, compared Girardot to Edith Piaf, saying she was the stage “equivalent” of the French singing legend.

Among Lelouch’s films starring Girardot was the 1969 “Un homme qui me plait” (A Man Who Pleases Me), in which she played opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Girardot was acclaimed for her comedic performance in 1954 at the Academie Francaise and made her movie debut the following year with Andre Hunebelle’s “Treize a table” (13 at the Table). But her film career truly launched in 1960 with Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers,” in which she starred with Alain Delon.

Girardot performed in more than 100 films and won France’s coveted Cesar award three times — in 1976 for best actress for her role in Jean-Louis Bertuccelli’s “Doctor Francoise Gailland,” for supporting actress for “Les Miserables” in 1995 and for supporting actress for her role as the possessive mother of a musician in Michael Haneke’s “Le Pianiste” in 2001.

Despite her productivity, Girardot was pushed aside by innovative directors like Francois Truffaut, and she spent years sidelined.

French television on Monday repeatedly showed video of her accepting the supporting actress Cesar for “Les Miserables,” which marked her comeback. Girardot was so overcome with tears she had problems speaking, but managed to say, “I don’t know if the French cinema missed me, but I missed the French cinema crazily.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Girardot’s “surprising mixture of strength and sensitivity” on the screen. He called her decision to take part in a documentary on Alzheimer’s the “last testimony of (her) generosity.”

Girardot is survived by her daughter, Julia.

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