France's leading ladies go head to head at box office

Chiara Mastroianni, left, and Valeria Bruni-Tadeschi, right, have had rave reviews of their performances in new films

Two actresses from the Franco-Italian cinema aristocracy – Carla Bruni's sister and Catherine Deneuve's daughter – are duelling head to head, and hankie to hankie, in rival "weepie" movies released in France this week.

The two films, competing to become the French, post-summer, romantic blockbuster, star Chiara Mastroianni, the daughter of Deneuve, and Valeria Bruni-Tadeschi, the older sister of the French first lady.



Both films opened at 200 cinemas across France this week. Both are 105 minutes long. Both are classic tales of tangled, or doomed, love, with a modern, feminist twist. Both of the lead actresses are of Franco-Italian origin. Both have received rave reviews. And both women have been tipped to win nominations for a César, or French Oscar, next February.



For Mastrioanni, 36, the daughter of the late Italian heart-throb, Marcello Mastroianni, the film is a chance to emerge from the shadow of her celebrated parents. She has appeared in 30 films, from Hillbilly Chainsaw Massacre (1995) to Persepolis (2007) the animated feature about the Iranian revolution. She has mostly played secondary roles, including several alongside her mother.



The French reviews for her performance in Non ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser (No, my daughter, you can't go to the dance) have been universally ecstatic. Le Parisien said that she was "extraordinary... like a wounded animal".



Mastroianni was brought up by Deneuve in France after her parents divorced when she was aged five. In her new movie, directed by Christophe Honoré, she plays Lena, a divorcee with small children who tries to steer a course between her career, family commitments, romantic entanglements, interfering parents and a hopeful, returning "ex".



Libération said that she was "like a character from an old English novel, hurled into contemporary France and its childcare problems". Le Parisien said she was the "perpetual chrysallis of the French cinema, unfolding her butterfly wings at last".



For Bruni-Tadeschi, 44, the stakes this autumn are perhaps not quite so high. She had a string of successful film roles before she switched to directing five years ago. In 2007, she directed Actrices, which won the Prix Spécial du Jury at the Cannes film festival.



She has shown no sign of resenting Carla Bruni's rise to stardom since her marriage to President Nicolas Sarkozy last year. Like her younger sister, Bruni-Tadeschi was born in Italy but moved to France as a child when her industrialist father decided to escape the kidnapping threat from the left-wing Red Brigades terrorist movement.



Despite this, she has become an activist for left-wing causes. Last October, she and Carla directly influenced a decision by President Sarkozy to refuse – against type – to extradite to Italy a convicted Red Brigades terrorist, Marina Petrella, who had moved to France.



In her new film, Les Regrets, directed by Cédric Kahn, she revives her acting career with the role of Maya, a married provincial woman who rediscovers a childhood sweetheart and starts a disastrous love affair. Her performance was described by Le Parisien as "sensual and touching ... perfect, as always".



In an interview with Libération this week, Mastroianni said that her starring role in Non ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser had been created especially for her. She suggested that she had been chosen because of her own experience of broken relationships, first as a child and then through two failed marriages of her own.



Mastroianni has a 12-year-old son, Milo, from her relationship with the sculptor, Pierre Torreton. In 2002, she married the writer and musician Benjamin Biolay. They had a daughter, Anna, now six, but divorced in 2005.



"The character of Lena would not have been offered to me 10 years ago," she said. "Since then, life has taken the route that it has taken. I am much more suited to such a role.



"Lena allows me to express things which were not possible in my previous roles. It was a script I could not turn down. When something like that comes along, you have to allow it to hit you full in the face."



Both films start in a light and sentimental way and become more sombre, even violent. Bruni-Tadeschi told the cinema website Evene Fr. that Les Regrets had allowed her to "assume her femininity" in a way that she had not always found possible in previous roles. At any event, "le tout Paris" is plastered at the moment with striking posters of the first lady's older sister in a passionate embrace.

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