For many of us, things haven’t quite been the same since a young and enchanting Audrey Tautou leaned forward in a dark movie theater, smiled broadly, and whispered to us, “I like to look for things no one else catches.” We were mesmerized by her gargantuan eyes and rendered eternally helpless against her character, Amélie Poulain, that crème brûlée-cracking do-gooder.
In honor of the French film star’s new movie Delicacy—out in theaters today—here are, for us, her five best performances since 2001’s Amélie.
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Writers: Pierre Salvadori, Benôit Graffin
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam
In Priceless (often compared to Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Tautou plays Irène the most beautiful, dangerous and unapologetic gold digger in the French Riviera. Her best-laid plans begin to go awry as she develops feelings for a man of average means. Rather than date him, she trains him to become an “opportunist” instead. In true rom-com fashion a series of ridiculous scenes unfold with an important lesson in how-to-get-what-you-want-from-the-opposite-sex: “Not finishing your sentences—as if it pains you too much to go on,” she firmly advises, “is extremely effective.”
Irène has little depth and the same could be said about the film, but it’s pretty obvious that that’s the point. Tautou is such an authentic, Gucci-wearing, femme fatale that it’s difficult to simply loathe her. She is, as usual, sincere in her delivery—even when she is delivering a sincerely superficial character. She also plays an amazingly convincing drunk, which some of the best actresses of our day (ahem, Kate Winslet, ahem) have been unable to accomplish.
Director: Anne Fontaine
Writers: Anne Fontaine, Edmonde Charles-Roux (book)
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Benôit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola
Tautou’s performance in this biopic brought to life a person who, for some of us in this generation, was just a big name in bold, black letters. Coco Before Chanel tells the story of the fashion icon’s rise to wealth and fame, ever-complicated by poverty and painful love affairs. Tautou is really the perfect, young Gabrielle Chanel; at times reserved, but always determined. Although unable to completely disappear into the role, she does away with that irresistible brightness in her eyes for a more demure (but equally intense) appearance. In the scene where she finds out her lover is engaged to a woman of means, she looks straight into his eyes and says, almost convincingly, “Better a mistress than a wife.” The moment is powerful, even more so when we later learn that Coco Chanel, indeed, never married.
Her performance did however, beg one question: was there really and truly a version of this biopic featuring Shirley Maclaine as Coco Chanel? C’est impossible.
Directors: David and Stéphane Foenkinos
Writer: David Foenkinos (novel)
Stars: Audrey Tautou, François Damiens, Bruno Todeschini
Whether David Foenkinos knew it or not, his book was just begging to become a film starring Audrey Tautou. Nathalie is the main character of the novel and she is truly made whole in Tautou’s performance as a young wife, turned widow, turned lover anew.
Although we have previously seen Tautou play a grieving woman, she experiences real mourning as Nathalie. She performs a sadness so quiet, still and intense, it seems almost eternal. Conversely, she also plays the perfectly whimsical accompaniment to comedian François Damiens (Nathalie’s lover later in the film), entertaining him and the viewer with stories of America—summed up by an inexplicable addiction to Pez candy.
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Steven Knight
Stars:Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofo, Sophie Okonedo
Forget about beautiful Parisian landscape, Amélie and all things innocent. Paradise is all but lost in Dirty Pretty Things, a story of twisted lies, corruption, and— yes— organ trafficking in the London underworld. Tautou plays Turkish immigrant Senay whose complicated, never-consummated romance with Okwe (Ejiofor) gives the film its rare (but still pretty dark) moments of beauty.
There are many haunting images from Dirty Pretty Things that linger with the viewer long after the credits roll, like Tautou’s character telling Okwe about her final encounter with her vile, degenerate boss. It’s the anti-patriarchy, anti-establishment line of the 2000s, and Tautou’s trademark wide-eyed solemnity is as comely as it is frightening: “I bit him.”
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writers: Sébastien Japrisot (novel), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (story)
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ullie, Marion Cotillard
An epic, sensual romance set during World War I and in the post-war wreckage, A Very Long Engagement reunites Tautou with Améliedirector Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Unsurprisingly, Jeunet has spoken very highly of Tautou’s talents: “She’s the perfect actress for me, because she’s able to do both comedy and drama.” Unflinching in this Oscar-nominated film, she maintains that innocent air about her as she searches for her fiancée, weaving in and out of the lives and stories of other soldiers along the way.
Tautou so perfectly captured that young, relentless lover but with a sensuality and command that few actresses could have pulled off convincingly. Her character suffers from a polio-related handicap and the scene where she runs after the car taking Manech to war is unforgettable: “If I reach the bend before the car Manech will come back alive! If I reach the bend before the car Manech will come back alive!”