French Cinema: Profile of Maïwenn

French Cinema: Profile of Maïwenn

Discover the French filmmaker putting Johnny Depp back on the silver screen.

If the rumour mill is correct, Johnny Depp’s latest role will be as the disgraced 18th-century King Louis XV in a movie to be directed by French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn. However, most people outside of France probably won’t have a clue who this mononym is. So allow us to bring you up to speed.

Born in 1976 in the Paris suburb of Les Lilas, her mother is artist Catherine Belkhodja, who according to Maïwenn’s one woman show, Le Pois Chiche, forced her into acting at a young age.

The pushiness paid off, with Maïwenn starring in a number of films as a youngster, her biggest role being in Jean Becker’s L’été meurtrier (One Deadly Summer, 1983) with Isabelle Adjani. Ten years later aged just 16, she married director Luc Besson, 17 years her senior, and had a daughter with him. A bit part in Besson’s Léon in 1994 was followed by an appearance as the alien Diva Plavalaguna in his smash-hit The Fifth Element (1997).

Following the breakdown of their marriage, Maïwenn took her one-woman stand-up show on tour to much acclaim, but before long she returned to cinema. Several acting roles followed – and then directing beckoned.

Her first feature as director was 2006’s semi-autobiographical Pardonnez-moi (Forgive Me). This was followed by Le bal des actrices (All About Actresses) in 2009 and Polisse in 2011, for which she won the Jury Prize at Cannes. In 2015, her movie Mon roi (My King), which she worked on for 10 years on and off, was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. She then wrote, directed and acted in ADN (DNA, 2020), which stars Fanny Ardant and which was supposed to première at Cannes in 2020 but the festival was postponed by Covid. Her latest project is called Jeanne du Barry and tells the tale of commoner du Barry’s affair with Louis XV, which ended with him ordering her execution in 1793. So what can Johnny Depp expect from his new director?

In a 2016 interview with France Today, Maïwenn said: “When I direct, I don’t really do much. Basically, I transmit the idea that they can be themselves, and let them tell the story.” Although she is no easy taskmaster. “It’s true that I don’t beat around the bush,” she said. “When I’m not happy, I say it. But when I am happy, I laugh, I jump around, I smile, I scream.”

10-second CV

Name: Maïwenn Le Besco, known simply as Maïwenn
Born: April 17, 1976 in Les Lilas, Paris

Early career

Pushed into the industry by her ambitious mother, Maïwenn’s first big role was opposite Isabel Adjani in 1983 drama L’été meurtrier. By 16, she was married to director Luc Besson and appearing in his movies before striking out on her own and eventually turning her hand to directing.

I know the face…

Her biggest role internationally was in Besson’s English language sci-fi movie The Fifth Element (1997), in which she played the alien Diva Plavalaguna.

Where will we see her next?

As well as directing, she will play the title role in the movie Jeanne du Barry opposite Johnny Depp as Louis XV. Du Barry was a favourite of the king’s until he had her executed by guillotine in 1793. Filming for the movie, Depp’s first in three years, is currently taking place around Paris and Versailles.

C’est pas vrai!

Her nickname is Ouin-Ouin, which is how she is credited by Luc Besson for her role in Léon.

From France Today magazine

Lead photo credit : French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn © Neon

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