By James Van Maanen
Among young French actresses who have garnered an international reputation, few, if any, can match Isild Le Besco, the strikingly attractive and hugely talented blond beauty best-known for her roles in Girls Can't Swim, Benoît Jacquot's Sade, À toute de suite and L'Intouchable, and Emmanuelle Bercot's Backstage. For those unfamiliar with Le Besco, conjuring the image of Gene Tierney as a blond might give some clue to the unique combination of beauty and exotica that her face possesses.
At this point in her career, Le Besco is but 25, yet she has been acting in film and television since the age of eight, first appearing (uncredited) in Francis Girod's The Elegant Criminal with Daniel Auteuil, whom she would work with again ten years later in Sade - one of her breakthrough roles. As an actresses, Le Besco is able to capture characters that range from virginal and untutored (Sade) to wildly scary and seemingly up-for-anything (Camping Sauvage, opposite Denis Lavant, another actor who seems capable of anything). Sometimes, as in À toute de suite, she can be all of these and more. She has even fit comfortably into a very bourgeois ensemble "dramedy" like 2003's La coût de la vie.
That same year the actress turned to writing, directing and editing her first film, the hour-long Demi-Tarif. In 2005 she directed the 50-minute film Le Marais; and in 2006 she wrote, produced and directed her first truly full-length film (95 minutes), Charly, which made its debut in France last fall, played the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January and came to America via the Tribeca Film Festival.
At the first public screening of Charly, Le Besco was there to introduce her movie. Speaking English quietly but gracefully with a rather thick accent, she warned the audience that what it was about to see was "not sweet." She pointed to someone in one of the front rows, who was apparently eating a hot dog. "It's not that kind of food," she smiled, "but you will have time to finish, because there are two short subjects before my film begins."
Her line drew a nice laugh - which was very nearly the last bit of humor for the next hour and a half. Charly is a difficult film on several levels, which no doubt accounted for the surprising (to me) number of walk-outs during the screening. (I suspect Le Besco was not as surprised.) For reasons of leg-room, I sat in the last row, which gave me a certain perspective on viewers who stood and then trekked up the aisle to the exit. The two gentlemen who sat on either side of me actually slept now and then during the film, and the one to my right made his own exit after about an hour. For those of us who remained, the movie proved at the very least interesting, with a fairly rigorous, scaled-down look at an adolescent boy and the young woman whom he meets and then bonds with. At the end of the screening, the remaining audience gave the film what I would call respectful applause.
At this point in time, I don't believe Charly has an American distributor (which means that audiences may not have another chance to see it), so I want to lay out a little more about the film than I would usually in an introduction to an interview. Alert! Spoilers lie ahead. If you'd rather not read them, skip on over to the Q&A, which begins on Page 3.
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