The Cannes Film Festival, yet again, belongs to Léa Seydoux.
The French actress has already shared in a Palme d’Or at the festival, in 2013 for “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” which made her and Adèle Exarchopoulos the first actors to ever win Cannes' top prize, which they shared with director Abdellatif Kechiche.
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Last year, she had four films at the festival, but missed all of them because she tested positive for COVID-19. But this year, Seydoux gives two of the best performances of her career in a pair of films unveiled at Cannes: Mia Hansen-Love’s “One Fine Morning” and David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future.” Together, they have only reinforced the view that Seydoux is the premier French actress of her generation.
On a recent afternoon a few blocks from Cannes' Palais des Festivals, Seydoux greeted a reporter cheerfully. How was she? “Great!" she answered. “Should I not be great?”
The 36-year-old Seydoux has already made a major mark in Hollywood, most notably by taking the once stereotypical role of “Bond Girl” and stretching the character — a “Bond Woman” she redefined — across several films, adding a new dimension of depth to the franchise. Seydoux was so good that even James Bond wanted to settle down.
But it's especially clear at this year's Cannes that Hollywood was only one stop of many in the fast-evolving, exceptionally varied career of Seydoux, who has managed to be one of Europe's most famous faces while still exuding a mysterious melancholy on screen. She's ubiquitous and elusive at the same time.
“I carry a sadness,” Seydoux says, tracing it to a shy childhood. “Cinema for me is something playful. It’s a real consolation because, in a way, I transformed my sadness into an object of beauty. Or I tried to, anyway. It’s not like it works every time.”
“If I didn’t have cinema, I would have been very sad," she adds. “That’s why I work all the time. It’s a way to be connected.”
In “One Fine Morning,” one of the standouts of Cannes, Seydoux plays a young widow raising a daughter in Paris while tending to her elderly father, whose memory is slipping. After reconnecting with an old friend, a passionate affair follows. “One Fine Morning,” a semi-autobiographical movie Hansen-Love wrote shortly before her own father died of COVID-19, throbs with the irreconcilable coexistence of grief and love, death and rebirth, and life's vexing impermanence. Hansen-Love, the “Bergman Island” filmmaker, wrote it with Seydoux in mind.
“She was maybe my favorite actress for this generation,” explains Hansen-Love. “She’s enigmatic in a way that very few actresses are. She’s not trying to show things. She’s not affected.”
“There’s a sadness and melancholy about her that contrasts with her status as a superstar that moves me,” adds the writer-director. “On the one hand, she’s a very glamorous figure in the landscape of cinema. She’s very sexy. She’s in films where she’s seen from the viewpoint of a masculine fantasy, and she enjoys that a lot, I think. But there’s an innocence and simplicity about her that gives me the same feeling when I film unknown actors.”
Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film Monday for U.S. theatrical distribution, citing it as Seydoux’s “finest performance to date."
Leading up to this moment, Seydoux has experienced some of the worst sides of the movie business. In 2017 she said Harvey Weinstein once forcibly tried to kiss her in a hotel room in a meeting that was ostensibly about a potential role. The filming technique of the lesbian romance “Blue Is the Warmest Color," in which Kechiche would shoot up to 100 takes of a single shot, has also been questioned.
But Seydoux, who recently signed up to adapt the erotic novel “Emmanuelle” with “Happening” filmmaker Audrey Diwan, says she's never hesitated to express her sexuality on screen. “One Fine Morning," with the benefit of Hansen-Love's perspective, is one of the most sensual films at Cannes.
“I felt that this movie was about passion,” says Seydoux. “I don’t have problems with nudity. It’s something I like to see as a spectator, as a viewer. I think it’s beautiful. I love sex scenes in films.”
In Cronenberg's “Crimes of the Future,” which opens June 3 in theaters, Seydoux stars alongside Viggo Mortensen in a film yet more focused on the body. In a future where humans and plastics have drawn closer, she plays a surgeon who performs operations to remove tumors and organs with the flare of an artist.
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“To be honest, I didn’t understand everything about the film," Seydoux says, smiling. “For me, it’s like a metaphor about what it is to be an artist.”
“Crimes of the Future" may present an usual science-fiction world but Seydoux is remarkably grounded in it. Eager for more open-ended cinematic adventures, Seydoux says doing a variety of films “is how I feel free. I don’t want to be stuck in one place.”
“I’m not crazy about films that are ‘entertaining,’" says Seydoux. "I don’t think that I go to the cinema to be entertained. I know it’s a big thing in America. I like to ask myself questions more. I don’t like to be given answers. I don’t want to stop thinking. I think certain films are just to feed you with images.”
“I love to feel that I’ve touched something truthful,” Seydoux adds. “In this world we’re living in today, Instagram and all that, is just lies. I feel that with cinema we can touch a certain truth. And there are many truths. I love to be touched. I feel alive."