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Anna Karina, Actress and French New Wave Icon, Dead at 79

Model, singer and filmmaker starred in seven Jean-Luc Godard films

THE LITTLE SOLDIER, (aka LE PETIT SOLDAT), Anna Karina, 1963

Anna Karina, the model-turned-actress who became a French New Wave icon, has died at the age of 79.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Anna Karina, the model-turned-actress who became a French New Wave icon thanks to her collaborations with the director Jean-Luc Godard, has died at the age of 79.

France’s cultural minister Franck Riester announced Karina’s death on Twitter, with the actress’ agent later confirming that Karina died Saturday in Paris following a battle with cancer. 

“Her gaze was the gaze of the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). It will remain so forever,” Riester wrote of Karina. “Today, French cinema has been orphaned. It has lost one of its legends.”

Born Hanne Karin Bayer — it was the designer Coco Chanel that suggested she change her name to “Anna Karina” — in Denmark in 1940, Karina first pursued modeling in Paris as a teenager before one of her ads, for Palmolive, caught the eye of then-film critic Godard.

After Karina turned down a small role in Godard’s French New Wave-defining 1960 debut Breathless, the director quickly cast the fledgling actress in his second film Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier), which marked the beginning of a professional and romantic relationship between the actress and filmmaker that resulted in six more features together.

As Godard’s “muse,” Karina starred in 1961’s A Woman Is a Woman, portrayed a prostitute in 1963’s Vivre se Vie (My Life to Live), a criminal stuck in a love triangle in 1964’s Bande a part (Band of Outsiders), lovers on the run alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo in 1965’s Pierrot le fou, a programmer in the 1965 sci-fi noir Alphaville and Made in U.S.A., released in 1966, one year after she and Godard divorced.

Over a career that spanned five decades yet almost entirely sidestepped Hollywood roles, Karina also worked with celebrated European directors like Luchino Visconti (The Stranger), Jacques Rivette (The Nun), Volker Schlondorff (Man on Horseback) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Chinese Roulette).

Karina was also a novelist, a singer — she scored a pair of Serge Gainsbourg-written hits in France in the Sixties — and a filmmaker; her last big screen role was the title character in 2008’s Victoria, a film she also directed.



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