Screenshot: Teorema trailer

The French author and actress Anne Wiazemsky, whose haunting debut as the star of Robert Bresson’s classic Au Hasard Balthazar led to a movie career that she would later revisit in her celebrated writings, died in Paris on Thursday. An intriguing character in the history of European art film, Wiazemsky lent her striking presence to movies by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Ferreri, Philippe Garrel, and, most famously, her ex-husband, the French New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard; as a writer, she found acclaim for her novels, which were often autobiographical. The cause of death was cancer. Wiazemsky was 70.

Born in Berlin 1947, Wiazemsky came from an illustrious background. Her father was a prince of Russia’s exiled ancient aristocracy; his family, the Vyazemskys, were an old cadet branch of the Rurik dynasty that ruled Russia before the Romanovs. Her mother was the daughter of Nobel Prize laureate François Mauriac. Raised in Venezuela, Wiazemsky spent summers at her grandfather’s French estate, Malagar, before moving with her family to Paris in her teens. She would be introduced to Robert Bresson through Florence Delay, who had played the title role in Bresson’s 1962 film The Trial Of Joan Of Arc, and whose family traveled in similar social circles.

Au Hasard Balthazar (Photo: Janus Films)

As described in Wiazemsky’s 2007 memoir Jeune Fille, she and Bresson developed an emotionally intimate relationship during the making of Au Hasard Balthazar—in some ways paralleling the unlikely bond between her character, the vulnerable Marie, and the donkey Balthazar in the film—though she rejected the sixty-something director’s advances. It was during the making of the film—which has since come to be considered Bresson’s greatest work—that Wiazemsky met Jean-Luc Godard. The two married in 1967, and she would go on to appear in many of the key films of the director’s politically radical period, including La Chinoise and Weekend. Her memoirs of their tumultuous marriage form the basis for Michel Hazanavicius’ upcoming film Le Redoubtable.

Pale and unconventionally photogenic, with tragic eyes and red hair, Wiazemsky was often cast as often cast as vulnerable and naïve characters—a perfect ingenue for the golden age of arthouse allegories. Aside from Au Hasard Balthazar and her work with her ex-husband, her best-known role was in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, starring Terence Stamp as a mysterious visitor who eerily seduces all the members of a upper-class family. In the late 1980s, she retired from acting to focus on her writing career. Claire Denis’ 1994 coming-of-age film US Go Home, which the director co-wrote with Wiazemsky, drew on their shared experience as teens trying to fit in with their peers in ‘60s France after growing up abroad.

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Though her books have won several literary prizes, including the Grand Prix Du Roman of the AcadÊmie Française, and been successfully adapted to film, to date only one has been translated into English.