Emmanuelle Riva: "When the Oscars are over, I want a rest"

As the oldest-ever nominee for a best actress Oscar, French film star Emmanuelle Riva is conserving her energy. Riva will not be at the Bafta awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London tonight, where she is nominated for a best actress award. She is saving herself for the French equivalent, the Césars, in a fortnight. Then the Oscars – on the day of her 86th birthday – beckon.

Emmanuelle Riva (Credit: Wenn)
She told 'The Observer' newspaper:  "I cannot possibly come to London. How can I? I have to go to the Césars and the Oscars and already I am so, so tired and so, so harassed,. For five months people have not left me alone. I have done 15 interviews a day, sometimes. After the Oscars I intend to rest and I can tell you that I cannot wait until it is after the Oscars."

In 'Amour', directed by Michael Haneke, she plays a retired piano teacher in her 80s seeing out her twilight years in  a chic Paris apartment with her husband, Georges (veteran French star Jean-Louis Trintignant) until a series of strokes spark dementia and physical disability.

"This film is such a wonderful, marvellous, extraordinary gift. I cannot tell you how happy I am. Completely happy," Riva says. "The whole thing is like a fairytale. Everybody knows there are very few roles for older actresses. Almost none, in fact. And that is what makes all this so exceptional."

Riva enjoyed global recognition more than half a century ago in the cult 1959 film, 'Hiroshima Mon Amour', the Alain Resnais film seen as a catalyst for France's nouvelle vague movement.

Riva  wanted the role as soon as she read the script. "I knew intimately that I could do it, that I had arrived at a point in my life to do it. It seemed like a miracle. Haneke had seen 'Hiroshima Mon Amour.' Clearly he wanted to see me again after all these years. I was in his head perhaps. He thought I could play Anne, so we met for lunch. Afterwards we filmed one scene; the scene in the kitchen when Anne has her first absence. Haneke said it was the most difficult scene in the film. Afterwards we looked at the rushes. He had seen other actresses, this was only natural, but he said it was me who had touched him most. He had already chosen Trintignant to play the husband. When I knew it was Trintignant I thought we would work well together on the film. And we did. Nobody who has seen the film can doubt that this is a couple who love each other, a couple everyone can believe in."

After 'Hiroshima Mon Amour',  Riva shunned many "commercial" roles "Because I turned down offers, they stopped calling. They forgot me. You make an empty space and the empty space comes to you," she once said.

She worked on the stage until 2001 and had roles in 'Three Colours: Blue' and 'Skylab', but even in France she was known only by serious cinephiles.  "I don't have any regrets because I couldn't have done a role like this at 40 years of age. This film arrived at the exact age of my life. What regrets could I possibly have?" she says.

"They said the film's story would make people afraid, would put them off. It hasn't. The truth is this story could happen to anyone. It could happen to me, it could happen to you; it's about the very important subjects: life, love death."