Born Paulette Germaine Riva in the Cheniménil commune in northeastern France Emmanuelle Riva was an only child whose dreams of becoming an actress were strongly opposed by her disciplinarian father. She pursued her ambitions regardless throughout her teenaged years, appearing in various school plays, but eventually submitted to her parents' wishes and became a seamstress. She resigned herself to a life of drudgery until discovering an advertisement for a contest held by the Dramatic Arts Centre of Rue Blanche in Paris. Riva successfully argued her need to become an actress to her family and set out for Paris in 1953. There, she won the contest's main prize: a scholarship to the Dramatic Arts Centre, which was soon followed by her professional stage debut in a production of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man." A slew of prominent roles in major classical plays preceded her television debut as the Queen of England on the historical drama anthology series "Enigmes de L'Histoire" (RTF, 1956-57). Within a year's time, she had appeared in her first feature film with an uncredited turn in "The Possessors" (1958) opposite French screen legend Jean Gabin.While appearing in "L'Epouvantail" in Paris, Riva was approached by a young director, Alain Resnais, who was seeking the female lead for his first feature film. He took photographs of Riva to the film's screenwriter, playwright Marguerite Duras, who proclaimed the actress as perfect for the role, an unnamed French woman locked in recollection of her traumatic experiences during World War II, while her lover, Japanese architect Eiji Okada, attempted to come to terms with his own psychological damage caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The resulting film, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959), was a watershed picture in the French New Wave movement, as well as an Oscar nominee for Best Screenplay. For Riva, the film served as the launching pad for a critically acclaimed film career in Europe, with leading roles in "Le huitième jour" ("The Eighth Day") (1960), as well as significant supporting turns as a concentration camp victim in "Kapò" (1960) and as a sexually frustrated, Communist-sympathetic widow who generated considerable heat through a theological debate-cum-relationship with handsome young priest Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Pierre Melville's arthouse hit "Léon Morin, Priest" (1960). In 1962, she won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her turn as a woman whose terrible marriage takes a monstrous turn in Georges Franju's "Thérèse Desqueyroux." Riva would later reprise the role for a television adaptation called "La fin de la nuit" in 1966. Riva worked steadily throughout the 1960s, alternating between leads in Franju's "Thomas the Imposter" (1964) with Jean Servais and "The Hours of Love" (1963) with Ugo Tognazzi, as well as supporting turns in the portmanteau dark comedy "I Kill, You Kill" (1965), which marked her first collaboration with actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. However, her screen appearances in the 1970s went largely unseen outside of France, and for a period of the decade, Riva appeared mostly in features made for television. She also began publishing collections of poetry during this period, beginning in 1975 with Le Feu des miroirs. In the 1980s, she enjoyed a pair of plum roles in features: in Marco Bellochio's "The Eyes, The Mouth" (1982), she was a deeply religious mother whose son (Lou Castel) attempted to shield her from the truth about the death of his twin brother, while Philippe Garrel's "Liberté, la nuit" (1983) cast her as the estranged wife of a revolutionary, played by the director's father, Maurice Garrel, who aided Algerians in their war against France. She continued to work throughout the 1980s and 1990s, occasionally enjoying substantive work like Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Blue" (1992) as the mother of Juliette Binoche. In 1999, she was featured in a supporting role in Tonie Marshall's "Venus Beauty Institute," which featured a cross-section of some of France's greatest screen performers, including Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye, Bulle Ogier and director Claire Denis. Riva worked sporadically in the 21st century, enjoying small but significant roles in "Médée" (2001) and "A Man and His Dog" (2008), which reunited her with Jean-Paul Belmondo in a deeply sentimental remake of Vittorio De Sica's "Umberto D" (1952). She also exhibited a collection of photographs she took of Hiroshima during the making of "Hiroshima Mon Amour," which were also published in both Tokyo and France in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Four years later, her exceptional career received a tremendous autumnal renaissance with Michael Haneke's "Amour" (2012), a moving drama about an elderly married couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Riva) whose relationship is irrevocably altered when the wife suffered a debilitating stroke. The picture called upon Riva to summon all of her acting abilities to express her character's panoply of emotions without ever speaking a word. Audiences were captivated by the performances of the film's storied leads, and at the Cannes Film Festival, jury president Nanni Moretti set aside long-established rules by awarding the Golden Palm to not only Haneke but also to Trintignant and Riva. The success of the film at various international festivals encouraged Riva to consider future acting roles, particularly after earning her career's first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She appeared in three further films, "Marie and the Misfits" (2016), romantic comedy "Lost in Paris" (2016) and "La Sainte Famille" (2017). Emmanuelle Riva died of cancer in Paris on January 27, 2017. She was 89.
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