Though she never achieved the enduring international popularity of her contemporaries Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, actress Anouk Aimée nonetheless forged a steady screen career and remained a strong presence in a number of European-based productions. Both sultry and enigmatic, Aimée appeared in a string of melodramas throughout the 1950s until finally breaking into Hollywood with a supporting part in "The Journey" (1959). But it was a turn as a bored nymphomaniac in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1960) that made international audiences sit up and take notice. Following another solid performance as a long-suffering wife in Fellini's "8 1/2" (1963), she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for "A Man and a Woman" (1966), an international hit and one of the most romantic movies ever made. Even though she gained worldwide prominence from the role, Aimée was unable to turn into a true international star. She had a solid turn in "The Model Shop" (1969), but did little of note during the 1970s and 1980s, though she maintained a steady stream of work. Aimée even tried to return to fertile ground with "A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later" (1986), but that did little to boost her profile. After a brief reemergence on the world stage in Robert Altman's "Prêt-à-Porter/Ready to Wear" (1994). Aimée settled into a number of supporting roles in European-made films and television miniseries, yet never once lost the allure she had displayed so vividly in her 1960s heyday.
Born Francoise Sorya Dreyfus on April 27, 1932 in Paris, France, Aimée was raised by her actor parents, Henri Murray and Geneviève Sorya, and studied acting and dancing in her native country and England before making her film debut at age 14 in "La Maison sous la mer" (1946). She adopted her stage name, Anouk, from the character she played in the film, and soon gained notice in a Juliet-like role for Andre Cayatte's "Les Amants de Verone" ("Lovers of Verona") (1948), in which she played the daughter of a disgraced nobleman who falls for the poor son (Serge Reggiani) of a glassblower. Aimée went on to a string of starring roles for films made in Italy, Great Britain, West Germany and her native France, including the romantic adventure, "The Golden Salamander" (1950), which sparked a brief romance with co-star Trevor Howard. From there, she starred in Alexandre Astruc's comedy "Le Rideau Cramoisi" (1951), the Paul Grimault fantasy "Le Bergere et le Ramoneur" (1952), Herni Decoin's crime drama "Tous Peuvent Me Tuer" (1957) and Jacques Becker's romantic melodrama "Montparnasse 19" (1958).
Following a turn in Georges Franju's psychological drama "La Tête Contre les Murs" (1958), Aimée made her Hollywood debut as a freedom fighter in Anatole Litvak's political romance "The Journey" (1959), which starred Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. But it was her performance as a bored socialite in search of sexual adventure in Federico Fellini's triumphant "La Dolce Vita" (1960) that earned her considerable international attention and established her as a formidable screen talent. Aimée followed up by playing an enchanting cabaret dancer and single mother in Jacques Demy's "Lola" (1961) and the wicked Queen Bera in Robert Aldrich's biblical epic "Sodom and Gomorrah" (1962). She delivered another milestone performance as the long-suffering wife of an Italian director (Marcello Mastroianni) dealing with creative block, haranguing producers and losing his grip on reality in Federico Fellini's masterpiece, "8 1/2" (1963). From there, she appeared in a number of forgotten films like "Le Voci Bianche" (1965) and "Le Stagioni del Nostro Amore" (1966) before making the film that would go on to define the rest of her career.
Aimée delivered her finest performance in Claude Lelouch's wildly romantic drama "A Man and A Woman" (1966), in which she played a widow who falls in love with a widower (Jean-Louis Trintignant), but is unable to shake her past. Her exquisite performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, while the film itself earned Oscars for Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay. After starring in André Delvaux's psychological drama, "Un Soir un Train" (1968), Aimée reunited with Demy for another important role, playing an older French model who attracts the attention of a disillusioned 26-year-old (Gary Lockwood) in "The Model Shop" (1969). Director George Cukor next cast the actress for the title role of "Justine" (1969), a period drama based on the famous Lawrence Durrell novels The Alexandria Quartet, about French expatriates in North Africa. Meanwhile, Aimée continued making European films during the 1970s like "If I Had to Do It All Over Again" (1976), "Mon premier amour" (1978) and the psychological drama "Salto nel Vuoto" (1979), but nothing that cracked the international mainstream like "A Man and a Woman." Still, she took Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in "Le Saut dans le vide" (1980).
Despite her continued starring roles and supporting appearances, Aimée was unable to duplicate the worldwide visibility she had garnered in the late-1960s, even when she recreated her acclaimed role in Lelouch's sequel "A Man and A Woman: 20 Years Later" (1986). But that, too, failed to reignite old flames. Following an appearance in "Bethune: The Making of a Hero" (1989), starring Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, she reemerged onto the scene thanks to Robert Altman, who cast her alongside Danny Aiello, Sophia Loren, Kim Basinger, Julia Roberts and Marcello Mastroianni for the director's rather lifeless exposé of the fashion world, "Prêt-à-Porter/Ready to Wear" (1994). Aimée settled down a bit, appearing less often on screen during the late-1990s, though she was seen in the comedy "A Hundred and One Nights" (1995) and the romantic comedy "L.A. Without a Map" (1998), starring Julie Delpy. On the small screen, she played Bathsheba in the miniseries "Solomon" (ION, 2000) and Letizia Bonaparte to Christian Clavier's "Napoleon" (A&E, 2002). Back in features, she had supporting parts in "Happily Ever After" (2005), "De Particulier a Partticulier" (2006), and "Tous les Soleils" (2011).
By Shawn Dwyer