“I’m really confident. I had a perfect childhood. I had perfect parents and grandparents. They just love me, simply. So I have no fears.” — Mélanie Laurent

Today is the birthday of French actress and director Mélanie Laurent.

Probably most American audiences (and international audiences, outside of France) were first introduced to the extraordinary Mélanie Laurent in her perfoƒrmance as the revolutionary Shoshanna in Inglourious Basterds. Laurent had been working for years in France, “discovered” by Gérard Depardieu when she was 14 years old. Inglourious Basterds, though, was next level. It had giant American movie stars like Brad Pitt, but it also included fascinating “new” faces – now much more famous beCAUSE of their inclusion, people like Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent. Laurent is unforgettable.

Shoshanna is the center of the film, from the first scene to the final scene, where she – or a silvery nitrate version of her – laughs maniacally at the Nazi brass gathered below her.

It was powerful, as an audience, to “meet” her through this role, as opposed to Tarantino casting a well-known American actress, someone already familiar to people. Most of us didn’t have any other associations with Laurent. We came to her pure.

I wrote an extended piece about the central scene, where Hans Landa (Waltz) lures Shoshanna to a meeting, a public meeting, and she has to keep up a cool front, not give away her plans, OR her background as a “fugitive”, OR her incandescent fury at being face to face with the man who ordered her family murdered. It’s such a brilliant piece of acting – and Tarantino knew it, and kept the camera on her without cutting away – so we could actually be a witness to her skill as an actress (Laurent’s and Shoshanna’s. It’s a scene ABOUT acting). The scene is a good object lesson for actors about trusting the moment, allowing make-believe circumstances to work on you (as opposed to the other way around). The piece I wrote is very actor-nerd-y and I am proud of it, so here it is.

Laurent has done other roles here and there (I really liked her in Beginners), but her interest in movies is more all-encompassing than just building a career for herself as an actress. She didn’t position herself to do a Marvel movie, for example. You can’t make more of a splash than she did in Inglourious Basterds: working with Tarantino was (and still is) a coup. But Laurent’s choices since show her seriousness as an artist, shows what she cares about. She decided to direct, and right from the jump she showed herself as a sensitive and thoughtful director, with a really interesting point of view (and good taste in material).

Breathe (2015)

A couple of her films didn’t get theatrical releases here – maybe the first one? I don’t know, but Breathe arrived in 2015, and I was assigned to review it. Having in mind the ferocious actress in Inglourious Basterds, it was thrilling to watch her direction – directing is almost more personal than acting. I loved Breathe – it really understands teenage girls – and I reviewed for Ebert.

Mad Women’s Ball (2021)

And then in 2021 came her next film, and what a thrill Mad Womens Ball was (here’s my review). I don’t mean to sound like an old fogey, but they don’t make ’em like that anymore. It’s an entertaining historically-based epic (adapted from a novel), and Laurent – who also acts in it – keeps the pace roiling and churning forward to the inevitable conclusion. It’s a very 1980s type film, the sort of thing Meryl Streep would have starred in. Mad Womens Ball is BIG, with BIG themes and a big cast, lots of period details, and a melodramatic tragic sweeping energy. I highly recommend it. Nobody really talked about it when it came out. This is frustrating. The world is so PACKED with “content” (evil word) and things vanish into the maw of online streaming … Nobody can stop long enough to look around and see what might be out there.

Last year, Netflix threw their power behind Laurent, helping her finance Wingwomen, a totally entertaining continent-spanning spy-heist flick, which I absolutely loved. It showed her special touch with interpersonal relationships, her attention to detail, her humor … but it also showed she could handle a massive undertaking on this scale. And it was just so well done. I adored it. Obviously, I’m a huge fan of her work.

I have been excited by Laurent’s career ever since Inglourious Basterds, and I admire her chosen path. You never know what she will do next, but you look forward to it anyway.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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6 Responses to “I’m really confident. I had a perfect childhood. I had perfect parents and grandparents. They just love me, simply. So I have no fears.” — Mélanie Laurent

  1. Biff Dorsey says:

    “Mad Woman’s Ball” didn’t get much ballyhoo, but it is made with assurance. Thanks for highlighting it. Amazon kinda buried it to promote its Oscar bait, instead.

    • sheila says:

      I was really impressed – particularly the pacing during the ball – and all those different things happening at the same time. Yes – totally melodramatic – but … the story calls for it. You can’t just pretend a story doesn’t need to be that big. It’s about a woman who legit talks to the dead. You have to go for it! Glad you liked.

  2. I never saw the piece about the INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS restaurant scene before…and I suspect on whatever day it ran I skipped it, because I hadn’t actually seen the film by the point. Now that I have, it’s every bit as amazing as you say, the way she holds onto her tension like a tightly-coiled spring…and when she lets it out after Waltz departs, her letting-it-out is so perfect…how many emotions flash by on her face? Relief that she got through it? Loathing of this man? Resolve to get her revenge? It’s like she’s coming up for air even though she wasn’t holding her breath. Just an amazing moment.

    • sheila says:

      Kelly – yes – that intake of breath – she had been holding her breath (emotionally) the whole entire time. It’s just such an incredible bit of in the moment acting. I love that scene so much.

  3. Bryan Summers says:

    I was excited to see her in Murder Mystery 2. One of my favorite things in the world is seeing actors I love pop up in Adam Sandler movies.

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