French New Wave star Anna Karina, who served as a muse for Jean-Luc Godard and appeared in eight of his films, has died. She was 79.
France’s culture minister, Franck Reister, announced her death in a tweet, as did her agent, Laurent Balandras, who attributed the cause as cancer.
“Her gaze was the gaze of the New Wave. It will remain so forever,” wrote Reister. “She magnetized the entire world. Today, French cinema is an orphan. It loses one of its legends.”
Karina’s best known roles include “The Little Soldier,” “Vivre sa vie,” “Band of Outsiders,” “Pierrot le Fou,” and “Alphaville,” all throughout the 1960s. She starred in “A Woman Is a Woman,” as well, in a performance that earned her the silver bear award for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961.
Karina also worked with other directors of the New Wave, including Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette, and Luchino Visconti. Her work continued through the ’70s, including roles in Christian de Chalonge’s “The Wedding Ring” (1971), Andre Delvaux’s Rendezvous at Bray (1971), “The Salzburg Connection” (1972), and Franco Brusati’s “Bread and Chocolate” (1973). She made her directorial debut in 1972 with “Vivre ensemble.”
The Danish-French actress’ relationship with Godard was reportedly tumultuous; they were married in 1961 and went on to make seven more feature films together, but divorced in 1965.
In addition to her film work, Karina was also a style icon of the ’60s, embodying the French girl look with sailor costumes, knee-high socks, plaid, and headwear like berets and boaters. She also had a well-regarded singing career, with hits like “Sous le Soleil Exactement” and “Roller Girl,” written by Serge Gainsbourg.
Karina was born Hanne Karine Bayer in Solbjerg, Denmark. After her father left shortly after her birth, she spent some of her childhood years with her grandparents and other in foster care, though she eventually returned to live with her mother. She dropped out of school at 14 and found work as a television model, and hitchhiked to Paris at age 17. There, she was discovered by a casting agent and went on to meet Coco Chanel during an Elle photo shoot. Chanel reportedly advised her to change her name.
She met Godard when she was a teenager, after the then-film critic saw her in an ad for Palmolive and contacted her to appear in “Breathless.” The part didn’t come to fruition as it required her to appear nude, which she objected to. He again sought her out for a role in “Le Petit Soldat,” which meant her mother had to fly to Paris to sign the contract, as Karina was a minor.
Following her divorce from Godard, Karina married three more times, to French actors Pierre Fabre (1968-1974) and Daniel Duval (1978-1981), and to American director Dennis Berry (1982-1994).