French thesps: The new generation

A look at the new wave of French talent

First spied as the female lead in Philippe Garrel’s “Regular Lovers” in 2005 before disappearing off the radar, Hesme has just had a banner year, with a strong supporting turn in Raul Ruiz’s acclaimed period epic “The Mysteries of Lisbon” and a juicy role as a Norman woman with a past in Gallic indie “Angele and Tony.” Says the thesp: “It’s not the opportunities to act in films that are lacking, but rather that there are so few good projects to go around.”

A blonde Belgian whirlwind, Efira turned heads with her breakthrough lead perf in the Gallic hit comedy “Second Chance,” released last January. Her standout work as a strong-willed and head-over-heels woman whose b.f. brings her bad luck has already led to a slew of offers for new films. “A director should be able to talk about intimate things in such a way that they feel universal,” says the actress, “whether we’re making a romantic comedy or a vampire film.”

Fois became known thanks to the comedic Les Robins des bois troupe, which led to work in comedies. Roles in two of Claude Duty’s films then made it clear she was equally apt at drama, something she shows again in this year’s titles “The Big Picture,” opposite Romain Duris, and the spouse-swapping drama “Happy Few.” “I dream of working with directors rather than specific roles,” says Fois. Her eclectic wish list includes not only Michael Haneke but also Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach and films like those of Sasha Baron Cohen.

LEILA BEKHTIBR>Despite earlier supporting roles opposite testosterone-fueled heavyweights Vincent Cassel (in “Mesrine”) and Tahar Rahim (in “A Prophet”), Bekhti considers her work in the femme-powered comedy-drama “All That Glitters,” for which she won a Cesar, as her real breakthrough. Last year’s surprise B.O. hit, which sold 1.4 million tickets locally, was co-directed and co-written by her co-star Geraldine Nakache, who has “become like a sister to me now,” the actress says. “Having worked on that film was a real gift and an experience I’ll never forget.”

Even in a short, dialogue-free French Levi’s commercial, in which he makes out with colleague Lea Seydoux, it’s clear that Personnaz has his own brand of sex appeal. Though slight in build, his simple presence manned up the traditionally effete Duc D’Anjou in “The Princess of Montpensier” from Bertrand Tavernier. The actor also impressed as the second male lead in recent comedy hit “Second Chance.” Personnaz says: “I don’t want to play, I want to be the parts.”

Marmai’s first film role, as a promising eldest son in the 2008 dramedy “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” immediately got him noticed. It was also “fundamental in terms of understanding how to act in front of a camera,” says the theater-trained actor. But it wasn’t until his work in the 2010 dramas “Living on Love Alone” and “In Your Hands,” opposite attention-grabbing leading ladies Anais Demoustier and Kristin Scott Thomas, respectively, that it became clear with how much ease the 26-year-old thesp holds the screen.

Cast as a 13-year-old in Michael Haneke’s “Time of the Wolf,” opposite Isabelle Huppert, Demoustier went straight into the deep end for her first role and has demonstrated a similarly fearless approach to her work ever since. “I’d love to continue making challenging films that demand a lot of effort from the actors and a clear vision from the director,” says Demoustier. Her recent lead turns in “Living on Love Alone” and “Belle Epine” suggest she has what it takes to become one of Gaul’s new leading ladies.

A rubber-faced thesp from Belgium most famous for his comedic roles and candid-camera work, Damiens proved in 2009’s indie pic “The Wolberg Family,” in which he played a small-town Jewish mayor from southern Gaul, that he’s also an excellent dramatic actor. Damiens has since become an instantly recognizable face in France thanks to scene-stealing supporting work in two of the biggest local comedy hits: romantic comedy “Heartbreaker,” with Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis, and laffer “Nothing to Declare” from scribe-helmer-actor Dany Boon.

Since playing opposite Charlotte Rampling in Francois Ozon’s “Swimming Pool,” Sagnier started a family and consolidated her career with parts in France before “stepping into the Hollywood jungle.” Last year she earned critical praise in “Love Crime,” and this year she’s in “The Devil’s Double.”

Former musicvid helmer-turned-thesp Lellouche broke through in 2010 in Guillaume Canet’s B.O. hit, “Little White Lies,” which earned him a Cesar nom for supporting actor, and in Fred Cavaye’s “Point Blank.” Next up, he will make his English-language debut in “Sherlock Holmes 2;” and will play a cruel trader in Cedric Klapisch’s social comedy” My Piece of the Pie.” Lellouche is also prepping his second directorial outing, a ensemble dramedy “in the vein of ‘Ocean’s Eleven.'”

More from New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema:
Gaul pics fight pall with youth call | Films, helmers, execs converge on N.Y. | French thesps: The new generation